The NBA playoffs always feature stars who step up to the plate and deliver bombs and others who wilt, be it due to lack of help, too much pressure being on their shoulders or whatever other reason, and actually bomb out of the postseason.
Just between the 2020 and 2021 playoffs, we’ve seen one player perfectly exemplify both: In the former postseason run, Jimmy Butler was one of the biggest hits while in the latter, it was the exact opposite, with the veteran swingman having the worst playoff campaign of any big-name player.
Below, check out the first edition of our new series, Playoff Hits and Bombs.
Hit: Mike Conley (Utah)
Few stars stared down bigger stakes from an individual perspective in these playoffs than Mike Conley, who not only had to face his former team, the Memphis Grizzlies, in Round 1, he had to do so while matching directly up against one of the hottest and most explosive young lead guards in basketball, Ja Morant.
And although Morant has been spectacular in his first postseason run, Conley has been equally impressive, averaging 20.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 10.3 assists per playoff contest while shooting 53.3 percent from beyond the arc and helping lead the Jazz to a 3-1 series lead.
Conley’s backcourt mate Donovan Mitchell recently raved about the veteran point guard, telling collected media (via ESPN):
“I think the biggest thing is he’s just locked in,” Mitchell said. “He just has a different look. And that’s one of the things that I saw from him in the bubble, and I’ve seen it at an even higher level now. He understands it. He loves — he played for Memphis, what, 13 years. At the end of the day, there’s still love. You can see it. And there’s also love in competing against them. And I think it is impressive, because it’s easy to be distracted … I remember his first game back here: Mentally he was all over the place. And rightfully so. It’s an emotional moment for him. But to be back here competing against Ja, who’s like — you got the OG and then you got the young guy. I think that’s pretty dope. It’s a dope story, but for him, he’s competing. He’s doing his thing on both ends of the floor. And both of these guys are taking the challenge head-on. That’s why I love Mike; that’s why we love Mike.”
Like Mitchell said, for Conley to be this locked in while facing understandably difficult circumstances, even thriving while playing Games 3 and 4 in Memphis, has been nothing short of impressive.
For the latest Mike Conley rumors, click here.
Bomb: Jimmy Butler (Miami)
Per our Global Rating metric, no player had a steeper drop in form from regular season to postseason than the Miami Heat’s Butler.
Unsurprisingly, with their best player performing that poorly, the Heat were unceremoniously swept out of the first round by the Milwaukee Bucks, losing Games 2 through 4 by a combined 78 points with Butler averaging a paltry 14.5 points and shooting 29.7 percent from the field for the series.
Making matters worse for Butler is the fact that he was pretty brash heading into the postseason, bragging to the media about being “stupidly locked in” for the playoffs (via Ira Winderman) and even predicting the Heat would win the title back in December, saying that he had something up his sleeve for the postseason.
What that ace might have been, we’ll likely never find out, but credit to the Bucks for shutting down Butler all series long, making life impossible for him as a scorer.
For the latest Jimmy Butler rumors, click here.
Hit: Derrick Rose (New York)
One can only shudder when contemplating what this series might look like if the New York Knicks didn’t acquire Derrick Rose midseason, as the Atlanta Hawks might have completed the sweep by now if not for Rose’s contributions.
Through four games of the first-round Hawks-Knicks matchup, the 32-year-old Rose has arguably been New York’s best player, averaging 22.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists while shooting 50.7 percent from the floor and 50.0 percent from beyond the arc.
Even with Rose, the Knicks are staring elimination right in the face ahead of Game 5, but considering the job Atlanta has done in stifling All-Star Julius Randle in the series (the big man is putting up 16.8 points but shooting 18.3 times nightly to hit that mark and hitting just 27.4 percent of shot attempts), the team would probably already be in Cancun were it not for Rose.
For the latest Derrick Rose rumors, click here.
Bomb: Julius Randle (New York)
Speaking of Randle, it’s impossible to discuss the biggest playoff disappointments this year without mentioning the Knicks big man, who, outside of Butler, has been by far the biggest letdown of this postseason.
According to our Global Rating metric, Randle has had the second steepest swing in impact from the regular season (+20.84) to playoffs (+7.54) at -13.30, second only to Butler, and Randle actually has one more game to surpass Butler there.
Credit to the Hawks for presenting Randle with huge challenges as far scoring and creating, as Atlanta is sending smart doubles at the southpaw power forward and cutting off his preferred driving lanes, but even so, you’d like to see your top stars find ways to make an impact no matter the defense, and Randle has struggled to do that.
This will undoubtedly make for a fascinating summer for Randle and the Knicks, considering the former Kentucky standout is now set to hit unrestricted free agency this offseason.
For the latest Julius Randle rumors, click here.
Hit: Deandre Ayton (Phoenix)
We actually tabbed Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton as one our top breakout candidates for the 2021 playoffs and the 22-year-old has done nothing thus far but do just that, break out, as Ayton has been a revelation over his first four playoff games.
Thus far in the series against the defending champion and massive, size-wise, Los Angeles Lakers, Ayton has averaged 19.8 points, 13.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks while shooting a preposterous 80.9 percent from the floor against the likes of Anthony Davis, Andre Drummomd and Marc Gasol, a former Defensive Player of the Year.
Of his 47 field-goal attempts in the series, Ayton has successfully converted 38, and although the majority of those attempts have come from within three of the basket (76.6 percent of them, to be exact), there’s still huge value in what Ayton has provided Phoenix, even with the lack of floor-spacing.
Ayton’s finishing down low over length, tenacious rebounding and solid paint protection have been massive for the Suns to this point, and have given them a solid chance to send the Lakers home in Round 1.
For the latest Deandre Ayton rumors, click here.
Bomb: Bam Adebayo (Miami)
It’s impossible to discuss Butler’s massively disappointing postseason without bringing up his frontcourt partner, Bam Adebayo, arguably being just as ineffective against Milwaukee.
Adebayo does get the benefit of the doubt for being just 23 and still developing as a player, but his playoff run this year was without question a letdown, especially considering how well he did in the bubble the postseason prior.
Adebayo averaged just 15.5 points in the playoffs this year to go with 9.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 45.6 percent from the floor, though the optics of the series might have been even worse for the big man than the actual stats.
That’s because Milwaukee’s defensive strategy against Adebayo included letting him catch the ball on the perimeter without much of a fight and having his primary defender retreat back to the paint, daring the 2019-20 All-Star to shoot it from deep.
Adebayo often refused to do so, or instead attempted to sloppily drive the basketball towards the likes of Brook Lopez, which didn’t yield much success for Adebayo or Miami.
It’s clear Adebayo’s offensive game is in need of more seasoning, and he might even have to develop a three-point shot before he can be considered an elite scoring big man.
Either way, Adebayo looked greatly overmatched during the Heat’s sweep at the hands of the Bucks.
For the latest Bam Adebayo rumors, click here.
Hit: Facundo Campazzo (Denver)
We probably should have known Facundo Campazzo would feel right at home with the stakes of the NBA playoffs considering his history of playing in massive, pressure-filled contests during his career with Real Madrid and the Argentinian National Team.
Even so, the undersized floor general sort of flew under the radar heading into the postseason, yet has shined brightly during his first four playoff games with the Denver Nuggets.
Throughout the series against the Portland Trail Blazers and often tasked with defending elite scorers like Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Campazzo has performed at a high level, averaging 10.8 points, 6.5 assists and 2.3 steals while shooting 40.0 percent from beyond the arc.
Filling in admirably for the injured Jamal Murray, Campazzo still has his work cut out for him in the remainder of the opening-round series against Portland, however, as the matchup is currently deadlocked at 2-2 with Game 5 tipping off tonight from Denver.
For the latest Facundo Campazzo rumors, click here.
Bomb: Kemba Walker (Boston)
Though probably not all that surprising considering how hobbled he was heading into these playoffs due to a lingering knee injury, Kemba Walker has struggled mightily in the series against the Brooklyn Nets, even missing Game 4 due to the aforementioned ailment and listed as doubtful for Game 5 tonight.
Regardless, through the three games he did participate in, Walker was flat-out bad, averaging 12.7 points and 4.0 assists and shooting a paltry 31.7 percent from the floor, and an even uglier 17.6 percent from three.
The Boston Celtics have to be hoping a long offseason of rest for that knee will be enough to get Walker looking like his prime self again, because he’s signed through 2022-23 and projected to be the 13th highest-paid player in basketball next season, a huge number for a player who appears to be slowing down rapidly with age.
Maybe Michael Jordan wasn’t so crazy letting Walker leave and replacing him with Terry Rozier.
For the latest Kemba Walker rumors, click here.