1 Player Holding Back Every NBA Playoff Team

Greg Swartz@@GregSwartzBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterApril 25, 2022

1 Player Holding Back Every NBA Playoff Team

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    With the NBA playoffs already getting spicy, it's time to take a look around the league and see who still needs to step up for their respective teams.

    This list will be based on expectation vs. production. For example, Kevin Durant giving the Brooklyn Nets 22.0 points on 36.5 percent shooting is holding the team back more than Patty Mills' 6.7 points on 70.0 percent shooting. Fair or not, we should expect more from star players, especially in the playoffs.

    With all eight first-round series still taking place, these are the players who have been holding their teams back the most thus far.

Atlanta Hawks: PG Trae Young

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    If Young isn't leading the Hawks in scoring, there's probably not much of a chance Atlanta is winning.

    Such is the case against a tough-as-nails Miami defense, where Young's 16.5 points per game actually trails teammate De'Andre Hunter (17.8).

    The Heat have made every offensive possession a nightmare for Young, who's making just 35.1 percent of his overall shots, including 21.1 percent from three while turning the ball over 24 total times during the first four contests.

    This hasn't just been a one-man defensive job, either.

    Young is shooting just 5-of-29 from deep (17.9 percent) when being guarded by either Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, Gabe Vincent, P.J. Tucker or Max Strus.

    The Hawks superstar isn't the only one struggling to get clean looks off, as Kevin Huerter, Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic are all shooting 40.8 percent or worse in the series.

    Atlanta likely wouldn't have even won a game against Miami if not for Young, although the two-time All-Star has to figure out a way to be better or else this series will end in a gentleman's sweep.

Boston Celtics: G Derrick White

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    The Celtics have been rolling while building a 3-0 series lead against the Brooklyn Nets. While much has gone right, Boston could use more out of White moving forward.

    Acquired from the San Antonio Spurs at the trade deadline, White has made just four total shots in the three games, including a 1-of-7 performance from three. With players like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and others doing the bulk of the ball-handling, White needs to be better as an off-ball threat and spot-up shooter as the postseason progresses.

    While he can be a terrific defender, White is averaging just 4.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 turnovers in his 18.3 minutes, shooting 30.8 percent overall. Despite being up 3-0, the Celtics have actually been outscored by the Nets when White's been on the floor in the series.

    Given that Boston paid a good amount to bring White in (2022 first-round pick, 2028 first-round pick swap, Josh Richardson and Romeo Langford), it's fair to expect more out of the 27-year-old in future rounds.

    Should/when the Celtics end up advancing, White's defense, scoring and playmaking abilities will be needed even more against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, who currently hold a 3-1 advantage over the Chicago Bulls.

Brooklyn Nets: F Kevin Durant

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    No player has been more disappointing in these playoffs than Durant, who's historically been one of the best postseason performers we've ever seen.

    Already eighth on the NBA's all-time playoff scoring list, Durant has led all postseason scorers five times and has put up 30.1 points on 48.3 percent shooting over his last 108 contests heading into this year.

    Through three games with Brooklyn, however, Durant is averaging just 22.0 points on 36.5 percent shooting, with the Nets in danger of being swept out of the playoffs despite possessing the best player in the series. Or so we thought, at least.

    Credit to the Celtics defense, but Durant has to be better.

    From going scoreless for large stretches to sleeping on the defensive possession that saw Jayson Tatum spin his way for the buzzer-beating layup in Game 1, Durant isn't playing like his typical postseason self.

Chicago Bulls: G Coby White

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    For a player who was selected No. 7 overall just three years ago (ahead of players like Tyler Herro, Jordan Poole, Keldon Johnson and Matisse Thybulle), White is giving the Bulls nothing now when they need him the most.

    It's not like Chicago is asking White to carry them offensively, not with DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic able to do so. White simply needs to hit some shots off the bench, take care of the ball and sprinkle in a little playmaking.

    Instead, he's averaging just 6.3 points and 1.3 assists on 31.0 percent shooting off the bench. His sloppiness with the ball in Game 4 helped get Grayson Allen going offensively en route to his 27 points, as White finished at minus-17 in his 13 minutes.

    With DeRozan and LaVine both having streaky shooting performances in the series, the Bulls need White to be a stabilizing force off the bench and take advantage of minutes where Jrue Holiday is sitting.

    Now down 3-1 to Milwaukee, White isn't the reason Chicago is going to lose the series, but he's done nothing to help his team, either.

Dallas Mavericks: G Spencer Dinwiddie

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    Dinwiddie became instantly more important in Games 1-3 against the Utah Jazz with Luka Doncic out, and actually did an admirable job as a playmaker and defender.

    Now if he could only hit a shot…

    Even though he's averaging 16.0 points per game against Utah, Dinwiddie is doing so on just 31.7 percent shooting overall and 18.2 percent from three. Of the 20 players this postseason who have attempted 56 total field goals or more, Dinwiddie's field-goal percentage ranks dead last.

    In a Game 4 with Luka Doncic returning and the Mavs potentially opening up a 3-1 series lead in Utah, Dinwiddie scored just five points on 2-of-9 shooting overall, finishing a minus-14 in a one-point loss.

    Given just how bad this Jazz perimeter defense has been all year, and how good its made Jalen Brunson look in the series, Dinwiddie simply has to make more of his shots for Dallas to advance.

Denver Nuggets: F Aaron Gordon

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    Nikola Jokic, the deserving recipient of a second straight MVP award, is doing all he can to keep the Nuggets alive with a postseason-leading 31.3 points to go along with 11.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.8 steals on 55.7 percent shooting.

    His supporting cast is trying its best to keep pace with a loaded and healthy Golden State Warriors squad, although it would be fair to ask a little more from Gordon, the team's second-leading scorer in the regular season.

    Through four games, Gordon now ranks fourth on the Nuggets with his 13.5 points a night, doing so while shooting just 41.9 percent overall and 27.3 percent from deep. While he's never been a big-time scorer whose strength relies primarily on his athleticism and defensive versatility, desperate times call for desperate measures with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. still out with injuries.

    Denver needs more offensively from the 26-year-old after giving up Gary Harris, R.J. Hampton and a future first-round pick a year ago. Even hitting his open three-pointers would be a start, as Gordon is just 2-of-7 on catch-and-shoot threes (28.6 percent) against the Warriors thus far.

Golden State Warriors: No One

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    The Warriors were just a few shots away from sweeping the Denver Nuggets, as their comeback attempt in Game 4 fell just short.

    Still, Golden State has arguably looked like the best team in basketball this postseason, led by a NBA-best 125.4 offensive rating.

    Of the Warriors' top seven leading scorers this postseason, none are shooting under 51.4 percent from the field, as the team's collective field-goal percentage of 53.1 percent is easily the best in the league.

    Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole are all averaging 24.3 points or more against Denver, Andrew Wiggins is chipping in 14.5 points on 54.8 percent shooting and Draymond Green has played as good of defense as one can play against Jokic, who has a significant size advantage.

    One could nitpick and ask to see a little more out of role players like Otto Porter Jr. or Kevon Looney, but neither have "held the Warriors back" like we've seen from other teams.

    Golden State looks like a true title contender with all the main guys healthy, which should terrify the rest of the league.

Memphis Grizzlies: F/C Jaren Jackson Jr.

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    While Ja Morant needs to hit a higher percentage of his shots (40.0 percent in four games) and improve defensively, the Grizzlies ultimately are being held back the most by Jackson while stumbling to a 2-2 tie with the seventh-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves.

    If not for blowing multiple 20-plus point leads in Game 3, the Wolves would have a 3-1 series lead and have outplayed the second-seeded Grizzlies.

    A bigger performance from Jackson could help swing momentum back in Memphis' favor, however, as the 22-year-old hasn't had a breakout game yet.

    Averaging just 10.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 0.3 assists on 37.8 percent shooting overall in the series, the Grizzlies have tried him as their starter at both power forward and center, with mixed results.

    This team has enough talent at guard and on the wing where Jackson doesn't need to score 20 a night, although hitting open threes (31.6 percent thus far) and playing all-world defense against Karl-Anthony Towns and Co. is a must.

    While there's room for Morant to improve as well, the Grizzlies could really use a lift from Jackson.

Miami Heat: PG Kyle Lowry

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    Even before suffering a left hamstring strain that caused him to miss Game 4 against the Atlanta Hawks, Lowry was having his worst postseason since 2009 as a 23-year-old member of the Houston Rockets.

    Averages of 8.3 points, 5.3 assists and 0.7 steals on 34.8 percent shooting aren't numbers we're used to seeing from the six-time All-Star, especially not in the playoffs. Since becoming a full-time starter with the Toronto Raptors, Lowry has put up 17.1 points, 6.3 assists, 1.4 steals and made 42.4 percent of his shots over his last 84 postseason games.

    Now, his scoring ranks just seventh on the Heat, even below players like P.J. Tucker, Duncan Robinson and Max Strus. Miami didn't miss a beat with Lowry out in Game 4, beating Atlanta by 24 points in a 110-86 win.

    Taking down the eighth-seeded Hawks is one thing, but trying to win a playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers will be nearly impossible with Lowry playing the way he is now.

    Miami needs its star point guard to get healthy by Round 2 and return to his former Raptors form.

Milwaukee Bucks: G Pat Connaughton

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    A 3-1 start to their series against the Chicago Bulls has presented few challenges, even after losing Khris Middleton to a sprained MCL. With a dogfight series with the Boston Celtics (who are up 3-0 on the Brooklyn Nets) likely coming up next, the Bucks will need contributions from all their role players, including Connaughton, who's struggled thus far.

    Averaging 5.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 0.5 steals on 28.3 percent shooting in 22.3 minutes, Connaughton is failing to make the same impact he had in the regular season (9.9 points on 45.8 percent overall). Fellow reserve Grayson Allen has been far better, despite the two playing nearly identical minutes.

    With Middleton ruled out for the rest of the first round at a minimum, the Bucks will need Connaughton's scoring and defense, especially against the Celtics.

    Although his outside shooting has improved over the past few years, Connaughton has made just four of his first 19 catch-and-shoot three attempts in the series (21.1 percent). Players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday need a spaced floor to be at their best, meaning Connaughton has to start knocking down his open attempts.

Minnesota Timberwolves: PG D'Angelo Russell

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    Anthony Edwards has shined in his playoff debut, and Karl-Anthony Towns put up big performances in Games 1 and 4 wins. Now, the Wolves need the third member of their Big Three to deliver.

    Of the 47 players who have attempted at least 37 total shots or more, Russell's field-goal percentage of 30.9 percent ranks dead last. He's giving Minnesota just 13.3 points per game (down from 18.1 in the regular season) despite still playing big minutes (32.5 a night).

    Never a high-level defender, Russell makes his living on the offensive end of the ball. His playmaking has still been there for Minnesota, although three games where he's shot 27.3 percent or worse have dampened what could be a lethal scoring attack for the Wolves.

    A former All-Star with the Brooklyn Nets, Russell no longer needs to be the primary shot-taker for his team. Some nights he may not even have to be in the top three, especially if Malik Beasley or Patrick Beverley start hitting threes early.

    What Russell needs to do, however, is take smarter shots and keep the ball moving if an open look doesn't present itself. Minnesota has a real chance to pull the upset over the No. 2-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, but only if Russell improves his play.

New Orleans Pelicans: C Jonas Valanciunas

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    Valanciunas hasn't had a bad series against the Suns, and it was his 26-point, 15-rebound performance in Game 4 that helped the Pelicans tie up the series 2-2.

    Overall, however, the 29-year-old has been outplayed by Deandre Ayton, a player the Pelicans desperately need to keep in check now with Devin Booker out with a right hamstring strain.

    Ayton is averaging 20.5 points on 69.1 percent shooting to go along with his 10.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.5 blocks. Despite rebounding at a high level throughout the series, Valanciunas struggled with his shot in Games 1-3 and is averaging 15.0 points on just 39.4 percent from the field overall.

    With Zion Williamson still working his way back to the court, this is basically a three-man offensive show for New Orleans, meaning Valanciunas has to help carry more of the scoring load alongside Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum.

    New Orleans now has a real chance to upset Phoenix with Booker sidelined, especially if Valanciunas plays like he did in Game 4.

Philadelphia 76ers: G/F Matisse Thybulle and SF Danny Green

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    The Sixers were extremely close to sweeping the Raptors out of the first round, although they should still feel pretty good about their play thus far with a 3-1 lead heading back to Philly.

    Joel Embiid is playing through a torn ligament in his thumb to still average 26.0 points and 11.8 rebounds, Tyrese Maxey has continued his breakout season with 22.8 points on 54.8 percent shooting in the playoffs and James Harden is navigating a new role as a primary playmaker and third scoring wheel. Even Tobias Harris (18.0 points on 58.7 percent shooting) has played well against the Raptors.

    If you're searching for a weak spot in Philly, look no further than the wing.

    Thybulle has held the Sixers back with his lack of availability. His decision to not be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has left him ineligible for games in Toronto, where the 76ers went just 1-1 overall.

    Green has been fully available, but that's not necessarily a good thing. A career 38.3 percent three-point shooter in 157 total playoff games, Green is just 8-of-28 (28.6 percent) to begin 2022.

    The 34-year-old doesn't need to be a big-time scorer or elite wing defender any more, but hitting open threes is a minimum requirement for Green, something he's yet to do up to this point.

    Both have been a disappointment for the Sixers, although for different reasons.

Phoenix Suns: F Jae Crowder

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    The Suns have to wonder when Crowder—one of the streakiest postseason players we've seen over the past few years—will finally start to heat up.

    Following a Game 1 versus New Orleans where he finished with just one point, one rebound, one assist and one block (along with three fouls), Crowder hasn't been much better offensively since.

    Games 2-4 have seen him average 8.7 points on 32.1 percent shooting. While much of his offense is based on floor-stretching these days, Crowder is just 1-of-17 overall from three (5.9 percent) in four games.

    With Devin Booker currently sidelined with a right hamstring strain, the Suns need all of their role players like Crowder to step up and start hitting more shots or a fairy-tale season could quickly come to an end.

Toronto Raptors: PG Fred VanVleet

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    Even before leaving Game 4 against the Philadelphia 76ers early with a left hip flexor strain, VanVleet was struggling in the series for Toronto.

    Through his first three games, the All-Star guard was averaging 16.7 points on 35.4 percent shooting overall and 33.3 percent from deep. The Raptors have been outscored by 40 points in VanVleet's 140 total minutes, the worst mark on the team.

    This is a surprising figure given VanVleet's previous playoff successes, both as a reserve on the 2019 championship team and as a starter in 2020 when he averaged 19.6 points on 39.1 percent from three in 11 games.

    Before the hip injury, fatigue could be playing a role for VanVleet, who tied teammate Pascal Siakam with an NBA-leading 37.9 minutes per game during the regular season.

    While he's still been an effective playmaker in the series, Toronto needs far more offensively from VanVleet, who's currently listed as questionable for Game 5.

Utah Jazz: PG Mike Conley Jr.

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    While so much of the attention in the Utah Jazz-Dallas Mavericks series has revolved around Luka Doncic's injury, Jalen Brunson's strong play and Donovan Mitchell putting up eye-popping scoring numbers once again, Conley has largely flown under the radar.

    The 34-year-old has looked like a shell of himself, simply not moving the way we're accustomed to seeing him on either end.

    This has resulted in averages of 10.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 turnovers on 34.1 percent shooting overall and 25.0 percent from three. He's been unable to slow down Brunson, putting more pressure on others to help out.

    This postseason should mean more to Utah than almost any other team, as a first-round exit would likely mean some major roster changes that could include Conley himself.

    The Jazz can't rely on three players (Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson) to produce nearly all of the team's offense. Conley has to be better as a scorer and playmaker, as well as on the defensive end.