The NBA playoffs are where legacies are made. The regular season matters and is certainly still fun, but we see players show their true colors when the pressure is turned up a few notches.
Throughout the playoffs, we are going to see players have ups and downs. Some of them are going to be minor blips, while others will be more troubling trends.
Here we discuss a few surprising players and a few disappointing players from the first week of playoff action.
NBA Playoffs Week 1 Risers
Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs (Spurs up 2-1 on Denver Nuggets)
White really came on for the Spurs in the second half of the season after recovering from his heel injury. However, no one could have predicted what he did in the first three games of the Spurs-Nuggets series.
Outside of the fourth quarter of Game 2, the Spurs’ 24-year-old point guard has absolutely dominated his Nuggets counterpart, Jamal Murray. The two have guarded each other for the majority of the series. White is averaging 23 points and 3.3 assists in 30.9 minutes per game on a 73.7 true-shooting percentage, while Murray is at 15.7 points and 2 assists in 34.1 minutes per game on a 46.6 true-shooting percentage.
Murray is a very solid young player, but White has made his life very difficult.
One of the great things about White is how solid he is on both ends of the floor. Even when he’s cooking on offense, he maintains such a high level of effort on the defensive end, using his 6’5” frame and good lateral quickness to his advantage.
Kevon Looney, Golden State Warriors (Warriors up 2-1 on Los Angeles Clippers)
With DeMarcus Cousins out for the year after his injury early in Game 2 of the Warriors-Clippers series, it’s imperative that the Warriors find a reliable player to soak up minutes at the center position.
Thankfully for Golden State, Looney has been absolutely fantastic in the first three games of the series. He just fits perfectly in lineups with the Warriors’ superstars. He has 35 points in 53 minutes on 14-of-17 shooting from the field and 7-of-8 from the line so far. His midrange jumper has been dropping consistently, he has only one total turnover and his defense has been solid, as well. Finally, the Warriors are a plus-42 with him on the floor and minus-2 when he is on the bench.
Looney is a free agent this summer. The only downside for his solid play from a Warriors perspective is that he could be playing his way into a contract amount that the Dubs don’t want to pay.
Boban Marjanovic, Philadelphia 76ers (76ers up 2-1 on Brooklyn Nets)
Marjanovic is another center who is making the most of his opportunity due to injury to his team’s starter. Joel Embiid has been either out or limited for all three games with a knee injury, but the 7’3”, 290-pound Marjanovic has been amazing in his 51 minutes.
The Serbian behemoth is putting 14.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block per game. He did foul out of Game 3, but his lack of speed hasn’t hurt the Sixers too much on defense so far. In fact, he is playing with a lot of discipline and smarts on defense, challenging everything in the paint and doing a good job staying in the play.
Moving forward in this series, Marjanovic should be very important. The Sixers would love to keep resting Embiid for a potential second-round series against (likely) the Toronto Raptors, so Boban will need to keep playing key minutes and being productive.
NBA Playoffs Week 1 Fallers
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (Jazz down 2-0 on Houston Rockets)
Mitchell is a rising 22-year-old star in the NBA but at no point in the Jazz’ two big losses to the Rockets has he looked like a star.
Utah’s combo guard has put up 15 points per game, but his shooting slash is an ugly 32.4/26.7/40. He has only six total assists against nine turnovers. As the best offensive player on the team, he definitely hasn’t cultivated productivity from the Jazz offense. They are averaging only 94 points per game to the Rockets’ 120 points per game.
Last year as a rookie, Mitchell had a very good first round in the playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder before struggling against the Rockets in Round 2. Houston seems to be a bad matchup for him, but it also doesn’t help that the Jazz have very few capable shot creators outside of Mitchell.
Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers (Pacers down 2-0 on Boston Celtics)
Sabonis will get some down-ballot votes in the Most Improved Player voting this season. The 22-year-old big man’s playoff play has been abysmal, though.
The Celtics are forcing Sabonis to score with his weaker right hand and he has really struggled. He has been quite tentative as a scorer, with just eight points in 50 total minutes played so far. His defense has been just about as bad. The Celtics are going right at him since he is not a strong rim protector or very agile moving in space.
One bright spot in Sabonis’ play so far in the two games has been his passing. He has eight assists and just two turnovers. However, that is not nearly enough to cover up his shortcomings in basically every other aspect of the game.
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic (Magic tied 1-1 with Toronto Raptors)
Even though the Raptors are undoubtedly frustrated they couldn’t win both of their opening games at home, they have done a great job of shutting down Orlando’s best offensive player.
Vucevic averaged 20.8 points, 12 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2 turnovers per game on a 57.3 true-shooting percentage in the regular season. He made the All-Star team. Those numbers are down to 8.5 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.5 turnovers with a 36.0 true-shooting percentage.
Marc Gasol is playing close to perfect one-on-one defense against Vucevic. Toronto is also throwing in some double teams to keep Vooch off balance and out of rhythm. However, you’d like to see Vucevic play with a little bit more fire. He is letting Gasol move him out of position too easily and he’s not making his moves with much conviction.