Five Jayhawks chasing glory in playoffs
The 2014-15 regular season concluded this week in the NBA, marking the end of the road for the majority of former Kansas players in the league.
Cole Aldrich, Darell Arthur, Tarik Black, Ben McLemore, Marcus and Markieff Morris, Thomas Robinson and Andrew Wiggins? All of them already find themselves in offseason mode.
Even playoff regulars Mario Chalmers of Miami and Nick Collison of Oklahoma City are on the outside, looking in, after monumental injuries derailed their team’s seasons.
So when you start watching the 2015 NBA Playoffs, you’ll only find five Jayhawks playing on the 16 teams chasing a championship.
TORONTO VS. WASHINGTON
As you might have figured, Paul Pierce is the most prominent KU product in the hunt. Even at 37, “The Truth” still finds ways to make an impact on the floor. Now in his 17th season, Pierce averaged 11.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 0.6 steals in 26.2 minutes, and made 44.7% of his shots, 38.9% of his 3-pointers and 78.1% of his free throws.
Pierce proved last season as a member of the Brooklyn Nets he can still come through with game-winning plays during crunch time in the playoffs.
And he also became quite a villain in Toronto in the process.
A pseudo first-round rematch — Pierce vs. the Raptors — should provide plenty of entertainment. Especially when you consider how competitive Pierce is and that he is getting closer to retirement.
The 2008 NBA Finals MVP spoke about the urgency of the postseason with The Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo. As a veteran leader on a team that features an explosive young backcourt in John Wall and Bradley Beal, Pierce’s responsibilities these days aren’t limited to play-making.
“I just try to get the guys to focus in on the task at hand. These are special moments,” Pierce told The Washington Post. “You got to take advantage of these moments. There’s nothing like playoff basketball. The intensity, the smell of the popcorn, the national televised games every night. This is where good players become great players, and you try to relish these moments and that’s what I’m trying to [instill] into these guys, that every moment counts.”
The Wizards, of course, have another veteran from Kansas: Drew Gooden. In his 13th season, the journeyman power forward comes off the bench for Washington and has provided two double-digit rebound games, as well as a pair of double-digit scoring efforts in April.
In D.C.’s last 10 games, Gooden has seen his minutes and production go up: 7.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists in 25.7 minutes.
Compare that with his season numbers: 5.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 16.9 minutes.
If Pierce and Gooden can find some of their youthful bounce inside those high-mileage legs, Washington might have a chance to advance to the next round.
MILWAUKEE VS. CHICAGO
Another old man by NBA standards, 12th-year guard Kirk Hinrich has a chance to play a complimentary role for one of the Eastern Conference favorites, Chicago. That is assuming he is healthy enough to do so.
According to an ESPN.com report, Hinrich didn’t practice Friday and he was listed as uncertain for Saturday’s series opener, while recovering from a hyperextended right knee.
Hinrich, who plays alongside ultra-talented Bulls Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah, sat out the final two games of the regular season. He hasn’t played more than 20 minutes in a game since March 28.
If/when Hinrich plays, he’ll mainly be asked to facilitate and defend. He averaged just 5.7 points this season in 24.4 minutes a game, shot 37.3% from the field and made 34.5% of his 3-pointers. He hasn’t knocked down more than one 3-pointer in a game since Jan. 23.
GOLDEN STATE VS. NEW ORLEANS
Don’t hold your breath waiting to see former KU stars in this series.
Brandon Rush is lucky enough to play for the league’s best team, but Golden State — No. 1 in the Western Conference — doesn’t need to use him much when the Warriors have guys like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala.
Rush, who only played in 33 games this season, last played significant minutes (23) against Denver in mid-March and went scoreless. He didn’t play in five straight games before making brief appearances in three of the last four, highlighted by 5 points, 2 rebounds and 1 steal in 14 minutes in the finale.
The Warriors might advance far enough for Rush to be the last Jayhawk standing in the playoffs, but when you see him it will usually be on the bench cheering on one of the most entertaining teams in recent memory.
The Pelicans’ Jeff Withey finds himself in the same situation (except that his season figures to end much sooner, playing for No. 8 New Orleans).
The former Kansas pivot only played 7.0 minutes a game in the regular season, which ranked him next-to-last on the team. With big men Anthony Davis (an emerging superstar), Ryan Anderson, Dante Cunningham, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca eating up all the minutes inside, Withey isn’t a part of the Pelicans’ game plan.
The lean 7-footer averaged 2.6 points, 1.7 rebounds and 0.5 blocks this season while shooting 50% from the field.
In theory, he could get some run if New Orleans finds itself on the wrong end of a blowout. Withey last made a field goal on March 20, at Golden State. The Warriors won, 112-96, and he played 29 minutes, going for 14 points (5-for-9 shooting) and 8 rebounds.
Mostly, he should be ready to pose for any celebratory post-game photos quickly, having not expended much energy beforehand.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.