The NBA Playoffs’ breakout stars

Duncan Miller, Staff Reporter

Greatness in basketball is based on titles. The greatest players step up and cement their place in NBA history in the Playoffs: from Lebron, to MJ, to Magic and Bird, all the way back to Bill Russell. Until you achieve in the postseason, your name doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as the truly great ones. That’s why I decided to rank the players who have most clearly begun their legacy in the Orlando Bubble – the Breakout Stars of the NBA Playoffs. 

To clarify, this is not a ranking of the playoff’s best players. This is a ranking of who broke out in the playoffs, who showed the NBA audience they can be something great. Lebron will not be on the list. Kawhi Leonard will not be on this list. You get the idea. So without further ado, in descending order …

Number 4: Luka Dončić, Dallas Mavericks:

Luka capped off one of the best 2nd-year seasons ever by building up his playoff resume. Playing against an LA Clippers team full of elite defenders, with two of the best wing defenders in basketball in Kahwi Leonard and Paul George, Luka averaged 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists. He made it look easy, slicing through the defense with his incredible combination of size, strength, skill, and craftiness. He even had his first big playoff moment- in game 4, Luka capped off a magnificent performance with a step-back buzzer-beater in overtime, and he carried an average team to 6 games against a loaded Clippers team.

Luka is hands-down the best player on this list- he was 1st team all-NBA in just his second season, something neither Lebron or MJ ever did. That’s why he’s not number 1 on this list- we knew he was great. What he showed in the playoffs only strengthened the feelings across the NBA world that this 21 year old could be one the all-time greats.

Number 3: Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz:

Similar to Dončić, Donovan Mitchell had begun to build a reputation for himself in his 3rd years before the 2020 NBA playoffs. He was a 1st-time All-Star this year, a borderline all-NBA candidate the past two years.

He made the list because in the Utah’s first round series against the Denver Nuggets, Mitchell absolutely exploded. He kicked things off with a 57 point effort in game 1, the 3rd-most in any playoff game ever, and would go on to average an absurd 36 points on 52-52-94 shooting. Despite Mitchell’s heroics, the Jazz came up short in the first round, blowing a 3-1 lead down the stretch of the series. And yet, his potential was on full display- Mitchell could be a true superstar if he picks up where he left off this next season.

Number 2: Tyler Herro, Miami Heat:

Why is the future bright in Miami? Because of a 20-year-old rookie named Tyler Herro. Most rookies see their playoff minutes drop in the postseason, but Herro’s jumped up as Heat coach Eric Spoelstra decided to, at times, hand the keys to the Heat offense to his rookie.

Spoelstra’s trust has paid off. Herro regularly scored important buckets in crunch time, carrying himself like a 10-year veteran. After what he’s shown in these playoffs, Herro went from  a solid role player to a 1st-time All-Star waiting to happen, and he ranks at the top of his rookie class. In short, Herro is a blossoming star, and should make the Heat a contender for a long time when combined with their other pieces.

Graphic of jamal murray
Jamal Murray, ranked the #1 breakout star by Lasso writer Duncan Miller. (Graphic by Matthew Lin)

Number 1: Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets:

After an underwhelming performance in the 2019 Playoffs, Jamal Murray was a top-5 player in this year’s playoffs. The Denver Nuggets, on the back of the league’s most beautiful two-man game of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, went to the Western Conference Finals and came back from two 3-1 deficits for the first time ever.

He averaged 26 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists on 50-45-90 shooting (insane). In game 7 against the heavily favored LA Clippers, Murray carried his team with 25 points in the first half, and finished with 40 for the game as the Nuggets knocked off the most talented team in the NBA. That version of Murray, combined with their other star in Jokic, is the basis for a perennial title contender in Denver.