This year’s NBA playoffs feel wrong for all the right reasons.
It’s the first time since 1998 that the NBA finals would be without the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, or Miami Heat. In fact, three out of the six teams left in the playoffs have never even won a title since the existence of their franchise.
If you criticize the lack of stardom showcased in this year’s postseason because the Lakers, Warriors, Spurs, and Heat are nowhere to be found, you’re missing out on the bigger picture.
We’ve got the seasoned 30-year-olds in Lebron James, still a King to many, and Chris Paul who gave the fans an iconic first-round upset (not me included). The fresh 30-year-olds like Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Damian Lillard who are suited up as this generation’s standouts.
But if you take a step back, you’re going to see a new generation of superstars creeping in from every direction, ready to make the league their own. The 25-and-under club is making moves and creating chaos we didn’t know we needed.
Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton entered the playoff scene for the first time in their careers and both started it off impressively. Matched up against the King and his Lakers, the Suns had a daunting task for their first playoff game since 2010, yet they came out looking like the veterans. Booker erupted for 34 points and Ayton overwhelmed the Lakers with a 21 and 16 double-double.
After a spectacular first round that left the Suns victorious, it’s hard to ignore the greatness of Booker, and the numbers don’t lie either. In his first playoff run, he’s averaging 27.9 points per game, 6.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists.
With a jumper as smooth as butter and eerie calmness in high-pressure situations, Booker looks like a pure veteran, but let’s not forget he was just drafted in 2015. His introduction to the postseason was picture perfect and it looks like he’s not done yet.
A player not new to the postseason craziness, we have Donovan Mitchell. At only 24, he is the offensive star behind the no. 1 seed in the league. Mitchell has a canny ability to manipulate any defense thrown at him. Unfortunately for the Jazz, they were not able to take down the LA Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals.
Jumping over to the Eastern Conference, one of this postseason’s most electrifying and entertaining bucket getters, Trae Young. With six seconds left against the New York Knicks, Young released a beautiful floater to seal Game 1 and would eventually go on to destroy the Knicks’ playoff hopes 10 days later.
His iconic dagger and bow in the final minute of Game 5 against New York where he uttered “I know where we are. I know it's a bunch of shows around this city, and I know what they do when the show is over," just shows his ability to demand attention and captivate fans in any stadium he plays in. Now some say the guy is all talk, but the numbers don’t lie and in his postseason debut, Trae Young is currently averaging 29.8 points per game and 10.5 assists.
To add to that madness, his 146 points in his first five career playoff games ranks seventh in the NBA, behind James, Michael Jordan, Anthony Davis, Paul Pierce, Luka Doncic, and Allen Iverson. Trae is smart, he is speedy, and he has unlimited range. His game is versatile, from ceiling-high floaters to physics-defying layups, the 22-year-old is legit and no one can say otherwise.
The 25-and-under club also features notable superstars like Doncic and Ja Morant.
Luka needs no introduction. In any series he’s thrown into, he’ll find a way to shine. If you need someone to destroy a defense, he’s your guy. Doncic doesn’t look like a gifted athlete, but he has mastered endless ways to score and knows how to read the floor like a vet.
Despite their first-round exit in this year’s playoffs, there’s no doubt the Slovenian superstar will dominate the league for years to come.
Ja, on the other hand, is a high-flying speedster with hang time that basically defies gravity. He made a statement in the play-in tournament by dropping 35 points, including the game-sealing floater, and securing their playoff spot against the NBA’s golden boy, Stephen Curry.
At only 21 years old, Morant is already impressing the fans with his nifty playmaking, graceful floaters, and rim-rocking dunks. Even though the Grizzlies didn’t make it past the Jazz, Memphis should be excited for what’s to come for Morant’s future.
All these young players are backing their talk up by putting their teams in the postseason. Fan favorites like the Lakers, Warriors, and Heat are no longer dominating the league the way that they used to.
We now see the rise of teams like the Hawks and Suns, who are all being led by guys under 25 years old. The league is at this awkward point where the older generation is still making an impact, but the new guys are taking charge.
A generational takeover is inevitable, but will we see it sooner than expected?