Tag Archives: Trae Young

5 Most Impactful Guards from the First Round of the NBA Playoffs

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?

Searching for the Next Breakout Team in the NBA

Every year a team in the NBA shows they have a little more firepower in the chamber than anyone expected. It can be because of the addition (or subtraction) of a player or coach. Or it can just be lightning in a bottle; a team jelling at the right time in the Association. Regardless, we see it all the time and this season is no different.

The New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns are the best examples of this from this season. New York sits fifth in the East at 19-18 thanks in no small part to the addition of head coach Tom Thibodeau. For Phoenix, it was the Point God, Chris Paul, who has them as second in the ever-tough West with a 24-11 record.

Different needs and methods, similar results.

Which Team is Next to Break Out in the NBA?

Just A Piece Away

New Orleans Pelicans

The first group is made up of teams that are a player or coach away from being a threat and the first team in that group is the New Orleans Pelicans. A predicted team on the rise in 2020, they finished 13th in the West.

Part of why it didn’t work is they were a roster (and organization) in transition. Now with the team firmly Zion Williamson’s (sorry Brandon Ingram) they need to retool it to his strengths.

Ingram and Lonzo Ball fit well enough but center Steven Adams doesn’t. He isn’t a great rebounder or defender so he’s basically just clogging the paint.

New Orleans needs a modern, stretch big (looking at you, Chris Boucher) to take advantage of what Zion does and maximize the talent around him.Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker can platoon at guard but Jaxson Hayes does nothing to alleviate the problems an Adams-Williamson pairing causes. Too bad they extended Adams upon trading for him.

Memphis Grizzlies

Much like with New Orleans, we thought we’d be getting a much-improved version of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2020-21. So far they’re in the same spot they finished last season in, ninth in the Western Conference standings. But they’re five games better through 33 games than they were at the same point in 2020-21.

Ja Morant missed time earlier in the year with an ankle injury, but it’s Jaren Jackson Jr. that’s missed the entire campaign while recovering from meniscus surgery. Imagine this unit at full strength.

The problem for them is the West is just as tough a conference as it’s been for the majority of the last 20-plus years. Even with all hands on deck, Memphis would still have to contend with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs of the world.

While Kyle Anderson and Dillon Brooks are nice players, they need a wing that can get his own to fully realize their potential. Demar Derozan would be a nice addition if his Spurs weren’t fighting for the playoffs themselves.

Something’s Not Right

Dallas Mavericks

Dallas has a once-in-a-lifetime talent and MVP candidate on the wings in Luka Doncic. They also have a big man in Kristaps Porzingis that’s so unique he was given the nickname “the Unicorn”. And they have one of the best coaches of his generation. So how are they eighth in the West?

They arguably have a better duo than a couple of the teams ahead of them. But Doncic and Porzingis have only played in 78 of a possible 192 games together. They’d naturally lose some to rest and Prozingis missed an entire season recovering from a knee injury.

Since he returned to the court in 2018 it’s actually 78 out of 110 games. That’s much better and still not enough.

Dallas could also use a player on the wing to take some of the pressure off of Doncic. It would help the team as a whole honestly since they can’t rely on Porzingis to be available.

Atlanta Hawks

Trae Young was dubbed the next Steph Curry while still in college at Oklahoma. It’s not a bad comp. But in hindsight, while we got the Curry-esque individual numbers from Young in his sophomore season, we have yet to see the type of leadership that makes Steph so unique. It’s that ability that made Kevin Durant joining the Splash Bros. work.

Young hasn’t shown that per se and has even shown signs of going the other way in terms of leadership. Earlier this season he was called out by John Collins for being too ball-dominant. His response was to shoot fewer than ten times (the Hawks are 1-2 this season when he hits that mark).

Teammates fight and get over it all the time though. The concerning part was the role Young reportedly played in the dismissal of Lloyd Pierce as head coach. Nate McMillan is a good and deserving coach but Pierce had made himself a fixture in the community.

That doesn’t buy a reprieve from going 16-20 to start the season. Pierce’s firing wasn’t all on Young (and goes back to last season) but if he wanted him there, he’d still be there.

Finding the Next Breakout NBA Team

This could have been titled “What Happened…” given the expectations each of these teams had before the season started. They all have the potential to be the next breakout story. But they’re all missing one thing or another that would put them over the top.

Will they get that one piece, be it player, coach, or moment in time that will get them to the promised land? Who knows. But if Dallas or Memphis grab a wing, New Orleans figures out center, or the Hawks jell we will be speaking of them as we have the Knicks and Suns this season.

Well-Deserved 2021 NBA All-Star Nominations and Snubs

When the NBA All-Star reserves were announced on Tuesday, there was a lot to talk about. There were a couple of first-timers who have ground in anonymity for some time but are finally getting their due. Some are putting together quality and even breakout seasons but find themselves on the outside looking in.

You’ll never satisfy everyone. Some fan bases say their guy was snubbed. Others get indignant at the thought their guy doesn’t belong. It’s almost as if the league does this on purpose to keep the conversation going. By the way, this is all in the East. We can address why the West got it right next time.

Best 2021 NBA All-Star Game Selections and Snubs in the Eastern Conference

The Noobs

Zach LaVine – G – Chicago Bulls

It’s been a tumultuous career for Zach LaVine. Since entering the league in 2014. He had four different head coaches over his first four seasons in the NBA. Then he dealt with Fred Hoiberg and Jim Boylen; back-to-back! They tried turning him into point guard as a rookie. But he’s turned himself into one of the best scorers in the NBA. This season he’s averaging a career-high 28.6 points per game.

But while we’ve known LaVine could score for some time, his efficiency has taken him to another level. A career .438 shooter, he’s up to .518 this season. He’s extended that beyond the arc, too. LaVine’s canning threes at a .434 clip; also a career-high. Many felt he was snubbed last season when the game was in Chicago. There is no such controversy this time around.

Julius Randle – F – New York Knicks

The New York area has done well with reclamation projects from the Los Angeles Lakers. First, it was the Nets and D’Angelo Russell. We see where they are now. But now the New York Knicks are making waves in the East with one Julius Randle at the forefront. Randle is averaging 23.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 5.5 assists.

He’s one of just three players this season averaging at least 20 points, 10 boards, and five assists; Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic are the others. Randle has been a 20-point-per-game scorer so he’ll likely miss out on winning the Most Improved Player award, but he and the Knicks are rolling towards their first playoff appearance since the 2012-13 season.

The Snubs

Trey Young – G – Atlanta Hawks

How does one go from starting the All-Star game one year to being completely left off the roster the next? One word: regression. Last season, Young averaged 29.6 points on .434/.361/.860 shooting. His effective field goal percentage has also taken a hit this season, dipping to .498 after being .519 a year ago. This despite his increased playmaking and a better record for Atlanta.

You also have Kyrie Irving back healthy and Bradley Beal who led all Eastern Conference backcourt players in all voting categories. For Young personally, he’s seen his average ranking between the three votes go from second to about seventh. His largest dip? In player voting. His peers have a lesser opinion of what he’s done this season than last. That’s pretty damning.

Jerami Grant – F – Detroit Pistons

This one stings as someone who has been rooting for Jerami Grant since he entered the league with Philadelphia. He’s the current betting favorite to win Most Improved Player this season, but he wasn’t good enough to make the All-Star roster? It’s actually very on-brand that Grant, despite the breakout campaign that’s seen him double his points per game and more than double his assists, remains an All-Star hopeful.

Just as it was with LaVine before him (and Beal before him), voters obviously need to see it done consistently to not write it off as an anomaly. LaVine had to improve his efficiency before being selected as a reserve this season. Beal had to prove he could be a primary scorer, when teams would know he was getting the ball, before earning his nod. Grant will have his time, eventually.

City of Brotherly Snubs

The Philadelphia 76ers offer the singular best display of the depth voters actually have when picking these rosters. Ben Simmons is averaging 15.7 points, 7.9 assists, and 8.3 boards a game. The former two numbers represent drops over his previous season’s output. But Simmons’s defensive presence and playmaking are empirically vital.

Tobias Harris is averaging career-highs in points, assists, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage, and is averaging the second-most rebounds of his career. One has to believe it’s Simmons’s defensive prowess that offset and overtook what Harris has brought this season. That isn’t to diminish Harris’s contributions, just to say there’s more nuance to the voters than we give them credit for.

The East’s NBA All-Star Nominations and Snubs

All in all, the East got it right. We just may not like how they got there. But even that shows a level of depth to the voting process that we have long felt was missing. Who was your favorite NBA All-Star selection or worst snub?

Triple Zeros: From DangeRuss to Danger, Russ

From DangeRuss to Danger, Russ

In Triple Zeros – ‘From DangeRuss to Danger, Russ’, Josh sorts through Russell Wilson’s  Super Wild Card Weekend including Russell Wilson struggling and Doug Pederson getting the boot in the NFL. In the NBA,  Kyrie Irving went M.I.A. and John Collins‘ qualms with Trae Young. All that and more!

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