Entering the postseason as the best team doesn’t necessarily guarantee a championship. Throughout the history of the NBA, this is something we’ve seen time and time again. Winning a title is not easy; it takes resiliency, an unbreakable will to succeed, and plenty of lucky breaks. And not always, but most of the time, it requires the team’s star to rise above the noise, endure the immense pressure, and make magic happen.
For all the great players in the game today, not everyone has the chops to handle this sort of burden. Unfortunately, even the ones who do — or rather, have done it before — are expected to get the job done each and every time. Such is the life of an NBA superstar; always having something to prove.
1. Jimmy Butler
Despite being a three-time All-Star and evolving into a bona fide alpha on the court, Jimmy Butler often finds himself living in the shadow of some of the game’s other great talents. Yet, all that ever seems to do is motivate him, as evidenced by the 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.5 assists a game he averaged during the 2016–17 season.
With Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah no longer in the Windy City, the pressure is on Butler to be “the man” and show that he is capable of leading the Bulls to postseason glory. Even if he winds up suiting up somewhere else next season, a superstar showing in these 2017 NBA Playoffs would only make Butler that much more attractive — if that’s even possible — to potential suitors.
2. Isaiah Thomas
Without Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics don’t earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference — that’s a fact. This season, the man they call the “King in the Fourth” put up 28.9 points per game, dished out 5.9 assists a night, and came out of nowhere to establish himself as one of the top closers on the planet.
He might not be the biggest dude on the floor (he’s 5-foot-9), but you wouldn’t know it by the way he plays (especially in crunch time). Thomas has been the “The Answer” to Boston’s prayers. The only question is, can he deliver the same heroics in the postseason? The pressure’s on.
3. Chris Paul
Even at 31 years of age, Chris Paul remains one of the top point guards in the NBA. The guy is the ultimate floor general, with vision for days and an uncanny ability to drop the hammer with the game on the line. Yet, in spite of all the accomplishments and accolades, CP3 has never managed to advance past the second round in the playoffs. As great as Paul is (and has been), this is not the sort of asterisk a player of his caliber wants on his resume. He’ll continue to feel the heat until this is no longer the case.
4. John Wall
Everyone knows that John Wall is awesome. He’s a lethal scorer, freakishly athletic, and has a nasty handle. Yet, in a league that’s so guard-heavy at the top of the food chain, the former Kentucky standout often gets lost in the shuffle. Which is crazy to think about considering he just made his fourth straight All-Star Game appearance and posted averages 23.1 points and 10.7 assists (second in the NBA) a night. Wall definitely deserves more respect than he gets. Showing up in the postseason will go a long way toward making that happen.
5. James Harden
After going 41-41 the season before, the Rockets took flight in 2016–17, finishing with a 55-27 record while earning the third seed in the Western Conference. This wouldn’t have happened had James Harden not fully embraced his new point guard role in Mike D’Antoni’s uptempo system.
Speaking for basketball fans worldwide, we’re sure glad he did. The Beard took his game to the next level by dishing out a league-leading 11.2 assists a night to go along with 29.1 points per contest. But as we’ve noted many times before, while getting it done in the regular season is nice, it’s what you do in the playoffs that truly matters. It’s time for Harden to take another step toward greatness.