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5 players who could have a breakout year in the 2021 NBA playoffs

DeAndre Ayton will be crucial to the Phoenix Suns' playoff hopes
DeAndre Ayton will be crucial to the Phoenix Suns' playoff hopes
ANALYST

With all eyes on the NBA playoffs, it is the perfect platform for fringe players and lesser-known stars to make a name for themselves. Such an example came as recently as last year in the bubble when the Miami Heat's sharpshooter, Tyler Herro, burst into life by averaging 19 points a night in the Eastern Conference Finals.

This year, there will be plenty of other names that could utilize the high-profile stage to gain the audience's attention. In this article, we will pick out five such players.

Which players could use the NBA playoffs to make a name for themselves?

Looking ahead to the NBA playoffs, there are plenty of teams that have improved dramatically on past seasons, such as the New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks. This will inevitably lead to several stars from these sides bursting onto the scene and gaining more recognition given the importance of the postseason stage.

The Phoenix Suns are a prime example of a team who have benefitted massively from their early draft picks, two of whom we will analyze in this piece. Let's take a look at the five players that could make a breakthrough in the coming weeks.

#1 DeAndre Ayton (Phoenix Suns)

Phoenix Suns former No.1 pick DeAndre Ayton
Phoenix Suns former No.1 pick DeAndre Ayton

After earning the second seed in the West, the Phoenix Suns will be relying on their leaders, Devin Booker and Chris Paul, a lot in the NBA playoffs. That could provide the perfect platform for third-year center DeAndre Ayton to come to the fore.

Although his numbers have fallen this year, Ayton has not had as much offensive responsibility since CP3's arrival. Per 36 minutes, the 22-year-old is averaging three less points and slightly fewer rebounds. However, his offensive rating has gone through the roof at 127 (his previous best was 111), while he has shot at a career-best 62.6% from the field.

Despite his inexperience, Ayton will be expected to step up against some of the best centers in the NBA playoffs. If the Suns match up against the Lakers in the first round, he will have to defend Andre Drummond, Montrezl Harrell and Anthony Davis in the paint. Get through that and it's either a matchup with Nikola Jokic or Jusuf Nurkic.

#2 Jordan Poole (Golden State Warriors)

Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole
Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole

The second name on our list is Golden State Warriors bench star Jordan Poole. In his second year with the franchise, Poole will be essential to helping Steph Curry in the backcourt if the Warriors are to reach the NBA playoffs.

He has played in 51 games this season, seven of which as a starter, and has averaged 12 points and 1.9 assists on 19 minutes. Most importantly, he has dramatically improved his shooting accuracy, up by 10% from the field (43%) and 9% from the free-throw line (88%).

In their chase to finish as the West's eighth seed, Poole was extremely efficient off the bench in his last ten matchups. He was the Warriors' third-highest scorer during that time (15.9), which included back-to-back 20-point pieces against the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns and a career-high 38 points against the Pelicans.

What will benefit Steve Kerr and the Warriors the most, should they make the playoffs, is Poole's versatility. He can be utilized as a shooting guard or as a small forward, where he played in the matchup with New Orleans. Facing the LA Lakers' strong second unit on Wednesday, the 21-year-old will have an important role to play if the franchise are to advance to the postseason.

#3 Facundo Campazzo (Denver Nuggets)

Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo
Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo

Having only joined the Denver Nuggets as a back-up point guard to Jamal Murray this season, Facundo Campazzo has been thrust into the spotlight after Murray's ACL injury. Since then, the diminutive guard has started 19 games for the Nuggets and helped them finish with the third seed.

Playing in nine of their last ten games, Campazzo averaged 9.6 points and 5.6 assists. Although he is more of a facilitator for the Nuggets' key scorers, Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr., the Argentine has a high-energy style of play and forces steals. In fact, in those nine games, he grabbed over 2 steals per matchup.

His energy and creativity will be essential to the Nuggets' postseason hopes. Although he is an unusual selection for this list given his age, this is his first campaign in the NBA, and the playoffs could play a huge factor in whether he is able to stay beyond the two-year contract Denver gave him.

#4 Talen Horton-Tucker (LA Lakers)

Talen Horton-Tucker soars in for dunk
Talen Horton-Tucker soars in for dunk

A player who garnered a lot of interest prior to the 2020-21 NBA season was Talen Horton-Tucker. Although the 20-year-old hasn't quite hit the heights many thought he would, he is still young and will have a large part to play if the LA Lakers make the playoffs.

Horton-Tucker was a prominent figure in the Lakers' strong second unit, which finished the season as the second-highest scoring bench. He put up nine points a night on 45% shooting, dished out 2.8 assists and grabbed a steal in each game. He has also earned plenty of minutes, over 20 per night, therefore Frank Vogel clearly has a lot of faith in his ability.

In the Lakers' final ten games as they pursued a top-6 place, Horton-Tucker did his best to support the team while the likes of LeBron James and Dennis Schroder were sidelined. He played in eight of them, averaging 11.25 points and recording two double-doubles, in which he registered ten assists in both.

#5 Mikal Bridges (Phoenix Suns)

Phoenix Suns young forward Mikal Bridges
Phoenix Suns young forward Mikal Bridges

Should the Phoenix Suns make a deep run in the NBA playoffs, we could see two of their players have breakout performances. Mikal Bridges was one of the unsung heroes in the Suns' return to the postseason after playing in every game of the campaign.

The third-year forward had his best season to date and recorded an offensive rating of 131. Given that he is further down the pecking order for field-goal attempts, Bridges has had to be efficient when he did get his chance.

On 9.3 efforts per game, the 24-year-old had an accuracy of 54% and shot at 42% from downtown with 4.4 threes a night. Among players that took more than four efforts from deep this season, only eight shot at over 40% and also at over 50% from the field.

Akin to Ayton, Bridges could benefit from opponents' defense focusing on Booker and Paul. He has had 12 games with 20+ points this year and will be hoping to replicate that form in the NBA playoffs.


Edited by Prem Deshpande

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