How These Returning Stars Could Shape the Playoffs
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers: 18 points per game, 9.4 rebounds per game
It was before the trade deadline that Kevin Love broke his hand and left the action for around 7 weeks. He has since returned and is already impacting the Cleveland Cavaliers the way a player of his caliber should. Being able to introduce Love to his new teammates and get him involved in their new system of play will be huge for Cleveland, as they are able to develop chemistry before the postseason. Love has provided an opportunity for the Cavs' to space the floor with his three-point shooting, and has given them depth in the frontcourt. Love also delivers another veteran and championship presence to a relatively younger team. We have already seen how dangerous Love is with LeBron James, and with some energized new players to complement them they are well on their way to a 4th straight Finals appearance.
John Wall, Washington Wizards: 19.2 points per game, 9.4 assists per game
Bradley Beal has done a great job of keeping the Washington Wizards in playoff contention in the absence of John Wall. They have incorporated a different style of play that Beal calls “Everybody Eats.” Now that he has returned, Wall is able to eat as well. John Wall is one of the more electrifying stars in today’s league and is clearly the franchise player of Washington. He is not under any minutes restriction, but it will take a few games for him to re-acclimate.
Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves: 22.2 points per game, 5 assists per game, 5.4 rebounds per game
Jimmy Butler has changed the dynamic of Minnesota basketball. In his first season with the Wolves, he has carried them into what could be their first crack at the playoffs in 14 years. Before he went down with a torn meniscus, Minnesota was at the 3 seed and showing no signs of slowing down. While there is still star power in Karl Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves lack Butler’s two-way effectiveness down the stretch to win games. This is why his return is so crucial if this team wants to make a playoff run. Even with no timetable, Butler has been cleared for contact and has voiced his aim to return before the playoffs begin.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs: 16.2 points per game, 2.3 assists per game, 4.7 rebounds per game
Kawhi Leonard has played fewer than 10 games throughout the regular season, yet he holds the fate of the Western Conference with his decision to sit or play. With a healthy Kawhi, the Spurs become legitimate championship contenders, without him they are likely bounced in the first or second round. Leonard has been cleared to play by San Antonio’s medical staff, but still does not feel ready to play. As of March 31st, “The Klaw” has gone back to New York to continue rehabilitation, so his return seems even less likely, but still not impossible. If he does return to play, it’s important to ask ourselves if he will be able to contribute like he did last season? If the answer is yes, the Rockets and the Warriors may need to keep an eye on the San Antonio Spurs. Otherwise, a normally dangerous Spurs team may be an easy first round out.
Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors, 26 points per game, 6.1 assists per game, 4.1 rebounds per game
Head Coach Steve Kerr stated earlier last week that without Steph Curry, the Warriors could still beat any team now and in the playoffs. It’s likely that Golden State will have to prove this, as Curry suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain and is said to be out for at least the first round of the playoffs. Without Curry in the first round, there is still plenty of other All-Star talent on the team, but can they handle a Minnesota team with Jimmy Butler back? Or a fired up Russell Westbrook if the Thunder drop to 7th seed? OKC is 2-1 against the Warriors this season and should they drop to 7th, Golden State could have a serious matchup without Curry.
Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics: 24.4 points per game, 5.1 assists per game
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics: 10.2 points per game, 4.8 assists per game
It’s no secret Boston has been plagued with injuries. The Celtics' second all-star in Gordon Hayward went down for the season, unlikely to return. Daniel Theis, a key reserve big man, suffered a torn meniscus and will not return this season. Jaylen Brown has returned after suffering a terrifying fall that left him with a concussion. Boston is heading into the playoffs as a depleted team. Marcus Smart is recovering from a surgery on his right hand but is expected back in 4-6 weeks. Smart is a very crucial piece to the Celtic’s defense and overall energy on both sides of the court. Boston should be able to hold out until his return, which should be a sigh of relief for Celtics fans when he is ready to contribute again at full effort.
On March 24th, Kyrie Irving underwent a minor procedure on his left knee in order to alleviate some of the soreness that has bothered him all season. His knee was found to be in great shape with no structural damage, and he is expected back anywhere from 3-6 weeks. This is huge news because Kyrie is Boston’s highest scorer and the clear leader of this young team. Even though they have fared well without him, his presence in the lineup makes them a top tier team in the postseason. It would be nearly impossible for the C’s to make the deep playoff run they were hoping for without Irving, and if everything goes as planned they shouldn’t have to.