The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Ten NBA players who balled out in the 2019 playoffs and ten who didn’t

Ten NBA players who balled out in the 2019 playoffs and ten who didn’t

Playoff studs and duds
DENVER, CO - APRIL 5: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets handles the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers on April 5, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)

In this article, I will be recapping the ten best and worst performances from players this postseason. This is obviously a little subjective, but I tried to pick players based on who improved their stat lines from the regular to the postseason along with who were the best contributors on their teams.

Players who didn’t have any groundbreaking storylines that positively or negatively impacted their teams and did not improve or decline statistically won’t appear in this article. Because of the nature of this article, you’re more likely to see star players than average starters.

There were some players worthy of appearing on this list that weren’t be included. If a player you felt should be on either list wasn’t there, check the “other storylines” section at the bottom of the page.

The following players are in alphabetical order based on their last names; their postseason performances have nothing to do with the order.

Best Perfomances

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Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF Milwaukee Bucks

Well, the Greek Freak was able to take the Bucks as far as the Eastern Conference Finals. In 15 games, he averaged 25.5 points, 4.9 assists, 12.3 rebounds, and two blocks on 49.2% from the field and 32.7% from three. While that’s a healthy rise in blocks and three-point percentage, Antetokounmpo actually regressed in all other categories when compared to his regular season play.

Credit the Raptors and Celtics for finding ways to force Antetokounmpo into difficult shots and stonewalling his drives. I guess you could argue this wasn’t a truly great postseason for the Greek Freak, but his numbers still were at a superstar level.

Jimmy Butler, SG Philadelphia 76ers

This is a case where I don’t think the numbers show Butler’s true impact. Yes, he did disappear at points in the series against the Nets, but he was crucial in the series against the Raptors. With Embiid, Harris, Redick, and Simmons all putting up disappointing numbers, Butler emerged as the team’s energizer and looked like the most athletic and best all-around player on their team.

After a regular season filled with initial drama and a dip in production, this kind of run was absolutely what Butler needed. He averaged 19.4 points per game along with 6.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.4 steals while shooting 45.1% from the floor.

Kevin Durant, SF Golden State Warriors

Even though Durant went down with injuries, he still did enough this postseason to prove he’s the best player in the world. In the 12 games he played, he averaged 32.3 points, 4.5 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game. And he did all that while shooting 43.8% from three and 51.4% overall. Needless to say, the NBA will miss Durant next year as he rehabs from a ruptured Achilles.

Paul George, SF Oklahoma City Thunder

George was hampered by a shoulder injury in the playoffs, but he still averaged 28.6 points, 3.6 assists, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game. George was an MVP candidate through the first half of the season, but injuries derailed that run late in the season. Still, George put up some great numbers despite being under duress. If he had been fully healthy, it would’ve been interesting to see how much higher his numbers could go.

Nikola Jokic, C Denver Nuggets

The big man put up 25.1 points, 8.4 assists, and 13 rebounds per game in the playoffs all while making 50.6% of his overall shots and 39.3% of his three-pointers. With the exception of his overall field goal percentage, all of Jokic’s averages rose noticeably in the playoffs. While he is not an elite rim protector, Jokic has still managed to become one of the most versatile big men in the league.

Kawhi Leonard, SF Toronto Raptors

The comparisons between Leonard and Kobe Bryant that were going on early in the playoffs were all wrong, but that doesn’t take away from Leonard’s Finals MVP award and his reassertion as a top-five player in the league. After not playing back to backs during the regular season, Leonard was a machine in the playoffs. He averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists on 49% from the field during his historicplayoff run, which culminated in the Raptors first ever title.

Caris LeVert, SG Brooklyn Nets

LeVert had such a good five-game stretch that I had to include him. Honestly, Brooklyn will be the more attractive New York team this offseason because of players like LeVert. He shot 49.3% during the postseason and scored 21 points per game. He shot 46.2% from three as well. Those three numbers were all significant increases from his injury-plagued 2018-19 regular season.

Damian Lillard, PG Portland Trail Blazers

It would be hard to keep Lillard off of the list after what he did to OKC and how he got the Trail Blazers to the Western Conference Finals. His 41.8 field goal percentage wasn’t great, but he was taking 9.9 three-pointers per game and making 37.3% of them. He finished the playoffs with 26.9 points, 6.6 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game.

Besides a slight rise in points, those three averages are close to his regular season totals, but you can’t deny how much Portland needed him this year.

CJ McCollum, SG Portland Trail Blazers

Portland would have never made it to the Western Conference Finals without both of their star guards. McCollum improved his scoring numbers and three-point field goal percentage. In the games where Lillard wasn’t hitting his shots, McCollum became the go-to guy. He played a larger role on both ends of the floor, also increasing his assist and rebounding numbers as well.

Pascal Siakam, PF Toronto Raptors

At the cost of some accuracy, Siakam raised his scoring total to 19 points per game in the postseason. Siakam was the second scoring option on the championship Raptors, only behind Leonard. It’s hard to see anyone else winning the Most Improved Player of the Year award this season, and I think we could see Siakam in the All-Star game as soon as next season.

Worst Perfomances

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DeMarcus Cousins, C Golden State Warriors

Cousins getting hurt in the playoffs likely damaged his market value for this offseason, and it might have hampered him in the Finals. However, you look at it, his numbers dropped from 16.3 points, 3.6 assists, and 8.2 rebounds per game on 48% from to field to just 7.6 points, 2.4 assists, and 4.9 rebounds on 39.6% from the field.

Those numbers aren’t a perfect comparison because he played almost ten fewer minutes per game in the playoffs, but that was because he was playing inefficiently and struggling.

Joel Embiid, C Philadelphia 76ers

To be fair, it’s not all Embiid’s fault. He was dealing with sickness and injuries during the playoffs, but that kind of encapsulates his career as a whole right now. He’s a generational talent at center, but when will he ever be healthy enough to take his game to that next level we’re looking for?

Embiid averaged 20.2 points, 3.4 assists, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game on 42.8% from the field and 30.8% from three. Those would be pretty good numbers for anybody else, but only his playoff block and three-point shooting averages improved from the regular season. His points and rebounds averages took significant dips.

Tobias Harris, PF Philadelphia 76ers

Simmons might have done worse in some categories, but Harris was the biggest no show among Philadelphia’s Big Four. His field goal percentage dropped from 48.7 to 42.5 percent, his scoring went from 20 points per game to 15.5, and his three-point percentage fell from 39.7 to 34.9 percent.

It wasn’t a terrible playoff run for Harris, but more was expected from him and he never stepped up to prove he was on the All-Star level of his teammates.

Kyrie Irving, PG Boston Celtics

Without even looking at the numbers, Irving deserves his spot on this list because of his body language and how he carried himself this postseason. It’s a fair criticism to say that everybody expected more from him and that Celtics team as a whole. That’s the price for being “the man” though, everyone will blame you if things go wrong.

The most telling stat from Irving’s 2019 postseason is his 38.5 field goal percentage.

Chris Paul, PG Houston Rockets

He had a fantastic game six that will only lead fans to wonder what could have happened if he’d played like that all series. In 11 playoff games, Paul posted 17 points, 5.5 assists, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game. He also only shot 27% from three, which was a killer since the Rockets offense is so based on three-point shooting.

Even though his overall field goal percentage, point, steal, and rebounding averages topped his regular season totals, Paul was unable to make the impact expected of him and part of that has to do with his and Harden’s conflicting games.

D’Angelo Russell, PG Brooklyn Nets and J.J. Redick, SG Philadelphia 76ers

I combined these two because there’s not a lot to say about either one. Russell’s efficiency took a significant dip in the playoffs going from 43.4% from the field and 36.9% from three in the regular season to 35.9% from the field and 32.4% from three in the playoffs.

In comparison, Redick’s field goal percentage only dipped a little and his three-point percentage actually improved. The issue with Redick is that he wasn’t getting involved enough when he was on the court. He took fewer shots in the playoffs despite playing the same minutes as he did in the regular season.

Ben Simmons, PG Philadelphia 76ers

Simmons has gone from being one of the most exciting prospects in recent history to being clearly exposed as a limited offensive player (at the moment). He averaged just 13.9 points, six assists, and 7.1 rebounds per game in the playoffs. He did make 62.1% of his shots, but he did not produce enough overall to get Philadelphia over the hump.

Nikola Vucevic, C Orlando Magic

Orlando’s lone All-Star completely flopped in the playoffs. He went from averaging 20.8 points per game in the regular season to just averaging 11.2 in the postseason. He also averaged four fewer rebounds and almost one fewer assist in the playoffs. His field goal percentage, which was a terrific 51.8% in the regular season, fell all the way down to 36.2%.

Russell Westbrook, PG Oklahoma City Thunder

The triple-double king deserves to take some heat after being bounced in the first round of the playoffs for the third year in a row. He averaged 22.8 points per game in the series against the Trail Blazers, but that’s way off the 29.3 he put up last postseason. Westbrook’s 10.6 assists and 8.8 rebounds per game weren’t bad either, but he only shot 36% from the field and just 32.4% from three. His defense wasn’t a major factor in the series either.

Other Storylines

Stephen Curry, PG and Klay Thompson, SG Golden State Warriors

Curry’s field goal and three-point percentages took noticeable drops in the playoffs even though he was still taking the same number of shots per game. I do think Curry performed below his usual standards in several games this postseason and overall did not reach the dominant level that is expected of him.

That being said, it wasn’t a terrible performance and he was under added pressure as his teammates went down one after another. Thompson tore his ACL trying to keep the Warriors from being eliminated. While some of his numbers increased in the playoffs, I think his defense was his best contribution to the team.

They’ll miss having Thompson line up alongside Curry next season as he recovers.

James Harden, SG Houston Rockets

The narrative up until this point had been that Harden chokes in the postseason. While the Rockets did lose and Harden’s field goal percentage and scoring dipped a little, the drop was nowhere near what we’ve seen in recent years. This time, the blame for the loss will be spread around more and won’t be imposed solely on Harden. His 31.6 points per game were the second best among all postseason players after all.

Kyle Lowry, PG Toronto Raptors

No man has been more accused of choking in the playoffs than Lowry. While he had some early struggles, Lowry evened out and actually showed signs of improvement in some areas. His field goal and three-point percentages were better in the playoffs and he recorded more points and rebounds per game as well.

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