82 or 16 | Are They Built for the Playoffs?

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Updated: July 27, 2021
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With all the title contenders currently window-shopping the trade market, there are potentially a dozen or so teams operating under the assumption they are but 1 move away. With the Lakers willing to package their depth for an All-Star level point guard and the Warriors hoping to convert their lottery picks and young talent into win-now pieces, this offseason has been projected to be as hot and heavy as it was in 2019. Unlike two years ago, however, the lack of free-agent depth has been substituted with countless trade rumors around the league. Lillard, Irving, Beal, Lowry, Simmons, and Westbrook have all had their share of tweets surrounding their names and the possibility of relocation before the 2021-22 season begins.

In the ideological framework of a title or bust season, it’s all or nothing, and the success throughout the 82-game stretch is only a footnote for the year if the franchise fails to make the Finals. There have been countless scorers throughout the history of this league that were walking buckets and could put up 20 in their sleep from September through early spring. But the defensive intensity, scouting and schemes, and overall effort level amplifies in the playoffs. Most importantly, every moment matters and the psychological weight of a 7-game series separates the stat fillers from the true soldiers. Averaging 22 in January becomes irrelevant if those numbers evaporate in the first round of the playoffs and your team is sent to Cancun early.

With all the big names on the table this offseason, it is this question that GMs across the league sit and ponder with their scouts about on these warm summer nights. Is he an 82 or 16 game player? Will they not only be healthy, but psychologically sound for the postseason? We have seen in recent history, even with 73 wins, without the 16 it takes to complete a title run, the chapter will inevitably be seen as a failure in history and a blemish upon the legacies of its stars.

It is one of the hardest things to measure because there is a surplus of big stat playoff performances who are still dressed with the L and early exits from the playoffs. “There are regular-season players and postseason players.” It is a catchphrase we have heard on repeat these last few years…82 game players and 16 game players, but how do we identify them?

The Lakers’ big moves last offseason in Montrezl and Dennis Schröder are the most recent examples of a franchise ignoring this variable and building a regular-season roster. But not everything is so black and white. With last year’s bubble-blowout side-of-the-backboard shot by Paul George, he was labeled a regular-season player in permeant black Sharpie. Yet, with PG-13 leading the playoffs in points and minutes played, how do we now digest and reassess his value and impact in a postseason push moving forward?

That is what makes the gamble this offseason so interesting…is that identifying 82-game and 16-game players is an inexact science. Russel Westbrook has been one of the worst playoff superstars of his generation despite his historic regular season stats. However, if the Lakers were to pair him next to Davis and James, who is to say that his ability to torch 2nd units in the non-Lebron minutes isn’t exactly what LA needs? Is it a gamble I would spend the depth of my rotation on? Probably not…however, like most teams will experience, the deeper we get into August, the opportunities will begin to dry up, and the options available to arm their roster with top-tier talent will become scarce.

Without a move made in the first week of August, will the sense of desperation and fear cause one of these contenders to make a rash decision and send solid rotation pieces for a name? Many of the contenders around the league have already sold away their draft capital. The Bucks, Miami, Nets, Lakers, and Clippers, all would need to include substantial portions of their roster if they wish to acquire a max-level talent. And the question that every front office is fixated on, is which players in the trade market will show up when it matters? It is impossible to know, but one thing is for certain; if one team is unwilling to gamble their chips on a win-now scorer, another team will.

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