The new generation of players has taken over in the NBA Playoffs.
This will be the first time in over a decade that the NBA Finals will not feature either Steph Curry or LeBron James, and if you look at the second round, all the teams that remain either haven’t won a title in decades or at all.
Of the eight teams remaining, five are seeking their first NBA title. The other three haven’t won in three decades plus (Sixers ‘83, Bucks ‘71, Hawks ‘58).
We had many exciting first-round series that saw budding young stars come up short without the right pieces around them.
Young but undermanned
Luka Doncic was sensational in a seven-game series against the Los Angeles Clippers averaging around 35 points, 10 assists, and eight rebounds but came up just short.
This will certainly not be the last we see of the 22-year-old in the playoffs.
Doncic was able to carry the Dallas Mavericks into a Game 7 and scored 29 points in the first half. The Clippers had a burst in the third quarter that really exposed the Mavericks’ depth, putting them down 15 at the half.
Luka willed the Mavs back to 10 with less than three minutes to go before hitting a high arching stepback three over Kawhi that earned ooh’s and ahh’s from the opposing crowd, but it wasn’t enough, and the Clippers advanced.
Luka finished with 46 points on 17 for 30 shooting.
Luka’s fellow European and running mate Kristaps Porzingis has never been able to get back to the player he was with the New York Knicks. In a pivotal Game 7, he was only able to score 16 points, and as a co-star, you need more than that in order to advance against a talented Clippers team.
The problem for the Mavericks and Luka is what to do about the issue. It is unlikely that anyone wants to touch Porzingis after two years riddled with injuries making over $90 million over three years.
The Josh Richardson signing has also been a mess, with the only real production from the guard spot coming from Tim Hardaway Jr. and spurts from Jalen Brunson.
The Mavericks and GM Donnie Nelson are going to need to add some more shooters and eventually a new (healthy) running mate for Luka if they want to make it deep into the playoffs.
Ja Morant put his name on the national map with a strong performance in both play-in games heading into the playoffs.
On national television, Ja Morant was able to bounce the Warriors and one of the hottest players of the past couple of months, Steph Curry, on big-time shots.
The Golden State Warriors tried to back off Morant and force him to shoot threes, but he wasn’t missing. When they did decide to guard him, he would blow-by and hit tough floaters in the lane.
The Grizzlies were the youngest team entering the playoffs with an average age around 24, and their young guys showed out in Game 1. The pesky Dillion Brooks finished with 31, hitting multiple tough shots down the stretch, including a layup to put them up for good 112-109.
Ja Morant had another strong game with 26 points despite not hitting a single three.
The Utah Jazz, led by the young duo of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, would go on to win the next four games, but you could see the pieces of a young squad beginning to grow up and come together.
The Memphis Grizzlies will be a tough out over the years as this team continues to grow and gain experience.
Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics proved once again why he has a chance to be a future Hall of Famer one day.
In the Celtics only win in the series, Tatum put up 50 in a game where the Celtics should have had no chance of winning. The Brooklyn Nets roster is vastly better than the Celtics, but Tatum’s heroics ended up being too much.
Just this past week, Danny Ainge decided to step down along with Brad Stevens moving into the GM role. This will add some much-needed change to the organization that had underperformed, according to many experts around the league.
The Celtics don’t have many players with trade value other than Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, but most people believe Brown will be there for as long as they can keep him.
Certainly an interesting off-season in Boston.
Second round heroics
The young guys stepped up big again in huge second-round performances.
In Game 1 of the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks series, Trae Young shined again, scoring 30 points with 10 assists. A sensational game for a playoff newcomer on the road against the number one seed in the east.
Trae has evolved from when he was first drafted out of Oklahoma to take the keys for Atlanta’s franchise. He’s now able to control the pace and help get his other teammates involved, which has really elevated the Hawks in the second half of the year.
Atlanta does a great job of helping Trae space the floor with their three-point shooting. The Hawks averaged 37.3% from deep this season as a team.
He started to realize that his team could make shots after the coaching change and return of Bogdanovic, which set them on a winning streak that helped him grow as a floor general.
This series should be exciting, with Trae Young embracing the road environment surrounded by shooters going against the best team in the east.
The Phoenix Suns have had a wonderful season under head coach Monty Williams earning the two seed in the west. Chris Paul has played a huge role in that uptick from last season, but Devin Booker has elevated his game as well in his first-ever playoffs.
Booker is averaging 28.4 points per game in two series, including a 47 point performance to knock out the reigning champion LA Lakers and LeBron James on their own floor.
The Suns have proven themselves to be a real favorite to get out of the west, with Chris Paul running the show as a savvy veteran along with Booker’s scoring and DeAndre Ayton proving that he can be a productive big in important moments.
Ayton really proved himself on the national stage in Game 1 of the Lakers series, where he was able to slow down Anthony Davis while producing offensively with 21 points and 16 rebounds.
In the other series in the west, Donovan Mitchell has continued to gain confidence as a playoff performer. In a Game 1 win against the Clippers, Mitchell scored a whopping 45 points.
After missing the first game of the series against the Grizzlies that resulted in a loss, the Jazz and Mitchell have been on a tear.
Mitchell is averaging nearly 32 points per game, and Utah hasn’t lost since he has returned to the lineup. Donovan was highly productive with a plus 30 plus/minus in a close-out game against the Grizzlies in Game 5.
The next generation of the NBA has been coming over the years, and now the moment has arrived, and they haven’t disappointed.
It will be interesting to see if any of the young guns on these teams will be able to dismantle the obvious juggernaut that is the Nets in order to win a title.
Only time will tell.