We're in the thick of the 2021 NBA playoffs, and while many rookies are experiencing it from home, there's a handful of first-year players who are really making an impact in their initial postseason appearance. Some guys are getting heavy minutes off the bench or as a starter, while others are making the most of the opportunity they're given when they check in the game. This may be the most rookies we've seen play in the playoffs in recent memory, showing just how deep the 2020 NBA Draft truly was despite talks of their not being a ton of star power.
This group of guys has the potential to have lengthy NBA careers as role players in this league, and they're certainly proving it with their postseason performances so far. Here are the top five first-year players who are shining in the playoffs so far.
Campazzo's been a mainstay in the starting lineup since Jamal Murray's season-ending ACL tear back in mid-April, and got the nod to start in the playoffs due to his performance at the end of the regular season. While he was a pest in the regular season on defense, though, he's being put through the wringer against the Portland Trail Blazers as he's been tasked with guarding Damian Lillard.
In over 13 minutes of guarding Lillard over the three games, Campazzo let up 29 points as the Blazers are throwing him into pick-and-rolls to create space for their star point guard. It forced Nuggets coach Mike Malone to switch forward Aaron Gordon on Lillard in Game 2, which ended up being a significant difference maker and a main reason Denver won that game. Campazzo's still giving Lillard and the rest of the Blazers headaches when he's guarding them. In Game 3 he had two steals, both coming against Lillard. But naturally there have been stretches of time when Lillard is just making shots, which is to be expected of the superstar.
Even though Campazzo is exerting a ton of energy on defense, he's also still managing to be a big positive on offense. Just look at this nutmeg assist on CJ McCollum for the easy Nikola Jokic bucket from Game 2.
In Game 3 he was just shy of getting a triple-double, putting up 11 points, and eight rebounds and assists each. Campazzo's been solid for the Nuggets in the starting lineup through the first three games, and while he's no Jamal Murray, he's still able to bring it on both ends of the floor and impact the game in positive ways for Denver. He's easily been the most impressive rookie through the postseason thus far.
Bane's 3-point shooting has been essential to the Grizzlies' success this season, and in his first playoff appearance he's making sure to let everyone know that he hasn't lost his touch. In Game 1, with Memphis ahead of the Utah Jazz, Bane drained a 3-pointer in the face of Utah forward Georges Niang at the buzzer to increase the Grizzlies lead going into the fourth quarter.
It led to some words being exchanged between Bane and Niang, as the rookie showed no signs of cowering to the moment. He followed that up with another solid performance in Game 2 despite the loss, and although he's not going to be getting as many touches as some of the other rookies on this list, he's making sure that when he's given the ball open on the wing he's going to knock down those shots.
Quickley saw his minutes decrease in Game 2 against the Atlanta Hawks, but that was mainly because reserve guard Derrick Rose had the hot hand and was the reason the Knicks were able to tie up the series. However, in Game 1, Quickley continued to be the steady, consistent player he's been all season long for New York. He was pulling up from 3 as soon as he passed halfcourt, and put the moves on Hawks star guard Trae Young for some easy buckets from mid-range.
Some rookies would struggle playing in an atmosphere like Madison Square Garden, especially in the playoffs, but Quickley remained as cool as a cucumber off the bench for the Knicks. He may see more minutes in Game 3, depending on if Tom Thibodeau will start Derrick Rose after seeing how well he played with the starting unit in the second half. If that's the case, then we may see more of what Quickley brought in Game 1 going forward.
Heading into the postseason I was a little uncertain with how many minutes Toppin would see in this Knicks rotation, especially considering he only averaged 11 minutes a game in the regular season. In Game 1, he made a few good plays when he was on the floor, but Game 2 is where he really made an impact in the nearly 12 minutes he played. At the start of the fourth quarter, he caught a lob pass from Alec Burks for a thunderous dunk that sent Madison Square Garden into a frenzy, and helped extend the Knicks.
Before that, though, he was active on the boards and made a big-time wide open 3-pointer in the corner to get New York to within one point in the second quarter. He's not impacting the game on the same level as Campazzo is for the Nuggets, but he's excelling in the minutes he's been given which could lead to more playing time as the series goes on if Thibodeau sees he can trust him on the floor.
Maxey got significantly more playing time in Game 2 (13 minutes), and was incredibly efficient in his time on the floor. He put up 10 points, three blocks and two rebounds and assists each. Granted it's against the Washington Wizards, but Maxey is showing no fear in his first taste at the postseason. He's being aggressive on offense when he's out there, and taking shots that some rookies may shy away from. Just look at this ridiculous reverse layup.
It's not just his offense, either. On defense he's been even better -- did I mention he had three blocks in game 2? Look at his recovery on this defensive possession when he gets stuck coming around a screen but still manages to block Cassius Winston's shot. Or this play where he shows off great footwork and fundamentals to stay in front of Ish Smith and gets a piece of the shot for another block.
These plays are largely in garbage time as the Sixers already wrapped up the game by this point, but Maxey's still showing that he can make a difference.