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Ranking the breakout players of the NBA Playoffs’ first round


6. Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs

Mills already made his name in last year’s Spurs’ title run, but his legend is growing anew this spring. After having a so-so regular season, in which he missed 31 games due to injury, Mills is absolutely scorching against the Los Angeles Clippers. San Antonio’s best lineups feature him, not Tony Parker, at the point guard spot. His ridiculous 53 percent mark from beyond the arc is a big part of that. And at 26.37, he has the sixth-highest player efficiency rating among all playoff ballers. Mills is well on his way to proving himself as a starter-quality player this postseason — he could even be the Spurs’ point guard of the future.

5. John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are giving the Chicago Bulls all they can handle, and Henson’s been a big part of their surprising mettle. A tenacious defender and rebounder down low, the third-year big man has upped his game considerably in the postseason. His minutes have gone up as he’s proved himself guarding Pau Gasol, and his rebounding totals have nearly doubled. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that Henson hasn’t looked shaken in the face of pressure. The Bulls may have expected to stomp over the inexperienced Milwaukee, but they’ve risen to the occasion with the calmness of a veteran squad.

4. Al-Farouq Aminu, Dallas Mavericks

For at least one man, Chandler Parsons’ season-ending injury had a silver lining. In extended minutes on the wing, in lieu of Parsons’ availability, Aminu has done a lot to improve his value as a free agent this summer. Shooting 55 percent from the field, and a startling 64 percent from three-point land over 30 minutes per contest, he was one of the Mavericks’ best players in their short-lived playoff battle with the Houston Rockets. Based on the way he’s played, Dallas almost certainly won’t be able to pay both him and Parsons going forward.

3. Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards

This sophomore forward was considered left for dead by many, not too long ago — a bust, a wasted draft pick, a forgotten man. But coach Randy Wittman suddenly injected Porter into his team’s most effective lineup against the Toronto Raptors in the first round, and Otto thrived next to stretch power forward Paul Pierce. Shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc, he’s combined with The Truth and Bradley Beal for an ensemble of Wizards’ floor-spacing shooters that finally maximize John Wall’s defense-penetrating game to an MVP-like level. Porter has earned himself considerably more rotation minutes next season with his performance in these playoffs.

2. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

Middleton, as he was in the regular season, has been a head-turning player in the playoffs. Like Henson and the rest of the Bucks, he is a long and well-disciplined defender who is giving Chicagoans nightmares these days. Middleton’s shooting marks have been down against a prickly Bulls defense, but he’s made them when they count. He dropped in a bevy of assassin-like three-pointers at the conclusion of Game 3 that brought Milwaukee back from down double digits, to help force two overtimes. Middleton heads into restricted free agency this July, and you better believe the Bucks will have to match some hefty offers from other teams if they want to retain his services.

1. Deron Williams 2.0, Brooklyn Nets

Back from the dead is a man who used to be a primary character in barbershop arguments involving the likes of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Co. Deron Williams hasn’t looked like one of the NBA’s elite point guards for years, but against the Atlanta Hawks you wouldn’t know that. He’s led his Nets to a shocking 2-2 score in their first-round battle with the East’s leading team. Monday night, he turned back the clock and brought back the bulky-but-quick crossover that used to spend the whole league into spin cycles, collecting 35 points as Brooklyn tied up the series with a 120-115 victory. Now, let’s see if he can do it again.

— John Wilmes