The playoffs are an insatiable beast. A venomous and aggressive monster that does not give an inch. Through trial of combat, regular season stars can become heroes or villains to their fanbase. Role players who rarely or never feel the spotlight heat can abruptly seize a moment of fame or infamy.
In your head names are already, undoubtedly circulating. There are only two options, combatants that step up into the arena and seize the moment or alternatively guys who become posters, memes and the like.
As recently forged hero David Fizdale says, “You’re fighting for your team and your life in the playoffs.”
It’s early but the seeds of great stories are planted long before the masses grab a hold of a tale. Below are five early dope performers and five early dud showings to keep an eye on.
Last year the playoffs were void of John Wall. Wall’s Wizards are back and up 2-0 thanks to the play of the returned D.C. star. In seven games last year, Wall averaged 17.4 PPG on 39 percent shooting. Over two games this postseason is doubling that, averaging 32 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 10.5 APG, and he’s shooting 48 percent from the field.
During the regular season it wasn’t an easy year to get a mention, doubly so if you play point guard. Russell Westbrook and James Harden went shot for shot (literally) in a race to the MVP and both Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James ate up remaining headline space. Semi-quietly Wall had a career season and while he won’t be on the MVP ballot his Wizards are slowly becoming very, very relevant.
At the moment Wall leads all playoff competitors in APG, he’s tied for fourth in PPG, and of the top 20 scorers Wall has the highest three-point shooting percentage (67 percent).
He’s no Terry Rozier but the former Thunder big man (it’d be better for everyone if we forgot the Magic tenure) has been sensational for the Raptors. He has been the Raptors’ best player through two games averaging 17.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 3 APG, 2.5 BPG, and he’s shooting 46 percent from deep to boot.
The Raptors All-Star backcourt is less All-Star-like in the playoffs but we’ll get to that later. For now just know that Ibaka and not DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry is leading the team in fourth quarter scoring. Ibaka is averaging 6.5 fourth quarter points on a ridiculous 63 percent shooting so far in the playoffs.
This series and the Raptors future is very much in the air. Both Lowry and Ibaka are pending free agents and a change of direction may be on the horizon but Ibaka is definitely making a case for Toronto to retain him long term.
We could choose any number of Bulls here, Robin Lopez especially deserves daps but will stick with Rondo. Prior to the postseason Rondo’s best days were considered long gone and the Bulls were a train wreck lucky to score a last minute invite to the dance. All of that is rapidly changing.
Rondo has been fantastic, words that most could not have been envisioned by many prior to this series. He’s averaging 11.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 10 APG and 3.5 SPG. It’s incredible really. The Celtics are the first No. 1 seed to lose Game 1 and Game 2 at home since the 1993 Phoenix Suns (silver lining for Beantown: Those Suns went on to the Finals before losing to the Bulls). Ironically, if the Boston Celtics campaign ends in misery it will come at the forgotten hands of a former favorite from their last championship.
Rondo at his best was an ace at making his teammates better. The short run so far is exemplifying the vintage Rondo Boston fans used to root for. When Rondo is on the floor the team owns an Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) of 54.4, when he sits the team’s efficiency drops to 45.4. Rondo is making a dysfunctional offense hum.
Remember when Patrick Beverley was named to the 2015 All-Star Skills Competition and everyone laughed? This Rockets’ goon who provoked opposing stars and caused a ruckus competing against the NBA’s most talented players seemed like a farce. Or at least it did—until he won it. It’s understandable, considering Beverley’s M.O. over his four-year NBA career has been playing the role of a tough on-ball defender.
This is going to change after this Rockets playoff run. Beverley is averaging 18 PPG, 8 RPG and 3.5 PPG in the playoffs. Now Beverley will never be confused with Russell Westbrook, but he is offering up solid production. Beverley has thrived playing off of Harden, covering for his defensive shortcomings and running the offense seamlessly when the beard sits. The Rockets are up 2-0 and while the likely MVP runner up deserves credit so does Beverley. When Beverley is on the floor the Rockets are assisting on 55.7 percent of their made baskets, when he sits that percentage drops to 41.7. The rapid decrease is two percent steeper when Beverley sits than when Harden sits.
The early playoff MVP is ravaging the villages of Tennessee one free throw at a time. He’s indirectly getting coaches fined and directly carrying the Spurs to wins.
Leonard is averaging 34.5 PPG with a .856 TS%. This isn’t sustainable because it’s insane, it’s got gumption that a rigged simulation could not find. What Leonard is doing to Memphis is grittier and grindier than anything Memphis can muster.
The Kawhi-Leonard-is-a-system-player argument should be long dead but in case it isn’t, the man is only being assisted on 15 percent of his field goals. Leonard is out there earning every bucket. Early stats are devoid of real context because it’s not yet available but Leonard has a net rating of +64.5 in the fourth quarter. What can be said other than good night sweet Memphis.
The abuse has to stop.
CLE getting a lot of mileage out of the ol' "Kyrie, go do something mean to Jeff Teague" play.
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) April 18, 2017
In fairness to Teague, Kyrie Irving burns the best of defenders and could create fire in a room with no oxygen. He’s the hottest isolation player in the NBA and something outta nothing might as well be his tagline. That said, Teague is getting toasted and roasted on repeat.
On switches Lance Stephenson is fairing no better but Irving is Teague’s primary assignment. To date, Irving is averaging 30 PPG on 49 percent shooting. Uncle Drew is eating and if the Pacers want to avoid the sweep Teague is going to have to wake up.
On the other end Teague has shot well enough in what has been a high paced series, but he’s averaging only 4 APG while owning a mere 2:1 assist/turnover ratio. The Pacers need more from their starting point guard as a distributor, especially when George isn’t out there.
Horford has long been a divisive player to NBA Twitter. He’s a player of acquired taste, nuance is required to appreciate his finer qualities, and yet it’s his flaws that land him here today. Let us not dance around it, Horford gets whooped like an MMA dummy every time a physical center comes to town. A subpar rebounder, undersized and unable to body the NBA’s bruisers. Horford has played the victim many a time in the playoffs, this year being no exception.
Many had hoped Horford would avoid exposure until the Cleveland series but it was not the case. As it stands the number one seeded Celtics are down 0-2 to the eight seed Chicago Bulls and Robin Lopez is playing far too large of a role. Lopez is averaging 16 PPG, 9RPG and shooting 70 percent from the field. The problem is Lopez isn’t just physically besting Horford, the Celtics are letting him put down uncontested jumpers that a versatile big like Horford should be challenging.
Dear Celtics: Robin Lopez can hit the 18 footer he’s hit on you 11,000 times
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 19, 2017
When Al Horford is on the floor the Celtics have a Defensive Rating (DRtg) of 114, when he sits they have a team best DRtg of 102.7. Horford might not be a rim protector by trade but he’s looking like a complete liability on defense early in this one.
Kyle Lowry has been arguably the East’s second best player over the last two seasons, seriously he’s been that good. A large part of his success is due to the three-point shot that he has rifled down at 40 percent per pop. In the playoffs it’s a different story. Lowry is one of the worst playoff performers of all-time and unfortunately for Canadians that is not regular sports writer hyperbole.
— Krishna Narsu (@knarsu3) April 18, 2017
Regularly, Lowry is an offensive stud but he undergoes a gruesome and terrible transformation in the playoffs and this year is in sync with that memo. Lowry rebounded some in Game 2 but he’s struggling against a long and pesky Bucks defense, shooting only 35 percent from the field in the series. The Raptors have the talent to advance but they’ll need Lowry to get back to the man he used to be.
Historically, the time that Lowry and DeRozan have been together, net rating has painted Lowry as a star and DeRozan as a blunder. In the playoffs both aren’t being shown in a positive light. The Raptors have a net rating of -11 when Lowry is on the floor and a net rating of 6.1 when he sits.
The playoffs wouldn’t be the playoffs without a terrible, gut-wrenching injury to a team. Rudy Gobert crawling on all fours, during the first play of Game 1 is just that. With the Jazz’s defensive pillar sidelined, more pressure has fallen on Gordon Hayward to lead Utah onward and upward. Sadly for those homer Utah fans, Hayward has not made that adjustment.
Hayward is shooting a worse percentage in the playoffs (36 percent vs. 47 percent in the regular season) and averaging fewer points (19.5 vs. 21.9). Worst of all, with both games being relatively close Hayward has struggled greatly to contribute in the fourth quarter. He’s averaging only 3.5 PPG in the fourth and he’s shooting a putrid 25 percent in the closing quarter.
Gobert or not, the Jazz need more from their first-time All-Star. Hayward is a pending unrestricted free agent and if this is his last series in Utah so far it’s not a memorable one.
Wayne Selden, James Ennis and we’ll include Andrew Harrison in for kicks have been getting whooped by the Spurs counterparts. Exhibit A is the Kawhi Leonard section of this piece. Exhibit B is the rebirth of 57-year-old Tony Parker. At this very moment Tony Parker has a career high .635 TS% in the playoffs, his .514 TS% in the regular season was the second worst mark of his career.
At the other end, all three of Ennis, Harrison and Selden are averaging 20 plus minutes a game. They are playing but they aren’t contributing, scoring less than 6 points, and shooting 36 percent or worse. That’s all sorts of ugly. Mike Conley hasn’t been fantastic and the Grizzlies are clearly less talented but the games would be a whole lot closer if the wings could bear down and show some pride.
Chandler Parsons was supposed to be the difference maker for this Memphis team, the shiny and expensive two-way wing to bring things together. Tragically, he’s not available. The Grizzlies will need a contribution from someone other than Conley or Marc Gasol if they are going to save some face.