The NBA is “Where Amazing Happens” and the 2014 NBA Playoffs have given a new definition to the word amazing. Living on the East Coast, each morning as I stretched my arms and grabbed my iPhone, highlights would show up of yet another late-night, overtime game being decided in the final moments. The NBA Playoffs can make or break a career for a player, especially those perceived as “stars”. Have one bad game and basketball Twitter will open the casket and dig a grave. Don’t even bother going on Instagram, the memes will last as long as Morgan Freeman’s career.
In the playoffs, everything is on a smaller scale, which makes the room for error much smaller. A player that was averaging 20 points on 48 percent from the field can have his amazing regular season tarnished by averaging 16 points on 40 percent from the field in three playoff games. Overhyped? Probably. But these stars are supposed to shine on the biggest stage.
Everyone notices every mistake in the world of social media, even more so in the playoffs when everyone is watching. John Wall can get away with a bad game in February against the Bobcats, but not in May in the first round of the playoffs. Did the Monstars from Space Jam come and steal the NBA’s talent again? Space Jam 2 rumors have been rampant, so maybe that explains some of the NBA’s stars going MIA in the playoffs.
Here are five stars who have went missing in the playoffs…
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It took a few years, but John Wall finally proved to be an All-Star worthy point guard this season. Wall led the Washington Wizards to their first playoff berth since the 2007-2008 season. The ’07-08 throwback Wizards team had star power like Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison who all averaged over 19 points per game. (Arenas, however, only played 13 games.) Even Swaggy P himself was apart of this team in his rookie season. Now the Wizards are led by sharpshooter Bradley Beal, plus Nene, Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza and their All-Star, John Wall.
Coming off a season where Wall averaged 19.3 points, 8.8 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals, Wall was proclaimed as one of the top point guards in the NBA. Wall even improved his shooting, turning in 43 percent from the floor and 35 percent from deep (27 percent from deep last season). Taking these numbers into the playoffs, Wall was supposed to perform to even higher expectations with the bright lights shining down. Plus, if someone told you that the No. 6-seeded Wizards took down the No. 3-seeded Chicago Bulls in five games, wouldn’t you think that was mainly at the hands of John Wall? Not so fast.
John Wall has been missing this postseason, in every way possible. Wall is averaging 16.1 points, 7.3 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game. Wall’s PER was at 19.5 during the regular season, but has regressed to a mediocre 15.3 during the playoffs (league average is around 15). Wall isn’t impacting the game the same way he did during the regular season. Wall improved as a shooter during the regular season, but the postseason has taken a turn for the worse. Wall is shooting 33 percent from the field on 15 shots a game and 17 percent from deep on 2.6 shots from deep. His shot chart from the postseason looks like it came from the Red Wedding with all the blood (via Vorped.com):
Bradley Beal has picked up the slack from Wall, averaging 20.1 points and stroking the long ball at a 46 percent clip. Amazingly, the Wizards are in the second round for the first time since 2004-2005 and Wall has yet to showcase the abilities that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2010. The other chess pieces have done a dutiful job picking up the slow start from Wall, but the king will need to start making moves if this chess match is to be won by Washington.
Joakim Noah finished fourth in MVP voting, which shows how strong of an impact the former Florida Gator product had this season. Noah was the heart and soul of the Bulls all season long. After the yearly Derrick Rose injury, followed by the Luol Deng trade, all eyes were on Joakim Noah. Were the Bulls going to tank, or compete? Tom Thibodeau doesn’t know the definition of tanking, so that answer should have been obvious from the start.
Joakim Noah balled out, en route to winning Defensive Player of the Year and averaging 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. Noah also lead the Bulls to the third-best record in the Eastern Conference at 48-34. Not too shabby for a player who has mastered the art of having an uglier jump shot than Shawn Marion. Coming into the 2014 NBA Playoffs, myself and others were convinced the Bulls would be a threat to whoever stood in their way. Good thing I’m not a betting man, because I would have lost the house if I took that bet.
Five meager games is all the Bulls showcased in the playoffs. Five games. There was no crazy, heroic performance from Nate Robinson to save Chicago this time. Just a squad full of players that were inept at scoring the basketball on a consistent basis. The Bulls No. 1-ranked defense, giving up only 91.8 points per game during the regular season, didn’t show up either. Chicago gave up 94.6 PPG to the Wizards, allowing them to score over 100 points twice, while totaling 97 and 98 points in two other games. At the forefront of this defensive breakdown, the blame has to be placed on the Defensive Player of the Year. Noah allowed Nene to run rampant on the Bulls, as he averaged 17.8 points and 6.5 rebounds on 55 percent shooting in the first round. On the other hand, Joakim Noah averaged 10.4 points, 12.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists. Noah’s scoring regression was a death sentence to an inept offensive team (dead last in the NBA with 93.7 PPG in the regular season).
Joakim Noah failed to impact the game the same way that had him appear on so many MVP ballots during the regular season. Noah’s PER dropped from 20.0 during the regular season to 13.2 in the playoffs, which is below the league average. Noah was expected to lead the Bulls on a spirited charge to the Eastern Conference Finals or semifinals at least. As the Washington Wizards give it their all against the No. 1-seeded Indiana Pacers, Joakim Noah and the Bulls can just wonder what would have happened if their star didn’t meet his kryptonite.
James Harden is the best shooting guard in the NBA, huh? That title was given to him due to the lack of competition at the spot and injuries to former superstars like Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant. Whatever the case, Harden is renowned as one of the best shooting guards and scorers in the NBA. Harden’s 2013-2014 regular season was his best as a pro, averaging 25.4 points, 6.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds on 46 percent from the field and 37 percent from deep. Combining the best shooting guard in the league with the best center in the league in Dwight Howard should add up to a lengthy playoff run in Houston. Children, this is why they play the 82 games and the playoffs, because a roster on paper means nothing when the Jordans are laced up and the ball is tossed in the air.
Dwight Howard receives as much hate as LeBron James before he won a ring, and while some of it may be justified, that wasn’t the case in the playoffs this season. Howard averaged 26.0 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game while reinstating his paperwork as the best center in the NBA. The blame of a first-round exit for the No. 4 seed in the tough Western Conference can be placed on the shoulders (or beard) of James Harden.
Harden was awful in the playoffs. He still managed to average 26.8 PPG, but those numbers should be expected when he’s taking 22 shots a game. Harden shot 38 percent from the floor and 30 percent from deep in the playoffs, doing nothing to disdain the reputation of crumbling in the moment. Harden managed to shoot over 40 percent in only two games vs. Portland, while he had at least four turnovers in four out of six games.
A great regular season means nothing if expectations aren’t met in the postseason. Dwight Howard fulfilled his duties, but Superman was left looking like Clark Kent when Batman went missing. Best shooting guard in the NBA? Yeah right, not after that performance, James Harden.
At 35 years old, Dirk Nowitzki had one of the most memorable seasons in recent history, averaging 21.7 points and 6.2 rebounds on .497 percent from the field, .398 percent from deep, and .899 from the free throw line. Dirk was percentage points away from another 50/40/90 season, which would have been the second of his career–he last did it in the ’06-07 season at 28 years old. Advancing seven years in the NBA isn’t supposed to bring someone closer to another 50/40/90 season, it’s usually the opposite. With a healthy Dirk Nowitzki in the fold, Dallas looked primed to upset the No. 1-seeded Spurs in the first round. In order to do this, Dallas badly needed Dirk to replicate some of his play from the 2011 NBA Finals. Unfortunately, for one of the greatest power forwards in history, this playoff performance wasn’t one for the record books.
This statline is painful to read–19.1 points and 8.0 rebounds on 43 percent from the floor (18 shots per game), .083 percent from deep and 80 percent from the line. Dirk is shooting 37 percent from deep for his career in the playoffs, which makes that .083 percentage alarming; Nowitzki was 1-of-13 from deep in the first round. These numbers are decent for an average player, but these aren’t Dirk Nowitzki numbers.
Somehow the Mavericks forced the Spurs into a Game 7, with their leader MIA most of the series. Monta Ellis was diving for loose balls and making insane shots as he averaged 20.4 points per game in the series. All the Mavericks needed was a little consistency from Dirk, the man who has scored over 26,000 career points. Dallas wouldn’t find it this season. In the fateful Game 7, Nowitzki shot 8-of-21 from the field (0-of-2 from deep) for 21 points.
Maybe this was Nowitzki passing the torch to Monta Ellis, or maybe he just couldn’t do it anymore. Playing 32.9 minutes per game in 80 games this season can take a beating on someone with over 42,000 minutes logged in their career. As one of the greatest forwards in NBA history, Nowitzki still has some fight with him. However, that fight was absent this postseason. This is no slight to Dirk, it’s just factual information–he didn’t show up.
This part would be serviceable if left blank, because everyone would understand the message. It would contain nothing, which is exactly what Roy Hibbert has contributed to the Pacers during the 2014 NBA Playoffs. Save his 28-point, nine-rebound performance from the other night as an outlier. Garbage, trash, terrible, awful, waste, litter, junk–all these adjectives accurately describe the play of Roy Hibbert. Hibbert didn’t exactly set the world on fire during the regular season, averaging 10.8 points and 6.6 rebounds, but somehow he was still an All-Star. Maybe I expected something different from playoff Hibbert, something like the 17 points and 10 boards he averaged last season in the playoffs. Putting Kwame Brown on the court would appear to be a better option than Roy Hibbert right now.
Hibbert has two double-digit scoring performances in nine playoff games and has recorded zero points in three games. Not surprising, Hibbert has yet to grab 10 rebounds in a playoff game this season, despite his 7-2, 280-pound frame. Overall, Hibbert is averaging 7.2 points and 3.9 rebounds in the playoffs.
Hibbert is the main piece to the Pacers’ success–Indiana won’t reach the ECF without solid performances from him. Hibbert’s 28 points and nine rebounds the other night was encouraging, but was this a lucky game or foreshadowing the future? For Indiana’s sake, it better be the latter.
Which players have been the biggest disappointments?
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