Adam Levitan

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Playoff Risers and Fallers

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The playoffs give us a glimpse of what players are capable of under the most difficult conditions. Defensive intensity is ratcheted up, coaches go with who they trust and media scrutiny is at season-high levels.

So when a guy raises his level of play in May, it's worth taking notice. After Serge Ibaka broke onto the scene in the 2009-10 playoffs with an eyebrow-raising performance against the Lakers, I put him on all my sleeper lists. Um, winning.

So, who could be earning a bigger role next season based on playoff performance?


1. Jeff Teague, PG, Hawks
For the first two years of Teague's career, the Hawks avoided using him at all costs. He played way behind perhaps the most ineffective player in the NBA, Mike Bibby. Once Atlanta realized Bibby was done, they traded for Kirk Hinrich. Only when Hinrich went down and they were out of options did coach Larry Drew turn to Teague. And they found something.

In 10 career regular season starts, Teague is averaging 9.7 points, 4.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds. But in six playoff starts this year, Teague is averaging 14.8 points, 4.1 assists and 2.8 rebounds. Teague says that he just needed to know he was the man -- he wasn't looking over his shoulder at anyone against the Bulls. I can buy that. Regardless, the bottom line is that the Hawks must give Teague real burn next year.

One idea being floated is Teague at point guard, Hinrich at the off guard spot, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith at forwards with Al Horford at center. Another idea is trading away Hinrich and his $8 million expiring contract. Either way, Teague is looking at 28-30 minutes nightly next season.

2. James Harden, SG, Thunder
I discussed Harden in my column about players looking at possible promotions next season, but his value to the Thunder is becoming even more clear in the playoffs. When Harden isn't in the game, the Thunder look lost on offense. After playing 26.7 minutes a night in the regular season, he's playing 31.3 in the postseason.

By averaging 12.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.3 treys and 1.2 steals in these playoffs, he is just giving us a sliver of his potential. He is also telling Scott Brooks that he must get at least 31-33 minutes a night next season.

3. Marc Gasol, C, Grizzlies
Gasol was one of the bigger disappointments of the regular season, averaging just 11.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. But in 13 playoff games, he recorded 15.0 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. That's the real Gasol.

He is a restricted free agent that figures to draw a ton of interest, mostly because talented 7-footers that are just 26 years old don't grow on trees. I think Memphis will find a way to retain him, but he is a nice bounce-back candidate no matter where he lands. In these playoffs, he proved his upside.

Who we should be wary of next season based on playoff performance?

1. Carlos Boozer, PF, Bulls
Boozer has been so ineffective at times during this playoff run that he has been benched for entire fourth quarters in favor of guys like Omer Asik and Taj Gibson. Yes, he is playing with a turf toe issue and has been up against a very stiff Miami defense for four games. But that's the thing with Boozer -- he is always banged up in some fashion. During his nine-year career, Boozer has averaged just 63.2 games played per season.

Now he will be heading into his age-31 season and is no longer the first option on his own team. During this playoff run, he has averaged 13.1 points and 9.9 rebounds in 15 games. Huge red flag, especially for a big man that does not block shots, pass or shoot free-throws well. His fantasy game has a major down arrow.

2. Chauncey Billups, PG, Knicks
You may not remember Billups' playoff performance too well because it lasted just one game. A month later, he is still feeling the effects of that knee strain and is going for an MRI. That's what happens when you are entering your age-35 season and have played 14 rugged NBA seasons.

If knee strains are going to keep Billups out of the playoffs, we can only shudder at what will keep him out of regular season games next season. He figures to be taken much higher than he is worth in fantasy circles.

3. Tim Duncan, PF, Spurs
Some people thought that Duncan would just turn it on in the playoffs and look like the Timmy of old. If you watched him in the regular season, you knew that wasn't happening. Now 35, Duncan simply can not score in one-on-one situations like he used to.

In the stunning six-game first-round loss to the Grizzlies, Duncan could only muster 12.7 points and 10.5 rebounds a night. And that was with Manu Ginobili at far less than 100 percent. It's painfully obvious that Duncan is a shell of himself and expecting a bounce-back at this point is beyond wishful thinking.

Follow Adam Levitan on Twitter.

Adam Levitan is in his sixth season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.
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