We all know that franchises hope and pray that the draft picks they choose will turn out to be their franchise players eventually. Some teams succeed in that goal (Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, etc) and others fail miserably, (see Kwame Brown, Darko Milicic, etc…) Although it takes time, these teams that do succeed in their selections are rewarded when the players begin to blossom and begin to become the star they desperately needed. Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard and DeMar DeRozan have become those stars and despite it being not only their first playoff series, but their teams first series in a while, they have helped their teams surprise a lot of people in the playoffs, and have put together some amazing performances in the process.
The Raptors endured two first round exits in 2007 and 2008. However, before that, they hadn’t made the playoffs since the 2002 season. And since the departure of Vince Carter, they haven’t had any stars to call their own, or any players worth even talking about for that matter. The only thing the Raptors have made the headlines for for the past 10 years has been giving up 81 points to Kobe Bryant and the bust and overpayment of Andrea Bargnani.
However, this season, in a completely surprising 2014 campaign, the Raptors shocked the league and probably its own fans by earning the 3 seed in the East and their first record above .500 since 2007. Finishing 48-34 was a result of many different people doing many good things. Led by a Rudy Gay trade, Masai Ujiri lit the fuse that was needed to get them going. Frankly, Rudy Gay is never good to have on your team, with his contract and inefficiency you’re better off giving more room to DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross – exactly what Ujiri did. Then Masai decided to keep Kyle Lowry, one of the most underrated (not) moves of the year, especially in a league so populated by rash decisions and trades to make changes rather than improve, keeping Lowry helped the team immensely as he’s had a career year in most statistical categories, averaging 17 points and 7 assists per game while being the leader of the young squad. Dwane Casey was 5th in coach of the year voting, and big men Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas each had career years and all of a sudden the Raptors were a team to be reckoned with. However, none of their success would’ve been possible without DeMar DeRozan.
DeRozan had career highs in points, rebounds, steals, assists, and 3 point shooting percentage this year in what will probably be dubbed his breakout season when we look back at his career when it’s all said and done. DeRozan guarded the best player and attracted extra attention from every defense he faced. Only in his 4th year in the NBA, DeMar DeRozan has never had trouble scoring the ball, but this season he raised his game another level and in return received all-star recognition as well as a playoff appearance for his team.
Many things could’ve been said about this team prior in their 1st round match-up against Brooklyn, most of them probably regarding their lack of experience. However, DeMar DeRozan has played like a seasoned veteran in this first round series in Brooklyn. Game 1 was a shaky introduction to post-season play, but since then, he’s averaged 28 points a game while hitting a plethora of clutch shots…
The Blazers haven’t made it past the 1st round since 2001. They were lingering in limbo. They were the team version of George Karl. They were that team that should’ve just tanked instead of missing out on the lottery over and over and over again. In the two years proceeding this season, the Blazers were not good at basketball… Simple as that. They had Lamarcus Aldridge in place, but without a partner in crime, the Blazers were going nowhere fast. Aldridge had even threatened leaving the team unless he got added support and last year he did in Damian Lillard.
The 23 year old out of the small and relatively unknown Weber State has exploded into the NBA scene has become one of the best point guards in the league. After winning rookie of the year over national star Anthony Davis and becoming an all-star this year, Damian Lillard has been introduced to stardom faster than most people would be able to handle. This year, as expected he improved and as a result the Blazers clinched the 5 seed in the Western Conference, and took no time in imposing their will on Houston. Now up 3-1, going into tonights game in Houston, the Blazers have had control throughout. That can clearly be accredited to Lamarcus Aldridge’s 35 points and 11 rebounds per game but don’t look past what Damian Lillard has done this series either. Lillard hasn’t had the blessing of an easy matchup like Aldridge, who’s pretty much played against a guy either 4 inches shorter than him or a guy way way slower than him. Lillard has had to go against Beverley, the league-wide asshole of a guy and one of the grittiest on ball defenders the National Basketball League has to offer. I’m sure many doubted if Lillard could handle it. Without home-court advantage and with Beverley presumably in his grill the entire time, this wasn’t going to be as easy as other games Lillard has played.
PER CSN NORTHWEST: “You’ve got somebody out there that want to try to be bumping and doing little slick stuff. You know what I mean… I’m not going to buy into it, but I’m also not going to just let it fly. I’m going to say something. I mean, that’s what he does. I don’t really care for that, but I’m just not going to let somebody be all in my chest, doing all this extra stuff. That’s not basketball.”
That, plus this being his first time in the playoffs, Lillard was clearly going to be challenged coming into this series, but he hasn’t played like it. He’s averaged 25.5 points, 7.5 assists and 6 rebounds per game this series, while shooting 48% from beyond the arc, in 45.5 minutes per game.
He probably has the coldest blood since Kobe Bryant was on the court and that’s saying something.
Look here for the complete rundown on the Wizards’ rebuilding process if you want background information but for all extensive purposes I think the Wizards have finally found the team they’ve been looking for. In the Eastern Conference, even if it’s uncharacteristically shitty this season, nobody expected the Wizards to get the 5th seed. Was John Wall good enough to lead a team? Would Bradley Beal begin making improvements in the right direction? Would they bring it all together? Well, look at their 3-1 lead over Chicago and there’s your answer. Unless something goes really really wrong, like worse than Nene being suspended for the rest of the series, and worse then one of their players pulling some reverse Donald Sterling kind of stuff then they’ll most likely be up against Atlanta or Indiana, and most likely Atlanta in the next round. If that goes well they could find themselves against most odds in the Conference Finals. A young team whose two best players are under 24 have hit the fast-forward button on the rebuilding remote and jumped about 2 or 3 years ahead of schedule. John Wall is the clear star of this team, but Beal, the 2nd year guy out of Florida and the often ignored member of the duo has been the real story this playoffs.
Bradley Beal is averaging 20 points, on 50% shooting from beyond the arc, in 41 minutes per game. But it’s not just his stats. Bradley Beal has been more aggressive than he was in the regular season. He’s understood the intensity of the playoffs and raised his game to match. He’s made the defense of Chicago have to focus on several guys instead of pack the paint on John Wall and Nene like teams used to. His emergence as an outside threat and as a playmaker has opened the floor up for everyone else. Bradley Beal for all intensive purposes has become a man – an NBA man and led his team to a sure-fire 2nd round appearance, their first since 2005. His blood is colder, his face is meaner and he’s becoming a more assertive and dominant offensive threat, which means bad things for the entire Eastern Conference going forward because with Beal hitting from the outside, Wall penetrating and Gortat/Nene pounding inside, the Wizards have a very effective and balanced offensive game that few teams in the entire league have the proper personnel to guard.