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Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
The playoffs in any sport are when the pressure and intensity ramp up. Each game carries a new level of importance; each quarter (or inning or half) provides a new challenge. And in the NBA, the postseason is the separator of who is an 82-game player and who is a 16-game player.
These NBA playoffs have been INCREDIBLE. Young stars are blossoming and telling the world what they can do on the biggest stage. We are seeing new heroes rise to the challenge and others crumbling against it.
Most teams in the NBA playoffs have three or four games in the books. It may be just a small sample size, but it is enough to hand out grades.
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Matt Slocum/Associated Press
Joel Embiid started with a pedestrian game. He went 5-of-15 from the field, but thanks to the heroics of Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris, the Philadelphia 76ers took Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors. Since then, Embiid has played like the dominant force that has him in the MVP race.
Over Games 2 and 3, Embiid averaged 32.0 points on 58.3 percent shooting, including 40.0 percent from three. He also had the game-winning three in Toronto in overtime to cement the Sixers’ 3-0 series lead. He has simply been unguardable while terrorizing head coach Nick Nurse and his Raptors.
Embiid would have gotten an A+, but his turnover numbers have been skyrocketing. He has 15 in Games 2-4. A better opponent might be able to take advantage of those miscues, so that drops his grade to an A-.
These playoffs have revealed a different James Harden. He is averaging roughly 10 points fewer than from his last playoff run with the Houston Rockets in 2019-20. He has taken more of a facilitator approach.
As the main playmaker, he is averaging 9.8 assists, the third-most in the playoffs. Make no mistake—he is still getting to the free-throw line 7.8 times per night and is shooting 39.1 percent from three.
Harden’s play gets him a B. It would have been higher, but his 37.5 percent field-goal rate prevented him from climbing.
Joel Embiid: A-
James Harden: B
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Matt Slocum/Associated Press
The regular season finished with Pascal Siakam going on a tear. In his last nine games, he averaged 28.0 points and shot 52.6 percent from the field while grabbing 9.8 rebounds and dishing 6.7 assists.
The star forward has not been able to keep that going in the postseason. He’s averaging just 22.5 points on 43.8 percent shooting, with his rebounding and assist numbers dropping to 6.5 and 5.3 per contest, respectively.
Siakam has struggled against the Sixers defense, especially around the rim, where he is shooting 50 percent, a massive dropoff from the 67 percent he was averaging in the regular season, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Siakam was heading for an F, but his explosion in Game 4 helped. He dropped 34 points on 10-of-19 shooting to go with his eight rebounds and five assists. Staving off elimination with that game raises his grade a D.
The other star Raptor has also struggled mightily. Fred VanVleet is known for his shooting but has been ice-cold of late. He has shown flashes here and there but he has not been able to sustain it for a full game.
VanVleet looked like he would get going in Game 2 after his monster 15-point first quarter. He went 5-of-9, including 4-of-6 from three. After that, he scored only five more points and shot 2-of-14 from the field and 1-of-10 from three in the last three quarters. It did not get better in Game 3 either (3-of-13 from the field, 2-of-10 from three).
For most of the second half of the season, VanVleet had been dealing with a knee issue, and he missed the second half of Game 4 with a left hip strain. If this is the last VanVleet plays in the series, he put in a D- performance.
Pascal Siakam: D
Fred VanVleet: D-
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Matt Kelley/Associated Press
One would think Donovan Mitchell has been dominating these playoffs just from viewing the box scores. That has not been the case. Even though he is leading both teams in the series against the Dallas Mavericks in scoring, he has not been efficient.
Mitchell has struggled everywhere on the court except the paint. Thirty of his 40 made field goals have been in the paint. He is just shooting 23.5 percent from deep, a 12-point drop from his regular-season three-point numbers.
Beyond Mitchell’s outside shooting struggles, he has not been good on the defensive end. He has given up easy drives to the rim multiple times. His poor defense has evened out his high scoring numbers; the Jazz nearly break even with him on the court. For that reason his playoff grade so far is a C.
It has been a tough series for Rudy Gobert. As many have suspected, the playoffs are when a team can take advantage of his limitations. Gobert is not an offensive standout and is dependent on someone else feeding him the ball. His impact needs to be felt on defense.
Quite simply: Gobert has not had that impact. Against Dallas, the Jazz have a defensive rating of 114.3 with Gobert on the floor. Compare that with the 104.5 defensive rating in the regular season.
The Jazz have a minus-9.0 net rating with Gobert on the floor and are plus-9.6 when he’s off. That is an 18.6-point swing.
The Jazz were able to knot the series at two apiece, but Gobert has earned himself a C- in their four playoff games.
Donovan Mitchell: C
Rudy Gobert: C-
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Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
There is no question that Luka Doncic is the star of the Mavericks, but with him missing the first three games of the series, it is not easy to grade him. He looked good in his first game Saturday (11-of-21 shooting from the field), but since that is a small sample size, Doncic gets an “Incomplete.”
With Doncic out, Jalen Brunson has been a complete star.
He averaged 32.0 points on 50.7 percent shooting in his first three games and is averaging 29.8 points per game in this series while shooting 48.3 percent from the field, 40.9 percent from three and 85.7 percent from the free-throw line while dishing out 4.8 dimes. More impressive than his scoring has been his turnover numbers. Brunson has only committed three.
In Games 2 and 3—both Mavs’ wins—Brunson scored 72 total points and just one turnover. He has been a constant threat in the paint, averaging 15.5 points in that area.
For helping the Mavs survive Doncic’s absence, Brunson gets an A for his early playoff run.
Luka Doncic: Incomplete
Jalen Brunson: A
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John Minchillo/Associated Press
Watching Jayson Tatum in the playoffs this year is like watching a caterpillar emerge from its cocoon as a butterfly. He has been the best player in a series that features Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and it has not even been close.
Tatum has been doing it on both ends of the floor as well. He has been guarding Durant for most of the series and has blocked his jumper on two different occasions. Even when his shot wasn’t falling in Game 2, he still finished with 10 assists.
Tatum is leading both teams with 29.7 points a night, shooting 42.9 percent from the field and 36.0 percent from three. Even more impressive are the eight assists he’s averaging to go with his defense. It is an easy A+ grade.
Jayson Tatum: A+
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Seth Wenig/Associated Press
This has been one of Kevin Durant’s worst playoff performances in his career. The last time he shot this poorly from the field, it was his first playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He is shooting 36.5 percent for the Brooklyn Nets this postseason.
The Celtics defense has Durant flummoxed. He has committed more turnovers than assists, and his average of 5.7 turnovers in this series is his most in any playoff run. Durant has not been able to find any flow, with the Celtics giving him zero space.
It has been a very un-Durant-like showing. Look no further than his 0-of-10 performance in the second half of Game 2. The grade would have been lower, but going up against the best defense in the NBA gives Durant the benefit of the doubt. He gets a D+.
Durant is not the only Nets star to disappoint. Kyrie Irving’s scoring is down from 27.4 points per night in the regular season to 21.7 in the playoffs. His three-point shooting has been a big culprit, dropping from 41.8 to 33.3 percent. He brought back the Nets in Game 1 with an 18-point outburst in the fourth quarter only to fall short by overdribbling on the team’s last offensive possession.
Since Irving’s Game 1 fourth-quarter explosion, he has disappeared in the final frame of Games 2 and 3. He has averaged just 2.0 points and 1.5 assists while shooting 25.0 percent from the field in 9.9 minutes.
This was a big playoff series for Irving after he missed the majority of home games this season because he was not in compliance with New York City’s then-vaccination mandate for local professional athletes. He went from being electric to nonexistent. Almost winning Game 1 single-handedly saved his grade from being an F, so a D it is.
Kevin Durant: D+
Kyrie Irving: D
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Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press
Ja Morant is the most exciting player in the NBA right now. When the ball is in his hands, it feels like there is about a 10-to-15 percent higher chance that something magical is going to happen.
This playoff run, though, has not been particularly kind to the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. He’s coming off a knee injury that caused him to miss time heading into the postseason.
Morant ripped off 32 points in a Game 1 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and since then, his scoring output has dropped each game: 23 in Game 2; 16 in Game 3; and just 11 points in Game 4. His scoring numbers (20.5 ppg) are way down from the regular season (27.4 ppg).
Morant led the league in points in the paint during the regular season, but his efficiency at the rim has dropped dramatically, according to Cleaning the Glass. It has gone from 66 percent in the regular season to 47 percent in the playoffs.
Another issue has been Morant’s defense. The Timberwolves have targeted him several times with great success. Patrick Beverley waved off screens repeatedly in Game 3 to attack him. The numbers back it up: The Grizzlies defense is 9.6 points per 100 possessions better when Morant is off the floor.
On the positive side, he is averaging 10.8 assists this series (up from 6.7 during the regular season) and doing a good job of finding his teammates as the defense collapses on him. That is the one thing keeping his grade in the passing range.
Ja Morant: C-
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Craig Lassig/Associated Press
There may not be a more feast-or-famine player this postseason than Karl-Anthony Towns. He can be dominant one night and then the next pick up several silly fouls and be relegated to the bench.
In Games 1 and 4, Towns was a wolf, averaging 31.0 points and 13.5 rebounds. In Games 2 and 3, both losses, he turned into a puppy, averaging 11.5 points, eight rebounds and five fouls. He was so good in Game 1 that he Grizzlies demoted and eventually benched Steven Adams in Games 2 and 3.
The problem is that Towns seems to get too emotionally invested. He frequently argues calls with the officials, and it can swing his play on the court. When he does that, he becomes a liability instead of the All-Star he really is.
With two good games in the books and two bad ones, this is an easy grade to hand out.
Karl-Anthony Towns: C
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
The Golden State Warriors have been absolutely amazing in these playoffs, and even though Stephen Curry is coming off the bench for now, he’s a big reason why. He has not missed a beat since coming back from his foot injury.
Through four games he is averaging 27.5 points and shooting 51.4 percent from the field. All of this in 28 minutes per game. Since Game 1, he’s averaging 31.3 points. Quite simply, the Denver Nuggets have had a difficult time holding him down.
The scary thing for the rest of the NBA is that Curry is still not shooting the three-ball at the level we are accustomed to. He is making just 38.9 percent of his shots, nearly a point higher than his regular-season number. That is a pretty good number for an average player, but the two-time league MVP and all-time leader in three-pointers has proved he’s no average player.
Curry has been great coming off the injury, but his three-point shooting has his performance as a B+. It might be a tough grade, but the expectations have been set.
Stephen Curry: B+
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic has a tough assignment: carry his team to a series win over the Warriors. This Denver team was able to overachieve this season without all their guys.
Jokic has been scoring at a high rate, leading all players in the series with 31.3 points. He is doing so by hitting 55.7 percent of his shots from the field. But digging deeper in the numbers reveals a few issues.
For starters, his assist numbers are way down from the regular season, when he was able to hand out 7.9 dimes per game. That has dropped to 5.3 in the playoffs as the Warriors have chosen to defend him one-on-one. That has closed down passing lanes for him. Even his potential assists have gone down from 13.9 to 10.7 in the playoffs.
Jokic’s defense has also hampered the Nuggets. The Warriors hunted him toward the end of Game 4. It got to the point that head coach Michael Malone had to take Jokic off the court on a critical possession to avoid giving Golden State a target.
A big part of Jokic’s game is passing. The Warriors cutting that down has the Nuggets on the brink of elimination. Jokic’s grade is on a curve considering how little firepower Denver has at its disposal. But his defensive liabilities are an issue, so he gets a C+.
Nikola Jokic: C+
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Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
Giannis Antetokounmpo is just amazing. There are not enough adjectives to describe his greatness. Even though the Milwaukee Bucks dropped a game against the Chicago Bulls at home, Antetokounmpo has brought the intensity as only he can.
Through four playoff games Antetokounmpo has averaged 27.5 points, 14.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists. His rebounds and assists are up from his regular-season averages. His scoring numbers could have been higher, but he was only needed for 30 minutes in Game 3 as the Bucks smashed the Bulls 111-81.
The Bucks are going to need every bit of his greatness with Khris Middleton destined to miss a good chunk of the playoffs with an MCL sprain. Through four games there is little to nitpick about Antetokounmpo’s performance besides his three-point shooting (16.7 percent). There is no question the A in Antetokounmpo is his grade for the first four games.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A
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Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
Game 1s are just not a DeMar DeRozan thing. Through 11 career series openers, DeRozan has shot 35.7 percent from the field. That includes his 6-of-25 performance this year against the Bucks. DeRozan bounced back with a 41-point Game 2 to get the Bulls a win.
One would have anticipated the run to continue as Chicago returned home, but in the two games at United Center, DeRozan mustered just 17.0 points on 41.4 percent shooting from the field and had a plus/minus of 23.5. He has yet to make a three in the series.
Apart from DeRozan’s explosion for Game 2, it has been a forgettable trip to the playoffs. That nets him a D+.
This is Zach LaVine’s first playoff appearance. He is clearly learning just how different it is. His scoring average has dropped from 24.4 to 19.3 points per game, and his field-goal (42.9) and three-point (37.5) percentages have dipped.
The bigger concern that affects LaVine’s grade is his lack of aggression. He’s shooting nearly two fewer shots and, more importantly, getting to the line nearly two fewer times. The Bulls need DeRozan’s wing counterpart to get back to his scoring ways.
One reason for LaVine’s dip is that he’s turned into more of a facilitator, going from 4.5 assists to 6.0, with a slight increase in his turnovers. He had 13 assists in Chicago’s Game 4 loss. That improvement as a playmaker has LaVine’s grade sitting at a C-.
DeMar DeRozan: D+
Zach LaVine: C-
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John Bazemore/Associated Press
Not too long ago, the Miami Heat were in disarray with Jimmy Butler getting into with head coach Erik Spoelstra during a timeout. Now they were a Trae Young floater away from sweeping the Hawks. At the center of it all has been Butler.
He leads everyone in the series with 30.5 points per night, is tied for first on the Heat in assists with 5.3 and is second on the team in rebounding with 7.8. All of this while shooting 43.8 percent from three. His three-point shooting is a shocker considering he made 23.3 percent of his tries during the regular season.
Butler has also held up his end on defense. The Heat have a defensive rating of 99.7 when he is on the court and 107.5 when he is off. He has been making heads-up plays that have turned into buckets.
Despite taking two terrible shots at the end of the Game 3 defeat, Butler gets an A-.
Jimmy Butler: A-
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John Bazemore/Associated Press
The Miami Heat are the worst possible matchup for Trae Young. Their defensive physicality can just be overwhelming against his size (6’1″, 164 lbs). That has clearly been the case through four playoff games.
This playoff run has been a complete disaster for Young. One of the league’s premiere sharpshooters is shooting just 21.2 percent from three, a far cry from his 38.2 percent in the regular season. In addition, his assists are down from 9.7 to 6.0 per game, and his turnovers have gone up from 4.0 to 6.0.
In 16 quarters, Young has scored in double digits only twice (10 points both times). He has had only one shining moment in these four games. It was the Game 3 go-ahead floater in transition.
This has been about as disappointing of a postseason run as you could expect from someone as good as Young.
Trae Young: F
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Michael Democker/Associated Press
Brandon Ingram has been in the NBA for six years, and this is his first taste of playoff basketball. It is clear that he loves the taste because he’s been amazing.
Ingram has scored at least 30 points in the last three games, averaging 29.8 points on 51.3/50.0/87.9 percent shooting splits for the postseason. He is shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc on four attempts per game after shooting 32.7 percent for the season. He is averaging 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists in this series.
The Booker injury has opened the door for the Pelicans, and Ingram appears to be ready to break it down in his very first playoff series against the mighty Suns. Ingram gets an A.
Brandon Ingram: A
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Michael Democker/Associated Press
Chris Paul’s plate got heavier with the Devin Booker injury during Game 2. That has not stopped the Point God from going off. Especially in the fourth quarter.
Paul leads the playoffs in assists with 12.3 per night, but more impressively, he leads in fourth-quarter scoring with 11.3 points. He took over at the end of Game 3 with 19 points in the last quarter to push the Suns ahead.
Even more impressive than his scoring and assists is the fact that he has had just four turnovers in this series. That would mean his assist-to-turnover ratio is 12-1. Um…that’s absurd. Even though the Suns dropped Game 4, Paul’s play has earned him an A-.
Booker would have been featured for the Suns alongside Paul, but a strained hamstring means his grade is incomplete. He was heading for an A with his 31-point first half in Game 2 that got derailed.
Chris Paul: A-
Devin Booker: Incomplete
Source : Bleacher Report