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Players With Most to Prove in NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference

by Photo of Kenneth Teape

DeMar Derozan, Paul Millsap and John Wall all have something to prove this postseason.

Players With Most to Prove in NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference

The NBA Playoffs are finally upon us, and there are some teams and players with something to prove. Younger players making their much anticipated first appearances in the postseason and even some veterans that still have something to prove in their stored careers. There are plenty of viable picks that could be made, but here are my top five players and teams that have something to prove in the postseason in the Eastern Conference.

John Wall, Point Guard Washington Wizards

Wall, the former first overall pick from the 2010 NBA Draft, will be making his first appearance in the postseason this year. He has been under the microscope since the moment he was drafted, and plenty of people were already labeling him a bust. Durability issues mixed with poor results on the court had people questioning the Wizards draft decisions once again.

But, after recovering from his surgery last season, Wall led the Wizards to near-.500 basketball the rest of the way. The promise showed that season lead to the Wizards going all in this offseason, trading for Marcin Gortat from the Phoenix Suns. The results have been extremely positive this season, as Wall played in every game this season, and increased his shooting percentage immensely, making 35.1 percent of his three point attempts. He knocked down 108 this season, more than doubling his career total, as he made only 49 the previous three seasons.

With a capable three-point shot, defenses had to respect Wall’s jump shot and he took advantage, ravaging opposing defenses in the paint. With lighting fast quickness, Wall tore teams apart in the paint, shooting 55 percent from within 10 feet of the basket. His outstanding court vision also helped get his teammates involved, resulting in a career-high 8.8 assists per game.

A career season across the board has gotten people back on Wall’s bandwagon, and he will have the biggest stage of all to prove the remaining doubters wrong. This will be the first time the Wizards are on national television since 2010, so this will be the first time many people get to see Wall in action since his college days leading Kentucky.

Al Jefferson, Center, Charlotte Bobcats

Much like Wall, Jefferson has put together an outstanding season, but not to much fanfare. He has flown under the radar, but is a big reason why the Bobcats are in the playoffs for the second time in franchise history, along with his sidekick Kemba Walker.

Jefferson is the player being highlighted here though, because many people dismissed this signing over the offseason. They said it was a waste of money for the Bobcats, as they were still far from contending and this wouldn’t move the meter much. They were extremely wrong though, as Jefferson put together a monster season, averaging 21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 blocks and 0.9 steals per game; ask anyone if they knew and more often than not the answer is no.

Jefferson has thrived alongside Walker, much like he did alongside Deron Williams when they were teammates with the Utah Jazz. Jefferson has an arsenal in the post rivaled by very few, if any players in the NBA.

It will be a tall task knocking off the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, but Jefferson can single handedly get the Bobcats a win. If Roy Hibbert is able to pick the Heat apart, Jefferson should have a field day.

DeMar DeRozan, Shooting Guard, Toronto Raptors

Much like Wall, DeRozan was a highly regarded pick in 2009, as the ninth overall pick by the Raptors. Once Chris Bosh left via free agency after his rookie season, a lot of the responsibility to make up for his production fell upon DeRozan.

Armed with little more than supreme athleticism, DeRozan failed to make up for the production of Bosh. It did not help that Andrea Bargnani didn’t live up to his expectations, but DeRozan received just as much blame as well. So, the Raptors decided to take on Rudy Gay last time to help take some pressure off of DeRozan.

But, like in Memphis, Gay did not produce as much as the Raptors had hoped and they moved him to the Sacramento Kings. The onus once again fell upon DeRozan, and this time he took it in stride and ran with it.

DeRozan put up career highs across the board in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, three point shooting percentage free throw makes. DeRozan has become a respectable shooter, making his elite athleticism that much more potent. The increase in production has led to DeRozan being able to get to the rim more, resulting in his franchise record free throw performance this season.

The Raptors are not expected to go anywhere in the playoffs this season, as many people expect the lower seeded Brooklyn Nets to take them down. DeRozan will have much to say about that, as he will look to lead the Raptors to their first playoff wins since the 2007-2008 season.

Paul Millsap, Power Forward, Atlanta Hawks

If there is going to be a major upset in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, there probably isn’t a team riper for the picking than the Indiana Pacers. If the Pacers are going to be picked off, Millsap is the man to be leading the charge.

Millsap, much like his former running mate Jefferson, was a signing that was met with much criticism. The former power forward/center combo for the Jazz never carried the team in the way many people thought that they would, but as solo players both have began to pick up steam.

Millsap put up respectable stats for the Hawks this season, averaging a career high 17.9 points and 3.1 assists per game. He has also added the three point shot to his game, making 76 this season, compared to 31 the prior seven season with the Jazz. The stats are even more impressive when you factor in that his front court mate, Al Horford, played in only 29 games this season.

The Hawks are being disregarded by almost every basketball person in the world, but they have actually had success against the Pacers this season, splitting the season series. Surprisingly, Millsap was pretty quite offensively in all four games, scoring seven or less points in three of them. Where he made his mark was on the glass, where he grabbed double-digit rebounds twice.

The odds are long that the Hawks will pull the upset, but they will be giving the Pacers everything they have. They are the ultimate underdog and have proven they are not afraid of the Pacers. If they are to put a scare into the Pacers, Millsap will be the man leading the way.

Paul George, Small Forward, Indiana Pacers

George came into this season with massive expectations. After showing out against the eventual champion Miami Heat and the best player in the world in LeBron James, George was on the path to stardom. It may have been a little early do so, as George’s production cratered once the going got tough for the Pacers this season.

The Pacers began losing, and George failed at being the leader he was appointed to being. Things got rocky, as locker room talk began leaking into the media, making things more awkward. The end result was the Pacers playing uneven basketball, and people beginning to not believe in them.

George himself dealt with some off-court distractions, and it seemed to affect his play on the court. His shooting percentage plummeted throughout the season, dropping every month from November through March. He ended the season shooting 42.4 percent from the field, a number far to low for a player as athletically gifted as George, as he attempted 469 shots from 10 feet-3 point line this season and only 283 shots at the rim.

People have begun to turn on George fast, but he still has some silver linings in his stats. The shot ratio was poor, but George still managed to make and take the most free throws in a season in his young career. So while the superstar talk may have been a bit premature, the fact people are jumping off his bandwagon this quickly is a bit surprising. George still has talent, and there is no better place to showcase that than here. It would go a long way for George and the Pacers to blow the Hawks out of the water to get confidence back as they go deeper in the postseason and face better opponents. They need to win Game 2 at Bankers Life Feildhouse to avoid complete disaster, and George has to be the focal point behind it.

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