The 2023 NBA Playoffs have been jam-packed with epic basketball moments for the record books. In the midst of all the action, five star players were unable to seize the moment and improve their long-time legacies.
The bright lights are on, everyone is watching — the NBA Playoffs are exactly the place for a star player to cement their basketball immortality. These current playoffs, as wacky and wild as they’ve been, have presented a number of golden opportunities for star players to shine like never before.
Let’s take a look at five players who dropped the ball along the way.
These stars missed a chance to build their legacies in the NBA Playoffs:
5. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron or Jordan? Jordan or LeBron? The controversial debate literally never stops on social media. It runs as consistently as a 24/7 news station.
When it comes to LeBron James in these 2023 NBA Playoffs, he had a golden opportunity to seal the deal on basketball’s biggest debate.
Imagine winning a fifth NBA championship at 38 years old, as the leader of a Los Angeles Lakers team that had to run through Ja Morant and his higher-seeded Grizzlies, Stephen Curry and his defending-champion Warriors and Nikola Jokic and his simply incredible Nuggets?
Alas, it wasn’t to be, as LeBron and his Lakers were swept out of the Western Conference Finals by those very same Nuggets.
The specific knock on LeBron? “All-time pathetic” 3-point shooting in the series, as Skip Bayless put it. Until the final game of the series in which LeBron showed improvement, he hadn’t been able to shoot the basketball into the ocean. It was certainly costly in some close losses to the Nuggets.
Credit LeBron for his consistency and longevity, but poor perimeter shooting and an ugly sweep look bad on his resume in competition with the great Michael Jordan.
4. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
How come the MVP of the league simply can’t come through in the playoffs?
After stealing the regular-season MVP award away from Jokic, Embiid ‘responded’ in the playoffs by blowing a 3-2 series lead over the seemingly-dysfunctional Boston Celtics. With a chance to make everything right in Game 7, Embiid went 5-of-18 from the floor; not exactly the best time to have his single-worst game of the season.
To make matters worse, he threw his teammates under the bus in the now-infamous postgame presser. Embiid’s reputation is becoming pretty simple: He can get it done in the regular season, but not the playoffs.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
How do you shoot 10-of-23 at the free throw line with the entire season on the line?
Giannis’ free throw shooting woes have become a serious issue, so much so that he didn’t want the ball with the Milwaukee Bucks’ season hanging in the balance. After winning a crucial tip-off late in Game 5 against the Miami Heat, Giannis nearly threw the ball out of bounds because he didn’t want to get fouled en route to more critical free throw attempts.
Since when do superstars run away from moments like that?
You have to remember, Giannis called out the NBA’s other superstars earlier this season. If you are going to take shots at other players, why can’t you take shots to help your team win in the playoffs? You have to admit the optics are bad.
2. Julius Randle, New York Knicks
Always one of the Knicks’ top-two players in the regular season, Randle has simply been a shell of himself in the postseason. Randle’s playoff failures are now well-documented, and one is forced to wonder if he’ll ever turn the corner when the pressure is on.
Jalen Brunson did all he possibly could for the Knicks, but Randle’s inability to support him ultimately led to their downfall in the second round of the NBA Playoffs. As Jimmy Butler got plenty of help from guys like Bam Adebayo, Gabe Vincent, Kyle Lowry and Max Strus, Brunson was left scratching his head as Randle failed, time and time again.
1. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers
It’s ironic that he follows Randle in this piece because Mitchell was supposed to be the potential savior of the New York Knicks franchise. As we now know, that trade never materialized, and the Cavs capitalized on a golden opportunity to swoop in and grab Mitchell for their own good.
With a 71-point outburst and a plethora of explosive offensive performances, one could argue that Mitchell was actually the best player in the NBA during the regular season. Unfortunately for the Cavs and their faithful, that success failed to carry over into the postseason.
Mitchell’s field-goal percentage dropped from 48.4 in the regular season, down to 43.3 in the playoffs. The same trend applied to his 3-point percentage, which dropped from 38.6 to 28.9.
With similar failures in Utah, Mitchell’s reputation is looking like Embiid’s: Great in the regular season, not so much in the playoffs.
Check out The Step Back for more news, analysis, opinion and unique basketball coverage. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Instagram and subscribe to our daily email newsletter, The Whiteboard.