Breakout NBA Playoffs Stars We Should Have Seen Coming
The NBA playoffs will always be predicated on the performance of the league’s marquee stars. However, along with some big-name players, some under-the-radar rotation players have already displayed breakout performances that fans should have seen coming.
Regardless of how many minutes a player gets in the postseason, this is the time when everyone needs to step up collectively on the road to a championship.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers
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Paul George has been phenomenal for the Indiana Pacers this season. He led the league with 6.3 defensive win shares, filled in admirably for the injured Danny Granger and played his way to his first All-Star appearance.
NBA fans probably expected more of the same from George in the playoffs, but he’s been even better than he was during the regular season.
The 22-year-old swingman shot a lackluster 3-of-13 from the field in Game 1 against the Atlanta Hawks, but he earned 18 free-throw attempts (making 17 of them). George finished with a triple-double, notching 23 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists.
In Game 2, George scored 27 points on a far more impressive 11-of-21 shooting from the field to go with eight rebounds, three assists and four steals.
George is quickly becoming one the league’s elite young stars. With his help, Indy appeared poised to sweep Atlanta out of the first round rather easily. However, the Pacers posted an abysmal 69-point outing in Game 3 while shooting 27.2 percent from the field.
That atrocious offensive performance will likely prove to be an anomaly, but excluding Game 3, George has continued to build upon a great season.
Klay Thompson/Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors
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When the Golden State Warriors learned that All-Star power forward David Lee would miss the remainder of the postseason due to a torn hip flexor, they knew that other players (besides Stephen Curry) would have to step up.
Insert young guns Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes.
The 23-year-old Thompson and 20-year-old Barnes have been playing rock-solid basketball in the postseason thus far, and the Warriors are the benefactors of a 2-1 series lead as a result.
Thompson is averaging 16.3 points per game in the playoffs, which is slightly down from the regular season. But he is shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from three-point range. Both of those percentages are considerably better than his regular-season numbers: 42.2 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from downtown.
Barnes, meanwhile, is averaging 17 points per game. That’s a huge improvement from his regular-season average of 9.2, but you had to think that a player as NBA-ready and fluid as Barnes would break out at some point.
The young North Carolina product has also been incredibly efficient from the field. He’s shooting 57.6 percent from the field and a scorching 58.3 percent from beyond the arc during the playoffs.
Even though D-Lee hasn’t been in the lineup for two straight games, Golden State has won both. The contributions from Thompson and Barnes have been huge reasons why.
Chris Andersen, Miami Heat
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Including the playoffs, the Miami Heat are 42-3 when Chris Andersen plays.
Even though Andersen is 34 years old and was a free agent for much of this season prior to his gig with the Heat, the hustle he brings on a nightly basis is something that can’t be coached.
Birdman attacks the glass, fires up the crowd with his play above the rim, defends well and makes an incredible impact relative to his playing time. He hasn’t notched more than 16 minutes in a game this postseason.
In just 14 minutes per game in the playoffs, Andersen is averaging 10.3 points on a sky-high 86.7 percent shooting. He's also adding 6.3 rebounds per game.
The game of basketball rewards hustle more often than not, and Andersen’s numbers are evidence of that.
Andre Miller, Denver Nuggets
Even as a 37-year-old point guard, Andre Miller still knows how to get it done out on the court.
In the Denver Nuggets’ Game 1 win, Miller scored 28 points in 27 minutes of action, including the game-winning layup (see video).
He followed up that performance by notching 18 points, five rebounds and five assists in a Game 2 loss. He even knocked down two of his three three-point attempts in that game, and he's hit four out of five overall (not something he’s ever been known for).
The cagey veteran struggled in Game 3, shooting just 2-of-13 from the field, but without him, the Nuggets would not have won Game 1. So you take the good with the bad.
The Nuggets will need to fight back from a 2-1 deficit against Golden State, but at least Miller has proven himself to be a valuable asset off the bench as Denver’s second-leading scorer this postseason.
Nate Robinson, Chicago Bulls
Throughout an eight-year NBA career, Nate Robinson has started to channel his inner Rodney Dangerfield, because he “can’t get no respect.”
The 5’9” spark plug guard is playing for his fifth NBA team since 2010. Over that span, he’s played for the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls. The 28-year-old is no stranger to being traded, because he was even shipped away on draft day when the Phoenix Suns drafted him 21st overall in 2005.
Robinson has never seemed to gain favor with coaches throughout his career, which is a major reason why he hasn’t carved a steady niche with one NBA team. With that said, Robinson is an extremely talented player who can score points in bunches.
Even the often-ornery Tom Thibodeau seemed to soften his stance on Robinson following a 34-point outburst against the Brooklyn Nets, which included a whopping 23 fourth-quarter points.
According to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, coach Thibs said, “He’s a character now. I had a good understanding of who he is from my experience with him in Boston. You’ve got to take the whole package, and the good outweighs the bad.”
The trigger-happy Robinson added a colorful quote of his own, saying, “Everybody knows coach is a drill sergeant. But he has a heart, somewhere in there. I know he does.”
With Derrick Rose still sidelined following surgery to repair a torn ACL, the Bulls need contributions from all over the roster, and Robinson has given Chicago a huge spark.
As long as the Bulls keep winning, there will be a lot of smiling in the Chicago locker room.