Markelle Fultz, guard, Philadelphia 76ers
Fresh off a regular season finale that saw him become the youngest player in NBA history to tally a triple-double, Fultz heads into the playoffs on a high note. He averaged 7.6 points and 4.6 assists in 10 games since returning from injury. With fellow youngster Joel Embiid out for Game 1 of their series against Miami, the Sixers might very well rely a bit more on Fultz and their backcourt. That makes him an intriguing figure.
Victor Oladipo, guard, Indiana Pacers
Can Indiana pull off a first-round upset against the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers? That’s one of the biggest stories heading into the first weekend of playoff basketball. It also surrounds a player in Oladipo who starred in his first season with Indiana following a trade from Oklahoma City. Currently the 22nd most popular figure in the SNIPdaily NBA Top 100, Oladipo has made Indiana basketball relevant again. A win over Cleveland would only magnify that.
Donovan Mitchell, guard, Utah Jazz
Mitchell became the first rookie to lead a playoff team in scoring since Carmelo Anthony ages ago. That’s pretty darn significant given that his Jazz posted a 32-10 record after starting the season 16-24. For his part, Mitchell averaged 20.5 points in an impressive performance that will ultimately lead to him challenging Ben Simmons for Rookie of the Year. Oh, and he’s the second most popular figure in the Utah Jazz SNIPdaily Top 20, behind only Rudy Gobert for the year.
Damian Lillard, guard, Portland Trail Blazers
If it weren’t for what we saw from James Harden and LeBron James during the regular season, Lillard would firmly be in the MVP conversation. Here’s a dude that averaged 30.5 points and 6.4 assists while leading the Blazers to a 20-8 record over the final two months of the regular season. He now squares off with MVP candidate Anthony Davis and the Pelicans in what promises to be an intriguing first-round playoff matchup.
Jayson Tatum, forward, Boston Celtics
With Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward both sidelined for the playoffs, the No. 2 seed Celtics are going to rely a whole lot on its young core against Milwaukee starting this weekend. That includes a rookie in Tatum who averaged 17.5 points on 51 percent shooting over the final month of the regular year. He’ll team up with fellow youngster Jaylen Brown in attempting to prove that experience matters very little for these Celtics in the playoffs.
Kyle Lowry, guard, Toronto Raptors
With his Raptors heading into postseason play as the east’s No. 1 seed, pressure is going to be on Lowry to move past previous playoff failures. The All-Star averaged just 17.4 points on 40 percent shooting in the Raptors’ past three playoff appearances. He’s going to have to overcome these mental struggles in order for Toronto to rebound from the early playoff exits that have plagued the team in recent years.
Klay Thompson, guard, Golden State Warriors
Now that Stephen Curry is out for the first round against San Antonio, the onus clearly falls on the shoulders of Klay Thompson. We already know what Kevin Durant will bring to the table. He’s the reigning NBA Finals MVP. It’s now up to Thompson to up his game in a big way. The good news here is that Klay averaged 22.7 points on 42 percent shooting from distance in seven games since returning from injury. Golden State is going to need that and a whole lot more if it hopes to repeat as defending champs.
Carmelo Anthony, forward, Oklahoma City Thunder
Paul George and Russell Westbrook did their thing during the regular season, averaging a combined 47.3 points 15.7 rebounds and 13.6 assists per game. It’s the struggles of one Carmelo Anthony in his first season with OKC that should worry the team. Anthony averaged a career low 16.2 points on 40 percent shooting from the field. That’s not going to cut it against the best the west has to offer, including Utah in the first round. This makes Melo an intriguing playoff figure.
Gregg Popovich, head coach, San Antonio Spurs
Just how much does Pop want to defeat Golden State after seeing his Spurs ousted in a series sweep by the Warriors in last year’s Western Conference Finals? Will his need to exact revenge include pushing Kawhi Leonard to play after missing all but a handful of games during the regular year? We’re not too sure. What we do know is that Pop is the 13th most popular figure in the SNIPdaily Brass Top 100 for the year. He’s always an intriguing personality. That won’t change come playoff time.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, forward, Milwaukee Bucks
Even at just 23 years old, the Greek Freak absolutely dominated the NBA’s landscape during what was an awe-inspiring regular season. Giannis averaged a career high in points (26.9) and rebounds (10.0) while shooting at a 53 percent mark from the field. He now leads the resurgent Bucks against Boston in the first round of the playoffs. An upset win here would etch Giannis’ name in with some of the game’s best, including LeBron James and Kevin Durant. That’s just how dominant the freak is.