As the first round of the NBA playoffs starts wrapping up, it is time to give credit to some lesser-known players.
The postseason is a time where superstars shine their brightest. So far in the postseason, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and even Stephen Curry have lived up to or exceeded expectations. Even guys like Nate Robinson have received plenty of buzz for big performances.
However, the teams that are succeeding are not doing it because of only one person. These players have also been fantastic in the opening round and are a big reason their teams have either already won or in good position to advance.
Jarrett Jack, PG, Golden State Warriors
While Stephen Curry continues to show why he is one of the most exciting players to watch in basketball, it is important to note what Jarrett Jack has done in this series against the Denver Nuggets.
After starting only four games during the regular season, he got increased minutes in Game 1 and almost totaled a triple double with 10 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. Amazingly, this was his worst game of the series.
In the last three wins, Jack has averaged 23.3 points and 7.7 assists per game to help the Warriors take control of the series. He has also made an incredible 73.7 percent of his shots from the floor in this stretch.
The point guard had a solid regular season, finishing fourth on the team with 12.9 points per game. However, Golden State needed someone to step up when David Lee went down, and Jack has done that in a big way.
Kenyon Martin, PF, New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony has continued his hot streak from the end of the regular season, and J.R. Smith is a great secondary scorer when he is in the lineup. However, Kenyon Martin has been a big help in dominating the Boston Celtics so far in the series.
The veteran played significant minutes in the early few games with Amar'e Stoudemire out and Tyson Chandler limited. In Games 1 and 2 combined, Martin totaled an impressive 20 rebounds and six blocks.
As a result, Boston was held to less than 80 points in each game. The same thing happened in the third game as Martin was once again solid inside.
Defense is the reason that the Knicks are up 3-1 on their rivals, and the power forward has been a huge part of the success.
Mike Conley Jr., PG, Memphis Grizzlies
Few players have improved their production from the regular season to the playoffs as much as Mike Conley Jr. The point guard had been solid all year, but the squad struggled to score points on a consistent basis.
In the playoffs, however, Conley has made sure that his team gets on the board by distributing the ball better than he has all year.
After averaging 6.1 assists per game during the season, the young player has 23 combined in the last two games. This has helped the Grizzlies tie up the series after falling behind 2-0 to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Memphis now has to keep that momentum heading back onto the road, although Conley totaled 28 points and nine assists in the Game 2 loss. If he can produce anywhere near these numbers in Game 5, his squad will have the upper hand in the series and should be able to advance to the second round.
Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs
Being underrated has been something Kawhi Leonard has had to deal with throughout his career with the Spurs. However, he is just as important to the team's success as the "Big Three" of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
The wing is incredibly efficient on both ends of the court and was able to fill up the box score in multiple categories as a scorer, rebounder and defender.
At 21 years old, he is also able to stay on the court and led the team in minutes for the series. This allows the aging roster to get more rest while Leonard continues to play at a high level.
After sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio will get plenty of time to get ready for the second-round series against either the Denver Nuggets or Golden State Warriors. Regardless of opponent, it is clear that Leonard will be huge part of his team's success.
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