As the playoffs continue, so too do various of the NBA’s top players – both stars and complementary pieces – continue either rising to the occasion or faltering when the light is shone in their direction.
Below, check out four players who have stepped up and four who have not, at least so far.
Hit: Deandre Ayton (Phoenix)
Although his postseason numbers – 15.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 0.5 blocks – aren’t too far off what he put up in the regular season, Deandre Ayton’s impact in the playoffs has gone far beyond his raw numbers.
That’s best exemplified by the fact that he provided a borderline replacement-level swing rating in the regular season (-0.2), a far cry from the 7.4 points per 100 possessions the Phoenix Suns improve by with him on the floor in the postseason.
Ayton also did a great job defensively in the Suns’ Round 2 victory helping contain league MVP Nikola Jokic, who, granted, still put up monstrous numbers, but perhaps not as monstrous as they could have been had Ayton not been around to guard him for Phoenix.
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone even specifically mentioned Ayton when discussing a quiet second half in the series for Jokic:
Malone, while correcting a reporter's pronunciation of Nikola Jokic's name, on Jokic's 7 2nd half points in Game 1: "Deandre Ayton's a good defender so I don't know if they did anything tricky…You give them credit. I think for us, for Nikola, I think we settled way too much."
— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) June 10, 2021
The Suns now await the winner between the Clippers and Jazz to see who they face in the Western Conference Finals.
A matchup against the former would give Ayton an opportunity to exploit what, at times, can be an undersized frontcourt, while a showdown versus the latter would let him face off with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert.
Either way, it’ll be interesting to see Ayton step up to the challenges that await him and his team.
For the latest Deandre Ayton rumors, click here.
Bomb: Joe Ingles (Utah)
OK, to say Joe Ingles has bombed this postseason would be unfair, as the Utah Jazz are 7.2 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor in the playoffs, he’s shooting 44.0 percent from three and doing a solid job guarding opposing star wings.
At the same time, relative to high expectations, at least from the analytics community, Ingles hasn’t been quite as good as he was in the regular season and he didn’t do enough in Games 3 or 4 to prevent the Clippers from evening the series two games apiece.
Moreover, Ingles was at least partly to blame for playoff adversary Paul George, who said he ‘doesn’t care about Ingles’ earlier in the series, exploding in those two contests, dropping 31 points in each outing and shooting 50.0 percent on 20 three-point attempts.
For Utah to get to the next level of the playoffs, they’re going to need more out of their Australian swingman starting in Game 5.
For the latest Joe Ingles rumors, click here.
Hit: Seth Curry (Philadelphia)
Somewhat quietly, Seth Curry is posting a fantastic playoff run for the Philadelphia 76ers, averaging 16.7 points and 2.8 triples while shooting 55.8 percent from the floor and 45.5 percent from beyond the arc.
(Do you think the now-eliminated Dallas Mavericks could have used some of that shooting and scoring in the first round against the Clippers?)
For comparison’s sake, Curry averaged just 12.5 points in the regular season, though he did shoot a similar 45.0 percent from three during 2020-21.
That level of shooting in the postseason has been huge for a Sixers club without Danny Green and depending so much on a complete non-shooter in Ben Simmons and an inconsistent outside shooter in Joel Embiid.
If Curry can keep it up, the Sixers will have a huge chance to get by the Atlanta Hawks and put up a real fight against either the Brooklyn Nets or Milwaukee Bucks if they reach the Western Conference Finals.
For the latest Seth Curry rumors, click here.
Bomb: Josh Richardson (Dallas)
The player Curry was traded for by Dallas, Josh Richardson, had an opposite postseason to the sharpshooting Curry.
Richardson was downright awful for the Mavericks in the playoffs, averaging just 4.9 points over seven games while shooting under 40.0 percent from the floor and 30.0 percent from beyond the arc.
He was so bad, in fact, that Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle had no choice but to limit his minutes to 13.4 nightly in the series against the Clippers, as Richardson wasn’t coming close on the majority of his outside opportunities and his defense, supposedly his specialty, against L.A.’s two stars was lackluster to say the least.
Most shocking of all, Richardson, even in that limited amount of playing time, still made Dallas 33.8 points per 100 possessions worse during his time on the floor against the Clippers, an astronomical number and one that says his nightly minutes should have been closer to zero than 13.4.
Simply a brutal playoff run for Richardson and the timing couldn’t be worse, as the Tennessee product has the opportunity to opt out of his contract this offseason and test free agency in what’s considered a weak overall class.
For the latest Josh Richardson rumors, click here.
Hit: Bogdan Bogdanovic (Atlanta)
In these playoffs, Hawks 2-guard Bogdan Bogdanovic has done a fantastic job of showing everyone why he was so coveted this past offseason, almost getting traded for by the Bucks before winding up with Atlanta, despite just a so-so few seasons with the Sacramento Kings.
Against the Sixers, Bogdanovic is putting up 19.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 three-pointers, hitting big shots throughout the series to keep things even between the two teams through four games.
We probably should have known Bogdanovic wouldn’t shy away from the spotlight of the NBA Playoffs considering what he’s been through already in his professional career; the sharpshooter recently talked about Philadelphia fans not fazing him since they’re somewhat tame compared to the opposing fans he experienced in Europe (via EuroHoops):
Dealing with fans isn’t always an easy job. Bogdan Bogdanovic, one of Europe’s most avid scorers in recent years has lived the “full experience” in the Old Continent, so when the Atlanta Hawks stunned the Philadelphia crowd in the conference semifinals, he was “prepared” for a mild reaction. “In the NBA you’re not getting hit by coins or lighters when you shoot free throws, they are not going to put the lasers in your eyes. Like in Panathinaikos‘ (arena), I remember this, the green laser. It’s super tough to shoot like that! Now I know, I don’t have (to deal with this). It’s all about confidence, it’s mental”, explained the Hawks star.
Whether the Hawks can pull off the upset over the Sixers remains to be seen, but don’t expect to see Bogdanovic faltering due to pressure any time soon.
For the latest Bogdan Bogdanovic rumors, click here.
Bomb: Paul Millsap (Denver)
The playoffs ended with a whimper for Paul Millsap, who received a DNP-CD in what could possibly have been his final game with the Denver Nuggets.
Millsap averaged just 6.4 points in the playoffs to go with 3.9 rebounds and 26.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc. That, plus an unproductive regular season, could indicate Millsap is on the final legs of his NBA career.
His role could have something to do with Millsap’s output this year, however, as Denver did have Michael Porter and JaMychal Green playing Millsap’s position, but whichever team does sign him this offseason will probably try to do so on a short-term, low-money deal.
For the latest Paul Millsap rumors, click here.
Hit: Royce O'Neale (Utah)
Already one of the league’s best role-playing 3-and-D reserves in the regular season, Jazz forward Royce O’Neale has stepped his game up even further in the playoffs, particularly on the offensive end.
After shooting 38.5 percent from beyond the arc in 2020-21, O’Neale has upped his three-point accuracy to 47.8 percent in the playoffs, to go along with 10.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals per postseason contest.
This is nothing new for O’Neale, either, as his three-point percentage for his career is 37.9 while his playoff clip for his career is 42.0 percent.
Sample size is probably the biggest reason for that, but one could argue we have the evidence to say O’Neale is simply a playoff performer, the type of player who performs better when the lights are brighter in the postseason.
For the latest Royce O’Neale rumors, click here.
Bomb: Bobby Portis (Milwaukee)
After a regular season in which Bobby Portis established himself as one of the top reserve big men in the league, the playoffs have been the complete opposite for him.
Things have gone so far south for Portis, in fact, that he was even a victim of a DNP-CD (did not play – coach’s decision) in Milwaukee’s crucial Game 5 defeat to the Nets.
Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer might not have had a choice, either, considering in Portis’ four previous playoff games, the floor-spacing big man had shot 33.3 percent from the floor posted a -29 plus-minus.
It’s a shame for Portis considering how good he was in the regular season for Milwaukee, but he has makings of a player who is more suited for the regular season, where his energy isn’t matched every single game by opponents, and where foes don’t have seven contests in a row to figure out how to single him out defensively.
For now, Portis looks like the Eastern Conference version of Enes Kanter.
For the latest Bobby Portis rumors, click here.