Playoff basketball is a whole different animal.
The defense gets turned up to another level, as does the intensity and pressure, and teams have a chance to make multiple adjustments as the series progresses. Rookies often struggle come playoff time given the magnitude of the moment - and that's only if they manage to reach the postseason with most first-year players stuck on struggling teams.
This year's rookie class is as good as we have seen in quite some time. Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum each have had remarkable regular seasons. The Rookie of the Year race will come down to Simmons and Mitchell, though Tatum ending up as the best player of the rookie bunch wouldn't surprise anyone who has watched him.
But even the youngsters are judged separately on their playoff performances, and all of the highs and lows that come with the challenges of postseason competition.
Let's take a look at how the top three rookies have fared under the bright lights of the NBA playoffs...
Donovan Mitchell, Jazz
Playoff stats: 24.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 42.0 FG%, 31.3 3PT%, 16.7 PER
A sensational first-round performance by Mitchell had the NBA world buzzing. The Thunder simply had no answer for Mitchell. He was brilliant, averaging 28.5 points per game on 46.2 percent shooting from the field and 36.4 percent from 3-point range.
The second round against the Rockets didn't go quite as smoothly for Mitchell. Mitchell shot just 36.0 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from deep while averaging only 19.4 points in the series. He laid a massive egg in Game 3, managing only 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. But Mitchell bounced back in Game 4 and continued to battle throughout the series, laying the foundation for a bright future.
"I could not be more satisfied with the way he responded from his game the other night," head coach Quin Snyder said when asked about Mitchell's Game 4 efforts. "And it didn't come easy. It's not like at the beginning of the game, everything just opened up for him. It wasn't easy."
Mitchell has clearly become the emotional leader for the Jazz - urging the crowd to get louder, challenging his teammates and opponents and knowing when he has to get more aggressive with his scoring. His 22-point outburst in the third quarter of Game 5 is proof of that.
Mitchell struggled at times during his first playoff run, but he sure has not been afraid of the moment.
Ben Simmons, 76ers
Playoff stats: 16.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 48.2 FG%, 1.9 steals, 16.6 PER
Simmons is getting a dose of humility.
Even with a more active Game 4 performance (19 points, 13 rebounds, five assists), the self-proclaimed Rookie of the Year has struggled mightily in the Sixers' second-round series against the Celtics. The best defensive team in the league has exposed the glaring weakness of Simmons' game - he can't shoot.
Boston has sagged off of Simmons when he has the ball outside of the paint, but not enough to give him a clear path to the basket. The Celtics are fully aware that he is not looking to shoot, and it has created a lot of problems for Simmons and the Sixers offensively.
All year long, Simmons has been able to bully his way into the paint using his 6-10 frame and lightning quickness. By throwing big, physical defenders like Al Horford and Marcus Morris in his way and sending help at the right times, the Celtics have created an invisible fence around the area where Simmons finds most of his scoring opportunities. It has caused him to look disengaged and lacking in confidence at times.
Simmons was able to play off the ball in Game 4, as head coach Brett Brown inserted T.J. McConnell into the starting lineup. With McConnell serving as the primary ball handler, the Celtics couldn't focus solely on Simmons as the primary creator. The ball moved with more energy, and the increased touches kept others involved. It could be the change Simmons needs in order to get going offensively.
To call Simmons' first postseason a failure would be shortsighted. He was impressive in the Sixers' first-round victory over the Heat, putting up 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game. Unfortunately for Simmons, he is going up against the best defense in the league with a coach in Brad Stevens who has figured him out.
Jayson Tatum, Celtics
Playoff stats: 18.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 45.2 FG%, 31.1 3PT%, 16.8 PER
After some early postseason struggles in the Celtics' first-round series against the Bucks, Tatum has taken his game to another level against the Sixers. Game 4 was his sixth consecutive playoff game with 20 or more points, the most for a rookie in Celtics playoff history (passing Larry Bird). He has scored 20 or more in seven of his eleven playoff games.
Tatum has completely outplayed Simmons in their second-round matchup. He has easily looked like the more seasoned player, as Stevens has gone so far as to run the entire offense through Tatum during certain stretches.
What has been especially impressive is that Tatum has looked nothing like a rookie in his first postseason. He plays with the poise of a veteran, and he has not fallen in love with the 3-point shot. In the Celtics' thrilling Game 3 overtime victory, seven of his 11 field goals came at the rim (11 of 17 from the field overall).
Could Tatum be the rookie with the most upside? It is beginning to be a legitimate argument.