Just as some players shock the NBA world and rise above their playoff expectations, some crumble under the increased pressure of games in the summertime. I highlighted the 5 biggest stock risers of the NBA playoffs in last week’s article, but unfortunately for the 5 players who you’ll read about in a moment, I’ve decided to head to the other end of the spectrum this week.
I made this point in last week’s article, but I’m going to reiterate it because I think it’s integral to understanding the relevance of this exercise (ranking the biggest playoff disappointments). During the regular season, fans, media members, and even other guys in the league overreact to players’ performances; we make judgements about a certain player’s standing in the league based on how he plays, and more tangibly, we give out end of season awards based on these performances. Yes, end of the season awards before the… end of the season. It doesn’t make much sense to me either, but at the same time I can fathom why it happens. Human beings disproportionately remember what has happened most recently (it’s a concept called ‘recency bias’), and they fail to accurately place current events in the scheme of the big picture. It’s natural, and I don’t blame you guys for it – I do it, too, even though I’m currently bad-mouthing it. What this recency bias leads to, though, are some pretty drastic realizations come playoff time. Since the game is totally different in the playoffs, some players perform quite differently (in both directions), and those regular season games all of a sudden seem pretty meaningless when placed in the context of playoff basketball.
5. Russell Westbrook
I hate to say it, because I really respect and admire the intensity and grit that Westbrook brings every single time he touches the floor, but this article was literally made for a guy like Russ. Westbrick shot 33% from the field and 25% from three, which are some of the worst numbers I’ve come across when reviewing the stats of this postseason, especially for a guy with as high usage as Russ. I want so badly for the “stat-padder” narrative to be false, but it just isn’t. During the regular season, and – as I said – literally any time Westbrook touches a basketball court, he gives everything he has. It’s a special skill of his, but it means that he doesn’t really elevate his game much come playoff time, because he’s already playing at such a high level. So when everyone else starts making multiple efforts on defense, sprinting back and disallowing transition buckets, and contesting every shot, among other actions that are rare in the regular season but commonplace in the playoffs, Russ falls behind.
Think about it this way: How many guys, during a regular season game, are going to put their body on the line and take a charge against a bulldozing Russell Westbrook with a head of steam? Probably not that many, and the guy that does is going to be commended for his heart and toughness. On the contrary, the guy that doesn’t set up for the charge in the postseason will be scolded for his inability to rise to the moment. It’s this simple. Most players bring it from like a 4 to a 10 come playoff time. Russ brings it from like a 9.6 to a 10, and unfortunately that .4 doesn’t do much for him.
4. Julius Randle
If this wasn’t Julius Randle’s first playoffs, I probably would have had him a lot higher on this list. I’ll cut him some slack, though, because a lot of players have this kind of dud in their first playoff experience. Randle scored 18 ppg (6 fewer points than he averaged during the regular season) and shot 28% from two and 33% from three. If you don’t recognize the difference between regular season and playoff basketball, a good place to start would be watching some of Randle’s games from both. There’s just such a noticeable difference in how players are defended, especially a guy like Randle who relies so heavily on his strength and athleticism. Players just simply aren’t as willing to put their bodies on the line during the regular season by, for example, bumping Randle at the 3 point line as opposed to once he’s already inside the paint. Furthermore, as we’ve seen time and time again, the same touch fouls and slight body bumps are not called as often in the playoffs, and that doesn’t bode well for a guy like Randle who likes to overpower people physically.
The most notable difference for Randle was his shooting, though; he shot poorly from 3 and really poorly from the mid-range (an area he really exploited in the RS), and it’s because defenders make more of an effort to contest shots and get themselves back in the play even after they’ve been blown by. Randle will learn from this playoffs and will come back better. But, that doesn’t mean it isn’t slightly concerning that MULTIPLE guys have been very successful in their first playoffs this season (Trae Young, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton to name a few).
3. Kristaps Porzingis
Despite averaging 20 a game during the regular season, Kristaps transformed into a spot up shooter (and a bad one, at that) during the playoffs and averaged 13 a game. I actually wrote an article during the first round of the playoffs about how the Mavs had BY FAR the worst second-best-player of all the 16 postseason teams, and one of the main points was that it wasn’t even clear who the second best player on the Mavs was (which is a testament to how significantly Kristaps had dropped in people’s eyes). I actually ended up going with Tim Hardaway, who was a lot more productive than Kristaps.
Porzingis was able to get decent post position and hit his turnaround shot during the regular season, but he did VERY LITTLE of that during the playoffs, and he wasn’t even good in his spot up shooter role (where he shot 30% from three); what makes this even more embarrassing is the number of open looks he got as a result of Luka’s mind boggling shot creation for his teammates. Being a spot up shooter isn’t even what he’s supposed to be there for, though. He’s being paid 31 million dollars a year, so he needs to be a guy that you can give the ball to and have some confidence he can create a shot – at least that’s what other guys who are paid that much are expected to do for their teams. What’s concerning is that he doesn’t even look like he has any potential to develop that sort of shot creation in meaningful games. It’s why the Mavs are going to try to pair someone else with Luka, and it’s why Kristaps will not be making 31 million a year for long.
2. Jimmy Butler
The truth is that Jimmy is number 2 on this list not only because of his own performance, but because of how the MIA Heat fared in the 1st round against the Bucks as a whole. Bam, Herro, and others significantly underperformed as well, but Jimmy is the guy that should’ve been able to rally this team together, and that’s why he’s going to get the majority of the blame. He only scored 14 a game in the playoffs, and he shot 30% from the field and 27% from three. He also got to the line a lot less than normal and didn’t shoot it that well when he got there.
After such an amazing postseason performance in the bubble last season, expectations were high for Jimmy and the Heat. However, he wasn’t able to be even remotely productive on the offensive end, and that caused the entire Heat team to be far less intimidating offensively. They’ve always been the team that moves the ball well and gets everyone involved, but when it comes down to winning time, Jimmy gets the ball in his spots and goes to work. He wasn’t able to create space this postseason, though, and it made him have to take far too many tough, turnaround shots. I think it’s as simple as this: Jimmy cannot be the best player on a championship team, because he can’t score with ease (or even get his shot off with ease), which is something every superstar must be able to do. It’s something he showed he was able to do in the bubble, so it was pretty disheartening to see him regress this postseason.
1. Ben Simmons
I don’t think there have been enough articles written about how disappointing Ben Simmons was this postseason (that’s a joke, ha-ha). Anyway, the stats tell a lot of the story; he only scored 12 a game this postseason, which just isn’t enough for a guy making 35 million a year that is a perennial all-star. Furthermore, he shot 7.8 shots a game in these playoffs, which is the fewest shots he’s ever averaged in a postseason. His unwillingness to take literally any shot that isn’t a dunk has been well documented, and it needs to be fixed if he’s going to come anywhere close to returning value on his contract. Furthermore, if he’s going to shoot 34% from the free throw line, he’s not going to be playable down the stretch of games, or for that matter any time his team is in the bonus.
Simply put, he needs to figure it out. He can talk about how good he is defensively and all of the other things he does for a team offensively (his playmaking and transition play), but as long as he’s a liability shooting the basketball (from both the free throw line and the painted area), he’s going to be tough to have on the court come playoff time. I understand all the other things he does, and he does them very well, but shooting is unequivocally the most important skill in basketball (that’s another article in and of itself), and he doesn’t have it.
Photo: (Shawn Palmer x SP Designs)