Only eight teams remain in the NBA playoff bracket. All four series have had at least two games played thus far and we have seen some great basketball. A lot of stars have risen to the moment and every team remaining seems to be playing defense at a very high level.
It’s time to focus on some individuals now, though. Let’s check in with three players on the rise and three players who are on the decline since last week.
NBA Playoffs Week 3 Risers
Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors (Warriors leading Houston Rockets 2-0 in Western Conference Semifinals)
Iguodala is 35 years old. The prime of his career was almost 10 years ago, though he did extend it enough to win the Finals MVP award in 2015. Regardless, Iguodala has been on a slow decline for a while now.
In the clincher against the Los Angeles Clippers and the first two contests against Houston, Iggy has been superb. He has put up efforts of 15, 14 and 16 points on a total true-shooting percentage of 71.7. It is the first time since the aforementioned 2015 NBA Finals series that he has notched 14 points in three straight games. He is dunking the ball like he’s 26 years old again.
Most importantly, though, Iggy is playing fantastic defense. He is making things incredibly difficult for James Harden and all the other Rockets on their offensive end.
Rodney Hood, Portland Trail Blazers (Trail Blazers tied 1-1 with Denver Rockets in Western Conference Semifinals)
Hood had a total of 16 points in 100 minutes on 6-of-22 shooting in the Blazers’ 4-1 first-round series victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. That’s really, really bad.
Then in Game 1 of the second round against the Nuggets, Hood dropped in 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting in just 18 minutes. He reprised the performance with a solid Game 2, with 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting in 27 minutes. He has only committed one turnover, too.
Hood, at 6’8”, has a good matchup against the Nuggets and their smaller perimeter players. He can easily shoot over his defenders and seems to be gaining confidence on offense from that.
Al Horford, Boston Celtics (Celtics tied 1-1 with Milwaukee Bucks)
Horford had a mediocre first-round series performance against the Indiana Pacers. So far, he has been much better against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The veteran center is averaging 17.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.5 blocks in 30.5 minutes per game 14-of-26 shooting from the field and excellent 6-of-10 shooting from three-point range. On defense, he has been tasked with guarding Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo had some very good moments in Game 2, but Horford has done a fantastic job overall, including one possession where he blocked Antetokounmpo twice.
Will the Celtics go on to an upset series victory over the Bucks? Horford’s performance on both ends is going to be very key if that’s going to happen.
NBA Playoffs Week 3 Fallers
Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors (Raptors down 2-1 to Philadelphia 76ers in Eastern Conference Semifinals)
Theoretically, Ibaka should be the best bench player in the Raptors-76ers series. He averaged 15 points and eight rebounds during the regular season on above-average efficiency while making very good contributions as a rim protector.
He has been a complete disaster versus Philly. He has a total of just 13 points in three games on 6-of-20 shooting from the field. He has been beat to lots of rebounds by the 76ers’ big men and struggled mightily with foul trouble in Games 1 and 2. He has just two blocks but 10 fouls through three games.
If Ibaka’s jumper isn’t falling from both the midrange and behind the arc and he is not protecting the rim, his impact is capped pretty severely.
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors (Raptors down 2-1 to Philadelphia 76ers in Eastern Conference Semifinals)
As bad as Ibaka has been against the 76ers, VanVleet has been even worse. The 25-year-old guard has scored four points in 63 minutes in the series, making one of his 11 field-goal attempts. He is just 2-of-5 from the free-throw line. Toronto is a minus-25 in this series with him on the floor, but the team improves to plus-12 when he is on the bench.
VanVleet was an elite backup point guard last season, but he regressed some this season due to injuries and having to play more as a starter. In the postseason, the Raptors have handed the ball to their stars more, moving VanVleet off the ball. He is a solid spot-up shooter, but the 76ers are so long that he can’t get his shot off cleanly.
Defense has also been a struggle for the 6’0” guard. He is a hard-nosed defender against smaller guards, but he doesn’t have the physical attributes to hold his own on switches against bigger players. The Sixers have exploited that very well.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (Celtics tied 1-1 with Milwaukee Bucks)
As a rookie last year, Tatum stepped up his game in the postseason with Kyrie Irving out. He was one of the key driving forces in the Celtics making a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals. He averaged 18.4 points per game in 19 postseason contests.
He has been absolutely disastrous for the Celtics against the Bucks thus far. The 20-year-old forward has just nine total points on 4-of-17 shooting in 54 minutes through two games. He seems to be struggling against Milwaukee’s length on the perimeter.
The biggest concern about Tatum’s game is definitely turning out to be shot selection. He is taking a lot of difficult midrange jumpers instead of getting up more threes or finding his way to the basket off dribble drives or attacking closeouts. Of course, he also needs to show more as a rebounder and passer.
There is certainly a lot of time for Tatum to figure things out. However, the fact that he has regressed since his rookie year is not a good sign.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets. These are only Jared’s news articles, most of his articles for USA Betting are sports game previews and they can be found here.