Image Credit: Yahoo! Images
Believe it or not, we have a just over a month until the 2018-19 NBA season’s story is finished. A year filled with exciting storylines, out-of-nowhere emergences and thrilling competition, it’s going to be a sad day when it’s all over. From the NBA Summer League, to the first games of the regular season and now to the Eastern and Western Conference Semifinals, it’s been one fun ride.
With plenty of basketball left to be played, the superstars of the league are locked into highly-contested battles each and every night. The best the NBA has to offer is on display in front of millions. I’ve hand-picked 10 of the biggest names left in the postseason and compared their regular season numbers to how they’ve performed this postseason. Those players are listed by series:
- Milwaukee vs. Boston: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving
- Toronto vs. Philadelphia: Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid
- Denver vs. Portland: Nikola Jokic, Damian Lillard
- Golden State vs. Houston: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Chris Paul
Now that we’ve established who’s who in this comparison, let’s take a look at some regular season numbers:
All of these players were great at different things in the regular season. Harden and Antetokounmpo had two of the greatest offensive seasons in recent memory. Curry’s proficiency at putting the ball in the basket was on full display. Embiid and Jokic battled it out for the title of best center in the league. Irving and Leonard embraced leading roles on their teams. Lillard put up another elite-level season. Paul isn’t what he used to be, but he still produced at a high level. You get the drift. Now, let’s add in some playoff numbers.
Without doing any math, it’s not hard to see that Leonard and Durant have stepped their respective games up. With both ranking in the top 15 on the NBA postseason true shooting percentage leaderboards (Leonard 1, Durant 11), this shouldn’t come as a surprise. You’ll see that evidence in our next table, which displays the players’ changes in four main categories: PPG, FG%, 3P% and FT%:
|Change from RS to PS||PPG||FG%||3P%||FT%|
Any change in points per game of at least four is in bold. Any change in percentage by five or more is bolded as well. This is a lot of data to process but using the data presented above, we can draw multiple conclusions.
First and foremost, back to Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. Improving their efficiency and scoring volume by a significant amount, both forwards have stepped up under the bright lights. In addition to them, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard’s 5.3-point improvement from the regular season to postseason shows just how lethal he’s been these last few weeks.
Aside from those three, Nikola Jokic‘s acceptance of not only a primary scoring role — but also a facilitating one — is one of the best stores of the year. To accomplish what he has with remarkable efficiency as a center is remarkable. So far, Jokic receives an A on his first playoff report card.
Contrary to his historic regular season, James Harden‘s play has fallen off through seven postseason games. After being held to 37.4% shooting from the field by the Utah Jazz, Harden’s 9-for-28 Game 1 vs. Golden State hasn’t helped his cause efficiency-wise. It hasn’t tremendously affected his team’s play to this point, but Houston isn’t going to get past the Warriors if Harden isn’t playing at an MVP-level.
Both Stephen Curry and Joel Embiid have seen their scoring numbers drop as well. While Curry’s efficiency hasn’t changed much, taking a backseat to Durant through a little over one series doesn’t bode well for his numbers moving forward. Battling a variety of injuries this postseason, Embiid’s regression is perhaps the most severe by a player not named Harden. In order for the 76ers to get past the juggernaut that seems to be Kawhi Leonard, Embiid will need to step it up.
It’s worth keeping an eye on Giannis Antetokounmpo. The “Greek Freak” hasn’t been all that scary through two games vs. Boston, scoring 22 and 29 points in G1 and G2, but doing so on 7/21 and 7/16 shooting. A player who converted on nearly 58 percent of his field goal attempts in the regular season, Antetokounmpo’s performance the rest of the way will be a barometer of if he belongs among the game’s elite.
Kyrie Irving‘s numbers don’t jump off the paper (or computer screen), but he’s quietly righted the ship in Boston. After sweeping the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs, the Celtics dominated Milwaukee in Game 1 of the East Semis. Now that things are knotted up at 1 apiece, the opportunity Irving has been waiting for is here: lead your team on an impressive playoff run.
Aside from his three-point shot simply refusing to go in, Chris Paul‘s has been essentially the same player in our two splits. Supporting Harden with some scoring and ball-handling, the “Point God” is still a very good player in this league. All-in-all, not that surprising of a postseason from him.
The Bottom Line
Despite everything presented above, and as mentioned at the beginning of this article, there’s enough basketball left for these players to progress and regress. Will Kawhi and KD be able to keep up their historic performances? Is it possible Harden finds his shot in time to scare the Warriors? Who will be the first star to step up in the Boston/Milwaukee series: Kyrie or Giannis?
All of these questions will be answered soon. The postseason brings out the best of the best every year — and exposes those who aren’t ready. Is your favorite team’s star going to prove he belongs among the elite in the NBA? Only time will tell.