Introducing the NBA's Biggest Playoff Liabilities

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2013

Introducing the NBA's Biggest Playoff Liabilities

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    In the NBA playoffs, every task, role and performance is magnified, and the biggest liabilities on the court become readily apparent.

    There's no room for error anymore, but some key players aren't able to execute certain assignments on a regular basis.

    When it comes to duties like consistently making open jump shots, playing solid defense and knocking down free throws, reliability is key.

    I wouldn't bet much money on these players getting the job done.

DeAndre Jordan: Free-Throw Shooting

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    Key Stat: Career 32-percent (9-of-28) free-throw shooter in playoffs


    This shouldn't come as a surprise, but it's worth noting how horrendous DeAndre Jordan is at the charity stripe.

    He made 39 percent of his free throws in the 2012-13 regular season, and his postseason is off to an ice-cold 1-of-4 start.

    Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro is accustomed to juggling his lineup to avoid "hack-a-DeAndre" scenarios, but opportunities still arise for teams to take advantage. Jordan's development in the post this season makes the free-throw woes all the more frustrating.

    The most unfortunate result of his ineptitude is his inability to be on the floor during crunch time. Los Angeles would love to have him in the game for defensive or rebounding put-back situations, but the math isn't in his favor.

Klay Thompson: Defense

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    Key Stat: 10 fouls in two first-round games


    Although he upgraded his defense since his rookie season, Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson is facing some tough matchups so far in the playoffs.

    The speed and athleticism of the Denver Nuggets' cast of wings and guards has given the second-year sharpshooter trouble. If the Dubs want to make more than a little noise this spring, he needs to take his defense to another gear and adjust his approach.

    In both games so far, Thompson has notched five fouls and accounted for a truckload of Nuggets buckets. 

    In the Warriors' Game 1 loss, he had a team-worst plus-minus of minus-nine, and in Golden State's win in Game 2, his plus-eleven margin was worst among starters.

Josh Smith: Outside Shooting

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    Key Stat: Career 16-percent three-point shooter in playoffs


    Even though Josh Smith has developed a better jump shot over the last three years, outside shooting still isn't close to being one of his strong suits.

    His inconsistency beyond 17 feet can hinder the Atlanta Hawks' attack at times, and Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers was a prime example.

    Smith went 2-of-8 outside 17 feet, including 1-of-4 from three-point range. He bounced back to go 3-of-4 from 17 feet and beyond in Game 2, but I doubt Hawks coach Larry Drew wants to roll the dice much more on Smith's perimeter endeavors.

    If he maintains a good shot selection moving forward, Atlanta has a chance to post 100 and hurt the Pacers at home. If he's overambitious, it's a different story.

Avery Bradley: Overall Offensive Ability

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    Key Stat: Career 1.4 assists per game


    So much for the Boston Celtics being fine without Rajon Rondo.

    The squad is floundering offensively, failing to reach 80 in each of its first two games against the New York Knicks. Doc Rivers needs a point guard in the worst way, but there's no true floor general at his disposal.

    Avery Bradley, who has shouldered some of the team's point duties since Rondo exited, needs to be a high-level playmaker and decision maker as the series heads back to Boston.

    That's a lot to ask of Bradley, since he doesn't possess the dynamic ball-handling skills, court vision or scoring prowess to pose a threat to the veteran Knickerbocker backcourt.

    I'm not trying to pick on him, but the Celtics' fate rests heavily on the 22-year-old.

Dwight Howard: Free-Throw Shooting

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    Key Stat: 49-percent free-throw shooter in 2012-13


    Any chance of a Los Angeles Lakers comeback lies in a strong, efficient showing at Staples Center over the next couple of games.

    Without a doubt, center Dwight Howard will be fouled and tested, and the franchise's season will depend on one of the most unreliable free-throw shooters in the history of hoops.

    A combination of mechanical flaws and mental struggles led to a 49-percent mark in 2012-13, but he's improved that to a whopping 50 percent in the 2013 playoffs.

    At this point, we all know better than to hold high hopes for him. He's a massive liability in that department, and he doesn't make Mike D'Antoni's job any easier.

Gerald Wallace: Outside Shooting

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    Key Stat: Career 31-percent three-point shooter


    Gerald Wallace has never been particularly accurate from deep, and that's never been more costly than it is right now.

    Brooklyn Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo values Wallace tremendously because of his defense and energy. Unfortunately, he's hurting the team offensively with his inability to consistently sink long-range shots.

    Opposing defenses, such as the Chicago Bulls, are able to cheat off Wallace and help on Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, thereby crippling the Nets' offense.

    Game 2 was a dismal display of this predicament, as Wallace attempted just one triple and scored two points on 1-of-7 from the field while the Nets struggled to post 82 collectively.

Zach Randolph: Matchup Problems on Defense

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    Key Stat: 10 fouls in first two first-round games


    Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph had the best defensive season of his career in 2012-13, as he contributed to the best unit of stoppers in the league.

    However, his showdowns with athletic forwards could make for a tiresome postseason. Randolph already has his hands full with Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers, committing five fouls in each of the first two games of the series.

    If the Grizzlies happen to grind out a comeback against Lob City, which is entirely possible, the long, athletic Oklahoma City Thunder will be waiting in the second round.

    Randolph is a smart player with great positional skills, but his mobility and agility deficiencies are exposed against playoff teams with explosive attackers.

Los Angeles Lakers: Transition Defense

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    Key Stat: Allowed 34 fast-break points in two first-round games


    It takes a team effort to mess up this bad in one area.

    The Los Angeles Lakers feature one of the worst transition defenses the NBA has seen in recent years, as a combination of age, slow foot speed and poor execution has haunted them all season.

    If they don't have it fixed by now, I highly doubt things will get better as the first round goes on.

    In each of the first two games against the San Antonio Spurs, L.A. yielded 17 fast-break points.

    Game 2 was especially embarrassing, because everyone on the Spurs was getting free. Speedsters Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard weren't the only transition beneficiaries; guys like Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter were getting easy buckets as well.

    The Lakers need to cut those fast-break allowances in half if they want to stay competitive in this series.


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