SI.com’s NBA writers debate the biggest playoff question of the day. Today, we examine …
Outside of Roy Hibbert, which player has been the biggest disappointment in the first round of the NBA playoffs?
Lee Jenkins: James Harden. I'm sure there will be Kevin Durant votes, but Tony Allen has always presented a difficult matchup for him, and Scott Brooks hasn't done much to help. I'll go with Durant's former teammate, James Harden, who went to Houston because he wanted the stage in situations like this. Harden is reprising his forgettable performance in the 2012 Finals with Oklahoma City, shooting just 34.7 percent, 25 percent from three-point range, and failing to exploit a Portland defense that ranks last in the playoffs. Harden is getting shots -- 118 total for the series -- but many are contested, off isolation plays, and he's not converting. Meanwhile, his assist numbers are also down, and he's presenting little resistance on the other end of the floor.
Ben Golliver: Carlos Boozer. I fully understand that Carlos Boozer has been a popular punching bag for multiple years now, to the point where some Bulls fans tried to put a positive spin on Chicago's early playoff exit by pointing out that each passing day brings the 32-year-old power forward that much closer to a possible amnesty this summer. Even within the context of those lowered expectations, Boozer was disappointing, averaging just 9.6 points and shooting 42.6 percent for the series, nearly 10 percentage points below his career average. Chicago, owners of the worst offense in the playoffs, needed all the punch it could get, and Boozer loomed as a possible x-factor in that regard. Instead, he was invisible for much of the first-round series against the Wizards, and he shot just 4-for-12 in the closeout Game 5 defeat. A Bulls team that entered the playoffs with an outside chance at making a run to the conference finals instead was one of the first teams to go home. You can't blame Windy City fans who look at Boozer's non-production side-by-side with his $15.3 million salary and immediately want to gouge out their eyes. That Tim Duncan and Vince Carter have been able to perform at a high level, even though they are five years older than Boozer, only sharpens the pain.
Chris Mannix: James Harden. Got to go with Harden, who has been staggeringly inefficient. Harden hasn’t shot better than 43 percent in any games this series, has cracked 40 percent just once and was a dreadful 5-15 (including 1-7 from three-point range) in the Rockets Game 5 win. Couple that with some uninspired defense and Harden’s second playoff series with Houston has been a nightmare. Part of the reason Harden left Oklahoma City was because he wanted to be the face of a franchise. But with the money and fame comes accountability. Harden can still salvage his series by leading the Rockets back these next two games. But if he doesn’t, a lot of fingers are, rightfully, going to be pointed at him.
Rob Mahoney: Terrence Ross. Odd though it might be to tab a 23-year-old role player for this dubious honor, I'm struck by just how absent Ross has been from the Raptors' entire first round series. His eight points on 33 percent shooting in Game 5 made for his "best" outing yet; in no other game had Ross topped either that scoring output or shooting percentage, a fizzling combination that leaves him glaringly irrelevant in a competitive series.
Ross is too wild and too inexperienced to yet be reliable on a game-by-game basis. We knew this much based on his erratic regular season performance. Even still, it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect Ross to shoot better than 23 percent from the field given all the defensive attention devoted to DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, to manage an assist to turnover ratio better than his atrocious 1:7 or to make some kind of tangible difference with his defense. Ross is, at the very least, a capable player. He doesn't have to do everything. He just has to do something.
Matt Dollinger: Kevin Durant. OK, I'll be that guy! Calling him "Mr. Unreliable" is pretty harsh, but Durant has been an undeniable disappointment in the 2014 playoffs. That's largely due to the standard of exellence he set during the regular season, which will likely earn him the 2014 Most Valuable Player award. In six playoff games against the Grizzlies, Durant is shooting just 41.2 percent from the field (50.3 during the season), 25 percent from 3-point range (39.1) and and 77.8 from the line (87.3). He's topped 30 points in four of the games, but only shot above 50 percent in one of them. For anyone else, Durant's performance against Memphis would be respectable. But for the eventual MVP and a player in the discussion for best player on the planet, his performance in the first round simply hasn't been up to snuff. A lot of the credit should go to Tony Allen and the Grizz's defense, but some of the blame also has to fall on KD's shoulders.
Chris Johnson: Joakim Noah. During the regular season, Noah posted impressive averages in points (12.6), rebounds (11.3), assists (5.4) and Player Efficiency Rating (20.0) while leading the Bulls to one of the best records in the Eastern Conference after the All-Star break and winning Defensive Player of the Year. But he wilted in a first-round loss to the fifth-seeded Wizards, as Nene repeatedly outmuscled him in the paint. Noah matched or exceeded his season average in points only once (in Game 2), and it came in a Bulls loss. What’s more, Noah reportedly got into a shouting match with a security guard after a team shootaround at the Verizon Center. It was a banner year for Noah as a whole, but it ended on a disappointing note.
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