The postseason is coming upon us with teams in the process of wrapping up the second half of the NBA season. And so far, we’ve seen many great players rising to the occasion. But unfortunately, not all of them will make it to the playoffs. Traditionally, the postseason only accommodates the top eight teams of each conference which leaves no room for great players who belong in teams that weren’t able to rack up enough wins.
Because of this, throughout NBA history, we’ve seen players being considered good enough to dominate the game but never had the luck to earn an appearance in the postseason. Fortunately, the league has implemented a Play-in Tournament this season to give a shot for teams in the seventh to tenth seeds of both conferences to punch the final tickets of the playoffs. However, that still isn’t a guaranteed spot to play under the bright lights of the playoffs.
But surely, some of the greatest players today would love to finally appear in the playoffs this year. For this piece, let’s take a look at the five greatest players that haven’t made the postseason.
The players that barely made the list are Sacramento Kings guard D’Aaron Fox and Memphis Grizzlies rising phenom Ja Morant.
5. Zach LaVine
Career stats: 18.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks
Awards: 1x NBA All-Star, 1x All-Rookie Second Team, 2x Slam Dunk Contest Champion
Zach LaVine took the NBA world by showing us that he got hops. His athleticism is simply unmatched, as he can also score in multiple ways. But unfortunately, he hasn’t been lucky when it comes to team success. In seven seasons, LaVine has never appeared in the playoffs.
The two slam dunk contest champion hasn’t been in the right place. Although he had a great start to his career with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team was simply too young and raw to become competitive enough in the tough Western Conference landscape.
His transfer to Chicago has also so far been unproductive when it comes to playoff stints. With the rebuilding Bulls, the team wasn’t ripe enough to make a deep playoff run. However, that could change this year. Although the Bulls are currently barely holding on to their ticket to the Play-in Tournament as the 10th seed, the acquisition of Nikola Vucevic from the Orlando Magic could help their cause. With the 6’11 stretch big man around, LaVine and the Bulls may have enough firepower to snag one of tickets to the playoffs. In fact, they might even have the potential to be able to pull of some surprises this year.
With LaVine finally breaking the All-Star lineup early this year and Vooch starting to find his groove with the Bulls, it might be possible for this budding star to also finally make an elusive appearance in this year’s postseason.
4. Julius Randle
Career stats: 16.9 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks
Awards: 1x NBA All-Star
It is great to see Julius Randle finally living up to the expectations, after a disappointing stint with the Los Angeles Lakers. The undersized big man has been on a tear this season which gives the Knicks a reliable star that they have been waiting for.
Riddled with injuries and playing for the bottom seeded New Orleans Pelicans in his earlier years, Randle hasn’t made a single trip to the playoffs in his seven seasons in the league. However with his emergence this year, the one time All-Star might be able to change that.
The Knicks are currently in the seventh seed with a 25-26 record, which gives them a decent chance to at least participate in the Play-in Tournament. If the stars align for the team, Randle and the Knicks may get a chance to pull off some surprises in the Eastern Conference side of the postseason.
However, this is easier said than done especially with seasoned teams like the Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, and Toronto Raptors hot on their heels. Furthermore with games against the defending champs Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, and Phoenix Suns in their schedule, it will be a tough climb for Randle and the Knicks.
3. Zion Williamson
Career stats: 25.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.6 blocks
Awards: 1x NBA All-Star, 1x All-Rookie First Team
The 2019 first overall pick hasn’t been to the playoffs because he is still just less than two years into the league. Furthermore with his rookie year marred by injuries, it was almost impossible for the Pelicans to make the postseason, even with J.J. Redick around who has never missed a postseason in his career until that year. But despite being hobbled by injuries, there is no question that Zion is a force to be reckoned with. With his brute strength combined with agility, the 6’7 big man could keep in step with the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. In fact, he did just enough to finish third place in the Rookie of the Year race. Because of this, he is indeed one of the greatest players today that hasn’t been to the postseason.
Now in his sophomore year, Zion could make the playoffs for the first time this year. However, it won’t be an easy task to accomplish. The Pelicans are currently at an unfavorable 11th spot with a 22-28 win-loss record. The 12th seed up-and-coming Kings are hot on their heels with only half a game away from them. In addition to this, they are also one and a half games away from overtaking a Stephen Curry led Golden State Warriors team who are in the 10th seed. Although the Warriors aren’t the hot shooting team that everyone feared before, they still have the tools to win some games.
However, Zion and the Pelicans will have their own problems to take care of as they face tough teams such as the Brooklyn Nets, San Antonio Spurs, and Los Angeles Lakers in their schedule. The 2019 first overall draft pick will have to dig deep and hope that his teammates will be on a hot shooting streak to keep them in contention for a place in the Play-in Tournament. Fortunately for now, they are still within striking distance to make that happen.
2. Trae Young
Career stats: 24.0 points, 8.8 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks
Awards: 1x NBA All-Star, 1x All-Rookie First Team
Trae Young is certainly one of the best rising stars in the league today. As a playmaking guard equipped with limitless range, he is no doubt the face of the Hawks’ future. Because the Hawks are in the rebuilding phase, it wasn’t surprising that Young hasn’t made the postseason just yet. Nevertheless, he is indeed a talented player that deserves to be under the bright lights of the postseason.
Fortunately this season, the Young and the Hawks have a great chance to finally end their playoff drought with the team positioned at the fourth seed with a 27-24 record. The Hawks are currently going full force in putting Young in a position to succeed, as the team has made significant moves. First, the team made enormous moves in free agency by acquiring the services of Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Kris Dunn. However, the most important move of all is when the team decided to fire Lloyd Pierce and gave the head coaching duties to Nate McMillan, who stopped the bleeding of the Hawks’ mediocre start.
There’s no question that Young would be hungry to give a helping hand to the Hawks’ desire for a deep playoff run. The spitfire guard would want to prove to everyone that he deserved to be acquired in exchange for no other than the Rookie of the Year of his class Luka Doncic, who already made his playoff debut during the 2020 NBA Bubble last season. If Young and the Hawks continue their winning ways until the end of the season, then we might see another long range tormentor that can do a lot of damage in the stacked playoff landscape.
1. Devin Booker
Career stats: 22.9 points, 4.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks
Awards: 2x NBA All-Star, 1x All-Rookie First Team, 1x Three Point Shooting Contest Champion
Speaking of long range threats, the best player to never make a trip to the playoffs today is Devin Booker. The two time All-Star has been a scoring threat in this league. In fact, he even dropped a career high 70 points in a game against the Boston Celtics which was the most since the late Kobe Bryant dropped 81 points in 2006. Unfortunately despite his scoring tenacity, it hasn’t translated into team success as the Suns were often the bottom feeders of the Western Conference.
However, Booker did come awfully close to finally getting a lick of the postseason during the 2020 NBA Bubble. The two time NBA All-Star led the team to an undefeated streak in its final eight games games last season. He averaged a dominant 30.5 points, 6.0 assists, and 4.9 rebounds per outing. But unfortunately, his valiant effort wasn’t enough to help the Suns advance to the playoffs.
This year, Booker has a solid chance of making it into the postseason. With the addition of Chris Paul and the development of DeAndre Ayton, the Suns have become a more formidable team that currently sits at the second seed of the tough Western Conference. If the Suns can stay healthy and continue to win their games, it will be a joy to watch another scoring threat in Booker torch the nets against opposing playoff contenders. And who knows, if Booker can drop 70 in a game, some playoff scoring records could be in danger.