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Grading the young stars in the 2022 NBA Playoffs

From Anthony Edwards to Tyrese Maxey, here’s how the young guns have performed in their first big playoff test.

Luka Doncic and Ben Simmons are both monster-sized creators who are equipped with seemingly endless amounts of talent. Yet, one is revered as one of the greatest players in the world, while the other has been All-Star but never finds his way into serious top-10 discussions.

The reason for their hierarchical disparity can be traced back to what unfolds during the playoffs. Where Doncic’s methodical and probing style allows him to transform into the ultimate postseason Leviathan, Simmons’ transition-orientated attack reduces him to mere fodder when the game becomes dictated by one’s halfcourt efficacy.

How a player’s game transfers from the regular season to the postseason can make or break their team’s title hopes. And with so many new stars making their playoff debuts, we decided to see which players have evolved during the game’s second season and which ones have taken a step back.

(Note: while some of these players have played in the playoffs prior to this season, none of them have played a significant role on a playoff team up until this point)

Anthony Edwards, G, Timberwolves

Regular Season Stats (per 100 possessions): 29.6 points/6.6 rebounds/5.3 assists/2.9 stocks 56% True Shooting

Postseason Stats (per 100 possessions): 31.1 points/5.2 rebounds/3.7 assists/2.8 stocks 60.4% True Shooting

Many will cite his defensive miscues as the main cause for concern in his playoff premiere. But such criticism is overblown as he still created a ton of events by way of steals/blocks (aka stocks) and was fairly stout with his on-ball assignments (besides, a few late game gambles never hurt anyone, just ask MJ!).

The real question mark moving forward will be with his offense. Against Memphis, his per-minute driving and playmaking totals took a hit despite his usage remaining constant (26.4%).

Edwards Regular Season vs. Postseason

Stat Regular season Playoffs
Stat Regular season Playoffs
Drives Per 36* 11.3 9.2
Potential Assists Per 36* 8.3 5

*Data Provided by (As of 05/04/22)

He did shoot a scorching-hot 40.4% from three and 47.6% from midrange, but his shooting numbers are especially susceptible to extreme variability. In a midseason study conducted by Basketball News, Edwards graded out as one of the most volatile scorers in the entire league. On top of that, his aforementioned splits greatly exceeded his regular season averages (based on a far larger sample size) of 36% and 36%, respectively. So regression would have been possible had the Timberwolves continued to advance forward.

The major positive for Edwards lies in the inevitability of his first step. Where a titan like Shaquille O’Neal could rely on his overwhelming strength and a marksman like Stephen Curry can count on the quickness of his shooting motion, Edwards’ speed enables him to create an advantage against seemingly any opponent (the key to inelastic postseason scoring).

Despite the decrease in his drives, his free throw rates actually increased against Memphis, going from 5.4 to 7 attempts per 100 possessions.

Going forward, Edwards’ prerogative should be to lean on the ferocity of his drives, force the defense to load up on these bullrushes, and then look to create/shoot from there.

Grade: B-

Desmond Bane, G, Grizzlies

Regular Season Stats (per 100 possessions): 29.2 points/7.1 rebounds/4.4 assists/2.5 stocks 59.2% True Shooting

Postseason Stats (per 100 possessions): 24.8 points/5.1 rebounds/2.4 assists/2.2 stocks 62.9% True Shooting

Jeff Van Gundy said it best in Game 6 against the Timberwolves “[Bane] is just so compact in his movements. [He] doesn’t over-dribble. [He] knows who he is.”

Bane is what you would call the ultimate scramble capitalizer. All you need to do is tilt the defense, find Bane on the weakside, and he’ll disassemble any and all fly-by closeouts.

He has excelled in that role thus far, draining 44.2% of his catch and shoot threes. However, Bane’s performance only grades as a “B” because of the nature in which he obtained his points.

The Timberwolves almost always hedged/blitzed Ja Morant on ball screens, and this led to an automatic advantage that Bane could consistently capitalize on (check out the difference in his TS% with and without Morant on the court).

As the Grizzlies progress into the later rounds of the dance, they will face better defenses that don’t need to sell out on Morant as much. And in those instances, it is unlikely that Bane can maintain his efficiency – unless he drastically improves as a self-generated scorer. We saw this phenomenon play out against the Warriors in Games 1 and 2 as he was held to a combined 14 points on 5 of 17 shooting.

Still, Grizzlies fans should rejoice in Bane’s potential to thrive as an offensive number three behind Morant and whichever pull-up shooting mercenary the team decides to enlist next to them.

Grade: B

Zach LaVine, G, Bulls

Regular Season Stats (per 100 possessions): 34.3 points/6.5 rebounds/6.4 assists/1.4 stocks 60.5% TS

Postseason Stats (per 100 possessions): 24.1 points/6.6 rebounds/7.5 assists/1.2 stocks 55.3% True Shooting

LaVine showcased some resplendent passing and admiral defensive intensity despite playing through a lingering knee injury and the Bulls being unequipped to deal with Milwaukee’s supreme size and length. His decision-making was also solid as he did a great job of attacking the Bucks when they were in drop and dishing the ball out when they ICEd him.

The issue many observers had with LaVine was his decline as a scorer in both volume and efficiency. But one must understand the context of these outputs.

Imagine, for a second, the number of clean looks LaVine would garner if he swapped places with Desmond Bane:

Bane vs. LaVine open looks

Player % of Open/Wide Open Twos & Threes*
Player % of Open/Wide Open Twos & Threes*
Bane 60.9
LaVine 44.5

*Data Provided by (as of 05/04/22)

The Timberwolves performed valiantly, but as a defensive group, they have nothing on the fierce coalition of Jrue Holiday and the trio of Bobby Portis-Antetokounmpo-Brook Lopez.

Plus, LaVine’s co-star teammate could not bend the Bucks’ defense in the way Morant was able to with Minnesota. According to Ben Taylor’s Box Creation metric (an estimate of open shots created for teammates per 100 possessions), Morant created roughly ten open shots per 100 while DeMar DeRozan created less than five.

If you have someone who can force the defense to help off him, LaVine can make them pay like Bane can with the trey ball (39%), and he can also masquerade as Edwards and blaze past defenders on his way to the rim (64%).

Moral of the story: pair LaVine with a elite offensive player, and he may be the best offensive second option in basketball.

For now, we’ll give him a solid “B” until we see some semblance of that aforementioned dynamic come to fruition.

Grade: B

Tyrese Maxey, G, 76ers

Regular Season Stats (per 100 possessions): 24.7 points/4.5 rebounds/6.0 assists/1.6 stocks 59.4% True Shooting

Postseason Stats (per 100 possessions): 26.8 points/5.1 rebounds/5.7 assists/0.9 stocks 62.1% True Shooting

On the surface, it appears Maxey has improved his scoring volume and efficiency in the playoffs, but take a closer look, and you see a different trend taking place:

The line of demarcation between his first two games and his last five is important because it coincides with the Raptors and Heat’s decisions to key in on him on defense. In Games 1 & 2, Toronto loaded up on James Harden, and this allowed Maxey to use his speed and shooting to operate as a play-finishing maestro.

After his pair of splendid initial outings, the Raptors adjusted and started overhelping on Maxey when he had the ball, which has led to a dropoff in his conversation rate.

A lot of the blame for Maxey’s decline falls on Harden. At this stage of his development, the second-year guard is best suited as a safety valve, not a focal point, and it’s up to his veteran teammate to perform and redistribute the defense’s attention.

With that said, Maxey still deserves a good grade because of his transition and defense. Despite the slowed-down nature of the postseason, Maxey has found a way for his fastbreak prowess to maintain relevancy. He’s currently in the 86th percentile in that playtype, and he averages the highest points per possession (PPP) of any player averaging five or more transition possessions per game (even better than Giannis!).

On defense he has been resilient, even without defensive ace Matisse Thybulle by his side for part of the playoffs. Against Toronto, Maxey held Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. to 9 of 34 shooting in over 56 minutes against them.

Grade: B+

Jalen Brunson, G, Mavericks

Regular Season Stats (per 100 possessions): 25.6 points/6.2 rebounds/7.5 assists/1.4 stocks 58.3% True Shooting

Postseason Stats (per 100 possessions): 36.4 points/6.7 rebounds/5.7 assists/1.2 stocks 56.4% True Shooting

Brunson has earned himself a few extra millions on his upcoming contract with his play in non-Luka minutes this postseason. In the 137 minutes Doncic has not been on the floor, Brunson has averaged an absurd 43.7 points and 6.4 assists per 100 possessions on 58.3% True Shooting (per PBP Stats).

In the first round, he was able to eviscerate the Jazz’s drop coverage and weak perimeter defense with his midrange acumen and dribble penetration chops.

Brunson shot 48% from midrange against Utah (the ideal antidote against a drop defense). And as for his penetration, this postseason, he is one of only three players averaging 20+ drives per game (the other two being Morant and none other than Luka Doncic himself).

His relentless attack on the paint caused a handful of point-of-attack breakdowns from Utah and forced their venerable guardian Rudy Gobert to leave his man in order to protect the paint, resulting in power plays galore for Dallas.

The one quibble to have with Brunson’s showing thus far has been how he has fared while sharing the court with his superstar backcourt partner.

Jalen Brunson Efficiency With and Without Doncic

Brunson efficiency with and without Doncic

Stat With Luka Without Luka
Stat With Luka Without Luka
Regular season TS% 60.6 56.7
Playoffs TS% 53.7 58.3

*Data Provided by PBP Stats (as of 05/04/2022)

Unlike in the regular season, where his efficiency improved when he was flanked by Doncic, Brunson’s playoff True Shooting tailors off with Doncic in his presence.

This very well could be a product of a small sample size (only 107 minutes together in the postseason thus far). But considering that Brunson is the team’s second-best offensive player, he must regain his synergy with Doncic before Phoenix runs away with the series.

Grade: A-

Jordan Poole, G, Warriors

Regular Season Stats (per 100 possessions): 30.0 points/5.6 rebounds/6.5 assists/1.8 stocks 59.8% TS

Postseason Stats (per 100 possessions): 32.7 points/4.8 rebounds/8.6 assists/2.3 stocks 69.9% TS

Like Edwards, Poole wields an inevitable scoring power. Unlike Edwards, his comes in an amalgamation of features rather than one singular silver bullet skill.

Poole combines breathtaking North to South burst with elite neck stability that enables him to work the room like he’s a primetime Kyrie Irving.

This mixture makes him a viable threat to burn the opposition from all three levels of the floor. Just look at how he has fared this postseason against other second/third year guards and wings:

Postseason Three-Level Scoring Stats (garbage time excluded)

Player Rim % Midrange % Three-point %
Player Rim % Midrange % Three-point %
Poole 73 54 46
Bane 54 44 45
Edwards 61 40 42
Herro 50 58 28
Maxey 81 43 40
Morant 51 38 30

*Data Provided by Cleaning the Glass (as of 05/04/2022)

While some players might have him beat in a specific category, no player matches his overall body of work. And when you combine this scoring with his knack for facilitation (the sheer depth of his improvisational skills exceeds one’s wildest imagination), you get a young player with seemingly no weaknesses on offense.

His offense reminds you of the famous Shane Battier quote on Manu Ginobili “he has no imbalance whatsoever in his game – there is no one way to play him that is better than another.”

However, Poole doesn’t receive an A+ is because he does have an imbalance on defense. The Warriors’ new Death Lineup isn’t bulletproof in part because of Poole’s current limitations as a defender. In Game 1, Memphis pinpointed and attacked Poole on back-to-back possessions late in the fourth quarter (although he did respond with this wicked dime).

Grade: A