The NBA Playoffs are upon us, and we’ll soon have an Eastern Conference champion, a Western Conference champion, and an eventual Finals matchup. Thus far, the games have been filled with the usual action and excitement associated with professional basketball this time of year: There have been upsets, nail-biters, and, of course, those momentum-swinging dunks. And while the playoffs are packed with athletes of impressive ability and range, it’s hard not to notice the players who are missing.
Read on as we break down some of the league’s best regular-season players who have struggled with postseason success.
1. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
In his 11th professional season in the National Basketball Association, Carmelo Anthony had quite the run: He finished second in the regular season in scoring with 27.4 points per game; posted a player efficiency rating of 24.4, the second-best mark of his career; and shot a career-high 40.2 percent from beyond the arc. Yet after the Knicks’ three straight previous trips to the postseason, they failed to make the playoffs this year, and Anthony missed the postseason for the first time in his career. Even then, Anthony has only advanced out of the first round of the playoffs twice in his NBA career.
2. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
In nine NBA seasons, Paul has been named to five All-Defensive teams and owns the second-highest career player efficiency rating (25.6) among active players after LeBron James. He is the only player in NBA history to total at least 10,500 points and 5,500 assists through the first 566 games of his career, and his leadership and work ethic are praised as some of the best in the NBA.
Yet in those nine seasons, CP3 has never made it past the second round of the playoffs. And though this season’s Clippers team had a good shot at advancing, they were knocked out by MVP Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in a Game 6 that Paul put on his shoulders: “It’s me,” a devastated Paul said following the 105-104 loss. “Everything that happened at the end is on me.”
3. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
Love averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game in 2013-2014 and played 77 games in his sixth NBA season — and sixth without a playoff berth. To put those numbers in perspective, the only other players to post these averages in a single season are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Charles Barkley, Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, John Havlicek, Karl Malone, Bob McAdoo, Oscar Robertson, David Robinson, and Chris Webber.
Love’s PER this season was third behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant, and to those that liken him to Minnesota’s other, earlier star — Kevin Garnett — it’s important to note that Love reached his 25th 30-point, 15-rebound game more than 500 games before Garnett did. Tired of losing, Love has recently made it clear to the Timberwolves that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent after next season and has no interest in a contract extension to stay in Minnesota.
4. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
After being drafted by the Chicago Bulls in the 2007 draft, Noah has seen several coaching changes and a few ups and downs, but he has finally seemed to find his groove with Tom Thibodeau. With Derrick Rose out again this past season, Noah stepped up and averaged 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.2 steals, and 5.4 assists — the 10th most assists by a center in a single season in NBA history.
Noah also won this season’s Defensive Player of the Year Award, which wasn’t a surprise considering the numbers: He ranked No. 1 in Defensive Rating at 95.8 (estimated points allowed when he’s on the floor) and Defensive Win Shares (an estimation of how many wins his defense contributed to), with 6.6. Noah has had more playoff success than many — coming close but falling short to Miami, 4-1 in the 2010-2011 season — but the Bulls have been slipping ever since. Where the Bulls choose to go next year remains to be seen.
5. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Easily one of the most controversial players in the league, Dwight Howard has no shortage of his critics. Still, in his day, Howard was the undisputed best center in the NBA, a perennial MVP candidate in Orlando, a dominant force in the paint, and the league’s top defensive player — remember when he won three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards, becoming the first player in the league to have done so? Statistically, Howard has also been the fastest player to reach 1,000; 2,000; 3,000; 4,000; 5,000; 6,000; 7,000; 8,000; and 9,000 rebounds in NBA history. He also led the Magic to their lone victory in Finals history.
But statistics can’t solve everything, and Howard let it be known that he was tired of losing. After a decline in his relationship with the Magic organization, Howard was traded to the Lakers and had a disastrous, one-season campaign in the City of Angels. Howard then signed with the Houston Rockets in free agency over the summer and is showing signs of his old self. Still, with his last playoff series win in the 2010 East semifinals, Howard may be running out of time to win a championship.