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2024 NBA Playoffs roundtable: Who will be breakout stars of the postseason?

Which player faces most pressure in NBA playoffs?
Jamal Crawford joins Dan Patrick to discuss Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brunson entering the 2023-24 NBA playoffs as well as the most entertaining players in history.

NBA reputations are made in the playoffs. The NBA season can lead to awards and accolades, but to be a true NBA legend it comes down to playoff performances. These playoffs are filled with legends of the game — LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard — but who are the next generation?

Who are this year’s 2024 NBA playoffs breakout stars?

We put together an NBA roundtable of Dan Titus of Yahoo Sports, Raphielle Johnson of NBC Sports and Rotoworld, Vaughn Dalzell a betting analyst with NBC Sports, and Kurt Helin of NBC Sports NBA page to give us their breakout stars.

Jalen Williams (Oklahoma City Thunder)

As the Thunder make their first playoff appearance in four years, the spotlight is on MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. However, pay attention to Jalen Williams, who is poised to be OKC’s unsung hero throughout the playoffs.

Williams took a substantial leap as a scorer and secondary playmaker in his second season, dropping 19 points with 4.5 assists per game. His 7.7 potential assists per night were second on the team behind SGA. When adding J-Dub’s efficiency (54/43/81 shooting splits), his offensive production will be critical to the Thunder’s postseason success, with opponents likely focusing on neutralizing SGA.

Get ready for some thrilling moments in the playoffs, where Williams’s versatility on defense will stand out, or he’ll showcase that clutch gene that helped the Thunder close out several games like this in the regular season. His 61% eFG percentage in clutch situations was higher than SGA’s, which is a testament to his ability to perform under pressure. I have no doubt that Williams will become a household name after a deep playoff run for OKC.
— Dan Titus

Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic)

A player’s progression in the NBA Playoffs tends to be a case of needing to “crawl” before they can “walk,” as there tend to be difficult lessons learned early in one’s career. Not to say that this won’t be the case for Magic forward Paolo Banchero, but I believe he’s poised to make some noise in his playoff debut. Last season’s Rookie of the Year, his numbers improved in multiple categories from Year 1 to Year 2.

In 80 games, Banchero averaged 22.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks, and 1.5 3-pointers in 35.0 minutes, shooting 45.5% from the field and 72.5% from the foul line. He improved his averages in points, assists, steals, blocks, and 3-pointers, while the field-goal and 3-point percentages also increased. And he enters the postseason on a solid run, having scored 20 points or more in each of his last seven regular season games.

Turnovers, of which he averaged 3.1 per game, can be an issue for Banchero. However, in first-round opponent Cleveland, he’ll be up against a team that ranked 18th in turnovers forced per game. With the Cavaliers ranking 22nd in pace and the Magic 25th, the turnovers are the one area Banchero will need to keep in check, as possessions will be at a premium (as they tend to be in the postseason). That said, the talent is there for him to introduce himself to the masses who may not have kept up on Banchero after he made his first All-Star Game appearance in February.
—Raphielle Johnson

Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana Pacers)

Tyrese Haliburton’s season has been nothing short of phenomenal as he led the league in APG (10.9), finished with 20.1 PPG (37th) and led Indiana to the No. 6 seed (47-35).

In his first-ever postseason, Haliburton has a chance to become a household name after people got a taste of what he is capable of during All-Star Weekend in Indiana.

A first-round upset over Milwaukee is in the cards and as a betting man, I’d take Haliburton to lead that series in points and assists with Giannis questionable for Games 1 and 2.
—Vaughn Dalzell

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Can an All-Star player about to be top-three in MVP voting be a breakout star?

While Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been this good for a couple of seasons now (he was fifth in MVP voting last season) — and he’s got a hotel commercial with his teammate Chet Holmgren — just how good he is seems like a true NBA fan secret. That’s because his Oklahoma City Thunder — despite being the No. 1 seed — don’t get much national television time, and SGA hasn’t been in the playoffs since the bubble in 2020 (and he wasn’t the same player then). This postseason he is going to burst beyond the NBA fan bubble and become one of the biggest stars in the sport.

Gilgeous-Alexander has an entertaining game to watch. He is aggressive, he led the NBA in drives a game this season at 23.5 a game (four more a game than Jalen Brunson, 6.5 more a game than Zion Williamson, for comparison) and is shooting 57.2% on those, plus he’s getting an assist on 8.9% of them. He is relentless in getting to the rim, and his body control will remind fans of the game’s greats. He averaged 30.1 points a game this season and had a league-leading 51 games with 30+ points. He’s impossible to defend.

“I mean, he’s mastered the shot that you’re willing to live with, the contested two,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said of SGA. “And his ability to continuously play downhill, get to the free throw line. His size, he’s a really big guard. So just his physicality and his ability to stay on balance, when he’s bumped or whatnot still be able to finish.”
Fans will see that for themselves in these playoffs.
—Kurt Helin