With the NBA playoffs nearing the end of its first round, I decided to compile a list of the five biggest storylines thus far.
1. The youth takeover
On the first day of the playoffs, four players under the age of 23 scored 30 or more points.
Tyrese Maxey dropped 38, including 21 in the third quarter against the Raptors; Ja Morant continued his already excellent season with 32 points against Minnesota; Anthony Edwards scored 36 in his playoff debut against Memphis and Jordan Poole scored a game-high 30 points in his playoff debut.
It isn’t necessarily surprising that this group of four is lighting up the playoffs, but a coming out party for young players injects good energy into the postseason.
Even as the old guard of NBA players slowly recedes from dominance, it feels as if the league is in good hands moving forward.
2. The Brooklyn Nets got … swept?
I won’t deny the Celtics’ greatness this year, especially given how they finished the season, but no one expected a team led by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to leave the playoffs without any wins (in fact, they are the only postseason team to depart without a win).
Take this list of predictions from ESPN, none of which had the Nets losing the series in less than six games. There are a lot of questions up in the air regarding next season. Is coach Steve Nash’s job secure? Does the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving pairing work as well as it should on paper?
3. The new Warriors “death lineup.”
As many NBA Twitter voices would agree, the Jordan Poole, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green lineup needs a better moniker, though there does not seem to be a consensus as to what that is. I can’t say I’m fond of any of the options I’ve seen, which include “The PTSD lineup” and “The Fast Five,” but hopefully a name will stick, as this looks like a lineup that will be wreaking havoc on opposing teams for a long time this postseason.
4. Trae Young has been neutralized
One of the biggest stories in the 2021 playoffs was the Atlanta Hawks’ Eastern Conference Finals berth. Young was crucial, averaging 28.8 points, 9.5 assists and 2.8 rebounds in 16 playoff games that summer. This year, the Heat completed the gentleman’s sweep, winning the series in just five games. The Heat’s 104.1 defensive rating was the league’s second best in the regular season, and in the first round, they nullified Young’s explosive scoring with their switch-heavy defense, throwing a number of versatile defenders his way. Miami’s efforts cut Young’s scoring in half from last season, keeping him at 15 points per game, including a season-low eight points in the series opener.
5. The Pelicans have a future, even if Zion Williamson is out of the picture
There seems to be a lot of shock at how the New Orleans Pelicans have managed to make their first round series with the 2021 Western Conference Champion Phoenix Suns close. Even with Suns’ star Devin Booker going down with a hamstring injury in game one, it surprises me, too. The Pelicans finished the regular season with 36 wins and the Suns finished the regular season with 64 wins.
The Suns have often looked like the deepest team in the league; the Pelicans began their season 1-12. The Pelicans are a reminder that seeding doesn’t always reflect talent, especially because this squad is not the same as the one which began the season in a rut.
Pairing Lehigh alum CJ McCollum with burgeoning star Brandon Ingram gives New Orleans two players who can both score 30 points on any given night. Add in defensive stalwart rookie Herbert Jones, some floor spacing from rookie Trey Murphy III (43.8 percent from 3 on 4.3 attempts per game since March 7), Jaxson Hayes’ rim pressure and veteran center Jonas Valanciunas’ nightly double-double at the center spot, and you have a potential winning core. And that’s with Zion Williamson, who averaged 27 points and 7 rebounds on 65 percent true shooting last year, sitting on the bench in street clothes. Even if he never plays another game for New Orleans, I like the team’s future.