The playoffs are here. Every year there are guys who take then “next step” and become household names. Jonathan Simmons last year, Bismarck Biyombo two years ago, and CJ McCollum three years ago are a few examples. NBA nerds are well aware of the guys I'm going to mention, but these guys are still relatively unknown to a lot of casual NBA fans. In the East all eyes are going to be on the Cleveland Cavaliers who are truly vulnerable this year. Three teams potentially stand in LeBron's path, and these three guys need to “break out” for their teams to have a shot at taking down The King.
Myles Turner Myles Turner busted onto the scene as a rookie, and the “superstar” word was throw out a lot when talking about his ceiling. He might not ever be a superstar, but it feels like he's been completely overlooked with the emergence of Victor Oladipo. Turner is a very good pick and pop player, and has improved every year as a three point shooter. Defensively he ranks fifth in the NBA averaging \1.8 blocks per game, but has been inconsistent on defense. For the Pacers to have a realistic chance to compete with the Cavaliers, Turner is going to have to bring his A+ game defensively.
Offensively Turner is shooting a very impressive 35.7% from three, and 48.1% from midrange, per nba.com. Being 6-11 he is virtually unstoppable if his shot is falling. Here's a couple clips of him working a pick and pop.
The second clip is the more impressive one. Turner has the ability to shoot over everyone, but recognizes that Victor Oladipo is open for three and makes the correct play. No matter how good Turner is from midrange, three is greater than two.
Defensively Turner doesn't have great agility, but watching him defend Wil Barton one on one in transition shows what he is capable of. Turner completely shuts down Barton and gets a clean block with zero contact. Against Cleveland he is going to have a pretty favorable matchup with Kevin Love, where his defensive weaknesses will be minimized. Love won't be able to take advantage of his lack of agility, and Turner is in the 54 percentile as a post defender per nba.com.
Look for LeBron and the Cavaliers to attack Turner in the pick and roll, and hope to LeBron isolated on Turner. If Turner can hold his own on defense, he has a chance to make a serious impact on the offensive end of the floor. I expect Cleveland to scheme to contain Oladipo, leaving Turner in a prime position to explode offensively.
Pascal Siakam It seems like Raptors fans mention him as much as Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, and once you see him play it's easy to see why they love him. Last season, Siakam was a low usage “starter” during the first half of the season before falling out of rotation (basically a fake starter). He's made tremendous improvements and has turned into a very good player. He's the 14th best power forward per ESPNs RPM (an advanced metric used to rank a player regardless) and looks like he's going to be a very good NBA player.
Siakam is still developing offensively, but here's a couple clips of things he can do. The first clip Siakam shows off his athletic ability, catching and controlling the lob from Fred Van Vleet.
This next clip Siakam shows part of his developing offensive game, in which he's added a nice little jump hook. When Siakam is on the floor, he's not going to be expected to produce much offensively, but in the playoffs teams play percentages much more drastically than during the regular season. Siakam is shooting only 22% from three, and look at how much space he is given against the Pistons.
Siakam is very good defensively (in this article I go into further depth on how he's the Raptors best matchup defensively against LeBron James) and he is going to have to knock down shots to stay on the floor. Playing 4 on 5 is a death sentence (see Andre Roberson and the Thunder), and one way players get run off the floor in the playoffs. Watch how he plays LeBron one on one defensively, and it's easy to see just how much the Raptors are going to need him to get by the Cavaliers.
Robert Covington People point to Joel Embiid when citing “trust the process” but Covington is part of the true beginnings. Lord Hinkie saw no value in bringing in veterans with no future, instead he went after athletes like Covington, Rashaun Holmes, Jeremi Grant, Jakar Sampson, and Hollis Thompson (amongst many others). Covington has turned himself into an excellent all around player and a vital part of the Sixers success. Covington is currently the best ranked small forward per ESPN's RPM.
This first clip, Covington and Rashaun Holmes defends the pick and roll perfectly. LeBron tries to work opposite the Tristan Thompson screen, and Covington cuts him off. Thompson re-screens, the 76ers momentarily switch, and Covington and Holmes work together beautifully to prevent a pass to Thompson while switching back to their original assignments. With no pick and roll LeBron tries to play bully ball, but Covington holds his position without fouling and forces LeBron into a tough shot.
This next clip truly exemplifies Covington's all around defensive ability. He starts on Kyle Korver, one of the best players in the game at moving without the ball. He fights over a Larry Nance screen giving Korver no space and the Cavaliers reset. Nance then tries to run a handoff for Korver and Covington smothers that as well. Covington then switches onto Nance, and trails him perfectly knowing he has help on the inside. Once Nance is forced to pass, Covington rotates to guard JR Smith. When Jordan Clarkson ends up with the ball and goes for a layup, Covington leaves Smith to block his shot.
Covington has turned into a competent offensive player as well. He shoots the three pretty well at a 37.2% clip, and finishes at the rim at 64.4%, above league average per nbasavant.com. Covington has improved from a stand in the corner and shoot guy, to a guy who can run the offense in a pinch. Here's two different clips of him running a pick a roll, and both times making a nice pocket pass leading to a score.
If Joel Embiid is healthy, the 76ers match up with the Cavaliers extremely well. The 76ers have multiple plus defenders they can throw at LeBron, and Covington is one of the select few in the NBA that can match up with him one on one. The 76ers have a legitimate path to the NBA finals, and Covington is crucial to their success.