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Young Talent Wins the First Round

By Asa Hochhauser, Staff Writer

Throughout the years of the NBA playoffs, older teams of veterans always seemed to be the ones to pull it off in the end. Take the 2022 finals, where a Steph Curry lead team of veterans past their prime dominated a younger Celtic squad. This year, though, the first round's theme is completely different, with young, spry teams dominating matchups against veteran teams.   

Although this has come to light in the playoffs, it's been a pattern all season. The Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the youngest teams in the league, fought their way to barely securing the one seed in a highly competitive Western conference. Teams led by young superstars also succeeded during the regular, like the Timberwolves, Knicks, Cavaliers, Magic, and Pacers. This year’s rookie class also shined, with unanimous Rookie of the Year award winner Victor Wembanyama having one of the most dominant rookie seasons of all time and several other rookies being shockingly good despite their inexperience. 

With the Eastern conference, nothing felt assured, as there was a chaotic and competitive first round. After the play-in tournament, which went the way most predicted after the Sixers and Heat won, the stage was set for a very gritty series group. The first series to finish was the Boston vs. Miami series. Boston dominated the injury-crippled Miami Heat for four out of five games, taking care of business. Two series ended in six games on the same night: the Indiana vs Milwaukee matchup and the Philly vs. New York matchup. Indiana shut out the Bucks at home with the well-run offense they are known for. Milwaukee was surprised with their resolve since they were missing their superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, along with their point guard Damian Lillard. The highly anticipated series of NYC vs. Philly did not let down. Even though the series never reached game seven, every game was played with the energy and desperation of one. All the scores were close, but Jalen Brunson and the Knicks executed to pull off a 6 game series win. The final Eastern series, Orlando vs Cleveland, was filled with uncertainty. Both teams are young and have many players who need more playoff experience, especially the Magic. Orlando’s up-and-coming star Paolo Banchero shined in the series, averaging 27 points per game and carrying his team. The home teams dominated the series, and since the Cavaliers were a higher seed, they finished it off at home in Cleveland in game seven.

The West was just as chaotic as the East, if not more. The Thunder swept the New Orleans Pelicans cleanly. OKC is one of the youngest one-seeded teams in NBA history, but it doesn’t show when they play. MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the charge, with rookie sensation Chet Holmgren and sophomore Jalen Williams also giving valuable contributions. The Denver Nuggets faced off against Lebron and the Lakers, and although the Lakers got beaten in five games, this series was extremely close. Every game of the series came down to the final moments, and behind some clutch shots from Jamal Murray, the Nuggets made a close series short. Dallas won the game over the LA Clippers in six games. The Mavericks are not a young team, but their superstar player, Luka Doncic, is just now entering his prime at 25. Anthony Edwards, the 22-year-old star from the Minnesota Timberwolves, was the biggest surprise of this first round. He and defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert swept the Kevin Durant-led Phoenix Suns cleanly, which was shocking because Phoenix dominated them during the regular season. 

Witnessing the rise of young talent is a sign of a shift in the NBA, with legendary veterans Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Lebron James all seeming to take a backseat to the future faces of the league. 


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