Below, check out four players who have elevated their games in the playoffs and four who have done the opposite.
To help determine who we choose, we use our own Alberto de Roa’s Global Rating catch-all advanced metric.
Hit: Jae Crowder (Phoenix)
Despite poor shooting marks this postseason, analytically, Jae Crowder has seen one of the biggest improvements from regular-season marks to playoff clips, at least according to our Global Rating stat.
Crowder’s +10.91 improvement in Global Rating (+8.78 to +19.69) this postseason is actually the sixth-highest league-wide, trailing just Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Devin Booker, Kyrie Irving and Trae Young, an illustrious list for Crowder to find himself on.
That’s in spite of Crowder shooting just 38.6 percent from the floor and 30.9 percent from three in the playoffs. In fairness, though, those poor outside shooting numbers are dragged down by the veteran forward’s slow start to the postseason; Crowder shot 2-for-20 over his first three playoff games this year.
Since then, however, Crowder is hitting 42.9 percent of his three-point looks, a span of four games in which the Phoenix Suns are undefeated with an average margin of victory of 17.
With the Suns as loaded and well-balanced as they are, when even the notoriously streaky Crowder is shooting that well from the outside, the team becomes awfully hard to beat. That’s why it should come as no surprise that, with Crowder’s current form being where it is, Phoenix is 23.4 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor in the playoffs.
And even if his shooting marks take another dip at some point soon, Crowder will still likely be a positive impact player thanks to his defensive toughness and team-first style of play.
For the latest Jae Crowder rumors, click here.
Bomb: Kyle Kuzma (LA Lakers)
Few players this postseason bombed as hard as Kyle Kuzma did, outside of maybe a couple of guys from the Miami Heat, who we discussed in Part 1 of this series.
After a somewhat disappointing regular season, Kuzma doubled down on the disappointment in the playoffs, putting up 6.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists over six games against the Phoenix Suns while shooting a paltry 29.2 percent from the floor and laughable 17.4 percent from three.
Perhaps Kuzma deserves some lauding for his maturation as a player, realizing he needed to focus more on defense and less on scoring this year, but he’s still got steps to take to be a positive impact player overall, as in three of Kuzma’s four campaigns as a Laker, he’s had a negative swing rating, with the worst rate coming this very season, 2020-21, when L.A. was 8.5 points per 100 possessions worse with the Utah product on the floor.
Considering Kuzma is already almost 26, this might just be who he is, though.
For the latest Kyle Kuzma rumors, click here.
Hit: Ben Simmons (Philadelphia)
In the postseason, Ben Simmons is putting up an impressive 15.2/9.2/9.3 stat line to go with 1.7 steals and 68.4 percent accuracy from the field. He’s also yet to post a negative plus/minus in any postseason outing; in fact, his lowest plus/minus in any playoff game was a +4 – in every other playoff game, Simmons has had at least a +17 plus/minus clip.
Now, as far as any negatives regarding Simmons in the postseason, one that immediately stands out is his free throw shooting, as the supersized point guard has made just 13 of his 38 attempts from the foul stripe in the playoffs.
Simmons also might need to step up and defend Trae Young one-on-one more often starting in Game 2, and do so without fouling. Shouldn’t be a problem for the Sixers guard, considering how frequently he reminded us all regular season long how great of a defender he is.
Time to prove it.
For the latest Ben Simmons rumors, click here.
Bomb: Enes Kanter (Portland)
For as solid of a regular-season player he has proven to be throughout his nine-year career, the immortal words of Billy Donovan still ring true for the Portland Trail Blazers big man come every postseason: Can’t play (Enes) Kanter.
P&R lob to Capela causes Billy Donovan to tell Mo Cheeks, "Can't play Kanter." pic.twitter.com/4ROFSNpFw6
— Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) April 17, 2017
Kanter’s severe defensive limitations – he’s not long or particularly instinctive defensively, so he doesn’t protect the paint, and he’s slow-footed so he’s even less effective when forced to switch – make him a borderline turnstile when guarding the pick-and-roll, making it difficult to find him minutes in postseason play.
Former Blazers head coach Terry Stotts thought so, too, at least, considering Kanter averaged 11.2 minutes in the playoffs, even receiving a DNP-CD (did not play – coach’s decision) in the deciding Game 6 defeat to the Denver Nuggets.
Kanter’s overall numbers for the postseason – 2.0 points and 2.6 rebounds per contest – were somehow even uglier than his play on the defensive end, too.
It’s a shame considering how solid of a scorer and rebounder Kanter is, but it just doesn’t look like he’ll ever be a player who will be able to elevate his game in the playoffs, not with those poor defensive attributes and inability to space the floor.
For the latest Enes Kanter rumors, click here.
Hit: Austin Rivers (Denver)
It’s hard to decide which is harder to believe: That 2020-21 Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau couldn’t find a role for Austin Rivers on his team or that Rivers was a free agent for over a month this year before the Nuggets picked him up in late April.
Regardless, Denver has to be thrilled with how things worked out, as Rivers has played well enough for the club to earn a starting role in the playoffs, one he’s been very effective in.
For the postseason, the former Duke standout is averaging 10.9 points, 2.6 assists and 2.3 three-pointers while converting on nearly 46 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Rivers, a two-way guard with shot-making prowess and feisty defensive chops, has over 50 games’ worth of playoff experience in his career, so it’s not too surprising to see him perform well with these heightened stakes, but for him to be shooting it this efficiently is a bit noteworthy.
Regardless, the Nuggets will need more out of that from Rivers as the team faces a tough challenge in Round 2 against the Suns, a series that Denver already finds itself in a 1-0 hole.
For the latest Austin Rivers rumors, click here.
Bomb: Jonas Valanciunas (Memphis)
The backup center on our All-Underrated Team for 2020-21, Jonas Valanciunas disappointed a bit in the Memphis Grizzlies’ short playoff run this year, though it’s hard to blame the Lithuanian big man for that considering who he had to match up against in the series.
Valanciunas’ raw averages actually didn’t take too much of a hit in the playoffs, as the 29-year-old still averaged 15.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists against Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz, but his Global Rating mark tells another story.
Valanciunas’ seven-point drop-off in our advanced statistic was the 14th biggest among all playoff participants this year and speaks to how effective Gobert, the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year yet again this season, was in slowing down the productive center.
For the latest Jonas Valanciunas rumors, click here.
Hit: Monte Morris (Denver)
Rivers wasn’t the only Nuggets guard to elevate his game in the playoffs, as Monte Morris was also a huge factor in Denver getting out of their first-round matchup against Portland in six games.
Morris’ biggest outing of the postseason came in the massively important Game 5 against the Blazers when he went off for a career-high 28 points, a career-best mark for the 25-year-old.
That Morris did so on a night where the Nuggets absolutely needed it, considering it was the same evening Damian Lillard went supernova and dropped 55 points himself, speaks volumes on how good he’s been in the playoffs.
What’s more, prior to Morris’ Game 1 dud against Phoenix in which he dropped two points on 1-of-10 shooting, the reserve point guard was averaging 15.3 points, 5.8 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 41.7 percent from three over his first six 2020-21 playoff games, fantastic numbers for a player being used off the bench.
Denver will need Morris to get back to his pre-Game 1 form soon, as the team would probably rather avoid falling into a 0-2 hole against a team as good as the Suns.
For the latest Monte Morris rumors, click here.
Bomb: Shake Milton (Philadelphia)
To say Shake Milton has had a disappointing postseason to this point would be understating things a bit.
Milton is averaging 2.8 points in 8.0 nightly minutes of action so far, shooting 21.1 percent from the floor when he does actually see the floor and 20.0 percent from beyond the arc.
That’s after a regular season where the SMU product averaged a career-high 13.0 points and 3.1 assists per contest and legitimately looked like a player who might be able to contribute something positive in the playoffs.
That hasn’t been the case so far, though, as head coach Doc Rivers has sent Milton’s minutes elsewhere (primarily to Tyrese Maxey and George Hill, who hasn’t been all that effective himself), which has looked like the right call considering Milton’s output when on the rare occasions he does get to play this postseason.
Milton’s 9.12-point decrease in Global Rating is the eighth-worst drop-off these playoffs, according to our database.
Perhaps Milton makes his way back into the rotation at some point in the playoffs, but for now, he caps off Part 2 of this series as one of our bombs.
For the latest Shake Milton rumors, click here.