The NBA has turned into a league full of pace and space teams, but a dominant big man is still the key to any title run. Whether it’s Tim Duncan snagging rebounds in the paint or Shaquille O’Neal dropping 40 points in a crucial playoff game, the big fellas matter. As we get ready for the postseason, we are going to spotlight the five most important big men of the playoffs and what they will need to do to get their teams a ring in the NBA Finals.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
- 27.5 PPG, 13.6 RPG
Embiid is arguably the most athletic big man in the league today, with the ability to score from the paint or behind the arc. He has improved his game each season and has been relatively healthy all season long.
He is averaging more than 27 points per game this year and there aren’t many big men that can keep him from getting to his spot on the floor. For the 76ers to make the NBA Finals and bring a title to Philly, Embiid will have to remain healthy and find a way to endure his kryptonite — the Celtics front line.
Al Horford, Boston Celtics
- 13.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG
The Celtics have had a very inconsistent season. Whether it’s Kyrie Irving and the drama surrounding his pending free agency, or Gordon Hayward playing at a C+ level, it has been a trying season in Boston. Horford has been the leader and the main component of their success during his tenure in Boston.
Last year he led the domination of the 76ers in the second round of the playoffs, providing a number of clutch plays to close out the series. If Boston wants to win another championship, it will need Horford to provide excellent defense in the fourth quarter against Embiid and the other quality bigs in the East, such as the Gasol brothers or Indiana’s young frontcourt duo of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner.
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
- 19.9 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 7.3 APG
We included the third stat for Jokic because the man has the potential to be a triple-double machine. He has been underrated since entering the league, but teams should be on notice as he is the key to the Nuggets success in the postseason.
If Denver wants any shot at taking down Houston or the defending champion Warriors on the way to the NBA Finals, Jokic will have to put up memorable playoff performances against both teams. Jokic made his first All-Star team this year, and the casual NBA fan will quickly become enamored with his all-around game this postseason.
Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors
- 3.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG
Bogut recently returned to the Bay Area, instantly improving the Warriors already heavy chances at a three-peat. He doesn’t score much, but he doesn’t have to. Instead, he provides toughness and defense in the middle. Expect Bogut to provide spells to Draymond Green and Quinn Cook in the middle periods, while also playing some in the fourth quarter. Bogut already won a ring with the Warriors in 2015, and even in limited minutes he could key another run to the NBA Finals.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
- 15.9 PPG, 12.9 RPG
Gobert is a force in the middle on both ends of the floor. He is the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year and could get his second straight award after another dominant season. In addition to averaging nearly 13 rebounds per game, he blocked 2.3 shots per contest. On the offensive end, Gobert is a dunk machine who cleans up near the basket.
Utah drew the Rockets in the first round, but it probably preferred to face the Trailblazers instead. With Jusuf Nurkic out for the rest of the year with a broken leg, Gobert could have feasted in the paint at both ends of the floor.
If the Jazz can move on to the second round, they would likely face a tough Warriors team. Not only would Golden State’s size mitigate Gobert, but the Warriors seem to have the edge over Gobert psychologically after poking fun at him for crying about missing the All-Star team. Utah has no shortage of skill on the perimeter, but Gobert is the key to an NBA Finals run.