Expect J.R. Smith to use the playoffs as his proving ground.
The NBA playoffs are the perfect stage for a role player to transition from an occasional threat to a household name.
It happens every postseason. Last year, it was Mario Chalmers who stepped up and made his superstar teammates’ lives a lot easier on the Miami Heat's road to their first championship of the Big Three era.
Two years ago, Jason Terry became more than just instant bench points on the Dallas Maverick’s championship run, hitting big shots and becoming Dirk Nowitzki’s second-in-command.
So which contributor is poised to have a postseason to remember? Whether they help lead their teams to championships or not, these players are about to see their overall value skyrocket.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs drafted Leonard so that they could mold a young talent to take over when their own Big Three era comes to an end. Now is the time for Leonard to prove that he has what it takes to fulfill Gregg Popovich’s expectations.
Leonard has had a solid but unremarkable season so far, averaging 11.9 points per game and 6.0 rebounds. He has proven himself to be a capable defender and has developed a lethal corner three.
Considering that Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan are liable to get hurt at any second, the Spurs will need a fourth guy to pick up the slack if they want to win the West.
Which player is going to have the best postseason?
Look for Leonard to be that guy.
Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets are a team full of role players just waiting to prove themselves in the playoffs. Keep an eye on Ty Lawson. If any Nugget is going to break out, it will be the fourth-year North Carolina product.
Lawson has proven himself to be a legitimate starting point guard who can slash, shoot and distribute with the best of them. He is averaging career highs in points, assists and steals.
If the Nuggets want to get out of the West, they need one of their core guys to ascend to the ranks of superstardom. If anyone on that squad can do it, it is Lawson.
J.R. Smith, New York Knicks
Who knows what Anthony or Mike Woodson did or said to get the volatile Smith playing at this level. Instead of running and gunning with blatant disregard for his teammates, Smith’s offense has been more calculated, and he has shown a willingness to distribute that he had yet to display before this season.
The Knicks may want Smith to stay under control, but there is a chance that he could get on a hot streak that propels his team all the way to the NBA Finals.