Kyrie Irving, Paul George and Luol Deng are among players embracing NBA playoff pressure and producing on a big stage.
When the bright lights of the NBA playoffs shine down, players are put under a more magnified microscope. If LeBron James opts to pass to open teammates in the closing seconds of close games, he’s chided by critics for being afraid of taking big shots. When Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry plays well below expectations, he gets critiqued for not showing up in the postseason setting.
But while some players and teams crumble under the pressure, others embrace the big stage and up their game. The 2016 playoffs have been no different, as a handful of guys are scoring well above their regular season averages.
With assistance from PointAfter visualizations, this week’s Data Dimes will highlight the playoff performers scoring more often and more efficiently during the 2016 postseason.
Note: All stats referenced in this article are accurate through games on April 27.
Since two-time All-Star Luol Deng signed a multi-year contract with the Miami Heat, he hasn’t been nearly as productive on a roster that must share the ball between the likes of Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and Chris Bosh (when he hasn’t been sidelined due to health reasons).
The Sudanese swingman averaged 16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists in nine-plus seasons with the Chicago Bulls (including his entry campaign as a 19-year-old rookie). In two seasons residing in South Beach, those marks have dipped to 13.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists. But while the regular season figures haven’t been All-Star caliber, Deng has rebounded quite nicely in the 2016 postseason with Bosh out. After scoring just 12.3 points per game throughout the season, he’s pouring more than 19 per game—his best playoff scoring output since 2007.
Deng’s 19.4 points per game is second on the team behind D. Wade’s average of 19.6 points. And while the sheer volume is impressive enough—a more than seven-point boost compared to regular season—Deng is getting his points by scoring at a 50% clip.
He’s been scorching hot from downtown as well, sinking 48.4% of his treys through five games. His corner threes have led the charge, but he could certainly afford to cut down on the attempts from the left wing (or perhaps above the break in general).
Deng’s snapped back to form at the perfect time for Miami, but the Heat are still in a fight against the Charlotte Hornets to advance beyond the first round. After a tough loss in Game 5, Deng, Wade and Co. will have to win two games in a row to reach the conference semifinals.
Kyrie Lighting It Up from Three
We covered it last week, but it remains abundantly clear that LeBron James is getting plenty of help from his supporting cast.
There’s no denying point guard Kyrie Irving had a down year after a late start—recovery from knee surgery forced him to miss the first month and a half of the season. In fact, his three-point percentage plummeted by 9.4% compared to the season prior, among the starkest declines in the NBA this season.
But Irving has found his shooting touch in the 2016 postseason. As a result, he never scored below 20 points in a four-game sweep of the Detroit Pistons.
The Duke product is once again oozing confidence when letting shots fly from beyond the arc. The Cleveland Cavaliers have been the beneficiary of his scoring exploits, as he’s been the Robin to James’s Batman in the early going.
To be fair, shooting 47.1% from long range is not a sustainable figure for the remainder of the 2016 playoffs, but even making 40% of his triples would be a massive improvement over his ice-cold regular season. It’s a good sign for Cavs fans that Kyrie appears to have put those struggles behind him (now they just need to knock on wood).
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PG-13’s High Ratings
By scoring 28.8 points per game in the playoffs through April 27, Paul George leads all 2016 postseason performers in scoring average. It wasn’t going to be easy for George to improve upon his season average of 23.1 points, but he’s done so with aplomb. On top of upping his scoring output by more than five points, his efficiency is way up across the board.
With a career field goal percentage of 42.5%, the Fresno State product isn’t exactly celebrated for efficient scoring (volume is more his bag). However, he’s made 47.3% of his field goals, 41.9% of his threes and 93.8% of his free throws against the Toronto Raptors through five games.
George has been far from a one-trick pony in those five games, as he’s scored effectively from just about everywhere.
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Nevertheless, Indiana still faces a 3–2 series deficit despite George’s dominance and the comparative struggles of Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. (A massive collapse in Game 5 in which the Pacers scored just nine fourth quarter points didn’t help the cause.)
Indy’s alpha dog may not be around in the playoffs much longer, but George certainly can’t be blamed for his team’s shortcomings after repeatedly stellar performances.