Everything ramps up during the NBA playoffs -- the talent, the intensity, the pressure to come through in the clutch. And this also creates a tremendous opportunity for players to rise up and show what they're capable of when it matters most.
Here are ESPN fantasy basketball experts André Snellings and Eric Moody for more on the players who have emerged during the 2021-22 NBA playoffs and improved their fantasy outlook heading into next season.
Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies
Bane's breakout began during the regular season, where he doubled his production from his rookie season to his sophomore, up to 18.2 PPG with 3.0 3PG. Those numbers are very similar to his overall playoffs averages of 18.8 PPG and 3.6 3PG, but a closer look shows that Bane was demolishing those numbers through the first round, averaging 27.0 PPG and 5.8 3PG through the last four games of the win over Minnesota before a back injury slowed him through most of the second round vs. Golden State.
He recovered enough get back to 23.0 PPG and 4.0 3PG in the last two games against the Warriors, to reiterate what he projects to next season. In his magical third season, Bane could very well score in the mid-20s per game and be among the league-leaders in 3-pointers. He ended the regular season ranked in the 50s in my fantasy rankings, but if he is who he showed himself to be in the playoffs, he could knock on top-25 value for next season's drafts. -- Snellings
Jordan Poole, Golden State Warriors
All season, Poole's playmaking ability was on display, and through the second round of the playoffs he has averaged 18.6 PPG, 4.1 APG and 3.4 RPG this season (combining the regular season and playoffs). Poole was selected with the No. 28 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and only scored 8.8 PPG between the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons. At the time he was drafted, many thought Poole was a reach to be selected at the end of the first round, but he has proven he's ready for the brightest spotlight. Along with his natural talents, Poole has been able to absorb best practices from some of the best minds in the league. He is trusted by the Warriors, and fantasy managers should feel the same way. As one of the top playmakers for the Warriors, Poole is a perfect blend of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. -- Moody
Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers
Ben Simmons's situation made Maxey an under-the-radar beneficiary. He averaged 17.9 PPG, 4.2 APG and 3.2 RPG in the 2022 regular season and playoffs. What an improvement compared to his rookie season in 2020-2021, when he averaged only 6.1 PPG with Simmons. With his speed and aggressiveness on the court, Maxey proved he could coexist with James Harden and Joel Embiid as a third option. When you consider that the trio didn't have much time to develop chemistry following the big trade at midseason, this is even more impressive. Maxey's fantasy outlook remains positive regardless of whether Harden returns or not. -- Moody
Jalen Brunson, Dallas Mavericks
Brunson's breakthrough in the playoffs came to fruition at a perfect time for the Mavericks. He's averaged 22.9 PPG in 13 playoff games thus far, 6.3 PPG more than he put up during the regular season. Due to Brunson's epic playoff performances that kept the Mavericks championship dreams alive, he has become a household name. This summer, Brunson will enter unrestricted free agency to seek a more prominent role with another team. This bodes well for his fantasy prospects in 2022. -- Moody
De'Andre Hunter, Atlanta Hawks
Hunter is another who revived his fantasy prospects during the postseason by showing that he was healthy and still capable of playing at a high level. Hunter was the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and showed promising signs in his first couple seasons before injuries derailed him. He played only 23 games as a sophomore, and missed almost 30 this season while regressing in almost every area. But, in the postseason, it wasn't superstar Trae Young that led the Hawks in scoring. It was instead Hunter, who improved from 13.4 PPG in the regular season to 21.2 in the playoffs.
And he got stronger in each successive game, improving from 14 points, 3 rebounds, 2 3-pointers in Game 1 up to 35 points, 11 rebounds and 3 3-pointers in Game 5. Hunter closed the season ranked 174th in my fantasy rankings, but if he's healthy and settles into a key role for the Hawks next season, he could be worth considering in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts. -- Snellings
Oladipo was once a fantasy impact player, but injuries have caused him to miss the majority of the last three seasons. During this regular season, he played only eight games and could no longer be relied upon as a regular producer. However, he has already played eight games in the playoffs, starting one, and shown that he can still produce when given minutes and opportunity. Oladipo is a free agent this offseason, and if he convinces a team that he may return to anywhere near his former All-Star form with his improved health, he still has fantasy starter upside despite having fallen completely out of the rankings during his years of injury. -- Snellings
Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls
Williams was the No. 4 overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, and had a solid if unspectacular rookie season. He was drafted a strong, athletic defensive wing that might develop into the type of do-everything forward that has become so valuable in today's NBA. He was injured for the vast majority of the regular season, missing 65 games and turning in similar numbers as his rookie season. In the playoffs, he started every game and his volume production improved across the board. The Bulls are guard-heavy, and would love for Williams to develop into a strong starter in his third season. He finished the regular season ranked 231st in my rankings, but if he improves on his playoffs performance and solidifies his starting role he could be a worthy late round fantasy sleeper prospect for next season. -- Snellings
Jones was one of the NBA's best backup point guards during the regular season and played well against the Warriors in the second round of the playoffs after Ja Morant was lost to injury. While Morant missed 25 games during the regular season, Jones thrived each time he was out, averaging 12.7 PPG, 6.6 APG and 3.2 RPG while shooting 32% on 3-pointers. With Jones as the starter, Memphis finished 19-4 in the regular season. Additionally, he showed his value during a contract year at the league's most important position. Jones is likely to sign with another team this summer as Morant is expected to sign a long-term extension with the Grizzlies. -- Moody