Last year, we looked at the rise of the modern era for Tennessee basketball in the NBA. In particular, the Vols aren’t just getting more players into the league, but more opportunities for the spotlight in the playoffs. And that continues this week:
- Josh Richardson and New Orleans are in the play-in round tomorrow night, where they’ll need to beat Oklahoma City and then either the Lakers or Timberwolves to advance to the bracket.
- Grant Williams played a career-high 26 minutes per game for the Celtics in the regular season, with Boston the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference…
- …where Tobias Harris and the Sixers could be waiting in Round 2 as the #3 seed. Harris, now in his 12th season in the league, averaged 15 points per game in the regular season.
There are others in the league, and hopefully more on the way. But these three carry the banner, one from each of our last three tournament coaches. And all three have an opportunity to move up on a select list of former Vols:
Most NBA Playoff Games Played for Former Vols
- Dale Ellis (73)
- Allan Houston (63)
- C.J. Watson (48)
- Grant Williams (46)
- Tobias Harris (44)
- Ernie Grunfeld (42)
- Tom Boerwinckle (35)
- Josh Richardson (30)
We noted last year how longevity and individual excellence are no guarantees for success: Bernard King is next on that list with just 28 career playoff appearances. If healthy, both Williams and Harris will pass C.J. Watson in about two weeks. And if the Celtics and Sixers advance – guaranteeing one of them makes the Eastern Conference Finals – they could pass Allan Houston this season.
For Tobias, 40 of his 44 playoff appearances have come in the last four years with Philadelphia. That’s four playoff games (and no wins) in his first eight seasons, before finally landing on a contender. Grant Williams, of course, is the opposite story: 46 playoff appearances in just three years, including 24 last season as Boston ran to the NBA Finals. He had 27 points on seven threes to beat the Bucks in Game 7 last year.
Jordan McRae got a ring with LeBron in Cleveland in 2016. But for regular contributors, Tennessee’s cupboard remains bare. Before Grant Williams last season, Allan Houston came closest in 1999. You also just never know, from the draft to each contract. Tobias Harris has one year left on his deal with Philadelphia. Grant Williams is a restricted free agent as soon as this playoff run ends. Josh Richardson is an unrestricted free agent.
Beyond these three, Kennedy Chandler just got released by Memphis as they shifted their roster for the playoffs. He joined Keon Johnson (Portland) and Admiral Schofield (Orlando) in making 30-40 regular season appearances this year. With the Sixers locked into their playoff seed, Jaden Springer scored 19 points in 34 minutes against Atlanta last week.
The Vols have more quantity than ever before in the league. And the three guys who have carried that torch best since C.J. Watson will have a chance to make some UT history this postseason.
Love seeing the names of some of my favorite Vols doing well at the next level. Who’s my favorite player? I can’t name just one!