NBA Playoffs: Players who can redefine their legacies

Published May 26, 2021, 3:15 PMChuck Araneta

NBA.com Philippines writer Chuck Araneta names four players who would benefit the most by making a deep playoff run this season.

The NBA Playoffs is full of dramatic storylines and legacy-altering stakes. It's also a stage for players to write their own narratives, especially since some are criticized for not being able to get the job done in the playoffs. 

Here is a list of players who stand to benefit the most from a deep playoff run.

Paul George

PG has probably heard it all. The mocking of his ill-begotten nickname “Playoff P” that he bestowed upon himself before getting upended by the Utah Jazz when he was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The laughter and cruel mocking when he bricked shot after shot last season in Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets.

For a star in the league, George has been on the opposite end of a lot of the ire from fans. And what is it about the guy? He stays out of trouble on the court and off it. He’s a great defender, and on the right day, he can look like the best player on the floor even with Kawhi Leonard as his teammate.

But the inconsistency has always been an issue for George. The fact that when he’s expected to deliver, particularly in the playoffs, it hasn’t always been a sure thing. During the biggest moments of the season, George can either be invisible or a deterrent to winning.

That’s why this playoffs is so crucial for his legacy. The Clippers have a team that, on paper, should be a legitimate title contender. They desperately need George to come up big in key moments. Through two games in the first round, PG has been solid, but not spectacular. For the Clippers to make a deep postseason run, George has to show that he can be more than just a support player. That should be enough to silence the doubters.

Chris Paul

Success has followed Chris Paul everywhere he’s gone. He’s made playoff teams of squads that have no business being there, just like what he did with his past New Orleans Hornets squads, and even as late as last season with the Thunder. He’s also made pretenders into contenders. Who can forget all those runs he had with the Los Angeles Clippers, or when he pushed the Golden State Warriors to the brink in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals when he teamed up with James Harden in the Houston Rockets?

His resume is bulletproof. He’s undoubtedly a future Hall of Famer, and when it’s all said and done, he will go down as one of the greatest point guards the NBA has ever seen.

But Paul is also on the verge of joining a list that no NBA star wants to be in: greatest players to finish their career without a title.

CP3 is 36 years old, which is a ton of mileage in NBA years. He has battled several injuries, and is even currently playing through a shoulder injury he sustained in Game 1 versus the LA Lakers. Fortunately for him, he’s playing on a Phoenix Suns squad with a ton of depth led by an All-Star in Devin Booker and a young and talented big man in Deandre Ayton. They’re young and hungry, and determined to make the most of this playoff run.

But make no mistake about it, CP3 is the game-changer for the Suns. He transformed the culture of the Suns, and helped put everyone in the best role to succeed. A championship may not be a realistic goal for such a young team, but a deep playoff run will remind everyone just how good Paul is everywhere he goes.

Damian Lillard

It’s admittedly strange to put Dame on this list, but hear me out.

Is Dame one of the best players in the league? Certainly. Is he up there amongst the elite point guards like Steph Curry? You bet! Is he one of the most dangerous and lethal scorers in the league? Check the highlight reels, and you know the answer to this.

But if you examine NBA Twitter closely, you start to see that it’s not all love for a superstar as easy to love as Lillard. Yes, Dame Time is a real thing, and his range is from half-court in. But he has struggled when defenses in the playoffs key in on him, either forcing him to fight through double teams or to give the ball up. The Trail Blazers also put so much on his shoulders as far as leading the squad that even a little let-up could be a disaster. Thus far, Lillard’s playoff resume hasn’t been solid. The longest he’s lasted was the Western Conference Finals in 2019 where they were trounced by the Warriors, who at the time didn’t even have Kevin Durant.

So while Lillard is a big-time shot maker and taker, the challenge facing him now is whether he can continue to make these at a high level the deeper he goes in the playoffs. A lot of team success has to do, of course, with what his teammates do when he has to give up the ball, but Lillard will always be the first one accountable when the season is on the brink. 

James Harden

Of all the players on this list, Harden is the one who can benefit the most with a playoff run that culminates in a title. 

All the individual awards up for grabs have dotted Harden’s career. He’s been an MVP and a perennial member of All-NBA teams. He also has routinely shown that the limits of one-on-one basketball, the 3-pointer, and footwork are all a mirage. When his career ends, Harden has a case for being one of the greatest scorers in NBA history.

But we know that the greatest players in the league are judged on a different scale. Because of what Harden does and what he’s capable of doing, the expectations for him increase with each passing season. So a first-round exit or a second-round flameout isn’t enough. For Harden to truly cement his place as a great in the game, the championship is the one trophy that he needs.

Without a shadow of a doubt, this is Harden’s best chance at an NBA title. He’s playing with proven stars in Durant and Kyrie Irving, both players who have already won championships in the past. He can lean on them to carry the load, which is something he didn’t have when he was in Houston. In fact, the reason why he left the Rockets was to finally get a chance at the holy grail that he has been searching for all his career.

Harden is still young, only 32 years old, and still with a lot of basketball ahead of him. But you never know what the future can hold. Now, the Nets are in a position to go to the promised land. Will Harden be a leader or a follower?