The NBA Playoffs is a completely different animal than the regular season. Defenses are tighter, game-play is slower, and games are closer. When this occurs, anything can happen. We saw the Cavaliers upset a Warriors team that was 73-9 in 2016, last year a veteran Los Angeles Clippers team was upset by a young Utah Jazz team in its first post-season appearance since 2012.
These upsets were caused by supporting players failing to step up when the defensive attention was placed elsewhere. In 2016 it was Harrison Barnes, who averaged just 9.3 points on 35.2% shooting and 31.0% from three in 31.7 minutes per game.
In 2017, it was Chris Paul‘s back court teammates J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Austin Rivers who failed to step up. The Clippers were up 2-1 on Utah, and Blake Griffin got hurt. Instead of scrapping it out and stepping up to the moment, those three shot a combined 17/59 in all three subsequent Clipper losses – 28.8% from the field. If the right players don’t step up to the moment, then their teams will fail in the playoffs. Here are the players who need to step up this season for their teams:
New Orleans Pelicans: Nikola Mirotic
Mirotic in Pelicans Wins: 30.5 MPG,17.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.1 SPG 46.4% FG, 37.6% 3P, 84.4% FT
Mirotic in Pelicans Losses: 23.8 MPG, 8.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 0.2 BPG, 0.8 SPG, 32.7% FG, 20.8% 3P, 69.2% FT
Dealing for Nikola Mirotic at the trade line was a risky move for New Orleans. The Pelicans already had a poor record of dealing 1st round picks for veterans after using draft picks to acquire DeMarcus Cousins (1st round pick used was Zach Collins), Omer Asik (Sam Dekker), and Jrue Holiday (Nerlens Noel and Elfrid Payton.) While many of the eventual picks used didn’t pan out, they were still very highly drafted players. All of the players in parentheses were lottery picks except for Dekker. Zach Collins, Sam Dekker, Nerlens Noel, and Elfrid Payton could just as easily have been Donovan Mitchell, Larry Nance Jr., Nikola Jokic, and Gary Harris. Imagine those guys playing with Anthony Davis.
Nevertheless, Mirotic appears as though he will pan out. The statline Mirotic put up this season on New Orleans of 14.6 points and 8.2 rebounds with New Orleans is well above the expected stat line of the 20th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft they gave up to get Mirotic. Per data taken from the 1989-2008 NBA Drafts, the 20th overall pick is expected to average 6.2 points in 16.8 minutes per game.
If Mirotic plays at this level throughout the rest of his contract, it will be money well spent for New Orleans. Consistency, however, has been a problem for Mirotic, as the Serbian big man is averaging fringe star numbers in wins as a member of the Pelicans, while putting up highly inefficient role player numbers in the losses. New Orleans needs all hands on deck as a team that is arguably dependent on one player (Anthony Davis) more than any other team in the league. A hot hand from Mirotic is exactly what New Orleans to have a chance against Portland.