It’s easy to forget now, but Zion Williamson wasn’t the Pelican’s main man all season. Before January, the weight of the team was on Ingram’s shoulders. The All-Star has flourished under the spotlight and it will be very exciting to see what both young stars can achieve together in a full season. Together they can make a difference.
The Pelicans have a net rating of plus-12.4 with Ingram and Williamson on the court together in 341 minutes this season. Meanwhile, Ingram has developed as an individual, as his three-point shooting percentages have gone up. New Orleans has gained massively from his recovery from a blood disease.
Somewhat underrated, Fox definitely helped the Kings in their recent renaissance before the hiatus started. The addition of other younger players means Fox flies under the radar, but make no mistake, he definitely makes a difference in how Sacramento plays.
The Kings won seven of their last 10 games and 13 of their last 20 before the break. Fox has been superb since January, contributing 22.3 points, 6.8 assists, and 4.1 rebounds since the New Year. If they can keep him in good form, then they may finally end their nightmare postseason drought.
Nikola Jokic is the Denver Nuggets’ main man. But he’s also notorious for ballooning up out of control. Who knows what condition the Serbian will be in when the league finally returns? However, the Nuggets have been here before and that’s where Murray enters the frame.
He was the main conduit for everything good about their most recent postseason. In playoff wins, he averaged 24.1 points on 50 percent shooting. These numbers dropped to 18.4 points on 36 percent shooting in defeats. To sum up, they’ll need him to be in top form because he can make a massive difference.
A player who is still growing physically and mentally, Jackson Jr. is a star of the future. Ja Morant gets the plaudits but Jackson is even younger than his teammate. The Grizzlies will benefit because he was out with injury. Now he’ll hope to make a difference in the pursuit of the eighth seed.
JJJ has increased his scoring average this season and more than doubled his three-point attempts per game. Meanwhile, his accuracy has improved to 40 percent, a number that is up there with the best. A strong shot-blocker, he is still developing defensively.
Doncic is a genuine superstar. The Mavericks rely on this 21-year-old so much that any hope of being a contender falls on his shoulders. His emergence and development this season has been nothing short of amazing, yet he’ll have to settle quickly if they hope to make it far in Orlando.
A strong performance in the eight seed games could see them make it as high as the fifth seed. This would see them avoid the LA Clippers which would give them a far greater chance of contention. Only the big power forwards and center have a higher shooting accuracy than Doncic this season.
At the relatively tender age of 23, Booker has become the Suns’ equivalent of Luke Skywalker. He might not be taking on Darth Vadar anytime soon but their hopes definitely lie on his shoulders. Those hopes are slim because they have very little chance of seizing the nine spot, nevermind the number eight.
However, they have the opportunity to enhance his reputation and his worth by going out with a bit of dignity. Booker is also one of the deadliest shooters in the league this season. His playmaking and three-point shooting have improved a lot. The Suns may be awful but Booker is brilliant.
The Murray State star almost tops this list. Morant will probably win the Rookie of the Year Award so it’s all good. The 20-year-old has been a revelation for the Grizzlies who rely on him just as much as the Pelicans rely on Zion Williamson. He also plays in one of the toughest positions on the court, making his consistency all the more impressive.
The Grizzlies are under pressure from the Pelicans this season for that number eight seeding, but Morant will be central to their hopes of winning in Orlando. But Morant has also been one of the best crunch-time players in the NBA, averaging 3.3 points in clutch situations. In short, he makes a massive difference and will be one of the top young stars in the NBA for several years to come.
Could anybody else top this list? The hype behind Williamson was incredible before he even made his NBA debut. But since then he’s been excellent and could even force the Pelicans into the playoffs. Since January, the Pelicans went 10-7 in games in which Williamson played 25 or more minutes.
They also have an unbelievable plus-13.9 net rating with him on the court. It’s no surprise that many are picking the Pelicans to beat the Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed in the West because Williamson makes such a large difference. Not every number one draft pick lives up to his billing, but he is so far. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Williamson could legitimately take the torch from Lebron James as the biggest star in all of basketball for years to come.