NBA

Five players we're excited to see make their playoff debuts this season

The NBA playoffs get underway in just a few weeks time on NBA League Pass with several teams on track to break extended post-season droughts.

The Phoenix Suns are flying high in second place in the Western Conference, ready to return to the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons, while the New York Knicks are the hottest team in the league and on track to end their seven-year absence.

The Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls haven't made it through in four seasons and the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies three, meaning six of the seven longest active playoff droughts could come to a close this season, which will see plenty of fresh faces hooping on the NBA's biggest stage.

With that in mind, let's take a look at five players we're most excited to see make their playoff debuts in 2021.

Devin Booker

#Booker

Six seasons into his NBA career and two All-Star selections later, Devin Booker has blossomed into an elite-level scorer for the Phoenix Suns, but he's had to watch the playoffs from home every year.

After going 8-0 in the bubble, the Suns barely missed out on last season's playoffs, but it's been a different story in 2020-21.

Booker and the Suns are flying, sitting second in the Western Conference (42-18), with a playoff appearance on the horizon, thanks to his deadly combination with Chris Paul, the emergence of youngsters Deandre Ayton and Cam Johnson and the veteran experience of Jae Crowder.

For the franchise, a return to the postseason for the first time since 2009-10 season Steve Nash running pick-and-rolls with Amar'e Stoudemire.

Booker is averaging 25.3 points, 4.5 assists, 4.1 rebounds on 48.2 percent shooting and 34.9 percent from deep

Julius Randle

In his second season at Madison Square Garden, Julius Randle has made the leap, becoming the franchise player and cultural leader of the Knicks.

The Most Improved Player of the Year candidate is enjoying his best season in the league, earning his first All-Star selection and now he has the Knicks on track to make their first playoff appearance since 2013.

His growth under head coach Tom Thibodeau has been remarkable and not only is he a walking 20-10 guy, he's expanded his range beyond the 3-point line, knocking down 41.6 percent of his triples.

With home-court advantage well within their sights, I think it's safe to say, the Knicks are back!

Trae Young

Young and the Hawks stumbled out of the blocks this season, but they've turned things around under new coach Nate McMillan, going 19-7 since he took the reigns.

The 22-year-old is currently nursing an ankle injury but is expected to be back on court this week as the Hawks look to snatch the No.4 seed from the New York Knicks, currently holding the same 34-27 record.

While the Hawks have been getting solid contributions all the way down the roster, from John Collins, Danilo Gallinari, Clint Capela, Bogdan Boganovic and newly acquired bench scorer Lou Williams, Young is the one that makes everything tick for the Hawks, currently averaging 25.3 points per game and 9.6 assists, good for third in the NBA, while becoming one of the league's best closers, currently 12th in clutch scoring.

Between his combination of elite playmaking and long-range 3-point shooting, Young will be one of the box office attractions in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Ja Morant

Is there a more exciting player to watch in the NBA right now?

A player who elicits "oohs and ahhs" from crowds in any arena he visits, Morant and the Grizzlies are looking to take the next step after missing out on the post-season last year after going down in the Play-In game.

Despite playing without big man Jaren Jackson Jr. for most of the season, the Grizzlies are currently in the mix for a spot in the Play-In seeds, sitting eighth in the Western Conference, 2.0 games back of the sixth seed Dallas Mavericks with just 13 games to go.

According to Tankathon, they have the third-easiest remaining schedule, so their hopes of avoiding the Play-In Tournament are well and truly alive.

Whether it's in the Play-In Tournament or the playoffs, Morant is must-see TV.

Miles Bridges

You can't open Twitter or Instagram without seeing another high-flying dunk from Miles Bridges.

Every night, the Hornets swingman is liable to set social media alight with his array of above-the-rim plays, but while he's best known for his dunking, Bridges has quietly developed into a productive offensive player for the Hornets.

Across his past 15 games, Bridges is averaging 18.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game on 51.3 percent shooting and 46 percent from beyond the arc, with his efficiency not taking a hit with his increased role on the team during the absences of LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward.

The 23-year-old is flirting with a 50-40-90 season and has developed into one of the league's elite catch-and-shoot players.

"He's taken a major jump here to be at shooting those numbers," Hornets head coach James Borrego said. "He's worked on his game. His 3-point shot has become more and more of a weapon for him. He's much more confident [in] catch and shoot [opportunities]. His ability to shoot off the bounce is there as well.

With the Hornets (30-30) currently holding the eighth seed in the East, a spot in the Play-In tournament seems most likely for the young squad.

LaMelo Ball is an obvious candidate for this list as he races the clock to be healthy in time for the post-season as he recovers from a fractured wrist.

Prior to his injury, the 19-year-old was the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year and after missing 19 games, he is pushing to return to the court in the next week or so. If he can come back in time for the tail end of the season, watching his one-two punch with Bridges will be a welcome sight for fans around the league.

Honorable Mentions:

Zach LaVine: The Bulls All-Star has yet to feature in the postseason and they face an uphill battle to sneak into the Play-In seeds with the Wizards' eight-game win streak vaulting them into the 10th seed.

Zion Williamson: Williamson has been a dominant force for the Pelicans, putting up 27 points and 7.3 rebounds a game, but their path to the playoffs is becoming increasingly unlikely as they sit 4.0 games back of the Golden State Warriors for the 10th and final Play-In seed in the West.

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