NBA Daily: Playoffs Off to Strong Start as New Generation of Stars Emerges

Several of the NBA’s youngest and brightest stars have emerged in the first-round of the postseason, writes James Blancarte.

Alan Draper profile picture
Sports Editor
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The 2018 NBA Playoffs began with a rare lead in. As many have suggested, the NBA playoffs might be well suited to feature some version of a play-in tournament for the final spot or few spots in the postseason. A lot of the rationale behind the idea is the added excitement the tournament could potentially bring. The collegiate game features play-in games for four of the spots in the field of 64, which add to the overall excitement. However, there are several reasons why that may never occur, such as the most influential player in the game, LeBron James, saying last month that the idea is “wack.”

Regardless, fans were treated to an organically created, winner-goes-to-the-playoffs final game of the regular season between the Denver Nuggets and the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves prevailed and the game served as an exciting early launch to the playoffs. The first-round of the postseason did not let up in terms of excitement.

In the Western Conference, the New Orleans Pelicans unleashed Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday on a stunned Portland Trail Blazers team and in doing so secured an unexpected sweep. Davis demonstrated an ability to create great synergy with guards Rajon Rondo and Holiday.

The Oklahoma City Thunder continued to play occasionally great basketball behind the dominance of Russell Westbrook but the team failed to overcome the disciplined and balanced approach of the Utah Jazz. Donavon Mitchell led the way for the Jazz and in doing so showed he had the poise of an experienced veteran despite his rookie status.

In the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers dominated the Miami HEAT behind the excellence of Joel Embiid and presumed rookie of the year Ben Simmons. Whether the 76ers young stars can continue to show poise in these later rounds will be at issue as they make up for their lack of experience with size, talent and the growing confidence of a dark horse with potential to make the NBA Finals. Future Hall of Famer and HEAT guard Dwayne Wade made it clear what he thought of the 76er’s overall talent.

“You can lose with effort, you [the Miami HEAT] can lose to a better team. That’s what they [the 76ers] were, that’s what they are. It was no secret about that,” Wade said. “They have more than us.”

Wade didn’t stop there as he made it clear how highly he thought of the potential that Simmons and Embiid have.

“These [two] are the future of the NBA, the NBA’s in great hands with Ben [Simmons] and Joel [Embiid], and those kind of individuals,” Wade said about the 76ers dominant young stars.

In the first of two first-round series to be decided by a Game 7, the Boston Celtics were finally able to take down the Milwaukee Bucks at home and did so in convincing fashion. In this series, the home team won every game. The Celtics were able to win the series despite missing many of their core star players and may have to move forward without Jaylen Brown who suffered a hamstring injury in the game seven win. Thankfully, the team now has Marcus Smart back in the lineup and Terry Rozier has emerged as a difference-maker at the point guard position.

Meanwhile, 23-year-old franchise cornerstone Giannis Antetokounmpo further demonstrated why he has seemingly limitless potential despite his team’s loss to the Celtics.

“Giannis’s ceiling as we know is tremendous and he is getting better every day. I think that’s a scary thing for everything in the league to think about,” Bucks Head Coach Joe Prunty said.

The Bucks will likely have to find a head coach that can push this promising team another step forward. Prunty was promoted after the mid-season termination of former Head Coach Jason Kidd. Kidd had helped manage the emergence of Antetokounmpo but had failed to execute in other areas, including defensive strategy and execution, leading to his dismissal. Prunty’s mid-season promotion didn’t suddenly portend a dramatic shift and a new era of Bucks basketball. The Bucks might look for a more established head coach with the enticing opportunity to mentor one of the great young stars in the game.

The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, closing out what was an exciting first-round of the postseason. As was the case for Donovan Mitchell in Utah, this series was an opportunity for another young star to demonstrate his skill, growth and potential on the national stage. Against the Cavaliers, Pacers guard Victor Oladipo showed himself to be a capable franchise player and proved that the Pacers a team to be reckoned with in the future.

“[The Pacers] were tough. Tough team. They have, obviously, head of the snake in Vic [Oladipo]. Unbelievable jump from last year to this year. We all saw it,” James said in his postgame interview. “[Oladipo] proved why he’s a franchise caliber player. Everybody on down, they just got a well-rounded team. Definitely pushed us, pushed to the brink basically.”

Oladipo wasted no time after falling to the Cavaliers in Game 7. He immediately messaged his trainer to discuss getting into the gym to start offseason training and preparing for next season.

“When do we start?” Oladipo texted his trainer. “I’m ready to take it to another level.”

As big of a jump as Oladipo made from last season to this season, he is confident that he has more room for growth and plans on coming back next season even better.

“But honestly, I feel I haven’t even scratched the surface of how good I really can be. That’s just me being honest. And I feel like I’ve got a lot of work to do. And I’ve got a lot of room to improve and things I need to get better at,” Oladipo said. “This summer I’m going to go to work so I can come back even better than this year.”

From Mitchell’s fearless performance against the Thunder, to Rozier’s impressive performance against Milwaukee and the display of skill from several of the league’s other bright young stars, the first-round of the playoffs demonstrated that the NBA is in good hands moving forward.

Alan is an expert gambling writer who works as one of the chief editors for Basketball Insiders. He has been covering online gambling and sports betting for over 8 years, having written for the likes of Sportlens,, The Sports Daily, 90min, and His particular specialisms include US online casinos and gambling regulations, and soccer and basketball betting. Based in London, Alan holds an MA in English Literature and is a passionate supporter of Chelsea FC.

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