NBA

Which NBA Stars Have the Most at Stake This Postseason?

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The 2024 NBA playoffs have arrived and it’s another opportunity for many veteran stars to chase the elusive championship that they want to add to their resume as their title window closes. 

Here are five future Hall of Famers still chasing their first ring that have the most at stake this postseason.

1. Jayson Tatum

Year 7, age 26

Deepest playoff run: 2022 NBA Finals

Jayson Tatum is the youngest on this list but is on a team that boasts the league’s best record of 64-18 and the arguably best starting five. 

He has an All-Star forward in Jaylen Brown, the top defensive backcourt in Derrick White and Jrue Holiday, and Kristaps Porzingis to space the floor.

Tatum has all the spacing in the world to operate. At the bare minimum, he should lead the Celtics back to the Finals.

His pull-up 3-pointer can be streaky and inconsistent. They can still win even when he struggles to shoot from the field. 

Tatum has a great resume for a 26-year-old, but he has the most expectations as he’s on the top team in the league.

Best playoff performance: 51 points in Game 7 vs. Philadelphia last season. 

Best playoff moment: Game-winning layup buzzer beater in Game 1 vs. Brooklyn in 2022

2. Damian Lillard

Year 12, age 33

Deepest playoff run: 2019 Western Conference Finals

Damian Lillard had his ups and downs this season. Now, he enters the playoffs with the best roster around him. 

He started this postseason without two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo but is surrounded by the best wings that he’s ever played with, including three-time All-Star Khris Middleton.

Lillard has run into the Warriors’ dynasty three times – and lost all three.

Lillard has the opportunity to be Dame Time on the biggest stage and it’s his best chance to win a championship.

Best playoff performance: 55 points in Game 5 at Denver.

Best playoff moment: Series-ending buzzer beaters vs. Houston and Oklahoma City.

“Pressure, nah. Fam, this is just playing ball” – Lillard via ESPN.

3. Joel Embiid

Year 8, age 30

Deepest playoff run: 2019, 2021 and 2023 Eastern Conference Semifinals (lost all in 7) 

Joel Embiid is the only MVP yet to have made a Conference Finals. 

He had the biggest drop off in points from the regular season to the playoffs as an MVP last year— averaging 33.1 points per game in the regular season and sinking to 23.7/game in the postseason.

Embiid has had a plethora of stars to play alongside with, including Jimmy Butler for one postseason. Butler, since leaving Philadelphia, has made two NBA Finals. 

James Harden, who played with Embiid for two seasons, was no longer in his MVP form but still averaged 21 points and 10 assists per game for Philadelphia.

He now has an All-Star in Tyrese Maxey, who is averaging just under 26 points per game. 

Embiid has had plenty of support, but the biggest X-factor is his ability to translate his game to the playoffs— especially when he won’t be getting the same foul calls that he receives in the regular season. 

Best playoff performance: 40 points in Game 2 vs. Atlanta.

Best playoff moment: Game-winning buzzer beater in Game 3 at Toronto.

4. Paul George

Year 14, age 33

Deepest playoff run: 2013 Eastern Conference Finals (lost in 7)

Paul George is the total package. He’s an elite two-way player but has had his fair share of shooting struggles in the playoffs.

He’s played with an MVP in Russell Westbrook for two playoff runs and he’s had one true healthy playoff run (2020) with two-time FMVP Kawhi Leonard in four seasons. 

The Los Angeles Clippers advanced to their first Western Conference Finals despite Leonard going down in the second round. The following year, Leonard missed the entire season to recover from his partially torn ACL, and the Clippers missed the playoffs. 

Last year, George went down with a knee sprain that kept him out of the postseason. 

George has ran into a LeBron James-led team four times— and lost each one.

After giving himself the nickname “Playoff P,” in front of him sits another opportunity for George to live up to that nickname.

Best playoff performance: 37 points and 16 rebounds without Kawhi in Game 5 at Utah.

Best playoff moment: Posterizing dunk over Chris Anderson in Game 2 at Miami.

5. James Harden

Year 15, age 34

Deepest playoff run: 2012 NBA Finals appearance as a the Sixth Man of the Year, 2018 Western Conference Finals Game 7 loss

James Harden may not be in MVP form that he once was, but he’s changed his role and he remains productive. 

He’s had numerous playoff runs with hall of famers in Kevin Durant, Westbrook, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Embiid, Leonard and George. 

But also, unfortunately, Harden has ran into the Warriors’ dynasty four times – and lost all four times.

Best playoff performance: 45 points in Game 1 vs. Boston last season.

Best playoff moment: Game-winning 3-pointer in Game 1 vs. Boston last season.

Five future Hall of Famers players are chasing their first championship. If two of these players make the finals, it’s guaranteed that a future Hall of Famer will have his first championship on his resume. 

Honorable mentions: Karl-Anthony Towns and Bradley Beal.

At the end of the day, these players make millions. No pressure. Just expectations.

About Mac Pham

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