It seems like a stadium in 2022 a breath of fresh air with the entry of a new set of stars to the spotlight. We no longer prepare for the Warriors-Cavaliers II or III or IV, and it seems that LeBron James from the outside are shocking looking at this post-season. What is likely to lose the Bureau of the League in TV ratings is our gain.
The upcoming Postseason features half a dozen teams that could feasibly win the Eastern Conference, and outside of the West, Golden State is surrounded by a host of young teams (and Chris Paul). It could be said that skill across the league had never been greater. We may be entering an era of true parity as the NBA prepares for a post-LeBron era.
So, what impact might tomorrow’s players have the moment they kick off in the 2022 qualifiers? Let’s sort between five candidates before the first round begins on Saturday.
Anthony Edwards, Timberwolves
You could argue that Edwards just had his breakthrough moment in Tuesday’s win over the Clippers, a performance that showcased a potential All-NBA talent who shared the spotlight with Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell. Edwards managed to win five three-pointers against Los Angeles — including a big step forward with three minutes remaining — and teamed up with Patrick Beverly to lock down Los Angeles guards and wingers along the stretch. Edwards is a fierce driver and one of the most athletic players in the league. He started putting it all together towards the end of his second season.
Edwards’ self-confidence is among his best qualities. He remained immune yet aggressive throughout Tuesday’s competition. You can sense that the game comes easily to Edwards. Neither the fans nor the opposing defenses can speed him up, and he looks comfortable in even the craziest moments. The Grizzlies have plenty of body to throw at Edwards, and their front line should be a bigger deterrent than the small-ball Clippers formations they attacked in the middle of the fourth quarter on Tuesday. However, perhaps Edwards’ talent is great enough to overcome any obstacle placed in his path. It’s not out of the question for Edwards to lead Minnesota State to its first win in the playoff series since 2004.
Jordan Paul, Warriors
The third guard of the year is among the nominees for this year’s Player of the Year award and is quickly emerging as one of the best instant attackers in the league as the Warriors look to return to the Finals. Paul is averaging 18.5 points per game this season on 36.4% of three and the best 92.5% in the league, and he’s still finding plenty of volume in Golden State’s attack even as Klay Thompson returns to the ground. Triple Poole-Curry-Thompson is in addition to 32.6 points per 100 ownership this season, an exhilarating number in an admittedly small sample of 129 minutes. Any initial concern about Paul’s whereabouts on Thompson’s side has now dissipated. Paul is a dynamic scorer no matter the circumstances, the one who can light up the scoreboard against Denver.
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Therese maxi, 76
The young Philadelphia goalkeeper made a big leap in his second season, jumping to 17.5 points per game in an impressive 48.5/42.7/86.6 shooting splits. It’s an equally effective option and tolerable commander in chief when James Harden sits, and his fickle tendencies are often decisive in accelerating the limp Philadelphia offensive. Don’t be surprised if we see Maxi as the 76ers’ second leading scorer behind Joel Embiid on certain nights in this post-season.
The maxi effect may play a large role given the opponent. Nick Nurse and the Raptors love to post a bunch of weird defensive schemes (I pray we see a triangle and two), and we’ll likely see our fair share of baiting on the Harden and/or Embiid. This is nothing new for Philadelphia, a space where Maxi excels. He’s aggressive on the weak side, penalizing defenses who are too slow to stop his decisive endeavours. Philadelphia needs a strong effort from Maxey to avoid what could be a very long streak.
Garen Jackson Jr., Grizzlies
The wealth of young talent in Memphis against Minnesota extends to the front yard with a pair of skilled VIPs taking center stage. Towns remains one of the most talented offensive positions in league history despite his struggle on Tuesday night, but his counterpart may be flying a bit under the radar. Jackson is a true two-way force in his fourth season, and he should play a major role in neutralizing the Minnesota attack. Opponents shot just 49.6% on edge against Jackson this season, the second lowest mark of all players behind only Garrett Allen. Jackson has foot speed to dance to the ocean with Towns too, a crucial skill against (self-proclaimed) the greatest shooter ever.
Jackson’s offensive production is a bit more questionable. He has the ability to spill into the three-point streak, although he’s more of a veined shooter than a reliable shooter from the depths. It has a soft touch near the rotten line and is a strong checking agent. On the right night, Jackson could score in groups. A hot extension from the previous #4 pick could end this series an order of magnitude shorter than some would expect.
Highland Bones, Nuggets
Jamal Murray’s place in the series remains in serious doubt, and even if Murray plays, it’s hard to see him carrying a heavy weight of minutes after a 12-month absence. Nikola Joki’s cut-off – 25.9 points, 11.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game over the last three seasons – shouldn’t be underestimated – although the game’s top player needs at least a modicum of support to take down Steve Curry and the Warriors. Maybe Hyland can make a difference.
Denver’s rookie offensive point had a blistering time to play in the 2021 portion of the season, although he received an increasing number of late strikes amid a skinny turn for the Nuggets. Hyland is averaging 14 points per game on 41.2% of three since March 1, providing a much-needed dose of secondary scoring alongside Jokić. Austin Rivers will likely see some minutes of rotation as an option to defend first against Steve Curry, although when Jokic is seated, the keys can be handed over to the VCU Novice. It’s a tough job for this Denver group, and we’d probably discuss the Nuggets as a real contender in the Finals if Murray and Michael Porter Jr. were healthy. If Denver somehow manages to make it out in the first round, Hyland will play a major role.
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