Make no mistake, the NBA is a star driven league. Depth and coaching obviously matter, but the selling and most important part of the league is its stars. And make no second mistake, you dumb mistake maker, the most important part of the season is the playoffs. So if we’re putting two and two together, obviously, stars are the most important part of their teams in the playoffs.
With that being said, there are some terrific players in the league who have not really performed up to expectations in the playoffs, I have a list of ten players who have shown these symptoms, and who hopefully are going to shed these symptoms by the time these playoffs roll around. So without further adieu, here is the list.
10. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Why He Must Redeem Himself: Lackluster Play From the Rockets Last Year
Although Harden may have not played so badly himself for the Houston Rockets in the playoffs last year, he earns himself a spot on this list as the representative for the Houston Rockets, who after making the conference finals in 2014-2015, lost in five games in the first round last year. Although it seemed like there was no way the team would advance coming into the series as the eighth seed against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, with unanimous MVP Stephen Curry going down after two games in the series, you would think that the Rockets would be able to do more than losing in five games, where they averaged 18.8 points per game less in the series. The Rockets play in the postseason the perfect exclamation mark to their underachieving 2015-2016, where the team went just 41-41, after going 56-26 in the previous season.
And although Harden’s play was still pretty good in that series, he was still underachieving from his regular season play, as proven by the table below:
So although he did not really play very badly, it was still digression from the regular season.
In order for James Harden to fully redeem himself for last year’s playoff disaster with the Rockets, the Rockets must at the very least get to the second round, and Harden must maintain his regular season numbers.
9. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Why He Must Redeem Himself: Poor Shooting in Past Two Postseasons
Remember when Damian Lillard hit that game winner against the Houston Rockets in game six of their 2013-2014 first round to upset them in the series? Let me remind you:
Pretty awesome, right? Well ever since that postseason, Damian Lillard has been an awful shooter in the NBA playoffs, shooting at just a 44.8% effective field goal percentage, and being that Lillard is not a good defender and the leading scorer on his team, it is crucial for the Portland Trail Blazers’ success that Lillard shoots the ball, especially this season when his team’s defense is 23rd in the league with a defensive rating of 111.
And although Lillard did take his Trail Blazers to the second round in last year’s playoffs, with a record of six and ten over the past two years, the Trail Blazers have still won just two game outs of the six where one of a team’s best player was not injured, with their one win in 2015 coming against the Mike Conley-less Memphis Grizzlies, two of their four wins against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round in 2016 had the Clippers playing without Chris Paul or Blake Griffin and their one win against the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 second round was when Stephen Curry was sitting with a knee injury. The fact that the Blazers even made the second round last year was more luck than anything.
All Damian Lillard needs to do to redeem himself for the past two playoff years is to take one two games of his first-round series and shoot a respectable percentage.
8. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Why He Must Redeem Himself: Technical Fouls Which Could Have Cost Himself the Finals
Unlike most players on this list, Draymond Green does not need to redeem himself for his play in the NBA playoffs. In fact, historically Draymond Green has been a very good player in the postseason, averaging 15.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and six assists per game last year along with a box plus minus of 7.1. Draymond Green must redeem himself for his behavior. With five technical and two flagrant fouls in the playoffs last year, Draymond Green ended up getting a flagrant one in game four of the NBA Finals, which ended up getting him suspended for game five it just so happened that the flagrant was against LeBron James and looked like this:
Okay sure, LeBron did not need to step over him--or push him for that matter--but Draymond knew that he would get a suspension if something like this happened, and he did it anyway, for reasons unbeknownst to me. And Draymond Green could have quite possibly cost his team the series, as the team was up 3-1 ( ;-) ), until Draymond got suspended in game five, then the team would end up losing game five and then the rest of the games in the series. If Draymond could have played in game five, who knows what would have happened? Maybe, those “blew a 3-1 lead” jokes would have been about the Oklahoma City Thunder when they lost the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors instead.
Draymond Green’s playoff goal should be to get as little techs or flagrant as possible, and being that these are the goddamned Golden State Warriors, the chances are, he should go far if that happens, and possibly if that doesn’t.
7. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Why He Must Redeem Himself: Poor Play in 2015 Postseason
In Giannis Antetokounmpo’s one playoff series against the Chicago Bulls in 2015, Giannis Antetokounmpo managed to shoot a pretty awful 36.6% from the field, and got himself ejected from the decisive game six, after this:
Although Dunleavy did hit Giannis on the other end before Giannis tackled him, and this game was probably over anyways, already being down by 30 in the second quarter, the fact is Giannis was pretty awful in this series with -.003 win shares per 48 and -2.9 box plus minus on the series, as arguably the team’s best player at the time, we should have seen better from Giannis both in performance and attitude in that series.
For Giannis to redeem himself, I would like to see him take his matchup to six games, and shoot at a respectable percentage in the series.
6. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Why He Must Redeem Himself: Awful Play in 2012 Postseason
Although most of you probably forgot, Gordon Hayward has played in the playoffs before this year. Specifically, in 2012 his Utah Jazz played the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and got swept. In the series, Hayward started but averaged 7.3 points per game on an awful 36.2% true shooting percentage. And sure, this was a different Utah Jazz team with a different Gordon Hayward, as Gordon Hayward was the fourth option on a Utah Jazz team centered around the offense of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
However, although this current Utah Jazz team may be known for its third best defense in the league with a defensive rating of 104.9, but Gordon Hayward still plays the biggest offensive role on the team, and if he has a series similar to his 2012 one, the Jazz will not get passed the second round.
Hayward’s playoff goal should be to maintain his spectacular offensive play this season and get his Utah Jazz to the second round.
5. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Why He Must Redeem Himself: Poor Shooting in Past two Postseasons
At first glance, you might think that the league leader in fourth quarter points per game would thrive under the playoff spotlight. However, with just a 42.2% effective field goal percentage in the playoffs, Isaiah Thomas hasn’t really been playing to the level we would expect of him, and as the sole playmaker and leading scorer of the Boston Celtics, it is his job to not only set his team up but also take quality shots, something that he has not really done in his two past playoff series.
For Thomas to be granted full redemption this postseason, he must shoot at a decent percentage, and take the Celtics to at least the second round, as in the past two postseasons, the Boston Celtics have won just two games.
4. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
Why They Must Redeem Themselves: Inconsistent and Inefficient Play in Past Three Playoff Years
Okay, I’m cheating here by choosing two players at once, but being that Lowry and DeRozan play for the same team, and pretty much have the same playoff problem, I am going to need to put these two together. The fact is, since the Toronto Raptors have entered the Lowry/DeRozan era, although they have had pretty great regular seasons, the two have struggled significantly in the postseasons.
In 2013-2014, the three seeded Raptors were upset by the Brooklyn Nets in seven games. Now being that it was the team’s first playoff series since 2008, Raptors’ fans were still very proud of their team, while simultaneously cursing the Brooklyn Nets, Paul Pierce and the questionable referee calls throughout the series. Here’s how Lowry and DeRozan performed in that series compared to their regular season play:
Not too bad, as although their field goal percentage and assists per game may have gone down, their true shooting percentage was ultimately higher, so the digression was not very significant.
In 2014-2015 after coming so close to the second round the year prior, Raptors’ fans expected the team to finally get over that hump and make the second round, but that was very much not the case. The team was swept as the four seed against the five seed Washington Wizards, leaving many Raptors’ fans to think that Paul Pierce had put a curse on the Toronto Raptors. Here’s how their two-star guards performed then:
Blame it on what you want, whether it be Lowry and DeRozan’s injuries in the regular season preventing the team from getting into a good rhythm, or even fat Kyle Lowry, but the fact of the matter is, those playoff numbers are completely atrocious, especially with a 43.5% true shooting percentage, and no team could win a series when their two best players combine for numbers like these.
In 2015-2016, the Toronto Raptors finally made it past the first round, by taking both their first round Indiana Pacers and second round Miami Heat to seven games each before ultimately losing to the Cavs in one the weirdest six-game series I’ve ever seen, but surprisingly, it was not the Raptors two All-Stars who got them to the franchise’s first conference finals appearance, but it were guys like Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo who willed this team to the conference finals, while Lowry and DeRozan had some pretty good games, both players had five games with 30 points or more, but the two also combined for nine games with ten points or less, something you should not expect from two of the league’s best when it matters most. Here were their numbers for the postseason:
So again, the two very much underachieved last postseason despite their team’s success. And being that this team still made it to the Conference Finals, imagine what the team could have done if their two best players were at their best. Being that the team got two games against the Cavs, who’s to say that they could not have gotten one or two more?
The Raptors have played some pretty good basketball this season, despite Lowry and DeRozan both missing a bit of time with injury, but none of that will matter if the team does not at least match their success last year, and so that is why Lowry and DeRozan’s goal this year should be to carry their team to the Conference Finals again, but one of them must sustain their regular season numbers.
3. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Why They Must Redeem Themselves: Playoff Injuries and Inconsistencies
At this point, Paul, Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers have really suffered everything one can go through in the first two rounds of the postseason. In 2016, the team was up two games to one in the first round versus the Portland Trail Blazers before CP3 and Blake got injured late in game four, losing their team the series. In 2015, the team blew a three to one lead to the Houston Rockets in the second round of the playoffs, where Chris Paul missed the first two games of that series with an injury (the series was tied at one after the first two, so maybe the Clips would have swept the Rockets if Chris Paul were there).
In 2014, the Los Angeles Clippers lost in six games in the second round to the Oklahoma City Thunder. In game five, the Los Angeles Clippers blew a seven-point lead in the game’s final minute to go down 3-2 in the series, due to a mix of Chris Paul turnovers, questionable referee calls and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (remember them?). The last minute of that game is definitely worth a good watch of what not to do when you’re up by seven in the game’s final minutes, both as a player and a referee:
In 2013, the Los Angeles Clippers lost in six games to the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, after being up two games to none, where Zach Randolph (20.8 PPG, 8 RPG, 56.8% FG%) straight up bullied Blake Griffin (13.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 45.3% FG%) so bad that the team brought the All-Star off the bench in game six. And in 2012, the Los Angeles Clippers made it past the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round only to get swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round, where Chris Paul averaged just 12.8 points and 9.3 assists on a true shooting percentage of 43.1%.
Whether it be luck or simply being outplayed, the Los Angeles Clippers always happen to find themselves in bad places in the playoffs, always leading to early exits, and being that one of these two are usually the culprits for the Los Angeles Clippers losing a playoff series, I am going to need to blame these two.
The Los Angeles Clippers goal is simple to say, but hard to accomplish. In order for the Clippers to get full playoff redemption, they must finally make the conference finals, and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin both need to stay healthy.
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Why He Must Redeem Himself: Underwhelming Finals Performances Over Past Two Years
Do not get me wrong, for most other NBA players, what Steph Curry has done in the finals would have been terrific, as his numbers were objectively great, and HE MADE IT TO THE FINALS TWO YEARS IN A ROW. But this is Steph Curry we’re talking about, one of the best players in the NBA, and peculiarly, Stephen Curry’s two finals performances have been a bit understated for the back-to-back MVP. Here are the numbers:
So as you can see, although Stephen Curry played well during the NBA Finals the past two seasons, he did not play like Stephen Curry, as his assists per game and true shooting percentage were not nearly as good as one would expect of him. And in fact, when the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Finals in 2015, it was not the team’s best offensive player that got Finals MVP, but their best defensive player, in Andre Iguodala, who held LeBron James to a 47.7% true shooting percentage, something that’s nearly impossible.
Plus he blew a 3-1 lead.
For Stephen Curry to get full playoff redemption in 2017, he must win the NBA finals, and be the one to hoist that Bill Russell trophy.
1. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Why He Must Redeem Himself: Playoff Injuries and Inconsistency in Finals
In two straight postseasons, Kevin Love has gotten injured and has put up subpar numbers in the process. While his team, was in the finals the past two straight years, Kevin Love has played just six of those 13 games and has started in just five of them. And when he played in those six games in the NBA Finals, we did not get a very good Kevin Love. That series, Mr. Love averaged just 8.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game on an effective field goal percentage of 46.8%, playing just 26.3 minutes per game, and besides a few key defensive stops, his role was replaced by Richard Jefferson, who got similar numbers, on way better shooting, with a 55.8% true shooting percentage.
But it’s time for Kevin Love to add on his best Cavs’ year this year with a positive postseason. I would like to see Kevin Love play over 35 minutes per game in the playoffs while helping the Cavs get back to the finals.