23. Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin is really good, the best player the Pistons have had since the heyday of Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace. Griffin is also 10 times more serious than he appeared in Los Angeles, and he really seems to take the mantle of a team leader seriously. There is little doubt that while he is healthy enough to play close to his usual level, it is the only Player that can scare the Bucks in the first round.
But of course, because the world is cruel, Griffin is beaten. So maybe Detroit will not even have that in its favor. However, a brave effort on the part of one of the best Eastern players would be fun to watch while the Pistons discover where to go from here.
22. Jonathan Isaac
The defense of the Magic has been extraordinary during the second half of the NBA season, the best in the league since the end of January. There is not a single factor that deserves credit, but by looking at Orlando's long-term future and its potential to rise to the east, Jonathan Isaac holds a prominent place. The long breakthrough has been a game-changer in Steve Clifford's system, and seeing how he handles Pascal Siakam and Kawhi Leonard in the first round could offer some clues as to how good Isaac can be in the near future. Isaac is not the best player in Orlando. But in the future, he is probably his most important.
21. Derrick White
We know what DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay and Patty Mills do. Derrick White has been the magical case required for the development of Spurs players this season, offering a stellar defense and a capable floor management at the moment. Few expect the Spurs to do something important in the playoffs, but White's defense is a factor x that is worth seeing. This should be an interesting series against Denver for White anyway, since Dejounte Murray will be coming for his work next season.
20. Patrick Beverley
Patrick Beverley will defend Stephen Curry for at least four games to start the NBA playoffs. Again, Patrick Beverley will defend Stephen Curry for at least four games to start the NBA playoffs. This is not a drill. This could get really dirty really fast.
19. Myles Turner
Turner's defense has become exemplary this season: color me by surprise Turner has not had more push as a Defensive Player of the Year, as we all struggle to explain how Indiana has stayed so well, and that's going to be a very important factor in the series of the Pacers. against Boston. How Turner handles the clever, intelligent Al Horford and if Turner can close the lanes in which Kyrie Irving will submerge could decide if the Pacers have a real chance here.
18. Gordon Hayward
Do you know what to expect from Gordon Hayward in the playoffs? Me neither. That is a recent player of the caliber of the NBA that is basically a total factor x for a No. 4 seed in a competitive conference. With Marcus Smart out, Hayward's help in offense Actually it will be even more critical. Indiana's own offense is not very good, but if smart loss allows the Pacers to score more easily, Boston needs someone other than Irving to put the ball in the bucket.
17. D & # 39; Angelo Russell
It will be a lot of fun to see D'Angelo Russell and the Nets in the playoffs, and maybe even in a competitive series, depending on how the Sixers come out with a hit Joel Embiid. Russell has a real opportunity to develop his already growing tradition in a very big scenario.
16. Eric Bledsoe
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Homeric hero of the Bucks, and Khris Middleton may be the most reliable partner, but Bledsoe has a certain quality that makes everything to go. He almost made the star team and signed an extension to stay with Antetokounmpo for the next few years, and could he (should?) Be on a Total Defense team this spring. His two-way game, particularly his defense in possible confrontations against Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry, as well as his shots against the best defenses in the East, will be essential for the Milwaukee race and by extension the prospect of several years for the team.
15. Donovan Mitchell
Mitchell has been really strong in the second half of the season after a slow start. As was the case last year, he is the only grandiloquent scorer in Jazz and with Joe Ingles part of a duo that is a bit different from what most teams offer. Utah beating the Rockets in the first round will largely depend on whether the Jazz's elite defense can limit James Harden and, to a lesser extent, Chris Paul. But even if the Jazz can delay Harden, they need to score. They need Mitchell to apply pressure and shoot.
14. Damian Lillard
Quite a few badysts have noticed that the Blazers are in a precarious position on the way to the playoffs, so it is no longer an underestimated story. Another early exit could change some minds in the main office and in the locker room, as it refers to the club's long-term future. At the center of that is Damian Lillard, who will be a consensus selection of the second NBA team and would be one of the first three guards on the board in a league-wide draft. Portland made a tough fight in Oklahoma City, and Lillard will have to face Russell Westbrook. Let's see what Lillard and the Blazers are made of and if there is a future here.
13. Joel Embiid
The playoffs would be more exciting if we knew that Joel Embiid was healthy. Oh. The health of the second best player in the East could be the difference between an early start and a final. Hopefully the Sixers have been very cautious with Embiid and come roaring against the Nets.
12. Russell Westbrook
Westbrook averaged a triple-double again – This is absolutely wild, folks – and they clearly postponed Paul George much of the season. But you know that he will go to Damian Lillard and attack an edge that no longer has Jusuf Nurkic protecting him. After the tremendously disappointing series against Utah last season, Westbrook has something to prove and a good chance to do so. Also, even when the Thunder are not playing to their full potential, it is impossible to look away from Westbrook.
11. Paul George
Paul George retired from the MVP race in the final months of the regular season, but still had an incredible season after committing long-term with the Thunder. That early start last spring should hurt, and the Thunder will have a more favorable pairing this time. That leads to expectations, which can often mean problems. But George has already exceeded all expectations this season. If he does that again in the playoffs, we could find the Thunder in the conference finals.
10. Nikola Jokic
We have no idea what the Nuggets will do in what will be the majority of the players' first playoff experience. This applies especially to Jokic, who works hard but has a certain air about him who does not shout GAME INTENSITY or TOTAL FOCUS. It's a Boris Diaw a little less laconic, in a way. However, Jokic is a master, and seeing him disarm the Spurs should be a marvel. Seeing him defend LaMarcus Aldridge will be less fun.
9. Chris Paul
Chris Paul is the difference between the Rockets being dangerous and the Rockets as a real threat. Any team with James Harden can win a series or two in the playoffs. But to beat the Warriors, the likely opponent of Houston's second round, if Houston beats Utah, the Rockets need Paul at his best. Is Paul going to be at his best? Let's find out.
8. Jimmy Butler
Kristian Winfield said it best: Butler's next contract will be based on what he does in these playoffs. On one level, that is not fair. But in reality, that's a net benefit for Butler: his stock has plummeted after destroying the Timberwolves and looking like the one in Philadelphia. If he can reverse that narrative by being the straw that shakes the Sixers, it's good for him. It will be really interesting to watch Butler's actions at a critical moment.
7. Pascal Siakam
Pascal Siakam has some property in his game or his blood that has a magnetic relationship with the eyeballs. I can not look away when busy in full Siakam Mode. He also turns out to be absolutely critical to the Raptors' dream of a career in the NBA Finals, one that could convince Kawhi Leonard that he has found his home.
6. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant
Most likely, the Warriors go through the playoffs, win their third consecutive title, have a final parade through downtown Oakland, watch Durant split up in search of more challenging pastures and try again next year. It's going to be a very interesting summer for the Warriors with Durant's free agency, the Klay Thompson contract, the possible recruitment of the Lakers by Bob Myers, the inevitable commercial rumors of Draymond Green and an attempt to rebuild a bank. But this postseason is probably not too exciting unless some other team can legitimately scare Golden State like the Rockets did last year and the Cavaliers three years ago.
Curry and Durant really only get interesting if that happens.
5. Ben Simmons
Obviously, this is a gigantic test for Simmons, given the health of Embiid and the presence of Butler (perhaps temporary). He is a Superstar in this league, or is he just a weird player, really good? Maybe we do not get a definitive answer (Simmons tends to bounce between the poles), but we will all be alert to any clue. We know what Embiid is. How good the Sixers are in the long run depends largely on who Simmons is. That is why it is so important.
4. Kyrie Irving
The Celtics' odd season could be erased by a Finals race or it could be crowned by a disappointing failure in the playoffs. Boston is perhaps the only team in the league that can legitimately fall in the first round or go to the final. (Houston is the other candidate). Irving is at the center of everything, with his strange comments throughout the season, partially responsible for chemistry problems. He has been a great player of games in the past (ask the Warriors) and the Celtics really need their offense to get points on the board. It is also a strange podium option and, therefore, fantastic on any night. That matters a lot during the course of a long postseason.
3. James Harden
The most dangerous man with the ball right now. An absolute lightning rod for debate and criticism. Equally capable of scoring 60 points in a playoff game and shooting from 3 to 25 from three in a playoff game. Everything is on the table right now for Harden. I love. It will be wonderful to see.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Maybe the best player in the world right now. (Maybe.) An absolute threat on both ends. The best player in the East, without a doubt. A relatively unproven playoff competitor. A nasty little streak. Unbelievable expectations Everything is here This postseason, however it goes, will be fundamental to Antetokounmpo's history. Not to be melodramatic, but with this guy, we are legitimately witnessing the unfolding of a legend, one way or another. This could be LeBron James circa 2007.
1. Kawhi Leonard
The Raptors handled Leonard's load throughout the season for this: a two-month run to the Finals to convince The Claw that Toronto is their present and their future. Masai Ujiri and the Raptors organization seem to have played this perfectly all year, and Leonard seems legitimately happy. That does not mean it will stay, and it does not mean the Raptors will find additional equipment now that Leonard will play in each game and more minutes. But you can not find any way in which this could have been better configured for Toronto. This season was just a masterpiece. And now for the coup de grace, maybe.
Leonard has shocked the world before. He has an end MVP in his canvas bag. He has the rank. You can change the story of this season from being the story of Antetokounmpo and the ascension of the Bucks or the story of the lost trillions of the Warriors to the story of the advance of the Raptors, the story of Leonard's return.
It's been a couple of weird years in Leonard's fandom, but it's worth watching what happens next.