Suns center Deandre Ayton is averaging 19.2 points and 12.0 rebounds on 56 percent shooting this season. Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

With the NBA regular season nearing the home stretch, there has been a number of players who have upped their games this season.

Despite  being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Deandre Ayton flew  under the radar as a rookie last season. That’s no longer the case.  Meanwhile, Both Brandon Ingram and Jayson Tatum earned All-Star  appearances for the first time this season. Each wing is among the best  young forwards in the game.

These are among the seven biggest breakout stars thus far this season.

Deandre Ayton, center, Phoenix Suns 

The  No. 1 overall pick in 2018, Ayton did not get much play as a rookie.  Luka Doncic and Trae Young were more popular from a national  perspective. Add in his suspension to start this season, and Ayton was flying under the radar.

That’s  no longer the case. At 6-foot-11, Ayton is a skilled big man. He  reminds us of a young Karl-Anthony Towns. The numbers are there to back  this up. The 21-year-old Ayton is averaging 19.2 points and 12.0  rebounds on 56 percent shooting from the field this season. Those are  some absurd numbers from such a young big.

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum is averaging 31.4 points and 8.0 rebounds over his past nine games. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jayson Tatum, forward, Boston Celtics 

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge deserves credit for pushing back against trading this former lottery pick for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis. Ainge knew he had a home-built superstar on his hands. Tatum is doing everything to prove him right.

The former Duke star is averaging an otherworldly 31.4 points and 8.0 rebounds on nearly 50% shooting from the field over his past nine outings heading into this weekend. A first-time All-Star, Tatum might have taken a bit of time to grow, but he’s now at that elite level. 

The Thunder have a budding star in guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, guard, Oklahoma City Thunder 

OKC general manager Sam Presti pulled a fast one on the Clippers by acquiring Gilgeous-Alexander in the Paul George blockbuster. Seen as an elite defensive force coming out of Kentucky last season, this youngster has now morphed into a real threat on offense.

Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the primary reasons OKC has a real shot for a top-four seed out West after moving both George and Russell Westbrook last summer. The kid is averaging 19.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists on 46 percent shooting. The Thunder have a budding star on their hands.

Forward Domantas Sabonis has been a real find for the Pacers. Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Domantas Sabonis, center, Indiana Pacers 

Some concluded Sabonis was a throw-in when it came to the blockbuster Victor Oladipo-Paul George trade in the summer of 2017. That could not be further from the case. In fact, Indiana ultimately acquired two All-Star players in Oladipo and Sabonis for George.

The skilled 23-year-old big is averaging 18.4  points, 12.5 rebounds and a robust 4.9 assists per game this season. He fits the European model of bigs that can pass the ball. Just ask Nikola Jokic. Sabonis as a rising star, likely making his father, former NBA center Arvydas, proud in the process. 

Forward Bam Adebayo has been a spark for the surging Heat this season. Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Bam Adebayo, center, Miami Heat 

The 22-year-old Adebayo was a first-time All-Star this season. It makes sense since he upped his game to an extraordinary level after being nothing more than a role player his first two years in the league.

Adebayo is one of the primary reasons his Miami Heat find themselves as a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference with a  37-22 record. Adebayo is averaging 16.2 points 10.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists  on 57 percent shooting. That type of all-around game has impressed the masses and has Bam looking like one of the most-skilled young bigs in the game.

Devonte' Graham is averaging 17.7 points on 37 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Devonte’ Graham, guard, Charlotte Hornets 

While the acquisition of Terry Rozier this past offseason got the most press for the Hornets, Charlotte has hit a home run with Graham. Selected in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft, this former North Carolina star has been great for Charlotte.

Graham, 25, is averaging 17.7 points and 7.6 assists on 37 shooting from beyond the arc. While he struggles from two-point land (39 percent), Graham’s  all-around game has him looking like the next star for his Hornets.

Brandon Ingram is one of the primary reasons the Pelicans are making a late-season playoff push. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Ingram, forward, New Orleans Pelicans 

Earlier in February, Ingram appeared in his first All-Star Game after being discarded by the Lakers in the Anthony Davis  blockbuster. And for good reason. This dude has simply been one of the best wings in the NBA.

Ingram, 22, is averaging 24.8 points,  6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting a rock-solid 40 percent from three-point range this season. Even with Zion Williamson getting most of  the press in Nola, Ingram is one of the primary reasons the Pelicans are making a late-season playoff push.

This article first appeared on Sportsnaut and was syndicated with permission.


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Can you name every NBA player to make first team All-NBA since the 2010-11 season?
2018-19 / MIL
Giannis Antetokounmpo
2018-19 / OKC
Paul George
2018-19 / DEN
Nikola Jokic
2018-19 / HOU
James Harden
2018-19 / GSW
Stephen Curry
2017-18 / GSW
Kevin Durant
2017-18 / CLE
LeBron James
2017-18 / NO
Anthony Davis
2017-18 / HOU
James Harden
2017-18 / POR
Damian Lillard
2016-17 / OKC
Russell Westbrook
2016-17 / HOU
James Harden
2016-17 / NO
Anthony Davis
2016-17 / CLE
LeBron James
2016-17 / SA
Kawhi Leonard
2015-16 / SA
Kawhi Leonard
2015-16 / CLE
LeBron James
2015-16 / LAC
DeAndre Jordan
2015-16 / GSW
Stephen Curry
2015-16 / OKC
Russell Westbrook
2014-15 / CLE
LeBron James
2014-15 / NO
Anthony Davis
2014-15 / MEM
Marc Gasol
2014-15 / HOU
James Harden
2014-15 / GSW
Stephen Curry
2013-14 / OKC
Kevin Durant
2013-14 / MIA
LeBron James
2013-14 / CHI
Joakim Noah
2013-14 / HOU
James Harden
2013-14 / LAC
Chris Paul
2012-13 / MIA
LeBron James
2012-13 / OKC
Kevin Durant
2012-13 / SA
Tim Duncan
2012-13 / LAL
Kobe Bryant
2012-13 / LAC
Chris Paul
2011-12 / LAC
Chris Paul
2011-12 / LAL
Kobe Bryant
2011-12 / ORL
Dwight Howard
2011-12 / OKC
Kevin Durant
2011-12 / MIA
LeBron James
2010-11 / CHI
Derrick Rose
2010-11 / LAL
Kobe Bryant
2010-11 / ORL
Dwight Howard
2010-11 / MIA
LeBron James
2010-11 / OKC
Kevin Durant

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