NBA Player Risers & Fallers for Playoffs Week 6: VanVleet Plays His Role

Fred VanVleetOne of the NBA’s conference finals series ended pretty quickly. The Golden State Warriors played without Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, but they still dismantled the Portland Trail Blazers in a four-game sweep earlier in the week.

The other series, fortunately, has provided loads of entertainment value. The Toronto Raptors currently lead the Milwaukee Bucks 3-2 after trailing two games to none. Three of the games in the series have been very tight.

Right now, it’s time to focus on the players who have contributed to their team’s success or failure over the past week. We’ll identity a total of six players who have altered their stock significantly since last weekend.

NBA Playoffs Week 6 Risers

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors (Raptors leading 3-2 against Milwaukee Bucks in Eastern Conference Finals)

A lot of times, the outcome of a playoff series comes down to those unheralded role players who unexpectedly step up. The Raptors certainly have work left to do against the Bucks, but VanVleet deserves a lot of credit for playing at an extremely high level in the last two games.

Toronto’s backup guard has averaged 17 points per game in his last two contests on 10-of-12 shooting from three-point range. That is pretty impressive considering he had averaged 4 points per game on 19.5 percent from downtown in his first 15 playoff contests.

Just as importantly, he has held his own on defense despite being extremely undersized. His on-court plus-minus in the past two games is an amazing plus-53, while the Raptors have been minus-29 with him on the bench.

Success on the court may actually be secondary in VanVleet’s mind right now, though. He traveled to Illinois earlier this week to welcome his second child into the world before returning to Toronto for Game 4.

Meyers Leonard, Portland Trail Blazers (Trail Blazers lost 4-0 against Golden State Warriors in Western Conference Finals)

Leonard, normally a Blazers reserve, didn’t play like a reserve in the final two games of his team’s four-game loss to the Golden State Warriors. The sweet-shooting 7’1” big man exploded for a combined 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and eight made three-pointers in the two contests. He was a big reason the Blazers were even somewhat competitive in both games.

The performances were completely out of the blue, considering Leonard hadn’t hit double-figure scoring even once in his first nine playoff games. Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts didn’t even play him at all in five different games in the postseason.

Leonard seems to thrive when he confidently shoots from the outside. When he’s not doing that, it’s easy to point to his high foul rate and mediocre defense and rebounding as reasons why he shouldn’t be playing more. When he is a willing and accurate shooter, though, he looks like an NBA starter.

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors (Warriors won 4-0 against Portland Trail Blazers in Western Conference Finals)

We have heard the cliches surrounding Draymond Green — things like “he’s the heart and soul of the team,” “his impact goes beyond the stat sheet” and “he’s the ultimate glue guy.”

All of those cliches are true. Green played well below his potential in the regular season, but did he really have to give 100 percent in those games on such a talented team? Now, in the playoffs, he is bringing intensity on every possession and playing very well on both ends of the floor.

Green was at his very best over the last two games of the Warriors’ sweep of the Trail Blazers. In those contests, he stuffed the stat sheet with 19.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, 11.5 assists, 3.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game.

One can argue that Green isn’t talented enough on offense to classify as a true superstar. That’s  definitely fair. However, he is a great guy to accentuate the strengths of talented offensive players, and his defense, when he’s locked in, is capable of wrecking the opponent’s gameplan.

NBA Playoffs Week 6 Fallers

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Bucks losing 3-2 against Toronto Raptors in Eastern Conference Finals)

There are a variety of reasons that the Bucks have lost three straight games to the Raptors, but one of the main reasons is the lackluster play of their on-court leader.

Antetokounmpo started the past week with a strong performance of 30 points, 17 rebounds and five assists in Milwaukee’s Game 2 win. In his last three games, though, his offense has not been good: 20.3 points, 6 assists and 4.7 turnovers in 39.3 minutes per game on a 48.9 true-shooting percentage. He has made only 12 of his 26 free-throw attempts (46.2 percent) in that stretch.

Most importantly, Antetokounmpo is not rising to the level of play of his counterpart, the Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard. Giannis’ lack of a dependable jump shot combined with his relative inexperience in big playoff games is affecting his confidence in key moments.

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors (Warriors won 4-0 against Portland Trail Blazers in Western Conference Finals)

Thompson was named to the NBA’s 2018-19 All-Defensive Second Team this week. He is a solid defender, but he probably isn’t quite at that level in relation to his backcourt peers. Thompson will stay in front of guys pretty well, but he’s not the type of guy who truly makes offensive players tremble in fear.

Right now, though, the less-heralded Splash Brother’s main issues are on the offensive end. He had more field-goal attempts than points in the Portland series and his three assists per game were complemented by three turnovers per game. Those aren’t good numbers for someone who isn’t facilitating very much and has most of his shots created by others.

There are lots of people who still think Thompson is a better and more valuable player than his teammate, Draymond Green. Considering Green’s all-around excellence against the Blazers, that take seems downright nutty at this point.

Danny Green, Toronto Raptors (Raptors leading 3-2 against Milwaukee Bucks in Eastern Conference Finals)

Green has been one of the NBA’s prototypical three-and-D players over the past few seasons. He has made two All-Defensive teams in the past three years and has made 40.4 percent of his threes in the regular season throughout his career.

In Green’s last seven games, he hasn’t lived up to the “three” part of the “three-and-D” billing. The Raptors wing has played a total of 197 minutes in that span, but he’s scored just 31 points and is shooting 9-of-39 from the field and 6-of-30 from three-point range. Milwaukee has completely erased him from the Raptors’ offensive equation.

Unfortunately for the Raptors, this is actually a troubling trend for Green in the postseason. He’s shooting just 58-of-178 (32.8 percent) from downtown in his last three postseasons after shooting 160-of-365 (43.8 percent) in his first six postseason appearances. Toronto’s veteran has never developed the offensive skill set to make playoff teams respect him on that end.