By: Mike Wagenman (@mjwags23)
Today is the NBA’s first day off since the playoffs began. So, in the spirit of an off day, let’s regroup and discuss the winners and losers of the playoffs so far.
Golden State’s backcourt: Stephen Curry is playing out of his mind and is capturing the attention of the nation’s basketball fans. He set records this season, but his coming out party is currently in session. Curry is averaging 26.5 points in the playoffs to go along with 8.9 assists and 2.0 steals. He is knocking down 46.3 percent of his shots and 43.1 percent of his three pointers. Curry has owned the third quarter, and not to mention, he led the sixth-seeded Warriors to a first round series victory over the Nuggets and has stolen home court advantage from the Spurs.
Klay Thompson’s value to the Warriors has been on display in the first two games of the second round. In game one, he fouled out, and then the Warriors collapsed. In game two, he notched 34 points including 29 in the first half. Thompson is averaging 17.6 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 47.9 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from downtown. His effectiveness allows Mark Jackson to play him at small forward late in the game, so Jarrett Jack and Curry can pair in the backcourt. This creates a much quicker lineup, which is much more difficult for San Antonio to contain.
Don’t forget Jack. He is shooting an even 50.0 percent from the floor in the playoffs, averaging 17.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.6 rebounds. His veteran leadership and knowledge of when to slow down the offense has benefitted the Warriors all playoffs, especially Wednesday night when they almost collapsed again.
Mike Conley: Conley went head to head with Chris Paul in the first round and helped lead his Grizzlies to the 4-2 series victory. First Paul, then Russell Westbrook? That’s a tall task for anyone. But, Conley got lucky that Westbrook is unfortunately sidelined with an injury. So, now its Conley’s time to shine.
After game one where he had just 13 points, three assists and shot just 33.3 percent, Lionel Hollins new it was time to tell his point guard to take advantage of the matchup. Conley fell an assist short of a triple-double in game two, finishing with 26 points, 10 boards and nine assists. He and the Grizzlies head home for game three, where they have not lost all playoffs.
Nate Robinson: Robinson is reminding everyone that he can play basketball and not just leap over tall guys and win dunk contests. He is averaging 17.0 points while shooting 50.5 percent from the floor as he fills in for Kirk Hinrich in the starting lineup.
Robinson almost singlehandedly beat the Nets in that triple-overtime thriller when he scored 34 points, and was the key factor in taking down the Heat in game one of round two. He had 27 points and nine rebounds, and played so well that Erik Spoelstra had LeBron James guard him on some plays.
J.R. Smith: What in the world has happened to the Sixth Man of the Year? Maybe he was out clubbing the night before game one against Indiana, and maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he is dating Rihanna, and maybe he isn’t. Regardless, that’s all off the court. Smith’s head is not focused on the court, and only he knows why.
He has struggled to find his shot all playoffs long, which is a huge blow for the Knicks who rely on him to be their second and sometimes primary scorer. He is shooting just 34.0 percent from the field, 30.0 percent from three, and 67.9 percent from the line. Since his suspension, Smith is 15-for-57 from the field. Oh yeah, his suspension. His boneheaded antics cost the Knicks a game in the Celtics series that, although they won, could cause some fatigue as the playoffs progress.
Smith is really hurting his value in free agency. He wants a lengthy, high-paying contract. And, with the way he performed this season, especially towards the end it would seem as though he deserves it. However, he will not play for a non-contender. No contender is going to sign him if he keeps making off-the-court mistakes and can’t focus when he’s on the court, especially in the playoffs. Maybe the Knicks can afford him after all.
Danny Granger: He barely played all season, and has not even put on a pair of sneakers all playoffs. Yet, the Pacers have not missed a beat, thanks to Paul George. Why is that bad for Granger? Well, he has just one year left on his five-year, $60 million deal. Now, since Indiana knows they can succeed sans-Granger, he has officially become trade bait or the leading candidate to not get resigned after next season by the Pacers.
Many teams would love the services of Granger, but he is so injury prone that some may not even take a chance on him. Could the days of Danny Granger being one of the NBA’s better players be over? They could very well be.
Clippers and Celtics: This was the Clippers’ year. This was the last guaranteed year of one of the most well-rounded teams in the NBA. And they were utterly dominated in the first round by Memphis. Chris Paul is a now a free agent, and he said he is taking his time and weighing all his options. Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf, Ryan Hollins, Lamar Odom, Chauncey Billups and Willie Green are all free agents, and while those guys weren’t exactly the stars of the team, they filled out the best bench in the league. And now, many of them will move on.
The Clippers have a ton of holes to fill while still trying to re-sign Paul. Keep in mind, L.A.’s backup point guard is pretty darn good himself, and they need to decide how to handle that situation. Does Los Angeles trade Bledose and try to sign Paul? Maybe trade Bledsoe and sign Paul and use the compensation for Bledsoe to fill the holes? This could get sticky.
Also, Vinny Del Negro is as good as gone and their big men still couldn’t shoot a free throw if the hoop doubled in size. This should be an interesting off season for the Clippers.
Boston, unlike Los Angeles, was more or less expected to lose in the first round. That is not why the Celtics are on this list. They are stuck in the middle of a “should we rebuild or should we give this a shot for one more year” debate. Kevin Garnett may retire, and Boston may unfortunately have to let Paul Pierce move on. Rajon Rondo will have to recover from his ACL injury, and he is always a topic of trade talks. The Celtics were just a bunch of pieces thrown together, but now, they may have to start all over again.