Before we begin the second round of the playoffs tonight, I'm going to recap the performances of the key first-time players from the first round of this year's playoffs. I've narrowed the list down the the three most influential playoff rookies, with a preview of their upcoming matchups as well.
1. John Wall, Washington Wizards
NBA Season: 3rd
nERD: 3.2 (43rd)
Game 1 Efficiency: +11
Game 2 Efficiency: +5
Game 3 Efficiency: +6
Game 4 Efficiency: +8
Game 5 Efficiency: +8
Season Averages: 19.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 1.8 steals
Series Averages: 18.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 2.2 steals
Wall was an effective leader but not an efficient shooter in the Wizards' first series win since 2005. He was the best player on the court at times, but his shooting was once again his biggest deficiency. Wall shot just 36.4% for the series, including a paltry 27.3% from downtown. His assist/turnover ratio was nearly 3/1, which is something Wall will need to replicate against a tough Indiana defense in the second round.
His debut was memorable, mostly because Washington won the series easily, but Wall will be expected to do much more against the Pacers. He's a tremendous talent who is in many ways responsible for the Wizards' success thus far, but his decision-making needs to improve. He can be a very good facilitator, even when his shots aren't falling, but for the most part, his numbers were on par with his season averages in the first round, with the exception of assists.
Matchup to Watch: John Wall vs. George Hill
In the first two meetings between these two this season, Hill and the Pacers had their way with Wall, holding him to 8 of 29 from the field for a combined 21 points in two blowout losses. In the most recent meeting, however, Wall came back to life, posting a 20/8 line in a 91-78 Wizards win. Hill has done a good job against Wall, and will need to match that defensive effort against Wall in this series.
2. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
NBA Season: 2nd
nERD: -2.2 (97th)
Game 1 Efficiency: +11
Game 2 Efficiency: -1
Game 3 Efficiency: -4
Game 4 Efficiency: +11
Game 5 Efficiency: +7
Season Averages: 17.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1 steal
Series Averages: 19.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1 steal
Beal is the type of young player that can eat up a ton of minutes. He is very similar in my mind to a young mold of Trevor Ariza, but is already a much better shooter. This kid is invaluable to a team like Washington, because although he is very young and he has a very high basketball IQ (as evidenced by his 8 turnovers in 205 minutes this series).
Beal is the type of player who can win you a series, but certainly won't lose one for you. He makes the smart play when it is available, but doesn't force it when the play isn't there. Beal's 44% shooting in the first round, including 45% from beyond the arc, was key in this series, and the Wizards need him to provide consistent scoring if they want to have a chance of knocking off the top-seeded Pacers. He also stepped up his game in this series, boosting his numbers across the board from the regular season.
Matchup Preview: Bradley Beal vs. Lance Stephenson
Lance Stephenson is a tough defensive matchup for any player, especially for someone like Beal who is primarily a jump shooter. Beal shot just 2 for 13 from the field in the last matchup against Indiana, and I'm looking for him to be more aggressive and attack the rim in this series. If Beal can move the ball consistently and take smart shots, he can be effective in this matchup. In my mind, this is the most important matchup of the series. Beal and Lance are both x-factors for their respective teams. When they play well, the teams are much more difficult to beat.
3. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
NBA Season: 2nd
nERD: 7.5 (19th)
Game 1 Efficiency: +7
Game 2 Efficiency: +12
Game 3 Efficiency: +1
Game 4 Efficiency: +1
Game 5 Efficiency: -1
Game 6 Efficiency: +2
Season Averages: 20.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 0.8 steals
Series Averages: 25.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.3 steals
The new Agent Zero has already made his mark, and shot himself into Portland playoff lore with his performance in the first round against Houston. Many experts and pundits had all but counted the Blazers out before the series had even started, but Lillard was a main reason why Portland is moving on to the second round. Lillard came out of the gate in Game 1 with a 31/9/5 performance in 46 minutes during the overtime win in Houston. He was remarkably consistent throughout the series, shooting nearly 49% from deep, as well as dishing out 40 dimes and pulling down 38 boards. Lillard has stepped up his game significantly so far in the playoffs, boosting his averages in nearly every statistical category. His production is absolutely key to Portland's chances of an upset in the second round against San Antonio.
Matchup Preview: Damian Lillard vs Tony Parker
Parker and Lillard have matched up three times this season, with Portland winning two of those games. Lillard has had his way with Parker each time, averaging 23 points, 6 assists, and nearly 6 boards per game versus Parker's 13/6/5. Lillard has a +23 efficiency rating in those games, while Parker has a -19. Parker has had no answer for Lillard on defense, so it will be an interesting dynamic watching Lillard's youth versus Parker's experience in what should be an incredible second round matchup.
These three are the brightest young stars still remaining in the 2014 NBA playoffs, and their contributions have made these playoffs one of the greatest we have ever seen. The best part about it is that we are only getting started. I for one can't wait to watch what these players have in store for us in the second round.