The NBA playoffs are where amazing happens. That’s the NBA’s marketing tagline, but it’s also true. To elevate a team in the playoffs, the league’s star players have to step up and play their best. It’s the crucible that shows who truly belongs in the superstar hierarchy and who is just an “82-game player” to use the parlance of Draymond Green.
This season the stars have shown up and then some, whether playing for the winning team or even the losing one. Whether it’s random chance, recency bias or something about this unique season all across the playoff bracket the stars have come out.
Not every memorable performance can be viewed as a step towards stardom, or a proof case for continued dominance. By and large, however, the players we most expected to show up have done so, with the exceptions of Jimmy Butler and LeBron James.
Let’s highlight the ten best players in the first round of the 2020-21 NBA playoffs, ranked from 10 to 1. Before we get there, which players deserve mention for their play even if they fall outside of the upper echelon of performances thus far?
NBA Playoffs: 10 best players – Honorable Mentions
While the New York Knicks crumbled against the Atlanta Hawks, Derrick Rose turned back the clock and made sure everyone recognized who the only former MVP on the court was. On the opposite side, Clint Capela completely sealed off the paint from the Knicks all series long.
Dillon Brooks is one of the league’s grittiest defenders, and despite his team being outmatched he fought hard and turned up a few hot scoring nights as well. Donovan Mitchell has put up big scoring numbers, but he has basically just been a pure scorer thus far. Bradley Beal and Tobias Harris faced off and were similarly just scoring, although they are talented in that department.
Ben Simmons had to take the reigns of the Philadelphia 76ers in Joel Embiid’s absence and led his team to a Game 5 victory. Kyrie Irving and Michael Porter Jr. both had offensive explosions at times in support of their superstar teammates but were inconsistent from game to game.
Finally, DeAndre Ayton has shown he is continuing to grow into his potential as a rim protector and hyper-efficient offensive finisher. He outplayed Anthony Davis in Game 1 of the Phoenix Suns’ series against the Los Angeles Lakers, then outplayed the Lakers’ collection of bigs once Davis went down.
Let’s now look at the “first five out” before we get to the top 10.