April 25, 2019, 12:49 pm
What’s up HoopBallers!
Boy did I miss typing those three words. The fantasy season is over but we’re right in the middle of playoff basketball and it’s been amazing so far, outside of that Bucks vs. Pistons series. Even though the Sixers beat the Nets in five games, it was a pretty competitive series outside of that last game. The Pacers scared the Celtics a little but ultimately got swept without their All-Star Victor Oladipo and Damian Lillard’s buzzer beater to send the Thunder packing in Game 5 was the coldest shot I’ve witnessed since Kyrie Irving’s shot against the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
That’s playoff basketball in a nutshell. All the intensity, that feeling you get deep in your stomach when you’re watching a game go down to the wire, that’s why we all love basketball. The two remaining series are both in the Western Conference with the Nuggets leading the Spurs 3-2 and the Warriors leading the Clippers 3-2. The Warriors should have closed things out in Game 6, even though I know a ton of people are rooting for the Clippers. The bottom line is, the Warriors and Rockets are just destined to meet in the semi-finals of the Western Conferences, which I honestly think will go seven games. Then we have the Nuggets vs. the Spurs and before the series began I picked the Spurs because of Popovich, DeRozan and Aldridge all having playoff experience but the Nuggets have changed my mind. I think it’ll ultimately go seven games but I’ve got the Nuggets pulling off what seems to be an upset, even though they were the No.2 seed.
It’s a shame that the Rockets and Warriors won’t meet in the WCF but I believe we’ll see the Warriors vs. the Trail Blazers. Say what you want about the Trail Blazers, but Damian Lillard is on another level this post season. He’s averaging the most points in the playoffs with 33.0 on an insane 46.1 percent from the field while also averaging the most 3-pointers in the postseason with 5.2 while shooting 48.1 percent from beyond the arc. I’ll save the rest of his stats for the actual Stock Up section, spoiler alert, he’s going to be in it.
Speaking of spoilers, how many of you all will be going to watch Avengers:Endgame this weekend? I definitely will be, I’ve been staying off Twitter because of all the spoilers leaking which has obviously been hard. The first Iron Man came out when I was 10 years old and I’ve seen all 21 movies since then. I’m 20 now and I’m still just as excited as I was back then, I’ll be seeing it Thursday night so if anyone wants to talk about it on Twitter feel free to tweet me @najeeadams_. Now that I’m thinking about it, assigning different NBA players to different Avengers could be a fun article to write. Hm, I wonder who’d like to write something like that? *cough, cough Panda, it’s me*
Stock Up: Playoff Edition
Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers: Was there ever any doubt that Dame Dolla would be featured on this list? Probably not, so I figured I’d just get him out of the way early. There’s no way around it, the man is an absolute monster and has completely destroyed Russell Westbrook this series. Come to think of it, it was kind of weird to see. We’re not used to Westbrook being the one that gets shut-up, we’re used to him getting the last laugh. I’m honestly used to rooting for Westbrook, especially in his encounters with Kevin Durant, but not this time. This time I was firmly rooting for Dame Dolla and he didn’t let me down. You’ve probably seen his buzzer-beater all over your Twitter timeline and Instagram feed but look at it one more time. That’s one cold-blooded man, the stare that he gave Paul George right before he pulled the close to half court shot in his eye was one that just screamed “You know this is going in, right?”
Dame even told Evan Turner on Instagram that he “feels like he’s going to have a breakout postseason” back in mid-April. 50 points and a buzzer-beater to send a team who a ton of people had in their WCF packing? Yeah, I say that qualifies you for a breakout Dame. This postseason he’s averaging 33.0 points, 6.0 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 5.2 triples on 46.1 percent shooting in 39.8 minutes. Like I said earlier, the 33.0 points and 5.2 triples are the most in the entire playoffs and his 48.1 percent shooting from the 3-point line is just absolutely insane. The Thunder poked the bear and he responded with a 50-piece and one of the greatest postseason shots of all-time. Now the Blazers wait for either the Spurs or the Nuggets but either way I have them advancing to the Western Conference Finals. I love a good underdog story and Damian Lillard and the Blazers are just that. Consider the entire NBA put on notice, it’s Dame Time.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Milwaukee Bucks: I don’t think that anyone thought the Pistons would take a single game from the Bucks, especially with Blake Griffin missing two games. However, Giannis was better than anyone could even imagine and there’s a legit case to be made about whether he’s the best basketball player in the world. The Bucks flat out destroyed the Pistons in four games and the closest game was decided by 16 points, making Milwaukee the second team in NBA history to win its first four playoff games by at least 15 points. It looked like the Pistons didn’t even belong in the playoffs and it’s sad because they’re not *that* bad of a team, but Giannis is just that good of a player.
The Greek Freak averaged 26.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.0 3-pointers and 0.8 steals on 52.1 percent shooting in only 28.3 minutes. The Pistons had no answer for the MVP candidate and it’s unlikely the Celtics will either. I’m not saying the Bucks will dispatch of them in four, or even five games, however I do think the Bucks will ultimately be in the ECF this year. They’re a perfectly built team with shooters all around Giannis and a very capable bench as well. With the Bucks having won their first playoff series since 2001, the Greek Freak is here to stay and he could be in for a very deep playoff run.
Caris LeVert, SG/SF, Brooklyn Nets: LeVert had one of the most gruesome injuries of the regular season this year and still managed to come back and show out in the playoffs. The Nets might have lost in five but Caris LeVert certainly made his presence known, leading the Nets in both 3-pointers and points this postseason. He averaged 21.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.4 triples and 1.0 steals on 49.3 percent shooting in 28.9 minutes. He looked like the best player the Nets had for a long chunk of this season, which really puts a damper on D’Angelo Russell’s breakout year. There were times where it looked like LeVert was carrying the Nets, where he was the only thing keeping the 76ers from running away with it. He’s a fighter, he’s gone through adversity, suffered injury after injury and even had the spotlight taken away from him, but he’s still standing and this postseason he showed the world that he’s only just beginning.
Derrick White, PG, San Antonio Spurs: Does anyone even remember who Dejounte Murray is? I’m just kidding but really, Derrick White has made up for Murray’s absence and contributed maybe even more than he could’ve. There’s no doubt in my mind that Murray will retake the starting job when he’s healthy again but Gregg Popovich will definitely have to think about it, as it won’t be as easy of a decision as he probably thought it would be at the beginning of the season. The Spurs might be down right now but it’s in no way because of White, he’s averaging 17.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks on 60.7 percent shooting in 28.5 minutes. Those are pretty remarkable stats for a guard who doesn’t really shoot from beyond the arc.
He’s become the Spurs’ true third option behind their two All-Star caliber players DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge and he’ll continue to grow and gain experience as the playoffs continue. Whether the Spurs advance or not, White put his name on the map and the Spurs will likely be fielding calls all offseason from teams trying to trade for their soon-to-be backup point guard.
Pascal Siakam, PF, Toronto Raptors: Siakam is firmly in the race for Most Improved Player and for me it’s between him and D’Angelo Russell. While Russell struggled in his postseason debut, Siakam shined in his series vs. the Magic and at times looked like the best player on the court which is hard to do with All-Stars like Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Nikola Vucevic. Siakam has emerged as the Raptors’ secondary scoring option in the playoffs as both he and Kawhi Leonard attempted 18.0 shots in the series vs. the Magic. That just goes to show how much trust he’s earned and it’s all very well-deserved as he averaged 22.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.6 triples on 53.3 percent shooting in a team-high 37.6 minutes in the first round.
As the Raptors look on to their next series vs. the 76ers, Siakam will have a tougher challenge with Philadelphia having so much length but I’m sure he’ll be able to adapt. The 76ers were able to bully the Nets down low with Joel Embiid but something tells me Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol will have something to say about that this series as they’re both very good defenders in the low post. Siakam should have the advantage on the 6’8″ Tobias Harris as although he’s only an inch shorter, the 6’9 Siakam has a 7’3″ wingspan compared to Harris’ 6’11”. He’d been showing out all season but now he’s doing it on the national stage, where every game truly counts and he’s proving that the regular season wasn’t a fluke, but only the beginning of something special.
Stock Down: Playoff Edition
Donovan Mitchell, SG, Utah Jazz: Well, it’s safe to say the Jazz were certainly a disappointment this postseason after they eliminated the Thunder in the first round last year. Now I don’t think anyone outside of Utah ever really thought they’d beat the Rockets but five games? That’s it? That’s definitely embarrassing but the the blame is going to fall mostly on Donovan Mitchell’s shoulder’s, especially after his dreadful 4-of-22, 0-of-9 from beyond the arc shooting performance in Game 5. He really wasn’t good for the entire series, averaging 21.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.6 steals and 2.2 triples on 32.1 percent shooting from the field and 25.6 percent from the 3-point line. That’s not going to get it done against a Rockets team who fires up 3-pointers at a historic pace and has a man named James Harden who scored 2,818 points this season to win his second straight scoring title.
Overall, it was a disappointing season for the Jazz and Donovan Mitchell but he’s only 22 and he’s still got so much to learn and improve on. He’s one of the NBA’s Rising Stars and will definitely be able to make up for this playoff misstep for years to come.
Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder: Oh you had to know this one was coming. Westbrook talked a lot of trash and got utterly destroyed by Damian Lillard, the MVP of the post-season thus far. For the second straight year the Thunder are a disappointment and have been bounced in the first round. Something has got to give, they can’t just keep running it back with the same team they have now. So, will the Thunder trade Russ?
Not a chance, he’s been too loyal to them and they just locked up Paul George, who was their best player this season. The problem with Russ is, he’s too prideful. That last shot of Game 5 was the perfect example. Damian Lillard had just came down and hit a nice little contact layup to tie the game and what does Westbrook do? Instead of giving it to the 14-of-20 Paul George, he takes it to the rack for an extremely tough layup, misses, the Blazers get the rebound and the rest is history. He saw Damian Lillard go down and get a tough basket and he just had to respond, he couldn’t let Lillard out-do him. Well, that’s exactly what he did the entire series and in the end Russ’ pride ended up being what killed the Thunder’s season. He finished this post season averaging 22.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 10.6 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.2 triples on 36.0 percent shooting in 39.5 minutes.
Paul George had been the best player on the Thunder for the entire season and Russ seemed to be fine with it; he could deal with it when the games meant nothing, when they were just fighting for a seed number. However, when the spotlight was on and the season was on the line he just couldn’t help but try and prove that he’s still Oklahoma City’s hero, that he’s still their savior, their Alpha Dog, their everything, and that ultimately ended up costing them their season.
D’Angelo Russell, PG, Brooklyn Nets: DLO had a breakout season and no one, especially not me, will take that away from him but his performance in the postseason has definitely messed up his payday this offseason. Going into the playoffs he was an All-Star with a reputation of coming up clutch but after this series vs. the 76ers, where he really didn’t play very well, teams have got to be thinking twice before putting near max money into him, even the Nets. Would the Nets lock up DLO and then only have space for one more max player, taking away the chance to tell Kevin Durant that they could pair Kyrie Irving or Kawhi Leonard with him? Maybe if DLO would’ve performed in the playoffs, but now, it’s definitely questionable.
He finished Game 5 with eight points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals on 3-of-16 shooting in 27 minutes. There’s no way around it, that’s unacceptable. It was his first time in the playoffs and he’s only 23 years old so he’s still got a long way to go but this wasn’t a good start. Just like Donovan Mitchell though, I firmly believe he’ll have enough spectacular playoff performances in his career to make this debut seem like it never even happened.