Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
We know who the superstars are this postseason. Who’s your pick to become a breakout star in the next couple months?
Steve Aschburner: The key here is identifying the guy whose team is going to last two, three or four rounds but who isn’t already a known quantity. By definition, anyone who already has been an All-Star is eliminated, so that wipes out Chicago’s Luol Deng even if he opens eyes globally with his full array of offensive and defensive skills in a Finals run. So I’m going with Indiana’s Paul George, young enough and tucked-away enough in Indianapolis to still sneak up on people, but explosive enough and versatile enough to cause some real headaches for the Pacers’ postseason foes, especially if they line up in the East as New York, Miami and Chicago. George has the length and quickness to pester some of the big scorers on those or any other teams, with serious open-court chops.
Fran Blinebury: If they can make the bells inside his head stop ringing by the time the playoffs begin, James Harden and his beard could become the hottest thing in June this side of brides in bikinis.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Serge He-Blocks-Ya. Though hardly an unknown around the league as the Thunder’s interior presence on defense, Ibaka is not well known among fans. That all changes now. He gets first-place votes as Defensive Player of the Year, Oklahoma City has a long playoff run, and Ibaka routinely swats four shots on national television.
Shaun Powell: Rudy Gay missed all the fun last spring with a bum shoulder and he’s anxious to prove he can be an elite scorer when it counts. I’m not ready to elevate him with the KDs and LeBrons by any means. But he could have some monster games for the Grizzlies, especially with Z-Bo still trying to ease his way back into shape and the starting lineup. Rudy can hit from distance when he’s rolling, and very few can finish at the rim as explosively. He could push Memphis into the second round, at least.
John Schuhmann: The Pacers have to be the most under-the-radar team in the league. Were they ever on national TV this season? And now, they’re set to play at least two rounds in the playoffs. So I imagine the world is going to take notice of Paul George, who will be matched up with either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade in the Eastern Conference semifinals. When the non-League-Pass-watching public gets a hold of George’s size, athleticism, willingness to play defense, and burgeoning skill set, it will wonder, like I do, just how high his ceiling is.
Sekou Smith: While I love what I’ve seen from Paul George all season and expect him to finally get some well-deserved shine during this playoff season, the Celtics have a young guard in Avery Bradley that has made me do double takes repeatedly in the past few weeks. It has as much to do with coach Doc Rivers and his ability to get the most out of his talent as possible as it does with Bradley’s skills, talent and willingness to be coached. Against the Hawks in a series that will be long on drama and intriguing individual matchups, Bradley will have a chance to be the true game-changer in that series and perhaps beyond.