NBA: Unsung Heroes Who Will Come Up Big in the Push to Playoffs
With just under two-thirds of the season melted off, it's getting to the point where teams have to pull themselves together and either get ready for a run to get into playoff position, or simply insert themselves into the playoffs altogether.
It's not something that always happens, but there are generally a few players around the league who step up their game to help their team get into the playoffs, or help move them into a better position to succeed.
We're talking about guys who are generally afterthoughts following the team's star players. The guys who grind all season long for their mid-level contracts and end up getting little national love are the ones who can push teams over the top.
Sure, if you've got a guy like LeBron James or Kevin Durant your team can rely on those mid-level guys much less, but teams a bit further down the list will consistently rely on the less-than-household names to get things done.
There are a handful of players to watch out for, especially in the coming weeks with big games with serious playoff implications coming up.
The New York Knicks relied heavily on Steve Novak to lead them from the three-point line last season, and he came through time and time again.
Novak led the league in three-point percentage and shot an insatiable 48 percent from the three-point line in the final 30 games of the season.
The only problem the Knicks find themselves with at this point is that there are too many hands that want to put up shots, leaving Novak cold and alone on the perimeter.
Despite his increased minutes (he's averaging nearly three more minutes per game), Novak is shooting the ball less and finding himself less involved in the offense.
Nonetheless, he's shooting nearly 45 percent from the three-point line, and it's just a matter of time before the Knicks realize that he's the guy they want to run a play for around the three-point line, instead of J.R. Smith.
Perhaps he won't be so unsung when you consider the fact that the Milwaukee Bucks traded for him, but J.J. Redick, playing alongside Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, will be a breath of fresh air.
The Bucks now have themselves a guard who doesn't shoot simply because he's got the ball in his hands, who makes the smart pass out of trouble more times than not.
Rather than dribbling at the top of the key for two-thirds of the shot clock, he'll get the ball moving early, start prodding the defense for an opening and find the best shot to take given the situation.
He's not going to be the big-money guy that either Ellis or Jennings will be this offseason, but he will have the chance to get a decent-sized contract after the Bucks realize how important he can be to a playoff team.
The constantly sweaty Gordon Hayward continues to gain notoriety as a basketball player based on the fact that he's got a name that gives you the mental image of a 75-year-old man sitting in a rocking chair, and he consistently does awesome things while playing.
While he's properly identified as a solid three-point shooter, there's a lot more to his game, even in a slightly down year like this.
Hayward has the capability of being the surprising anchor of the Jazz perimeter defense as he's constantly active, good at playing the passing lanes and an absolute hound dog when the game is on the line.
While the offense moves through the post with Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, Hayward is a terrific cutter and perimeter player.
Whenever you've got a guy on your team who is almost unanimously disliked by the fans of every other team, you know he's having some kind of affect on the game.
Generally described as a low-down, dirty player, Matt Barnes does what it takes to keep playing in the NBA, and that's just the type of guy the Los Angeles Clippers need.
It's nice when he hits a shot and maybe an open three-pointer here and there, but with so many offensive weapons that's not the reason he's on the floor.
The Clippers have few players who are able to give them a sharp edge on defense, and Barnes is just that character.
He's basically doing the job that they hoped Grant Hill would be capable of doing all season long, only he's been a part of the team all year, he's worked up some chemistry with the guys he's been playing with and he adds something that Hill doesn't.
Barnes has that factor that enables him to get under other players' skin, and there's always the possibility of him being the reason a guy gets a technical foul, or just loses his cool.
Metta World Peace
As the Los Angeles Lakers make the push to find their way to the playoffs, they're going to need somebody to anchor their perimeter defense.
While Dwight Howard continues to work his way into shape they have a bit less of a post presence that they would have hoped, so they're going to need to be able to cover their opponent's best perimeter player with ferocity.
That's where Metta World Peace comes in.
With Kobe Bryant still struggling as a perimeter defender this year, and Steve Nash still existing as Steve Nash, MWP becomes all the more important down the stretch.
As he's aged, World Peace has been given more derision than anything for his decline on offense, but his defense has barely slipped as his body remains in tip-top condition.
With Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Omer Asik the main focal points of the Houston Rockets after the past offseason, it's easy to realize how Chandler Parsons would go mostly unnoticed on the up-and-coming team.
However, Parsons has been key to a lot of Houston's success in just his second year after being drafted out of Florida.
Parsons is really a do-it-all forward, averaging 14.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists in Houston's fast-paced offense. He's done an incredible job giving the Rockets a ton of size at the small forward spot and helping to space the floor.
C.J. Watson is the type of guy that season ticket holders and guys that watch their team religiously gush about. Whenever he gets on the floor the offense flows, guys seem very in synch and there's an impressive step up in the defensive presence.
Watson did it with Chicago last year, so it should come as a surprise to nobody that he's been able to do the same with the Brooklyn Nets this year.
He doesn't score a lot. He's almost specifically effective as a three-point shooter and nothing more as far as scoring goes. But he knows how to run an offense, and he knows how to play defense, which is about as much as you can ask from your backup point guard.
To give you an idea of just how seamlessly he's able to come in and help his team out, Watson has come out and started (and played starter's minutes) in place of Deron Williams twice in the past four games.
In those games he's averaged 21 points and 5.5 assists while making eight of his 14 three-pointers. Brooklyn went 1-1 in those games and averaged 107.5 points in the two games.
He's going to constantly be one of Memphis' most important players, but the only way to know much about him is if you watch a lot of basketball.
Tony Allen doesn't score a ton, and he's rarely involved in offensive possessions.
However, Allen is easily one of the two most important defenders that the Memphis Grizzlies have.
While they have Marc Gasol playing in the post to perfection on defense, a lot of what he does would be increasingly difficult if it weren't for Tony Allen on the perimeter.
He's always given the toughest assignment on defense, and more often than not he's going to give his man a tough time.
If you see the Golden State Warriors are on television and they're struggling in the first half, don't go to bed. Jarrett Jack is going to do something.
There's no denying the impact that Jack has on games for the Warriors this season. He tends to go in and out of God Mode at will, generally late in games.
Golden State's lineup at the end of the game will always have Jack at point guard and Stephen Curry at shooting guard.
Any time a guy from the bench can come in and supplant the team's franchise player, he's got to be doing something special.
Jack is an extremely smart passer and can hit an unimaginable number of clutch shots. It seems like it's got to end sometime, but there are no signs of him slowing down.
David West didn't get the love he deserved at the beginning of the year when he kept the Indiana Pacers afloat as they waited for Paul George to wake up.
Now, as they've put together a solid stretch of games to assert themselves as the second-best team in the NBA, West continues to be under-appreciated outside of Indiana.
In the beginning of the season David West was taking a lot more shots simply because he knew he had to, leading to a dip in his field-goal percentage.
As the team fell into place, West was able to pick and choose, rather than being forced to be the team's bail-out guy, and now he's shooting over 53 percent in February and averaging nearly 20 points per game.
It's strange to see it, especially because West is the team's second-highest scorer, but he's incredibly under-appreciated, and he's going to continue to be key to their stretch run.