Trojans in NBA showcase skills as playoffs approach

Former Trojan Nikola Vucevic is avergaing a double-double with 18 points and 11.4 rebounds per game this season in his first complete campaign with the Chicago Bulls. (Carolo Acenas | Daily Trojan file photo)

The NBA playoffs are set to begin April 16, and the NBA season is moving forward into its final weeks. Around the league, former Trojans are helping their teams make a push for a spot in the postseason. 

Power forward/center Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cleveland Cavaliers currently hold the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference standings, and rookie standout Evan Mobley has been a critical component to their success this season. Mobley currently averages 15.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game to go along with 1.7 blocks per game this season. Mobley is fifth in scoring among rookies, first in rebounding and first in blocks. His play on the defensive end is showing up in team metrics, as the Cavaliers maintain the fifth best defensive rating in the NBA this season.

On March 14, Mobley posted a career-high 30 points against the Los Angeles Clippers in a 120-111 victory. In March, Mobley averaged 17.2 points, 9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game over an 11-game stretch. With less than a month left in the regular season, Mobley still holds the top spot on the NBA’s Rookie Ladder. 

Center Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls

Big man Nikola Vucevic has been one of the main contributors on a team that is currently fifth in the Eastern Conference. Vucevic has been very productive at the center position, averaging a double-double with 18 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.

The Chicago Bulls acquired Vucevic in a mid-season trade last season to pair him with guard Zach Lavine. The Bulls already have 42 wins this season, after winning just 31 games last year and 22 games the year before, meaning Vucevic will likely make his fourth playoff appearance of his career.

Guard DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls

DeMar DeRozan, a now five-time NBA All-Star, averages a career high 27.7 points on 50% shooting from the field to go with 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game. DeRozan leads the Bulls in scoring this year and is sixth overall in the league in scoring this season. He is coming off a 14-game stretch in February where he averaged 34.2 points per game.

Against the Toronto Raptors, DeRozan scored 26 points in a 113-99 victory over his former team, as the Bulls made progress in preserving a top-five seed in the Eastern Conference.  As the playoffs approach, DeRozan will look to build on his current form and establish the team as true contenders in the East.

Guard Kevin Porter Jr., Houston Rockets

Although the Houston Rockets currently have the worst record in the NBA, the team’s young core of players continues to show promise. Kevin Porter Jr. averages 14 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game and has put on some strong performances for Houston over the month of March. He registered 29 points against the Memphis Grizzlies and 22 points against the top-seeded Miami Heat. Although Porter Jr. shoots only 39.9% from the floor this season, he holds a career high in three point percentage at 37%.

Porter Jr. is a part of a Rockets team still trying to learn how to win games, as Houston has the sixth youngest team in the NBA with an average player age of 25. The Rockets will use the final games of the season to continue developing their young talents like Porter Jr.