The 2018-19 NBA season has witnessed so many players stepping up their game to another level. These breakout stars managed to surpass expectations by putting in the work in training and chalking up big numbers for their respective teams this year.
There’s no question, they deserve the recognition they are getting right now. All-Star selections, All-NBA nods and the Most Improved Player of the Year plum, all of these awards, and more are now attainable because of their outstanding performance in the regular-season.
Having said that, the playoffs are way different than the regular-season. At this point of the year, all the stats and metrics compiled throughout the 82-game regular-season schedule are reduced to nothing. It’s basically a brand-new ball game. The defense is tighter, the intensity is fiercer and most of all, the stakes are higher.
Only the best comes through in this kind of atmosphere. Only the real stars shine in these moments.
For these upcoming 2019 NBA playoffs, here are the five players who are poised to carve their path to greatness.
1. D’Angelo Russell
We start the list with the obvious pick: D-Loading. Russell, who averages career-highs 21.1 points and 6.9 assists per game, has turned into a bona fide All-Star in his second year with the Brooklyn Nets. Although his team is still in a dog fight with four other teams for final spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs, we can be confident that Russell would lead the Nets back to the postseason.
In the playoffs, the 23-year-old Russell should expect rougher defense as teams begin to employ their schemes. But again, he proved time and time again this year that he can find a way to impact the game without scoring the ball, although he is still gifted as a scorer. Bill Simmons of the Ringer even mentioned in his recent podcast that Russell can outgun any team whenever he catches fire.
Hoops fans saw Russell having crazy scoring nights this season, including that 27-point outburst in the fourth quarter to help the Nets take a come-from-behind win over the Sacramento Kings last month.
2. Pascal Siakam
Position-less basketball has officially arrived in Toronto this year. Siakam, a 6-foot-9 Cameroonian forward, has given the Raptors a Draymond Green-liked player who can do everything on both ends of the floor. Now in his third year in Toronto, the 25-year-old has achieved career-high numbers in points (17.0), rebounds (6.9) and assists (3.1) while giving the team another capable defender outside All-Defensive Team players like Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
The Raptors are going to rely more on Siakam’s multi-facet game to go deep in the playoffs. With teams expected to key on Kawhi and Kyle Lowry, Toronto would need him to become their third consistent scorer. If Siakam puts up big numbers this postseason, we wouldn’t be surprised if the Raptors beat the Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks all the way to the finals. That’s how valuable he is to this team.
3. Nikola Jokic
Technically, the Serbian All-Star big man shouldn’t be on this list. He’s already a full-fledged star and probably an All-NBA first-teamer this season. However, given that this will be his first NBA postseason, the Joker is worth mentioning, nevertheless.
Like Siakam, Jokic has been an all-around player for the Nuggets, but only better. The 24-year-old center averages 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.4 assists this season, making him basically a 7-foot triple-double threat in every single night.
It’s needless to say that the Nuggets’ playoff fortune will deeply hinge on Jokic’s postseason form. The team revolves around him. If he delivers, the Nuggets advance. If he bombs out, the Nuggets fail. That’s how simple it is for Jokic and his team.
4. Seth Curry
Yes, this is the moment when Seth finally steps outside the shadow of his mega-star brother Stephen Curry. Let’s make things clear here, Seth isn’t going to be an All-Star after this season, but we are sure that fans would look back at the Blazers 2019 playoff run as the moment when Seth becomes a man of his own.
With C.J McCollum’s return date from a knee injury still up in the air, the Blazers will be leaning on Curry to provide numbers at the shooting guard spots. Damian Lillard is going to be dynamic again in these playoffs, yet he’s going to need a trusty off-guard who can shoot the ball well whenever the defense collapses on him.
Curry, who is shooting 44 percent from deep, is more than capable of pulling off the job. Last March, Seth upped his production to 12.2 points on 48 percent FG shooting and 41 percent from the three-point line. The Blazers should hope that Curry’s good form continues, because if he does catch fire then we are in for something special this postseason.
5. Derrick White
White’s NBA career wasn’t supposed to happen at all. I mean he started his college basketball career for a Division II program until he transferred to another unheralded mid-major team, Colorado Springs Mountain Lions.
Fast-forward to the present, and White has become one of the key players for head coach Gregg Popovich this season. His numbers aren’t that eye-popping, still White’s scrappiness on offense and defense affects the game significantly. He might not be the most flamboyant player on the court, but he plays the game for one purpose: win.
Against the Golden State Warriors, he will be matched against the best sniper in the league, Stephen Curry. It’s going to be a daunting task on his part to contain Golden State’s lethal weapon. However, there’s no doubt that White will win the hearts of pundits and NBA fans with his tenacity, horsepower, and unmatched competitiveness, win or lose.