The 2021 NBA season has been as fast as it is chaotic. It’s hard to believe that just six and a half months after the Lakers were crowned Champions in October we are about to have another NBA postseason.
Read up on what some of us at KSR think the BBN should be watching for as the regular season draws to a close.
Which Wildcats do you think will make the All-NBA Teams?
Kassidy Stumbo – In my opinion, Julius Randle and Devin Booker have the best shots. Both have been indescribably valuable to their teams this season and put up major numbers. Booker is currently averaging 27.2 points in his last 10 games while shooting 50.5% from three – enough to make him the Western Conference Player of the Week award winner last week (April 26-May 2).
Randle has had a phenomenal season in New York, putting the Knicks in a solid position to hopefully grab their first playoff spot in seven years. Last week, the big man was dubbed April’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month – a huge honor considering the ridiculous talent in the East. Right now, Randle is leading New York in points, rebounds and assists. That’s pretty freakin’ good, right?
Wynn McDonald – Booker and Randle, hands down. Bam Adebayo has a strong case as well, if for his spectacular defense alone. Another name deserving of consideration (albeit with stiff competition) is De’Aaron Fox, who has posted career-best scoring numbers this year and looked utterly dominant in stretches. There are a few other guys that I think could’ve been up there if not for injuries, but that’s probably it. I do expect Immanuel Quickley (first team) and Tyrese Maxey (fringe second team) to show up on the all-rookie lists, though.
Alex Weber – If Julius Randle does not appear on the All-NBA teams, Knicks fans will sack the NBA’s Manhattan headquarters like barbarians storming the Roman Empire. On my loose predictions, I actually think he deserves to be first-team. Admittedly biased, but Randle has played 10+ more games than LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard or Paul George and, to me, should edge out Zion for his impact on his team’s winning.
I also believe Devin Booker should get third-team attention, although it may be tough for a second Sun guard to qualify considering Chris Paul is almost certain to earn first or second-team honors. However, Booker is by far the lead scorer on the possible overall one-seed in the playoffs and hasn’t missed as much time as some of the other options.
Which Kentucky alum has the best shot to win the Finals?
Kassidy – While I want so unbelievably bad to say Julius Randle and the Kentucky Knicks, my head is telling me Devin Booker’s fierce Phoenix squad. The Suns have been hot (pardon the pun) down the stretch, winning five of their last six and taking over the top spot in the Western Conference (though it didn’t last long). D-Book has been on fire. In those last six games I just mentioned, he led his team in scoring in five of them with 30+ points. The Booker/CP3 combo has proved majorly successful for the Suns, and I believe will carry the Suns deep into the playoffs.
Wynn – Yeah, it’s probably Booker. But my gut tells me to trust someone who’s done it before, which leads me to Kawhi and the Clippers — and that would mean a trio of ‘Cats in Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson. Of course, Rondo and Cousins got rings with the Lakers last year, and Rondo earned one with the ’08 Celtics as well. But it would be a neat accomplishment for Patterson, who’s more than put in the work for it over his 11-year career. And it would be nice to see Boogie get rewarded for something he actually contributed to, after everything that man’s been through.
Alex – Sorry to be boring but it’s Anthony Davis. Let’s not have short-term amnesia here, folks. Los Angeles was the definitive best team in 2020 and will have a well-rested LeBron James in the postseason for the first time in his career. If both stay healthy, their roster is much deeper than last fall and they’ll strut to the Finals as far as I’m concerned.
Who has played well later in the season that hasn’t gotten much attention?
Kassidy – Keldon Johnson has had a really solid year in San Antonio, including a 21-rebound performance vs. the Cavs in mid-March. Johnson is currently averaging 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. While those numbers might not jump off a stat sheet, Johnson has improved greatly since last season and also during this one. In the shortened 2019-2020 season, Johnson started only one game out of the 17 played. This season, he has started 60 out of 62 games, averaging 29 minutes per match. Johnson is certainly a player to watch in the coming seasons.
Wynn – P.J. Washington. Much of the early-season BBNBA hype coming out of Charlotte this year focused on Malik Monk’s long-awaited breakout, and rightly so. But in the past month, it’s been the P.J. show: in nine games since returning from a three-game sprained ankle absence, the sweet-shooting big man has averaged 19.1 points per game, 5.4 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and a sizzling 48% clip from downtown. He was one of my favorite players at Kentucky, and it’s good to see the guy get things going after a long cold stretch in March. If they can get Gordon Hayward back in time, the Hornets could be one of the most dangerous teams of play-in games.
Alex – Nerlens Noel. The Knicks have been anything but under-the-radar, but Noel would be a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate if not for two things: (1) limited early-season playing time, and (2) Rudy Gobert’s mere existence. Nerlens is the anchor of the NBA’s no. 1 defense in 2021. He’s 4th in the league in Defensive Win Shares, second in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and second in Defensive Rating of guys who’ve played over 200 minutes. Lest we forget he’s the NBA’s top poster-preventer. His defensive impact is statistically and aesthetically freakish.
Of the UK guys playing in the playoffs for the first time, who are you most excited to watch?
*The play-in games do count as the playoffs. With that said, here’s the list of players whose teams have either clinched or are almost certainly going to make the postseason: Devin Booker, Julius Randle, Immanuel Quickley, Tyrese Maxey, Keldon Johnson, P.J. Washington, Malik Monk, Kevin Knox.
Kassidy – Short answer: all of them. How could I possibly pick a favorite? Long answer: D-Book, Randle and Quickley – probably in that order. The Suns have been waiting 10 years for a playoff appearance – and Book has been there for six of those years. I am very excited to see what he can do in the post-season. As for Randle and Quickley, I am just a big Kentucky Knicks gal. I’d love to see the Knicks win it all – especially after the monster season Randle has had.
Wynn – As Kass said, there are lots of good choices here. But for me, the easy answer is Devin Booker. Even though he’s only been in the league six years, it feels much longer, probably because he’s been the undisputed face of the Suns ever since he dropped 70 as a sophomore in 2017 (still mind-boggling, by the way). In those six years, Booker had yet to experience a winning season, let alone make the playoffs. And now here he is, leading the charge with the no. 1 team in the NBA. I fully expect D-Book to have a Jamal Murray-esque breakout in this year’s playoffs, and I for one cannot wait to see it happen.
Alex – I agree with my pals on wanting to see all these guys. I have an off-the-radar pick for you, though. MALIK MONK! He won’t average 20 a game but I’m completely convinced we’ll see M&M pop off for a 35+ game, sort of like Tyler Herro did in one of the Eastern Conference Finals games last fall. Give me Vegas Malik for a random May evening in the Hornets’ first playoff series in five years.
Thanks for reading and we’ll have you covered all things Kentucky guys as the NBA Playoffs heat up.