2018 NBA Playoffs: Rapidly Becoming a Young Man’s Game

Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Donovan Mitchell have showed out in the playoffs

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Young players are having big performances so far this postseason, with some acting as the focal point of their team.

Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz broke Michael Jordan’s record for the most points by a guard in his first two postseason games with 55. Ben Simmons led the Philadelphia 76ers to a 4-1 series win over a tough Miami Heat team. Jaylen Brown scored 34 points last Sunday against the Milwaukee Bucks, while his rookie teammate Jayson Tatum recorded a double-double in his first playoff game with the Boston Celtics.

This piece takes a look at some of the players 21-and-under having a crucial impact on their teams’ success this postseason.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

Watching Mitchell play is truly enjoyable. It is a bit hard to explain, but it seems like Mitchell has some of the best balance and body control in all of the NBA. The way he moves around the floor is so fluid, both with and without the basketball, the way he catches the ball, the way he finishes.

He has the ability to do a bit of everything; run the offense, attack off the dribble, shoot from distance, distribute, finish at the rim, has a strong mid-range game, is a tough defender, and he has great athleticism. Mitchell followed a 27-point, 10-rebound Game 1 with 28 points in Game 2, including several clutch shots with Utah relying on their rookie to put the Oklahoma City Thunder away. Although he struggled early in the game and finished 10-of-25 from the field, Mitchell scored 13 of his points in the fourth quarter and was the go-to guy down the stretch.

That spin move gave OKC fits in the series, regardless of who was guarding him, from Corey Brewer to Patrick Patterson to Carmelo Anthony to Paul George to Russell Westbrook. No one was safe.

Throughout the series, Mitchell averaged 28.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game, while improving his shooting percentages from the regular season, despite shooting more. He also spent time defending Westbrook and George, showing his ability to guard multiple positions and did it extremely well against some of the best in the world.

He leads the playoffs in fourth-quarter scoring, and saved his best performance for Game 6, putting up 38 points on 54 percent shooting (5-of-8 from three) to knock out the Thunder.

 

Whether he is the Rookie of the Year or not, Utah has a future All-Star in Donovan Mitchell.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

Speaking of Rookie of the Year. Simmons looked far from a rookie in his first playoff series, attacking the basket at will, taking on multiple defenders at times and finishing strong.

For someone so young having the ball in his hands so often and controlling the pace of the game for Philadelphia seems like a lot to ask of a rookie, but Simmons looks as calm as a seasoned veteran.

He is a matchup problem on the defensive end, his vision and ability to weave through defenders at 6’10” is LeBronesque. He seems to have become even more aggressive on the offensive end in the postseason.

Who needs a 3-point shot when you can hit beautiful fadeaway floaters with a hand in your face?

Simmons averaged 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 9 assists and 2.4 steals on 50 percent shooting from the floor. He also shot an improved 71.4 percent from the foul line (56 percent during regular season) in the series against Miami, and notched his first postseason triple-double.

With Joel Embiid returning, and Philly possessing several shooters around Simmons, the 76ers are one of the toughest matchups on a nightly basis. If Simmons develops a 3-point shot (0-for-12 in 86 games) and becomes a consistent free-throw shooter, he could become the best player in the league.

Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Boston has not one, but two players 21 or younger exceeding expectations to start the postseason. The Celtics pair of young wings, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, were thrust into larger roles in the offense due to injuries to Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart for the first four games of this series. And have they ever stepped up to the challenge.

Tatum’s smooth offensive game and ability to create his own shot are extremely valuable to this team, and his stats in the series do not show how important he has been to Boston.

That is a 20-year-old rookie making two very tough shots in the fourth with his team losing.

His length and strength have shown on the defensive end as well. He has had two games with a combined 12 points, both in which he had less than 10 shots (4-of-16 combined). In the other five contests, when Tatum had double-digit shots, he averaged 19.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3 assists on 43 percent shooting (33 percent from three).

That is against one of the league’s toughest defenders in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who gets lost on the spin, falls for the mini up-fake, then tries to bail himself out by fouling Tatum and forcing him to earn it at the line. Tatum goes through the contact and finishes strong for the and-1, displaying a nice interior game to go along with his smooth stroke.

Brown, meanwhile, has taken his game to a new level this postseason.

His aggression both attacking the basket and trusting his perimeter shot have been noticeable. He is also turning the ball over less despite having it in his hands more often than the regular season.

Before Game 7, during which Brown left in the second quarter, he averaged 20.5 points (leads team), 5.3 rebounds and 1 steal on 48 percent shooting (41 percent from three), including two 30+ point outings.

He and Tatum were just about the only reasons Boston had a chance to win Game 4, combining for 55 points, including Brown’s career-high 34. Those 55 points were the second highest by teammates 21-or-under in a playoff game, behind only the 56 points of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant back in the 2010 playoffs. Pretty good company, and Boston’s young wings will look ahead to the next test against Philadelphia.

Slightly older

Although limited to players 21-or-younger, there are several other young players playing very well this postseason.

Antetokounmpo, 23, is the focal point of Milwaukee’s offense and the 6-foot-11 point forward dominated in his series against Boston. He averaged 25.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.4 steals on 57 percent shooting. He took over when attacking the basket and showed off his much-improved post and mid-range game.

Joel Embiid, 23, despite missing the first two games of his series against Miami, averaged 18.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3 blocks and 1.3 steals over the final three contests (all wins). He averaged just 30 minutes per game in the series, and his ability to stretch the floor and create off the dribble at 7-feet make him one of the league’s few unicorns..

Clint Capela, 23, won his matchup against one of the best centers in the league in Karl-Anthony Towns, averaging 15.8 points, 14.2 rebounds and 2 blocks on an unreal 67-percent shooting from the field. He also held Towns to just 15.2 points on 47-percent shooting, significantly down from his 21.3 points on 55-percent shooting during the regular season. His instincts and length on defense cause problems in any matchup. Offensively, his ability to find open space in a crowded paint to create a target for James Harden and Chris Paul is extremely valuable.

Anthony Davis and Victor Oladipo, both 25, have led their teams this postseason, with Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans sweeping a favored Blazers team while Oladipo helped force LeBron James and the reigning Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games with a huge triple-double in Game 6.

However, the line needs to be drawn somewhere, right?

Video Credit (twitter): @NBA, @REALGM, @AdamMKaufman, @celtics, @sixers, @sportscenter, @espnnba, @nbaontnt, @nbadraft