Stephen Curry lit-up the basketball world with his unlimited range and sweet handles last postseason. Kawhi Leonard made a name for himself in the NBA Finals, as did Danny Green. Who will be the “breakout star” in this year’s postseason? Here is a list of five players you should watch.
The nice thing about this year’s postseason is that there are some new teams in the Eastern Conference. The Western Conference is basically the same except Dallas and Portland are in and Denver and Los Angeles (Lakers) are out. New to the party this year in the East are the Washington Wizards, Charlotte Bobcats, and Toronto Raptors. I’m excited to see these teams play because I don’t get to see these teams very often because they are never on ESPN, ABC, or TNT. With that said, let’s dive into this year’s potential breakout stars.
5. Andray Blatche (Brooklyn Nets) – Blatche turned out to be one of the more productive bench players, not only for the Nets, but around the league. He averaged 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in just 22 minutes per game. He is big man who can step outside and hit jumpers, but he can also go past opposing forwards, despite being 6’11 and nearly 240 lbs. He posted his second-highest PER in his career this season as well, 18.8, almost four points above what is considered to be “league average” (15). Blatche is also playing for a new contract, if he doesn’t choose to exercise his player option with the Nets next season. He making $1.375 million this season.
4. Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors) – After playing in only 62 games in his rookie season, Valanciunas played in 81 games this season, and his numbers showed steady improvement. The 21-year old from Lithuania averaged 11.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, up more than two points and nearly three rebounds from a year ago. His field-goal percentage could be better, but it’s still solid (53.1%). He posted 25 double-doubles this season, compared to only eight in his rookie season. If the Raptors plan on advancing, he will have to play extremely well, and I think he is capable.
3. Kemba Walker (Charlotte Bobcats) – Advanced statistics say that Walker has regressed this season from his solid 2012-2013 sophomore campaign. However, advanced statistics doesn’t account for having played in big games, nor does it measure heart. I understand that this is college basketball anymore, but Walker has been in pressure situations before in the Big East and NCAA tournaments. He has come through again and again. The only thing standing in his way are the two-time defending champions, who happen to have two of the best players of all time, the best player in the world, and a veteran team that has been in pressure situations much more than him. However, I think Walker, along with Al Jefferson, can make it an interesting series when the Bobcats face-off against the Miami Heat.
2. Monta Ellis (Dallas Mavericks) – Remember when Ellis used to shoot, and shoot, and shoot, . . .and shoot? The days of him averaging 25 or 26 points per game are probably over because he has matured as a player, and because he is playing with one of the greatest players (Dirk Nowitzki). Ellis has never played with someone like that before. Over the course of this season, Ellis has tried to change himself from – what a lot of people would call – “selfish player” to a “team player”. And he has done a pretty good job. Thanks to him and a healthy Nowitzki, the Mavs are back in the playoffs. While many people don’t give them a chance against the San Antonio Spurs, I don’t think you can count the Mavs out. Even at 28-years old, Ellis can make a big name for himself, especially if Dallas pulls off an upset in the first round.
1. John Wall (Washington Wizards) – It took him until his fourth season to make his first playoff appearance. But hey, he did it quicker than my favorite player Kevin Love, so props to him. A lot of people know Wall was the first overall pick in the 2010 draft. The talent around him has never been very good, but this year things seemed to click. Wall averaged 19 points and nearly nine assists per game, and led his team to the playoffs for the first time since the mid-2000’s. I wouldn’t say the Wizards got a lucky first round draw because they have to go against one of the league’s best defensive teams in the Chicago Bulls, but one thing Washington can do that Chicago can’t: score. Washington was 16th in the league in points per game (100.7) and Wall led the way. Wall can turn himself into a superstar overnight, especially if Washington is able to advance. He will be a nightmare for the Bulls, and that’s saying a lot.
Have a Happy Easter and enjoy watching the games!