The NBA Playoffs are a different monster compared to the regular season. The lights are brighter and the competition is more intense. As a result, it isn’t surprising to see players shine in the season but falter in the postseason, especially for playoff first timers. However, as we all know, pressure has the ability to turn stones into diamonds.
Despite the pressure and intensity that comes in the postseason, some players have used this opportunity to showcase their greatness. In fact, throughout history, we’ve witnessed explosive playoff debuts that help players grow to another level. For this piece, let’s take a look at the five greatest player debuts in the NBA Playoffs.
A player who barely made this list is Ja Morant. Morant had an outstanding debut for the Memphis Grizzlies in this year’s postseason. Despite going through the tough Play-In Tournament that saw them knock out the Spurs and the Warriors, Morant gave the number one seeded Jazz a scare. Dropping 26 points in Game One, the Jazz had to pull out all the stops to beat the Grizzlies in five games. Morant averaged 30.2 points, 8.2 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game, including a franchise record 47 points, in his postseason debut.
5) Anthony Davis
Although still just a rising star at that time, AD proved that he was a superstar in the making during his NBA Playoffs debut in 2015. Despite going against the red-hot shooting Warriors in the first round, AD did not shy away from the bright lights.
The 2012 first round pick dropped 35 points, seven rebounds, and four rejections against the Warriors in Game One. AD made 20 of his output in the fourth quarter. His stats allowed him to join elite Hall-of-Farmers such as Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Wilt Chamberlain to register at least 35 points and five rebounds in their first postseason game.
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) April 18, 2015
Unfortunately, despite averaging 31.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks per outing, AD the Pelicans were swept by the eventual champions. Nevertheless, AD put up a monster playoff debut that would eventually place him among the best centers in the league today.
4) Trae Young
Trae Young has been the Hawks’ primary point guard and scorer as of late. However, it was uncertain how he would react to the pressure come playoff time. And fortunately for the Hawks, they couldn’t ask for a better response than what Young is doing in the ongoing NBA Playoffs.
In his postseason debut, Young registered 32 points, 10 assists, and seven rebounds including a game winning shot to seal the game.
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) May 24, 2021
With his double-double, Young placed himself in the history books by becoming the first player since Derrick Rose to register at least 25 points and 10 assists in his playoff debut.
Despite never being in the NBA Playoffs, Young is helped the Hawks get past the first round by knocking out the Knicks in five games. The Hawks standout averaged a solid 29.2 points and 9.8 dimes per game in his debut series.
3) Devin Booker
It took a while before Devin Booker finally made a postseason appearance. However, he certainly made an entrance when he finally did. Just recently, the Suns star waxed hot as he fired 34 points to beat the defending champs in Game One, to go along with eight assists and seven boards.
Booker was a torn in the Lakers’ side as he averaged 29.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game. He also exploded for 47 points in Game Six to end the Lakers’ chances of a repeat for good. It is worth noting Booker made an out-of-this world 33 points of his output in the first half alone.
With the Suns looking like a well oiled machine after taking out the defending champs and currently holding a 3-0 lead over Denver, there is no question that Booker is on the way to elite levels.
2) Tyler Herro
There’s no doubt that making an impact in the NBA Playoffs as a new comer is a gargantuan task, and all the more so if you’re a rookie. But nevertheless, Tyler Herro proved that it was possible to do so. The Heat stalwart wasted no time in making an impact for the Miami Heat. He logged in 15 points during his playoff debut and would average 16.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game.
Although his statline wasn’t all too spectacular on paper, this would be the beginning of Herro’s emergence in the postseason. Herro would go on to break multiple postseason records as a rookie. He would drop 37 points off the bench in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics which was the franchise record for most points in a playoff game.
Aside from this feat, Herro would also become the youngest player to start a game in the NBA Finals.
But despite the achievements by Herro, unfortunately, the Heat didn’t win the NBA championship as they were outlasted by the Los Angeles Lakers in six games led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, there is no question Herro put together one of the most successful NBA Playoffs debuts in league history.
1) Luka Doncic
Living up to the hype, Luka proved to everyone that he is the future of the NBA. He would immediately help the Mavericks make the playoffs just in his second year in the league. In his first NBA Playoffs game, Luka had the best scoring performance in postseason debut history. The Mavs star registered 42 points, which was the most points since George Mikan scored 37 points back in 1949. Luka also became just the fourth player to score at least 40 points in playoff contest while being 21 years old or younger.
Luka Doncic joins Magic Johnson, LeBron James (2x) and Tracy McGrady as the only players to score 40 points at the age of 21 or younger in a NBA postseason game. pic.twitter.com/GS35bwi8c0
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 18, 2020
Aside from his historic debut, Luka was a force to be reckoned with against the Clippers. He helped the Mavericks give the veteran-laden Clippers all they could handle in the first round. Although the Clippers eventually finished the NBA Playoffs series in six games, Luka was still instrumental. He averaged 31.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 8.7 assists per game, including a game-winning three point shot in Game Four to cap off his 43 point outing.