As many storylines as there will be going on this postseason, between the Heat’s title defense, OKC’s efforts to get over the hump, potential last stands for the veteran likes of the Spurs and Knicks and bids for a shot at the throne from previously second-tier teams like the Clippers, Nuggets and Pacers, there’s one semi-crucial ingredient missing from the playoff picture: The young, exciting team making their postseason debut, who gives you a sort of glimpse of the future. The teams that could’ve fit that qualification — mostly the Timberwolves, Wizards, Hornets or Cavaliers — all succumbed to overwhelming injury at one point or another throughout the season, leaving the postseason picture an assemblage of mostly known quantities.
Of the 16 teams expected to be around this postseason, only Golden State comes close to the Young Exciting Team archetype, a franchise absent from the postseason for the last six years built mostly around players in their 20s. But there’s kind of a sense of a reached ceiling with that squad. Nobody seems to be expecting that this is GSW’s first step towards ascension to contender status, as they may have with, say, Derrick Rose’s first playoffs with the Bulls four years ago or Kevin Durant’s first with the Thunder a year later.
So if you’re looking for new faces to add some extra oomph to this postseason, you’re going to have to squint a little harder to find them. Still, they’re there between the cracks, and here are the 10 that I’m most looking forward to, in roughly descending order:
10. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls.
A mid-season League Pass favorite, Jimmy Butler definitely has the chance for a breakout postseason. I could easily see him having one game in a series against the Heat or Knicks where he makes noise for his late-game defense on LeBron or Carmelo, and maybe throws in a highlight dunk or two to go with it. And the way the Bulls have been dropping like exhausted flies recently, Butler may be getting far more of an opportunity to make an impact these playoffs then he or anyone else could’ve imagined in the preseason.
9. Ed Davis, Memphis Grizzlies.
Assuming the Grizz get healthy enough in time, Ed probably won’t get a ton of minutes this postseason — stuck behind Zach Randolph and even Darrell Arthur, he’s only cracked 20 minutes once in the last eight games he’s played — but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s one game where he makes some big shots in the fourth quarter and ends up playing down the stretch. Coming off the best statistical year of his career (and one that seems to validate his lottery-pick status), and with one season to go after this one until he hits restricted free agency, he could make himself some real money with a strong postseason — and make himself a very valuable trade chip for Memphis.
8. Jordan Crawford, Boston Celtics.
Nick Young set the bar with the Clippers last postseason for late-game explosions by bench heat check guys who came up with the Washington Wizards and it’s not hard to see Crawford being the next in line in that legacy. That’s certainly what the Celtics were hoping for when they traded for him, right? Just one super-hot quarter that ends up winning them a game they otherwise wouldn’t have won. That’s about all you can ask of Jordan Crawford, and there’s a pretty decent chance he gives it to the C’s this postseason.