Grading Rookie Performances So Far in NBA Playoffs

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterMay 5, 2016

CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 23:  Justise Winslow #20 and Josh Richardson #0 of the Miami Heat box out Frank Kaminsky III #44 of the Charlotte Hornets during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on April 23, 2016 at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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 2016 NBAE (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
Kent Smith/Getty Images

Most of the top rookies from 2015-16—Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, D'Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Devin Booker, etc.—have been reduced to spectators in this year's NBA playoffs. Such is life for youngsters playing major minutes on terrible teams: Their first taste of the postseason remains on layaway.

While most of the remaining debutantes have been relegated to mop-up duty during otherwise meaningful games, there are some who've sneaked into rotations as their coaches sought out solutions to novel problems in long series.

From those desperate situations have sprung 10 first-year players who've filled significant roles. (Which is to say, they've averaged at least 10 minutes across no fewer than three appearances.)

Here's an (alphabetical) look at how this group—some of whom are still competing in this year's postseason but most of whom have already been eliminated—has graded out based on individual playoff production and how that stacks up to each player's regular-season contributions.

 

Justin Anderson, SG, Dallas Mavericks

Alonzo Adams/Associated Press

Regular Season: 11.8 MPG, 3.8 PPG, 40.6% FG, 26.5% 3PT, 2.4 RPG (55 Games)

Playoffs: 19 MPG, 9.4 PPG, 45.9% FG, 30.8% 3PT, 4 RPG, 1.4 APG (5 Games)

Folks at home may remember Justin Anderson as "The Guy Kevin Durant (Accidentally) Smacked in the Head to Get Ejected from Game 4." Dallas Mavericks fans know him better as an energetic wing who could play a prominent part in the franchise’s future.

The 21st pick in the 2015 draft out of Virginia scored in double figures during each of Dallas' last three games against the Oklahoma City Thunder. His efforts weren't enough to stave off elimination for the Mavs, though they did catch the eye of NBC5 sports anchor Newy Scruggs.

"The Mavs have a keeper in Anderson," Scruggs wrote, per the Dallas Morning News. "I love his energy and willingness to play defense. [General manager] Donnie Nelson hit on this kid. Dallas has to find a way to get younger. The big question I have is why didn't he play more minutes sooner?"

The answer? Perhaps because injuries up and down Dallas' roster hadn't yet left him as one of the few healthy bodies remaining in head coach Rick Carlisle's rotation.

With Chandler Parsons likely to opt out of his contract this summer, Anderson could find proper playing time on the wing between Dirk Nowitzki and Wesley Matthews next season.

Grade: A

 

Stanley Johnson, SF, Detroit Pistons

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

Regular Season: 23.1 MPG, 8.1 PPG, 37.5% FG, 30.7% 3PT, 4.2 RPG, 1.6 APG (73 Games)

Playoffs: 20.3 MPG, 8 PPG, 52.2% FG, 60% 3PT, 4 RPG (4 Games)

Stanley Johnson made news in these playoffs not for what he did on the court but for what he said off it. The No. 8 pick in the 2015 draft claimed he'd infiltrated LeBron James' inner sanctum.

"I'm definitely in his head, that's for sure," Johnson said after Game 2 of the Detroit Pistons' first-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, per ESPN.com's Nick Friedell.

Apparently, James didn't mind having the Arizona product between his ears. Per Friedell, he scored 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting when defended by Johnson in that game—a 107-90 Cavaliers romp.

The 19-year-old would've been better off letting his game do the talking. After struggling with his shot all season, Johnson caught fire in the playoffs, draining five of his first six looks from three-point range.

In time, he and the Pistons may gain the upper hand on James' Cavs. For now, Johnson and his teammates have a long summer to work on their games—and their trash talk.

Grade: B+

 

Frank Kaminsky, C, Charlotte Hornets

Apr 23, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets forward center Frank Kaminsky (44) gets a rebound during the second half in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at Time Warner Cable Arena. Hornets win 96-80. Mandato
Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Regular Season: 21.1 MPG, 7.5 PPG, 41% FG, 33.7% 3PT, 4.1 RPG, 1.2 APG (81 Games)

Playoffs: 27.2 MPG, 7.1 PPG, 30.4% FG, 29.4% 3PT, 4.3 RPG, 1.1 APG (7 Games)

Good news for Frank Kaminsky: He was the Charlotte Hornets' leading scorer (12 points) in Game 7 against the Miami Heat.

The bad news: He shot 3-of-15 from the field during a 106-73 blowout loss for the Hornets.

Still, kudos to Kaminsky for getting the starting nod after Nicolas Batum suffered a foot injury in Game 2. The No. 9 pick out of Wisconsin started more games during the playoffs (five) than he did in his first regular season (three).

According to the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell, Kaminsky can thank a pair of Hall of Famers for the promotion.

"First, Charlotte Hornets associate head coach Patrick Ewing went to Steve Clifford suggesting they try to post up rookie 7-footer Frank Kaminsky more," Bonnell wrote. "Then, in a separate conversation, team owner Michael Jordan made the same suggestion to Hornets coach Clifford."

The suggestion paid off huge for the Hornets. With Kaminsky in the starting lineup, they went on to score three straight wins—their first three postseason wins since 2002.

The 23-year-old could be a mainstay in Clifford's top five next season, with three of the team's top frontcourt players—Al Jefferson, Batum and Marvin Williams—bound for free agency this summer.

Grade: B-

 

Salah Mejri, C, Dallas Mavericks

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 18: Mark Cuban owner of the Dallas Mavericks celebrates with Salah Mejri #50 of the Dallas Mavericks after they defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half of Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during
J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Regular Season: 11.7 MPG, 3.7 PPG, 62.8% FG, 3.6 RPG, 1.1 BPG (34 Games)

Playoffs: 19 MPG, 4.8 PPG, 70% FG, 3.3 RPG, 1.3 BPG (4 Games)

Salah Mejri was both a benefactor and victim of the injury bug that swept through the Dallas Mavericks' locker room.

David Lee's heel injury and Zaza Pachulia's sore Achilles cleared the way for Mejri to play significant minutes during Dallas' first-round series against the Thunder. The 29-year-old free agent from Tunisia started in Game 1 but left the biggest dent in Game 2, where he tallied 12 points, three rebounds and three blocks during an 85-84 Dallas win.

By the end of Game 4, Mejri joined the Mavs' infirmary with a hip injury and could only watch as OKC romped to a 118-104 win in Game 5. Nonetheless, Mejri's contributions and 7'2" frame earned him high praise—and a catchy nickname—from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, per the Dallas Morning News' Eddie Sefko.

"He's a difference-maker," Cuban said. "There aren't a lot of rookies who could come in and impact half of the games they play, if not more. And to be so feisty. I'm a huge Salah Mejri fan. The Tunisian Tower is a keeper. He's only going to get better."

He'll need to get better defensively if he's going to stick around the Association. According to NBA.com, Mejri allowed the Thunder to shoot 63.6 percent at the rim in the four games he played.

Grade: B-

 

Xavier Munford, PG, Memphis Grizzlies

SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 19: Xavier Munford #14 of the Memphis Grizzlies handles the ball during the game against Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on April 19, 2016 at
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Regular Season: 17.4 MPG, 5.7 PPG, 41.6% FG, 39.1% 3PT, 2.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.9 SPG (14 Games)

Playoffs: 22.3 MPG, 4.8 PPG, 32.1% FG, 12.5% 3PT, 2.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.5 SPG (4 Games)

If the basketball media doled out awards for the NBA's unsung heroes, Xavier Munford would garner serious consideration. The undrafted NBA D-Leaguer out of Rhode Island became a pseudo-savior for the Memphis Grizzlies down the stretch of the team's injury-riddled season.

But like most players in the River City, Munford ran out of gas in the playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs. The one time he shot well (3-of-4 for seven points), the Grizzlies owned a lead going into the fourth quarter of what turned out to be a 96-87 defeat in Game 3.

The other three games didn't turn out so well for Munford and Memphis. He shot 25 percent (6-of-24) between Games 1, 2 and 4. The Grizzlies lost those contests by a combined 79 points.

Memphis may well keep Munford around next season on a team option that would pay him under $900,000. The team would need big minutes from him if Mike Conley bolts via free agency.

Grade: C+

 

Norman Powell, SG, Toronto Raptors

TORONTO, ON - MAY 01:  Norman Powell #24 of the Toronto Raptors looks on in the first half of Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Indiana Pacers during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 01, 2016 in Toronto, O
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Regular Season: 14.8 MPG, 5.6 PPG, 42.4% FG, 40.4% 3PT, 2.3 RPG, 1 APG (49 Games)

Playoffs: 18.5 MPG, 5.9 PPG, 40.9% FG, 30% 3PT, 2.4 RPG, 0.5 APG (8 Games)

Norman Powell ceded his starting spot to DeMarre Carroll after the Toronto Raptors' first game of the first round but gained so much more over the course of that seven-game series against the Indiana Pacers. The No. 46 pick out of UCLA scored 13 points and drained a trio of three-pointers during the Raptors' thrilling 89-84 Game 7 win.

For his efforts, Powell earned high praise from Toronto head coach Dwane Casey, per the National Post's Mike Ganter.

"The way he has played, produced, he has met the challenge," Casey said. "The moment hasn't been too big for him. He has played in a mature way, shot the ball with confidence. It's a big, big leap from UCLA to the NBA playoffs and he has done that. So I'm really happy for him, proud of him for doing that."

The moment may have been a bit big for Powell during Game 1 of Toronto's second-round series against the Miami Heat. He finished with two points on 1-of-5 shooting, saw Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic combine for 50 points on 20-of-41 shooting from the floor and didn't play at all down the stretch or in overtime during the Raptors' 102-96 loss.

Grade: B+

 

Josh Richardson, SG, Miami Heat

May 3, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN;   Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson (0) goes up for a basket against Toronto Raptors in game one of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Regular Season: 21.3 MPG, 6.6 PPG, 45.2% FG, 46.1% 3PT, 2.1 RPG, 1.4 APG (52 Games)

Playoffs: 28.4 MPG, 7 PPG, 33.3% FG, 40% 3PT, 3.5 RPG, 1.9 APG (8 Games)

It's not often someone manages to shoot a higher percentage from three than from the field during the regular season and the playoffs.

To that end, Josh Richardson has had a remarkable rookie campaign. He turned into a human flamethrower from beyond the arc after the All-Star break and has carried that warmth with him into the postseason.

Despite suffering a shoulder strain in Game 6 against the Hornets and struggling with it in Game 7, Richardson played well in Game 1 against the Raptors with 11 points and a pair of threes to help Miami to victory. The win gave the Heat home-court advantage in the series, and Richardson's performance afforded head coach Erik Spoelstra another option.

If the 40th pick in the 2015 draft continues to play well through pain, Miami's second unit should be just fine against Toronto's top-notch bench. And if Richardson falters, Spoelstra can turn to second-year player Tyler Johnson, who recently returned from his own shoulder woes.

Grade: B

 

Terry Rozier, PG, Boston Celtics

Apr 26, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier (12) shoots the ball against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Regular Season: 8 MPG, 1.8 PPG, 27.4% FG, 22.2% 3PT, 1.6 RPG, 0.9 APG (39 Games)   

Playoffs: 19.8 MPG, 4.8 PPG, 39.1% FG, 36.4% 3PT, 3.4 RPG, 1.2 APG (5 Games)

Terry Rozier did his best work for the Boston Celtics, during both the regular season and playoffs, when filling in for an injured teammate.

When Jae Crowder was hobbled in March, Rozier averaged 15 minutes per game to help the C's win eight of 10, including a stunning victory at Golden State. Once Boston lost Avery Bradley during its first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, the rookie out of Louisville stepped in and left a mark with his quickness and tenacity.

"I just think that he's got a burst that is pretty unique," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said, per the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett. "He's still learning how to do things, but he's making good progress, and his attitude's really good. I mean, he's a nonstop worker. He wants to be really good, and that's a great trait for a young guy whose minutes are inconsistent."

Whether Rozier gets more playing time next season will depend largely on what general manager Danny Ainge does to reshape Boston's roster this summer. All Rozier can do is continue to plug away at his game and perform whenever his next opportunity comes.

Grade: B

 

Myles Turner, C, Indiana Pacers

Apr 23, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) walks to the bench in a game against the Toronto Raptors during the first quarter in game four of the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory C
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Regular Season: 22.8 MPG, 10.3 PPG, 49.8% FG, 5.5 RPG, 1.4 BPG (60 Games)

Playoffs: 28.1 MPG, 10.3 PPG, 46.5% FG, 6.4 RPG, 3.3 BPG (7 Games)

While candidly discussing Frank Vogel's future with the Indianapolis Star's Gregg Doyel, Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird wondered who else could've (or should've) provided more support during an 89-84 Game 7 loss to the Toronto Raptors.

"Hey, that's on the guys," Bird said. "They've got to make plays. George Hill (19 points) played well, Monta Ellis scored (15 points), Paul George (26 points) did what he does. But who's that other guy?"

The obvious choice? Myles Turner, who finished with four points on 2-of-11 shooting.

The rookie out of Texas found other ways to contribute (six rebounds, four blocks). That the Pacers trusted Turner enough to start him four times in the playoffs, including the final game, speaks volumes of what his role might be in Naptown going forward.

That he scored in double digits four times in his first postseason series says even more about how high his ceiling could be.

Grade: B+

 

Justise Winslow, SF, Miami Heat

MIAMI, FL - MAY 1:  Justise Winslow #20 of the Miami Heat celebrates during the game against the Charlotte Hornets in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on May 1, 2016 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Flori
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

Regular Season: 28.6 MPG, 6.4 PPG, 42.2% FG, 27.6% 3PT, 5.2 RPG, 1.5 APG (78 Games)

Playoffs: 23.5 MPG, 5.6 PPG, 40.5% FG, 16.7% 3PT, 4.8 RPG, 0.6 APG (8 Games)

Everybody in Miami likes Justise Winslow. Some like him so much, they can't help but storm the court—during a Game 7, no less—to hug him.

The Heat have to be pleased with most of what they've seen from the No. 10 pick so far. Against the Hornets, he brought the same energy to his defense and rebounding that made him a mainstay of Spoelstra's second unit during the regular season.

In the playoffs, though, there's no easy way to hide Winslow's wayward jumper.

The Duke product was a net neutral—no points on two attempts, a donut in the plus/minus column—during Miami's Game 1 win in Toronto on Tuesday. With Spoelstra leaning so heavily on his starters, Winslow will have to find other ways to impact the Heat's fate in the playoffs, just as he did during the regular season.

Grade: B

 

Stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise cited and accurate as of games played on May 4, 2016.

Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.