And then there were four.
The second round of the NBA playoffs were pretty much a yawner, as no series went past five games and other than the sorry effort put in by the Toronto Raptors, things went according to plan.
In the Western Conference, Houston and Golden State needed just one over the minimum to push aside Utah and New Orleans, respectively.
In the east, Cleveland cowed the Dinos in four straight — and it cost Dwayne Casey his job Friday — while Boston needed just five to stop Philadelphia’s “process.”
Of the 12 teams eliminate through three rounds, the culprits adding to defeat were numerous and in a lot of cases, surprising. The usual powerful players on powerful teams, LeBron in Cleveland, James Harden in Houston and Steph Curry and his posse in Golden State, made short work of the array of pretenders they faced.
We’ve got 15 players — and we had to pare things down — who more was expected from. Just to share the misery, there is at least one player from every team and we put dishonorable mentions in italics.
15. Jabari Parker – Milwaukee Bucks
It was thought that the Bucks would give Boston all they could handle in the first round given the Celtics injury woes. Some even thought they had a shot at toppling the favorites. Well, after a fairly hard fought seven-game series, there are still more questions than answers on a young and athletic team that could have found another gear. Of those who disappointed, restricted free agent Jabari Parker is guilty. When Giannis Antetokounmpo needed a break, Parker was only good in about three games off the bench. In the two series opening losses in Boston, he was near invisible, scoring two total points and logging six rebounds and an assist. Compared to his season averages of 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists, that just didn’t cut it. He bounced back nicely in games 3 through 5, averaging 16.7 points and 6.7 rebounds and drained five of 14 three-pointers. In the series finale, he was not all that sharp, chipping in just nine points in 29 minutes off the bench. Dishonorable mentions: Matthew Dellavedova, Jason Terry.
14. Taj Gibson – Minnesota Timberwolves
Like their midwest cousins in Milwaukee, the T-Wolves are another youthful and exciting team that got bounced far too easily by the Houston Rockets in the first round. When the Timberwolves signed forward Taj Gibson away from the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of a huge off-season makeover, it was believed they would challenge the powers-that-be in the west for supremacy. They are paying him $14 million a season and for the most part in 2017-18, he earned it, averaging 12.2 points, and a career high 7.1 rebounds . Come playoff time, he was a virtual no show. Of the five games he played in, none were exceptional. He averaged 6.2 points and 3.8 rebounds and really did not do much to distinguish himself in just under 25 minutes of average floor time. We think he pretty much mailed it in. Dishonorable mention: Karl-Anthony Towns.
13. Serge Ibaka – Toronto Raptors
How bad was the Raptors sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round? Let us count the ways. The Raps were outplayed by LeBron James, mailed it in defensively and made poor, poor choices offensively. There were so many guilty parties to yet another hugely disappointing exit to the post-season that whittling them down was hair-pulling exercise. Power Forward Serge Ibaka, he of the $20 million per year contract, is supposed to provide next level defence, while contributing an average amount of offence from the floor. In 99 regular season games, he’s done that. This past year, he averaged 12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 27.5 minutes per game. In the six games against Washington, he was OK, averaging 8.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. Those numbers plunged against the Cavs, where he was largely a no-show. In the horrid series finale, he chipped in 12 points, but had one lone rebound, a block and turned the ball over a game high three times. Dishonorable mentions: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet.
12. Solomon Hill – New Orleans Pelicans
As lacklustre performances go, Solomon Hill was a disappointment with a small “d.” That the Pelicans were able to dispose of the Portland Trail Blazers in four straight and even win a game against Golden State in the second round was admirable, given that they were without DeMarcus Cousins. After spending much of the 2017-18 season on the DL, SF Hill appeared 12 of the team’s final 13 games, averaging just under 15 minutes per game, along with 2.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. Considering he makes nearly $12 million per year, the return on investment was small. Yes, he was injured, however, once the post-season rolled around, he should have been rested enough to play a larger role off the bench. He was right around average in the four-game sweep of the Blazers, but the first two games against Golden State were a good indicator of his overall ineffectiveness. He scored two points in both games and had three rebounds and three assists and shot a dismal 33.3 percent from the floor in 13.5 minutes of floor time. His floor time diminished from there on in, no surprise.
11. Bojan Bogdanovic – Indiana Pacers
When the Pacers parted with 2016-17 leading scorers Paul George and Jeff Teague, as well as C.J. Miles, no one saw the Pacers making the playoffs, much less taking the Cavaliers to seven games in the first round. The Pacers, led by Victor Oladipo, fought gamely against the favored Cavs, but LeBron and co. proved to be just a bit too much. There weren’t many candidates, then, for most disappointing, save for SF Bojan Bogdanovic. If not for a 30-point effort in a game 3 victory, the big Croat’s post-season line was fairly mediocre. Taking away that one big game, he averaged 9.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Not great numbers from the third highest paid player on the club. The most alarming stats, though were his 39.5 percent shooting percentage (9 percent worse than in the regular season), the turnovers (1.9) and personal fouls (3.3 compared to 1.6 in the regular season). Dishonorable mention: Myles Turner.
10. Pau Gasol – San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs have many personnel decisions to make about fading former stars like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the most disappointing player in the Spurs’ post-season, Pau Gasol. He’s 37 and under contract for two more seasons at $16 million, which is the third highest on the payroll. And we won’t even get into the Kawhi Leonard situation here. Gasol, who won two championships with the Lakers, has had a precipitous decline in play in his two seasons with the Spurs and really didn’t do much of anything for the cause in five post-season contests against Golden State. Used off the bench, Gasol was way below his season averages of 10.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks. His five-game line read 18.2 minutes per game, 6.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 0.2 blocks (or, just one all series). In the 99-91 loss in the series finale, Gasol was 0-for-3 from the field, scoring his lone point on 1-for-2 shooting from the charity stripe, while hauling in six rebounds. Hmmmph. Dishonorable mention: Tony Parker.
9. Robert Covington – Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers and “the Process” fell far short of the goal to take out a beatable Boston Celtics club in the second round. For a few players, there is much off-season evaluation to be done, including a synopsis of back-up small forward Covington and his value. He is the second highest paid player on the team at a shade under $17 million, but posts numbers more like a sixth man. Over the course of 80 games in 2017-18, the five-year veteran averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.7 steals and shot 36.9 percent from three-point range. Not bad, but not great by any measure. In the five-game first round ouster of Miami, Covington was close to the those averages and played his role. However, he was awful in four of five against Boston. He showed up for game 2, scoring 22 and adding two assists, two blocks and two steals. In the other four games, he totaled a dismal 11 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks and five steals, while turning the ball over four times.
8. Jae Crowder – Utah Jazz
A starter in Cleveland, PF Crowder was fairly good off the bench in Utah after being dealt there this season. He upped his points per game from 8.6 in Cleveland to 11.8 with the Jazz, as well as his rebounds (3.3 to 3.8) and assists (1.1 to 1.5). His 11-game playoff performance can only be categorized as Quixotic. Of the four games he was in double digits in scoring, only one came during a win. In the five-game set against Houston in the second round, Crowder started out on fire. He poured 21 while shooting 5-for-7 from three-point range, and still Utah lost 110-96. Then in Utah’s only victory of the series, he had his only double-double of the post-season, with 15 points (3-for-6 from three) and 10 rebounds. Whatever happened to him in games 3 through 5, we’ll never know. He had 18 total points and 18 rebounds and shot terribly. Overall Crowder hit 4 of 28 shots from the floor, including only 3-for-15 from beyond the arc.
7. Eric Bledsoe – Milwaukee Bucks
When the Bucks needed him most in their first round seven-game loss to Boston, veteran floor general Eric Bledsoe came up small. Brought in from Phoenix to solidify their back court, Bledsoe was awful in game 1 and 2 losses. He shot mediocre 9-for-25 from the field and looked overmatched on coverage of opposing Celtics guard Terry Rozier. Bledsoe looked good in the regular season before that, averaging 15.7 points per game, 2.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.3 steals. He also shot 47.6 percent from the field and 34.9 from three point territory. Those numbers all took a dive during his erratic play through the first round. His PPG fell to 13.6, his shooting average to 44 percent, three-point field goal shooting to 31.8 percent and his steals to 1.0. His first game was particularly ugly, as he turned the ball over a game high five times and scored just nine points.
6. Damian Lillard – Portland Trail Blazers
Portland was bounced so easily by New Orleans, we could easily have listed most of the Trail Blazers roster on this list. However, we’ll single out star guard Lillard for particular scorn, since he played badly by his standards. In the regular season, he and CJ McCollum teamed to form one of the better back courts in the NBA. During Portland’s brief appearance in the playoffs, McCollum might has well have been playing alone. Lillard led all Trail Blazers by a wide margin in scoring during the regular season, with 26.9 points and 6.6 assists. He shot 43.9 percent from the field and drained 36.1 percent of his three-pointers, too. In four games against ‘Nawlins, Lillard hit on only 25 of his 71 shots from the floor, scoring 74 points (18.5 per game). After going 4-for-9 from beyond the arc in game 1, Lillard missed on 16 of 21 three pointers for a sub-par 30 percent average. And the turnovers, ouch. He bobbled the ball 16 times, including an astounding eight in game 3. Overall, very, very disappointing. Dishonorable mention: Jusuf Nurkic.
5. Hassan Whiteside – Miami Heat
Even though the Heat were in tough against a surprisingly good Sixers team in the first round of the playoffs, some of their players did not perform near expectation. Of them all, starting center Hassan Whiteside underwhelmed the most. The fifth-year pro started all 54 games he played in the regular season and scored 14.0 points, while also pulling down 11.4 rebounds per game and blocking 1.7 shots. He couldn’t have been any worse in five playoff games, starting with a dismal effort in game 1. He started and hit just one of four shots from the floor, finishing with two points, five rebounds, an assist and two blocks. His best outing was a 13-point, 13 assist night in game 4, otherwise he was pedestrian. The final tale of the tape saw him start every game, but other than game 4 when he played 26 minutes, he saw the floor for just 12.5 minutes on average. His lousy stat line read 5.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 2.4 turnovers. Shrug. Dishonorable mention: Bam Adebayo.
4. Jimmy Butler – Minnesota Timberwolves
The adage goes that come playoff time, “your best players have to be your best players.” Jimmy Butler’s performance against Houston was so lacklustre, except for one outing, he put the lie to that saying. The T-Wolves big acquisition and team’s leading scorer during the regular season (22.2 PPG, 4.9 assists), only bothered to show up in game 3. In that contest, which Minnesota won handily 122-105, the veteran shooting guard dropped 28 points, along with seven rebounds, five assists and a steal. In the four losses, he was strictly pedestrian, averaging 12.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Not to put too fine a point on it, but in the series ending 122-104 loss, Butler was near non-existent. He shot 4-for-10 from the field (attempting one failed three) and finished with a very quiet eight points. His replacement, Jamal Crawford, outscored him by 12 points. Minnesota is on the hook for one more year of a contract he signed in Chicago for $19 million. He best earn it.
3. John Wall – Washington Wizards
In 2015, John Wall was a one-man wrecking crew against Toronto as the Wizards upset the Raptors in the first round. He averaged 17.3 points and a ridiculous 12.5 assists as the Wiz punted the Raps in four straight. When Washington drew first place Toronto again in the first round this year, Wall and the Wizards were licking their chops at the prospect of another surprise ouster. After missing half the season due to injury, Wall came in fairly rested and riding a fairly hot hand in four tune-up games. What should have been his coronation as a game-changer turned into a six-game loss that left everyone around the Wiz wondering “what next?” Yes, he did lead his team in scoring, with an admirable 26.0 points per game. However, just after the Wizards charged back from a 0-2 hole to tie the series and have Toronto on the ropes, Wall couldn’t find the secret sauce. Where he had 28 total assists in games 3 and 4, he mustered just 17 in games 5 and 6. And, while shooting just 1-for-9 from three point territory, he also became a turnover machine, losing the ball 11 times in two games, including seven in game 5 (the other four starters turned it over seven times collectively). It’s going to be a long summer of second guessing.
2. Carmelo Anthony – Oklahoma City Thunder
The OKC’s golden triumvirate had one major flaw this season. That was the play from prized acquisition and $26 million dollar man Carmelo Anthony. To say he was a flop in the regular season is a big understatement. He was nearly eight points below his career scoring average at 16.2 and just about every other offensive and defensive number was well down from his last year in New York. But the playoffs offered a chance to wipe the slate clean, especially since OKC was facing a very beatable Utah squad. Hard to believe, but ‘Melo was even worse. During the regular season, Carmelo at least hit 35.7 percent of his three-point attempts. In six post-season tilts, he couldn’t hit the broad side of the ocean, going 6-for-28 and averaging a very pedestrian 11.8 points per game. He must have been tired in the series ending game 6, too, with just seven points and three rebounds in 26 minutes of floor time. He’s in an option year and we’re thinking that if it was OKC’s option, they’d retire him. Dishonorable mention: Steven Adams.
1. DeMar DeRozan – Toronto Raptors
Under abject failure in the dictionary, it should read: “See Toronto Raptors, Playoff Version.” It’s almost become cliche for a franchise that on the surface has made great strides to relevancy — having their best season ever in 2017-18 — only to fail miserably come crunch time. Sure, the team got a gorilla-sized millstone off their back disposing of Washington in the first round, but they just looked scared against LeBron James, never mind the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unfortunately for team superstar DeMar DeRozan, he gets to wear the goat horns. Like John Wall in Washington, DeRozan’s post-season stat line is very deceiving. The fact he finished the playoffs with a very good 22.7 points per game is owed to his exceptional first round output of 26.7 against the Wiz. Even in games 1 and 2 against Cleveland, Toronto’s $27 million man was decent, scoring 22 and 24 points. But, when push came to shove in games 3 and 4, DeRozan De-disappeared. All he could muster was 21 points in two games. After shooting 38.5 percent from three-point territory in the first round, DeRozan was 0-fer against Cleveland, missing on all nine attempts. As an added kick in the rump, he and the Raptors cost coach Casey his job.