Is it too early to start thinking about next season? After the monstrosity that was the Finals Game 6, I say it is actually the perfect time.
Whether it is fantasy or reality, it’s impossible not to take playoff performance into account when evaluating a player for the upcoming season. Sometimes a guy’s performance is simply a mirage, a player having a hot or cold hand for a couple weeks (remember Tim Thomas’ awesome playoff run in 2006? I bet the small group Clippers fans do). But occasionally it is a real indication of a player taking a step forward or back in their development.
So, here are six guys who looked really good in this year’s playoffs. Will their strong play translate into fantasy value down the road? It absolutely probably will (although I make no guarantees).
After being smoking hot for most of the Cleveland and Orlando series, Rajon Rondo has been all over the place in the Finals. He can be careless with the ball and often makes decisions that would kill John Wooden all over again, but when those behind the back bounce passes are working, he’s one of the better distributors in the league. He’s also one of the best rebounding PGs in the league (5.5 a game in the postseason) and has an improving (although still tentative) jump shot from the top of the key. There isn’t much Rondo can’t do well, except for the deer in headlights look he gets when he gets to the free throw line. Next season, he’s in the discussion among the second tier of PGs after Chris Paul and Deron Williams.
Game 5 of the Finals notwithstanding, Pau Gasol has been a beast for the Lakers throughout the post season. There is nothing pretty about the way Gasol operates, but he’s effective – 19.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks through 22 playoff games. He was also only one assist shy of a triple-double in their Game 6 blowout of the C’s. The only complaint you can make against Gasol is that he’s been criminally underused in the Lakers’ offense, especially considering he’s their most efficient scorer against the Celtics (other than 3rd quarter Kobe). 10 shots in Game 2? 11 in Game 3? As Barkley would say, that’s TERRBULL.
Ultimately, the Jazz couldn’t get it going against the Lakers in the second round of this year’s playoffs, but that had nothing to do with Deron Williams. Without Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur, the Jazz had nowhere near the depth to match up against LA. On the other hand, Williams led the team to a first round win over Denver, became only the second player in team history to score 30 points with 10 assists in a playoff game, and became the first player in NBA history to score at least 20 points with 10 assists in five straight playoff games. In fact, he averaged 24 points and 10 assists over the Jazz entire playoff run this year. Best PG in the league right now? I think the argument starts with Williams.
Paul Millsap’s future ultimately depends on how much love has been lost between Carlos Boozer and the Jazz. But if Boozer walks, at least the team knows they have a more than capable replacement in Millsap, who averaged 18 points and 8.8 rebounds in 32 minutes a game these playoffs (thanks to the injuries to Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur). Without the Booz, Millsap instantly becomes a guy capable of 18 and 10 next season. If the Jazz do resign Boozer for some reason, then Millsap should sue the team for assaulting his basketball career.
Although the Bulls only lasted five games against LeBron and the Cleveland Cavs, both Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah demonstrated that they are the foundation of a championship caliber team. Rose averaged 26.8 points and 7.2 assists in the playoffs, while Noah averaged a double-double (14.8 points and 13 boards). There are still a lot of unknowns surrounding the Bulls this offseason and they could certainly use an upgrade at every position not played by Rose or Noah (I know a small forward who is currently looking for work), but I can count on one finger the number of other teams that have two young players as good as these guys.
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