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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Ex-Wildcats represent in NBA playoffs

Simon Asher
Arizona’s Deandre Ayton powers the ball down against Arizona State. Ayton had 23 points and 19 rebounds in the game.

The 2021-22 NBA playoffs began on Saturday, April 16, and they offer a Wildcat twist to this year’s pursuit of the Larry O’Brien trophy. 

With six players from the University of Arizona and one head coach, Steve Kerr, this year’s playoffs will give Wildcat fans something to look forward to.

Here’s a breakdown of all the former Wildcats that are in the NBA playoffs and play-in games.

Deandre Ayton

First up is the former No. 1 overall selection in the 2018 NBA draft Deandre Ayton. Ayton has helped the Phoenix Suns reach the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Suns are on a roll, breaking the franchise record for wins in a season. 

Much like he did when he was in Tucson, Ayton has dominated the interior paint while also adding to the offense by scoring under the basket and in the midrange with the pick and roll. Ayton has averaged 17.2 points and 10 rebounds per game this season. 

Ayton and the Suns lost last year’s NBA finals to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games.

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Aaron Gordon

The former Wildcat and two-time runner-up for the NBA dunk contest Gordon is currently in his first full season with the Denver Nuggets after being traded from Orlando last season. Gordon has become the second-leading scorer on the team, averaging 15 points per game. 

Gordon and the Nuggets are the sixth seed in the Western Conference with a game one matchup against the Golden State Warriors set for Saturday, April 16.

Zeke Nnaji

The two-year pro and former Arizona standout recently returned from a knee injury that has kept him sidelined for well over a month. Nnaji in his second year has continued to grow in his role as a big man off the bench for the Denver Nuggets. He has averaged 6.6 points per game this season and recently returned for the team’s final game of the regular season against the Los Angeles Lakers. In that game, Nnaji played 26 minutes and scored a total of 5 points.

Josh Green 

The former teammate of Nnaji at the University of Arizona and a native of Sydney, Australia in his second year finds himself in the playoffs for the second-straight year. Green plays for the team that selected him in the 2020 NBA draft, the Dallas Mavericks. In the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Green played for the Australian national team and won a bronze medal. Green is averaging nearly 5 points per game. 

Green and the Mavericks are scheduled to play the Utah Jazz in the first round of the NBA playoffs on Saturday.

Andre Iguodala

Now in his 18th year in the league, veteran Iguodala is in pursuit of his fourth NBA championship. The former Wildcat returned to the Golden State Warriors this past offseason signing a one-year deal with the team with whom he won three championships and earned a finals MVP back in 2015. Although Iguodala remains a serviceable player, the veteran has struggled with a nagging back injury that has limited him to only 31 games this year. 

Iguodala averaged a career-low in points this year with 4 per game. He and the Warriors will face off against the Denver Nuggets and fellow Wildcat Gordon.

Steve Kerr

Joining Igoudala but from a different role is former Wildcat Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors’ longtime head coach. Since he took over the job in 2014, Kerr has led the Warriors to five straight finals appearances from 2014 to 2019 while winning three of them. 

Kerr was with the Lute Olson-led Wildcats when the team reached the 1988 men’s NCAA Tournament Final Four. Kerr went on to play for the dynasty of the 90s Chicago Bulls before trading his playing days for coaching after winning five championships during his career. 

As a player, Kerr won three NBA Championships with the Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs and is looking for his ninth overall NBA Championship. 

Lauri Markkanen

The former No. 7 overall selection back in 2017 is now playing on his third team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unlike the rest of the former Arizona players, Markkanen is the only one whose team was in the league’s new play-in tournament format. Markkanen and the Cavs lost their first play-in game on Tuesday to the Brooklyn Nets. They are getting a second chance with a game on Friday, April 15, against the Atlanta Hawks. 

Markkanen is averaging 14.8 points per game but fell to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday. 

For more updates and highlights on how each player is doing throughout the postseason. Make sure to follow the University of Arizona’s official basketball Twitter account.

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