It's time for Portland to rebuild
Hello darkness my old friend...
The NBA playoffs are underway, and each of the eight opening-round series is loaded with talented players. We all know the must-watch superstars—Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, and so on—but there are plenty more exciting players you may not have gotten much of a chance to watch during the regular season. With most playoff games nationally televised, you can flip over to every matchup and check out all the talent the NBA postseason has to offer. Here is a quick list of the players you should be tuning in to watch.
Those who watched Brown closely last season likely foresaw the mini-breakout that the second-year swingman enjoyed during his sophomore campaign. Brown had some exciting flashes as a rookie, displaying the athleticism that got him drafted third overall in 2016 while also showing glimpses of impressive skill for a youngster.
Brown was a bit of a surprise selection at third overall in the 2016 draft, as he was considered much more raw than fellow prospects like Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield, and Jamal Murray. But Brown is already turning his raw gifts into productive play on the hardwood. He remains an explosive slasher from the wing but has also significantly improved his shooting since his rookie season. Compared to last season, Brown's field-goal percentage has gone from 34.4 to 40.9 on shots from 10-16 feet from the basket, from 29 to 36.8 on two-point shots from 16-plus feet, and from 34.1 to 39.5 on three-point shots.
With Gordon Hayward lost at the beginning of the season and Kyrie Irving going down more recently, the Celtics are short on go-to players, so it will be interesting to see whether Brown can fill the shoes of Boston's injured stars. He'll certainly have a chance to impress. In his first game of this postseason, Brown racked up 20 points, four rebounds, and four assists while finishing plus-18 in a six-point victory.
One of the most interesting storylines of the upcoming offseason will be where Jabari Parker, who will be a restricted free agent, ends up signing. The 23-year-old can be dominant when healthy, but knee injuries have ravaged his career to this point. Having torn his left ACL twice since entering the NBA, Parker may have trouble finding a team willing to give him a max contract or close to it, but it's certainly possible that an organization will be willing to roll the dice on the 2014 draft's second overall pick.
It would go a long way for Parker's free-agent stock for him to show well this postseason, so you can bet that he'll be going all out to make an impact in however many games the Bucks are able to last. He fell flat on his face in Game 1 against the Celtics, posting just two points on five shots in 15 minutes, but he clearly has the talent to bounce back, and his teammates are eager to get him going—Bucks point guard Eric Bledsoe told Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that “we need him.”
Just five days ago, Parker racked up 25 points on 15 shots, and he finished the regular season averaging 19.5 points (49.5 field-goal percentage), 8.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.3 steals per game over his last six. It's also worth tossing out a reminder that Parker was averaging 20.1 points per game in the 51 contests he played before blowing out his knee last season. If he can get comfortable and stay healthy, you'll see a player who can bang down low and stretch the defense out to the arc, and he has all the incentive in the world to show NBA executives he's worth big money.
When watching a team that features Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green, you probably aren't eager to keep a close eye on the backup point guard, but Cook is an interesting case. He got a chance this season due to the plethora of injuries Golden State dealt with late in the year, and he shined for much of his time in the limelight. Over his last 15 appearances of the regular season, he averaged 16.9 points per game on 51.8 percent from the field to go along with 4.6 assists and 4.1 rebounds.
On a team that theoretically sacrificed depth to compile a foursome of bonafide superstars, Cook could be a crucial piece as a guard who can come off the bench and keep the offense in sync. His playoff debut was a disappointment, as he scored just five points on seven shots with two assists in 25 minutes, but Cook seems to have the talent to improve as he gets a little more postseason experience under his belt. A dynamic playmaker when he has his game going, Cook can both penetrate and hit shots from the outside. If he can get back to playing how he did down the stretch of the regular season, the Warriors will be even more dangerous than we thought.
Okay, Mitchell isn't really “under the radar” at this point. He has become somewhat of a star since taking the league by storm as a rookie this season, but the Jazz don't exactly live on national television, so you probably haven't had a ton of opportunities to watch him play. A particularly interesting aspect of watching Mitchell is that in just his first NBA season he is entering the playoffs as his team's primary scoring option. Few rookies have ever had the amount of responsibility that Mitchell currently bears as a go-to postseason scorer, and despite a Game 1 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, he lived up to hype in his playoff debut. Mitchell posted team highs with 27 points (11-of-22 shooting) and 10 rebounds, and he was second on the team with three assists and two steals.
Mitchell suffered a bruised left foot in Sunday's game, and the Jazz have announced that his status for Game 2 will be determined Tuesday, but the 21-year-old was able to return in Game 1 after suffering the injury, and it's hard to imagine him sitting out. With the Jazz roster featuring few players capable of scoring in bunches, look for Utah to continue to lean on Mitchell. It will be interesting to see if the hobbled rookie can continue to exceed everyone's expectations but his own.
And here we have another Celtic who, like Brown, is seeing extra time due to the team's injury woes. Rozier didn't look like much of a player over his first two NBA seasons, but he seems to be blossoming in his third year, putting together a number of strong performances and posting some particularly strong lines (including a triple-double) when Kyrie Irving has been sidelined. In February and March, Rozier managed double-digit scoring totals in all 24 games, averaging 16.4 points per contest. His efficiency has never been very strong (even over that 24-game stretch, he shot 41.6 percent from the field), but he can stuff the stat sheet with assists, rebounds, and steals.
Rozier put up 23 points (including a huge three at the end of regulation) in 40 minutes in Game 1's overtime win over the Milwaukee Bucks, and he'll continue to see plenty of playing time with Irving out for the season.
What Rozier is able to manage with his increased minutes will have a huge impact on Boston's success this postseason, so it will be interesting to see how he performs with the pressure on. If he plays well, he'll be a treat to watch zipping around the court.