The first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs has been nothing short of exciting and there were several players who upped their level of play appropriately. Some are playing on the big stage for the first time and showing that they fit in just fine. Others have proven they still got it. And others still have reminded us that, to put it simply, this is what they do.
2021 NBA Playoffs 5 Most Impactful Guards
5. Ja Morant – G – Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies go as Ja Morant goes. That’s not groundbreaking analysis; point guards typically dictate the flow of the game. Morant is also the face of the franchise and just oozing with talent. But there are (or were) questions about his game, both upon entering the NBA and in the playoffs. We’re getting our answers.
Morant has gone from averaging 19.1 points per game during the regular season to 31.0 in the playoffs, good for sixth in the field. Even without his 47-point explosion, he’d be over 25 PPG in the playoffs. What’s more, is he’s been able to improve (slightly) upon his 7.4 assists per (to 7.5) and cut his turnovers as well.
He’s also been more efficient from the floor overall, though his perimeter game has been almost non-existent. He was hitting his 3.8 triples per game at a percent clip during the regular season but has hit just 22.7 percent of his 5.5 3PA in the postseason. If he can return next season with an improved jumper, the Grizz are going to be a problem.
4. Trae Young – G – Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young was once billed as the “next Stephen Curry” coming out of Oklahoma. He had made a name for himself for his scoring exploits and seemingly limitless range in college. His first couple of seasons saw him try to live up to that hype but to limited success, especially on the team level. Atlanta won 49 games over in his first two years. They won 41 this past season.
A big part of that was Nate McMillan taking over for Lloyd Pierce. The Hawks went 27-11 under the former Pacers coach’s guidance. But another, more unsung, part was forward John Collins calling Young out for his style of play. Now, Atlanta went just 11-16 between that and Pierce’s firing.
But perhaps that inspired Young, who had bumped heads with Pierce, to voice his displeasure to an ear that mattered. Whatever the case, McMillan has Young playing with a style more reminiscent of CP3 than Chef Curry. As the Hawks look to take down the Knicks in five games, their point guard is just scratching the surface of his abilities.
3. Dillon Brooks – G – Memphis Grizzlies
Yet another young Grizzlies player makes this list and this one is as much about his career to this point as it is what he’s done in the playoffs, which has been incredible. Dillon Brooks left college after his Oregon Ducks lost to two one-seeds and one two-seed in three tournament appearances. But during the draft process, he was picked apart.
Brooks is the rare NBA player whose wingspan is shorter than his actual height (Kelly Olynyk is another). He’s also not a great athlete so it’s not hard to see why scouts doubted him based on that. But his determination led him to turn himself into one of the better young perimeter defenders in the league. And during this postseason, he’s found his offense.
After scoring 20-plus points in 25 regular-season games, Brooks has scored more than that in all four of the Grizzlies playoff games. He’s averaging 25.5 points (up from 17.2 during the regular season) while sharing duties on the toughest defensive assignment. Now about those fouls…
2. Mike Conley – G – Utah Jazz
If the Utah Jazz complete the takedown of Memphis and make their way to greater pastures, they will in part have Mike Conley to thank. The 14-year vet has settled nicely into the fabric of the Utah Jazz who play with a sense of togetherness not seen since Conley’s “Grit & Grind’ Memphis teams.
Conley is averaging 20 points and 10 assists in four playoff games. In Game 1, when Donovan Mitchell missed with his ankle injury, Conley had 22 points and 11 dimes. He’s been steady as they come for his entire career but this time just feels like he’s making that much more of an impact.
Maybe that’s because this Jazz team is better (both in terms of talent and record) than any he had playing for the Grizzlies. Utah is the top seed in the West and has a chance to advance to the second round of the playoffs with a win over his former team on Wednesday. He had just 11 points and seven dishes on Monday, but with a closeout at hand, another double-double could be on deck.
1. Derrick Rose – G – New York Knicks
Derrick Rose and the New York Knicks are fighting for their playoff lives versus the deeper and more skilled Hawks. But individually, Rose has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence in the public eye. The former MVP (youngest in league history, in case you hadn’t heard) has bounced around since leaving the Bulls back in 2016.
Going from the Knicks to the Cavs to a cup of coffee with the Jazz to the Timberwolves to the Pistons and, finally, back to New York. Boy, should they be thanking their lucky stars he wanted to come back, this time to reunite with his former head coach with the Bulls and T’Wolves, Tom Thibodeau.
Rose has been the only consistent for the Knicks in the playoffs. He’s ahead of the 2021 Most Improved Player, Julius Randle, in points per game and not just by a little. He has a six-point edge! It’s hard to do over the slandering of Randle, but Rose’s performance deserves more praise especially considering the gravity of the situation.
Top Guards in the NBA Playoffs
This is just a shortlist of the guards who have had the biggest impact so far in the 2021 NBA Playoffs. We can do entire pieces on other positions. But guard play in the NBA is paramount these days. Who would you have on your list?