clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Ranking the mid-major players in the NBA Playoffs

Some of the league’s best players came from humble beginnings

NBA: Preseason-Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Bad news: the college basketball season is over. Good news: we still get to watch basketball. Starting Saturday, we will be marvel as some former college stars duke it out in the NBA Playoffs. Ever solipsistic, we at Mid-Major Madness decided to rank the best players in the NBA Playoffs who spent their college careers playing for a mid-major.

Join us in reminiscing about the 10 best Mid-Major players in the NBA Playoffs:

1. Kawhi Leonard - San Diego State University - San Antonio Spurs

Kawhi (pronounced kah-WHY, as in, WHY are you blocking my shot into the third row, WHY are you averaging 25 points a game without a social media presence, WHY do you drive a 19-year-old clunker when you signed a $94 million dollar contract, and WHY are you in the MVP race when I never see you on SportsCenter) Leonard, is a soft spoken hurricane.

The Claw is averaging 25.7 points a game, 6.2 boards, and 3.5 assists, and his Spurs have grabbed the 2 seed in the west.

At San Diego State, Leonard averaged an undeniably solid and robotic 14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds. Pop has unlocked his potential and made him the most boring superstar since Tim Duncan. Lock it up, Kawhi was the unanimous No. 1 on our list. — Cal Barash-David

2. Stephen Curry - Davidson - Golden State Warriors

I don’t need to remind you of Steph Curry’s efforts in 2008 to lead Cinderella Davidson to the Elite Eight. I also don’t need to remind you of Steph’s back-to-back Player of the Year awards in the Southern Conference. It would be a waste of time to mention Curry’s back-to-back MVPs in the last two seasons, and I’m sure you already know about Curry’s unprecedented 2014-15 MVP campaign, where the Golden State guard averaged 23.8 points per game and 7.7 assists. I certainly don’t need to tell you about the Baby Faced Assassin’s record-shattering 2015-16 season, a campaign in that included 402 made threes and a 30.1 points per game average.

Now Steph has been flying under the radar — at least as much as you can while averaging 25-6-4 and leading the league’s best offense.

Steph is knocked down for his questionable sartorial decisions, having released notoriously ugly shoes twice. The first looked like Pete Carroll would wear them, the second looked like they belong to James Naismith. — Cal Barash-David

3. Damian Lillard - Weber State - Portland Trailblazers

Hot off a 59-point performance, Big Game Dame is averaging 27 points, five assists, and six rebounds for the Blazers this year. At 26, Lillard has already been immortalized in Portland lore with this buzzer-beater to send the Trailblazers to the second round over the Rockets in 2014.

At Weber State, Lillard was named Big Sky Player of the Year in 2010 and 2012. Dame was drafted sixth overall in 2012 by the Trailblazers.

Oh yeah, he is a pretty good rapper too.

The Blazers enter the playoffs as the 8 seed and will face the Golden State Warriors. Lillard isn’t afraid of the Warriors. Dame at 3. Blazers in six. — Cal Barash-David

4. Paul George - Fresno State - Indiana Pacers

His nickname might be PG-13, but his game is rated R, amirite folks?! *ducks*

Since entering the league after two solid years at Fresno State, George has developed into one of the best two-way players in the league. With a penchant for the big moment, whether it be throwing down dunks on helpless big men (hello Birdman) or cooking opposing wings with a flurry of mid-range pull-ups and stepbacks, PG is at his best on the biggest stage.

George is having a career-best season, and recently released his own signature shoe that is extremely good. He’s a bonafide superstar, and is on his way to signing a monster deal next summer in free agency. The best case scenario for him (and all of us here in Indianapolis) is being named All-NBA this season so the Pacers can offer him a special max contract and keep my heart intact in the process. Pls don’t leave Paul stay here and let us build you a statue my heart would break if you left. — Chris Schutte

5. Gordon Hayward - Butler - Utah Jazz

The man who almost made history for mid-major basketball. People probably remember Hayward most from when he missed a last-second half-court try against Duke, a shot that would have won the National Championship for Butler (then in the Horizon League) in 2010.

Hayward has consistently improved his game every year in the NBA, leading the restoration of the Utah Jazz, and is the focal point for a current playoff contender.

Hayward is averaging a career-best and team-high 22 points per game, is second in assists at 3.5 per game, and is third in rebounds, bringing down almost five and a half per game. He’s shooting 46 percent from two and 39 percent from behind the arc, as he continues to develop his silky-smooth offensive talents that mirror his forever fresh hair and style. Behind Hayward’s outstanding season, the Jazz have their first 50-win regular season since 09-10, and have clinched the Northwest division title. — Torrance Jones

6. Dwyane Wade - Marquette - Chicago Bulls

First, a disclaimer. When Dwyane Wade attended Marquette from 2001-03, the school was a member of Conference USA. Marquette was a mid-major. Just like Butler in the Horizon.

During his two years at Marquette, Wade averaged 19.7 points per game and grabbed Conference Player of the Year honors as a sophomore.

Wade turned college success into a professional ascendancy. During his 14 seasons, Wade has been a 12-time all-star, eight-time All-NBA selection, three-time NBA Champion, three-time all-defensive selection, 2006 finals MVP, and 2010 All-Star MVP.

Despite these accolades, Wade committed a cardinal sin: He tried to give himself a nickname. Worse yet, it was lame as hell: WOW, an acronym for Way of Wade.

Now in the waning years of his career, Wade is still prolific, averaging 18.3 points in his first season with the Bulls. He’s still got it.

In his first season in Chicago, the Bulls narrowly found the playoffs as the 8 seed.

Never leave us Dwyane. — Cal Barash-David

7. C.J. McCollum - Lehigh - Portland Trailblazers

Although it was his worst college season statistically, McCollum was named Patriot League Player of the Year in his first year at Lehigh. The 6’4 shooting guard earned the honor again as a junior, shooting about 49 percent from the floor.

McCollum was picked 10th overall in the 2013 draft by the Portland Trailblazers. After spending two seasons adjusting to the League in the City of Roses (he averaged fewer than seven points per game in each of his first two years), McCollum burst onto the scene last year. Since then, he and Lillard have joined to create a prolific offensive backcourt. The two mid-major products are averaging a combined 50 points.

Since his recent success, the Lehigh Men’s Basketball Twitter account has basically become a 3J fan account. We don’t blame them. — Cal Barash-David

8. Paul Millsap - Louisiana Tech - Atlanta Hawks

The second, slightly thicker Paul on our list hails from Louisiana Tech. The Anchorman (I’m not kidding, that’s actually his nickname) averaged a double-double -- and more than 12 rebounds per game -- in each of his three seasons for the Bulldogs. Millsap’s skill set translated well to the NBA, and after two seasons of mediocre performances, he has been as solid as his 253-pound frame. A four-time all-star, Millsap is averaging a career-best 18.1 points as the Hawks enter the playoffs as the 5 seed. — Cal Barash-David

9. George Hill - IUPUI - Utah Jazz

Every bricked 20-footer by a Pacers guard makes me wish the hometown hero was still home. After being a member of some Pacers teams that pushed LeBron to his limit in Miami, Hill was traded to the Utah Jazz last summer. In a more prominent role on his new team, Hill has flourished. He’s averaged a career-high 17.0 points per game, and helped lead the Jazz to their first playoff appearance in five years. He’ll be a free agent this summer, and his performance should warrant a sizable contract from a long line of suitors. Hill could very well double his $8 million salary this summer, and the team that earns his services will get one of the most underrated two-way players in the league. — Chris Schutte

10. Kent Bazemore - Old Dominion University - Atlanta Hawks

You might not think there is anything special about a player from Old Dominion University who averaged 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in four seasons, and you’d be right. Still, Bazemore has been similarly consistent in the NBA. More of a role player, Bazemore is averaging a modest 11.4 points and 3.2 rebounds this year for the Hawks.

Sure, the quality of the list falls off a little bit here at 10, but Hassan Whiteside (Marshall) would have been in this spot if only he could’ve led his team to the playoffs. — Cal Barash-David

Enjoy the NBA Playoffs, basketball friends.