Breaking down the 2018 NBA Playoffs' first-timers
DETROIT, MI - FEBRUARY 23: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics goes to the basket against the Detroit Pistons on February 23, 2018 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Simmons-Mitchell ROY arguments aren't done yet, but here we are in the NBA's second season, the Playoffs. Both Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell can still pad their respective arguments for ROY, though the ballots have already been cast by select media types. More importantly, these two rising superstars now have the chance to showcase their one-of-a-kind wares on one of the biggest stages in all of professional sports.
These two leading ROY candidates, however, aren't the only newcomers to the postseason. A number of other promising players will see playoffs action for the first time in their (mostly) young careers. Let's break down what we can expect from the most notable ones.
Ben Simmons (PHI)
Well, we may as well start with Philly's 6'10" point guard. That, of course, is pretty much unheard of in the history of basketball, but that's exactly what the Sixers have in Simmons. Many fans clamored for the 76ers to be featured on national television more, and now they get their wish as Simmons will be displaying his LeBron-esque (or Magic-esque depending on whom you ask) skill-set opposite the dangerous Miami Heat. His matchup with Goran Dragic should be one to watch, especially as the Australian star's postseason debut seems destined to be quite memorable.
Donovan Mitchell (UTA)
Spidad has had a crazy first year, defying odds and expectations left and right, and improbably leading the Jazz to the playoffs. His legend will only continue to grow in these all-important games, and it'll be mighty exciting to see Russell Westbrook and Paul George take turns trying to stymie the Louisville product. He has done well against OKC, too, shooting 53.3% in three games against the Thunder this season.
Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN)
The Big KAT is out of the hat and into the Playoffs, leading the Wolves back into the postseason for the first time in 14 years - the longest active drought that they snapped after a cardiac overtime win over the Denver Nuggets. A player of Towns's stature, naturally, belongs in this kind of situation, under the Association's brightest lights where stars turn into legends. Towns kinda likes playing against the Rockets, too, averaging around 24 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks against the West's top-seeded team in the regular season.
Joel Embiid (PHI)
Philly's Man in the Plastic Mask will likely skip at least one game in the first round, but he should also be back in action sooner rather than later, which is a tremendously good sign for a Sixers squad really confident about their chances to knock off the Heat. That will especially be true with Embiid patrolling the paint against Hassan Whiteside and trolling the Miami center on social media as well. We have to see him play because as good as Simmons is, the historical and pure basketball value of seeing an Embiid-Simmons pairing in the Playoffs is just to hard to pass up.
Ricky Rubio (UTA)
Rubio has been in the league since 2011, but this is only his first time in the Playoffs. It stands to reason the Spaniard won' t take this opportunity for granted, though he has to get ready for a reality check. He will be up against no less than Westbrook, who will probably see red once he lays eyes on Rubio. The challenge for the 27-year-old Utah playmaker here is to continue getting his teammates involved. He has struggled against OKC this season, but he should still be able to get as many of his teammates involved in the offense.
Jayson Tatum (BOS)
Tatum is probably the third-best rookie this season right behind the aforementioned Simmons and Mitchell, but the former Blue Devil should expect his workload to increase in the Playoffs as Boston takes on the Bucks. Yep, you're probably thinking what I was thinking - Tatum will lock horns with the Greek Freak himself, Giannis Asntetokounmpo, and as good as Tatum has been averaging about 14 points and 5 rebounds, he probably won't be the favorite in that particular matchup.
Larry Nance, Jr. (CLE)
With Tristan Thompson probably playing a lot more distracted because of his personal upheavals, the onus will be on Larry Nance, Jr. to shore up Cleveland's frontcourt and step up his production should his number be called. He will probably square off against Myles Turner, Thad Young, and Domantas Sabonis in the first round, and that should prove to be a big test for him. If he holds his own, though, then there's a chance Thompson may actually be expendable already.
Andrew Wiggins (MIN)
KAT's running-mate in Minny is ready to bust out big time in the postseason. Wiggins's numbers are down a bit from last season, especially in scoring, but that could be attributed to having another big-time scorer, Jimmy Butler, join the squad. Still, this is a prime opportunity for Wiggins to shut his critics up. If he will be able to consistently deliver solid performances, though, then his stock should rise significantly.
Jabari Parker (MIL)
Parker could be the x-factor for a Bucks team looking to make their first second round Playoffs appearance. On the opposite end are the Celtics, who will miss Kyrie Irving out for the entire Playoffs. If Parker manages to have a couple of great games in their 7-game series, then an upset against fancied Boston may yet be in the stars.
Markelle Fultz (PHI)
I think Fultz is a baller, and I wouldn't be shocked if he becomes Philly's unsung hero in at least one game. His triple-double in their last regular season game was pretty impressive, and if the 2018 top overall pick can continue with that kind of production, then the Sixers will be rolling. His possible matchup with Goran Dragic in the first round should be quite interesting, and this kind of experience will only boost him and the Sixers for years to come.
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