Biggest X-Factors for Oklahoma City Thunder's Playoff Success
The NBA Playoffs are a time for superstars to shine, and the Oklahoma City Thunder are well equipped in that area with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
While it's crucial to have go-to guys in a stretch of important games like this, it's often the guys playing supporting roles who step up when the moment calls.
These guys are X factors who you can't always account for in the game plan, but who manage to affect the game at any given time.
For the Thunder, there's a few guys who may fly under the radar for now, but could make a significant impact come playoff time.
Reggie Jackson, PG
Even with Derek Fisher on the roster and possibly taking some minutes away from the second-year guard, Jackson has shown some great strides of improvement since his rookie season.
Last year, Fisher was brought in as a stabilizer for the struggling Jackson, who was thrust into the backup point guard role following an Eric Maynor ACL injury.
We've seen a different type of Reggie in recent weeks, however, as he finally seems to be comfortable running the offense and creating some of his own with his 6.4 points per game in March. He's also had some short offensive outbursts that proved key in some recent victories against the Lakers and Knicks, where he scored 10 and eight points in his limited minutes.
Come playoff time, Jackson's newfound confidence will be key when he's directing traffic for the second unit as every possession will be extra valuable. If he should catch fire with the ball, it could pay dividends for the Thunder's starting unit. Knowing that Jackson is capable of holding down the fort while Westbrook gets a rest is reassuring for the Thunder and could cause problems for playoff opponents.
Ronnie Brewer, SG/SF
The newest member of the Oklahoma City Thunder is coming in with a tough defensive reputation and will most likely be playing some crunch-time minutes in tight games.
Brewer's role is to shut down offensive threats. He knows it and the Thunder knew it when they dealt for him at the trade deadline. In the course of the postseason, Oklahoma City will most likely encounter some talented scorers (i.e. James Harden, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James) and will need some defensive help to plug them up a bit.
The idea of pairing Brewer with fellow elite defender Thabo Sefolosha should be worrisome for opposing offenses. Brewer's defensive spark could be enough to change the outcome of some important games in the closing minutes, especially with proven closers like LeBron and Kobe.
Kevin Martin, SG
As the main part of the James Harden trade to Houston, Martin has filled into the sixth man role nicely, averaging 14.3 points per game with a solid 15.85 PER.
Transitioning from go-to scorer to more of a third option and spot-up shooter has gone well for the veteran, and his shooting percentage from three-point land reflect that (career high 42.9 percent).
Having a guy for Westbrook or Durant to kick out to when they get caught up on a drive makes the deadly Thunder offense even deadlier.
If Martin gets his shot going during a game, he can really make a difference offensively. This is helpful for Oklahoma City because it could draw defensive attention away from Westbrook or Durant, which could open up more passing lanes for Martin to feed the superstars.
Keeping the defense on their toes with Martin on a hot streak could bust open some runs for the Thunder and sway the momentum in their favor at any given time.
Kendrick Perkins, C
The biggest X factor of all for the Thunder this postseason will be the oft criticized starting center, Kendrick Perkins.
There's a lot of split opinions on Perkins amongst OKC fans, with some believing his contributions are far too insignificant to continue starting, while others stick to their guns and praise him for his toughness and leadership on and off the court.
You can count me amongst the latter group, as I do firmly believe Perkins contributes a lot more than meets the eye. Sure, he has some unimpressive numbers (4.5 points, 5.9 rebounds per game), but he's still an X factor for Oklahoma City.
When Perkins is fully healthy and functional, he plays hard-nosed defense, sets great screens and can even capitalize on easy offensive opportunities. Perkins' game doesn't call for a lot of offensive touches, which means more for guys who can put up a lot of points.
Perk's hustle on both ends of the floor truly affects the Thunder's team performance and can swing a lot of momentum in their favor. He's a competitive player who's really helped bring an edge to the Thunder's babyface look, and his subtle but significant contributions will be key if OKC wants to make a deep run in the playoffs.
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