Life in the NBA is never easy for rookies. Nowadays, players are drafted at such a young age that it can take a few years until they get up to speed. That’s why it’s become a rarity for rookies to hit the ground running, especially during their first playoff experience. Naturally, there are always a few exceptions. That’s why we compiled a list of the five best performances from rookies getting their first taste of the NBA Playoffs.
As a rookie, Tatum was an immediate difference-maker for the Celtics, who pushed the Cavaliers to seven games in the Conference Finals after bowing out in five games against Cleveland the previous year. Obviously, his playoff prowess has improved since then. But as a rookie, he averaged 18.5 points per game in the playoffs, and that was after scoring 13.9 points per game during the regular season.
He also became just the second rookie to have at least 10 playoff games with 20 or more points. In a way, it was Tatum’s coming-out party as one of Boston’s most important building blocks for the future. Even LeBron James said after the Conference Finals that Tatum was “built for stardom.”
In fairness, Robinson was nearly 25 by the time he played his first playoff game, as he served in the Navy before his NBA career. Nevertheless, over 10 playoff games as a rookie, Robinson matched the 24.3 points and 12 rebounds per game that he averaged during the regular season.
Unfortunately, his efforts weren’t enough to get San Antonio past the Trail Blazers in the Conference Semifinals, as the Spurs lost Game 7 in overtime. But Robinson’s strong playoff performance did foreshadow him eventually helping the Spurs to a pair of championships.
It’s no wonder that Mitchell’s playoff prowess has only grown after how good he was as a rookie. He averaged 24.4 points and over four assists per game over 11 games.
It was enough to get the Jazz past Oklahoma City Thunder in the First Round before falling to the Rockets in five games. However, Mitchell showed in that series that he clearly has a flair for the dramatic and thrives on a big stage.
After winning Rookie of the Year honors by averaging 28.8 points and 14.5 rebounds per game, Abdul-Jabbar reached another level in the playoffs. Over 10 games, he averaged 35.2 points and 16.8 rebounds per game. It ended up being perhaps his best playoff performance, as he ultimately averaged 24.3 points and 10.5 rebounds over 237 career playoff games.
Unfortunately, it was only enough to see the Bucks lose in the Conference Finals in five games.
Nobody was more magical in the playoffs as a rookie than Magic himself. Oddly enough, Abdul-Jabbar won league MVP honors during the 1979-80 season, but it was Magic who stole the show in the playoffs, averaging a double-double with 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, not to mention 9.4 assists and 3.1 steals per game.
That means he was less than 10 assists away from averaging a triple-double in the playoffs. Nevertheless, Magic won Finals MVP and helped the Lakers to their first championship in nearly a decade.