The NBA regular season is over and playoff seeding has been decided. We know who’ll be competing to represent both the Western and Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Both conference’s are sure to have some great playoff games. It seems to be that every playoff team has someone who elevates their game when the playoffs come around. This year is no different, as we’ve seen several stars step up when their teams have needed them to either get into the playoffs or fight for playoff seeding. Every team has a player who will be the main factor in how deep their team goes. Starting with the Eastern Conference, I’ve picked one player who’s most important to their team’s playoff success. Some of my picks are pretty obvious, but there might be a few that surprise you.
Toronto Raptors – DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan is the star of the Raptors. Without him, they might be a decent team, but he’s the main reason they’re the number one seed. Every legit title contender has to have a star player to turn to. Kyle Lowry is a good player, but I wouldn’t consider him a star. A lot of Raptors players are good players, but they’re not stars. DeRozan averaged 23.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.1 blocks during the regular season. Those aren’t the best numbers of his career, but it feels like DeRozan has taken his game to another level this season. With his star level play and the good play of his teammates, the Raptors will be dangerous in the playoffs.
Boston Celtics – Terry Rozier
An argument could be made here for Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum, but who’s the player stepping in for Kyrie Irving? It’s Terry Rozier. The Celtics have the same starters in place, expect for Kyrie. Rozier isn’t Kyrie Irving. He’s not even close to what Kyrie is. The reason why Rozier is the most important, is because he’s a productive player. Boston will have the same production from their other starters, but they can’t afford to have a significant drop off at the point guard spot. Rozier doesn’t have to be Kyrie Irving, he just has to be productive and make the gap between him and Kyrie not look so big.
Philadelphia 76ers – Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons is putting up similar production to LeBron James in a way. Every night he’s on the court, Simmons nears a triple-double. The biggest difference between LeBron and Simmons is the scoring. Simmons has LeBron James potential, so obviously he’s going to be the most important player on the team. You can rarely find a guy more valuable than someone who can put up numbers in every category on any given night. Joel Embiid is a star, but as you can see by the 76ers winning streak, they’ve won without him. They don’t need Joel Embiid to win games, but they do need Simmons.
Cleveland Cavaliers – LeBron James
Is there anyone else to choose? LeBron leads the Cavs in points per game, assists, and blocks per game. He’s also second in rebounds per game, only behind Kevin Love. Nobody else on this team is capable of carrying the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. Right now we’re seeing LeBron in playoff mode, putting up almost triple-doubles in every game. Cleveland’s title chances depend 90% on LeBron and 10% on everyone else giving solid contributions every night.
Indiana Pacers – Victor Oladipo
Having by far the best season of his career, Oladipo has become a true star player. He’s the guy who plays well every night, aside from his five point performance against the Raptors a few nights ago. Nobody expected the Pacers to be a playoff team because nobody expected Victor Oladipo. He can do a little bit of everything. While he doesn’t assist and rebound in bunches like his scoring, he can contribute solid numbers in those categories every game. He’s also one of the better defensive players in the league. Just look at his league leading 2.4 steals per game. That’s simply irreplaceable.
Miami Heat – Everyone
There doesn’t seem to be one player on this team who outshines his teammates every single game. One game it’s Goran Dragic, then it’s Hassan Whiteside, and then it’s James Johnson. Anyone of these guys could have the hot hand in any game. Because they have so many guys who can make plays, it makes it tough for teams to defend all the capable scorers. The lack of a true star on this team is going to be the reason why they won’t make it to NBA Finals, but because they play as a team, they’re going to be dangerous.
Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo
Every year Giannis has been in the league, he’s gotten better. A star player who continues to learn and improve his game is always going to be hard to stop. He’s averaged 26.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game. Can you imagine being without that in a playoff game? Giannis has some good players around him in Khris Middleton, John Henson, Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, and Jabari Parker, but he’s the star. He’s guy who has to produce every night for the Bucks to have a chance at winning.
Washington Wizards – John Wall
I originally had Bradley Beal in this spot because he’s been the star while John Wall has been out, but the last two games Wall has played in have been enough for me to put him as the most important player. Over those two games, Wall has averaged 28.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 13 assists, 3 steals, and 1,5 blocks. After being eased back in, John Wall looks the best he has all season long. He looks fresh. He seems to have shaken off any rust he had. His scoring was a little off during his first two games back, scoring 15 and 9 points, but he was still his normal self distributing. Wall has had at least 10 assists in every game back from injury. His ability to score and pass is something nobody else on the team has. The Wizards will be at their best with Wall in the lineup.