Simmons, Mitchell Among Rookies Taking Over the NBA Playoffs
The defense got turned up a couple notches and the pressure was ramped up ten fold.
This is the NBA postseason, where teams prefer to roll with experience – the veterans who have been here before and do not shy away from the moment. Despite all of the cliches and obsessions with experience, these playoffs have told a completely different story as some of the game’s brightest rookies have taken centre stage with the spotlight shining the brightest.
No moment is too big for them and no critic can break through their confidence.
“I could not be more satisfied with the way he responded from his game the other night,” Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said when asked about rookie Donovan Mitchell’s Game 4 efforts versus the Oklahoma City Thunder. “And it didn’t come easy. It’s not like at the beginning of the game, everything just opened up for him. It wasn’t easy.”
For the Louisville alum, the playoffs have not only been a coming out party of sorts, but a continuation of what has been a revelation of a regular season. A 13th overall pick, everyone was enamoured by Mitchell’s athleticism and explosiveness, but no one could have ever envisioned this. Despite being heavily outmatched by the Houston Rockets in the second round, Mitchell has established himself as a budding star in this league, miraculously leading the Jazz over a veteran opponent with three stars on track to reach the Hall of Fame.
Averaging 24.4-points over the span of 11-playoff games, the fearless Mitchell went shot-for-shot with Russell Westbrook, opening the eyes of fans and NBA peers alike. With a brilliant 22-point third quarter performance in Game 6, the rookie went in for the kill and on his own home floor, eliminated the star-studded Thunder.
Out east, two other young rookies continue to warrant plenty of league-wide praise.
Not to be outdone by two of the more talked about rookies, Jayson Tatum has very quietly continued to perform. In the absence of All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the Boston Celtics have somehow continued to roll behind not only the genius of head coach Brad Stevens, but the mature and polished style of play of the Duke alum Tatum.
Time and time again, the Celtics have leaned on the young rookie to carry their “star-less” offence and Tatum has consistently come through with countless big shots. Through his first 11-games, Tatum has averaged a very impressive 18.3-points per games and it seems like his undermanned Celtics team is destined to crack yet another Eastern Conference Finals berth.
Despite showing signs of rawness in his first postseason run, Philadelphia Sixers’ red-shirted rookie Ben Simmons has been worth the price of admission. While Mitchell looks like yet another explosive and confident scoring guard, and Tatum looks like polished scoring threat on the wing, Simmons is different – he is special. The gifts that the 6’10” point guard possesses are can only be matched by a couple of players who ever step foot onto an NBA floor. The innate court vision and instincts that he has are rivalled only by the likes of LeBron James and Magic Johnson as Simmons may very well be the next player built in that mold.
After putting the Miami Heat away with relative ease, Simmons may be getting a necessary dose of humility, but the level of play that he has displayed overall has been above and beyond what can be expected from a rookie.
Averaging 16.1-points, 9.6-boards, and 7.9-assists across nine postseason games, Simmons is very quickly becoming not only one of the game’s best players, but alongside Mitchell and Tatum is carrying the next wave of transcending young talent into the Association.
Quite possibly the best assortment of rookies since the infamous 2003 class, the league has been put on notice!