10 player storylines to watch during the 2016-17 NBA playoffs

Yes, we’re still in All-Star Weekend, but we can’t help but look past the festivities into the second half of the season and beyond. The highs, lows, and drama of this NBA season will make for an exciting playoffs in three months’ time. With all that, here are some player storylines to follow in the NBA’s postseason. These handful of players will have eyes upon them for various reasons.

With so many rumors flying around effecting the outcome of the playoffs the free betting tips at SBAT will help you to separate the hustle from the hype and get the most out of the games.

1. Kevin Durant

Since the moment Durant announced his departure from Oklahoma City for the greener pastures of the Golden State, all eyes have been on that team. Somehow his presence has eclipsed the star of resident MVP Steph Curry – and that all about was impossible last season. The focus on KD’s performance will only get more intense when the NBA Playoffs begin. Anything less than an NBA championship is a failure.

2. LeBron James

He’s used to being watched and he’s more than proven himself to be a winner, but why we watch is to see what the King will do next. At 32 years old, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down whatsoever. Can he lead another Eastern Conference team to the NBA Finals — which would be his seventh consecutive championship series. Moreover, can he defeat the Warriors or Spurs when he gets there?

3. Harrison  Barnes

The Dallas Mavericks may be struggling to make the post-season but Harrison Barnes continues to do the basics well. He may not see as much game time as when he was with Golden State Warriors, and needs to up his three-point percentage, but his shot attempts are always high and his driving runs get the crowds on their feet.

4. Joel Embiid

Philadelphia may have been down with the also-rans in the Eastern Conference Atlantic Division but the 76ers have been winning of late and Joel Embiid is the one worth watching on the court and off. After some frustrating injuries, the Cameroonian youngster slipped out of professional basketball for two years and looks like he is here to stay and has a point to prove. If the Sixers make the playoffs, we’re not expecting them to win it, but Embiid makes us curious about the franchise’s future (in a good way).

5. Marc Gasol

Marc  Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies has something to prove. The Memphis Grizzlies are perennial tough playoff opponents, but they’re also perennial also-rans. How much can this franchise idle?  Gasol is the center of this team and though he’s added a three-point shot; his numbers are up to 152 three already this season (having landed just 66 during the first eight years of his career), it’s getting pretty soon to now or never.

6. Eric Gordon

The Houston Rockets are challenging the Western Conference Southwest Division, with 28-year-old Eric Gordon enjoying a new lease of life in Texas after joining from New Orleans. Another player’s career that has been hampered by injuries, Gordon was an up-and-coming player during his first few years. Now it seems Gordon is healthy. He’s second on a Rockets team in points scored and can boast 39.3 per cent from distance and 9.2 three-point attempts per game — including winning the NBA Three Point Contest this weekend. Gordon will play a big role in Houston’s success and is another player to watch during this year’s playoffs.

7. Russell Westbrook

The biggest 2016-17 season storylines have Russell Westbrook’s name all over it. From his and Durant’s relationship after KD left OKC, to trying to be the first player to average a triple double in a season (which hasn’t been done in more than 50 years), to all the serious talk about his being named NBA MVP, you just can’t escape Russ’ name this season if you tried.

And all that talk won’t quiet down when the playoffs come around. If anything, the postseason will be a litmus test for how serious OKC is as a contender to the NBA Championship. Yes, Westbrook’s non-stop attacking makes him a force of nature and fills a statline like very few players in NBA history, but can his play and leadership translate? Meaning can his style of play take a team deep into the playoffs?  If OKC doesn’t get out of the first round — what’s next?

8. Tyler Johnson

Tyler Johnson has been thrusted into a more primary role in the last season or so. For a guy that started out coming into the game for his energy and defense early on, he now leads the Heat’s second unit, Miami now relies on the 24-year old in the clutch during the fourth quarter. It’ll be interesting to see how Johnson contributes under the higher-level intensity and bright lights of the playoffs. Will his regular season “clutch” translate into the postseason?

9. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

After inconsistent first couple years, the man with the best name in basketball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, may be the best player on the Detroit Pistons. Detroit may have a losing record at present but the 23-year-old shooting guard has converted 40 per cent of his three-point efforts after struggling from distance. Can Pope maintain his high level of play when the stakes are higher? He’ll need to keep up his consistency to guide the Pistons and continue to up his profile.

10. Nicola Jokic

When the Nuggets traded away fellow young, European big man Jusef Nurkic, it was a statement that they were investing in the bright future of Nikola Jokic. At just 21 years old, Jokic’s uncanny passing, position-based rebounds, and soft touch has made him Denver’s best player and the focal point of their offense. And the Nuggets’ improvement has coincided with the giant Serbian’s promotion to starting center.

The 21-year-old has the highest usage rate of any rotation player during his stretch as a starter, along with the second-highest assist percentage. However, he needs to defend more away from the basket, while he allows opponents to shoot 60 per cent around the hoop. Both aspects of his game still need work as most youngsters do. Even still Jokic looks like one of the next NBA superstars.

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