Unsung Heroes of the NBA Playoffs Who Are 2nd-Round Keys
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The role players will have just as much of an impact on the second round of the NBA playoffs as the stars.
Obviously big names like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and Tim Duncan are going to be the ones whose games are scrutinized to the umpteenth degree. Their sidekicks are the ones you should be paying attention to now that we are deeper into the playoffs.
This is the time where the stars need the support of the players around them to stay alive. They could coast in the first round, but now it will take a real team effort to defeat tougher opponents.
These are both starters and bench players who sometimes get overlooked. One of the most dangerous things an overconfident team can do is ignoring the role players.
If these guys get neglected on the scouting report, you can be sure they will make whoever did not take notice of them pay.
Chris Andersen, Miami Heat
The Heat need The Birdman's unique skillset to succeed.
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During last year’s playoffs, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller helped the Miami Heat’s Big Three win an NBA championship. These guys are no longer unsung because everyone knows what they can do.
The wild card on this version of the Heat will be Andersen, who provides the interior toughness the Heat were sorely lacking without him.
In four playoff games, Andersen is averaging a respectable 8.3 points per game and 5.3 rebounds off the bench. He brings his signature Birdman wild style to every game.
Admittedly, those numbers are probably inflated because of how little challenge the Milwaukee Bucks proved to be. But if the Heat want to repeat as champions, they will need everything Andersen brings to the table.
Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks
The Knicks should give Shumpert more to do going forward.
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The Knicks have had a very up-and-down playoffs so far. One game they look unstoppable, the next Anthony and J.R. Smith cannot hit a shot.
That team has really only been relying on those two guys plus the occasional contribution from Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler or Jason Kidd. What could really send this team to the next level is an expanded role for Shumpert.
The guy is averaging 9.3 points per game and 6.4 rebounds so far in the playoffs, both increases from his season average. Not only that, but he is shooting .478 from beyond the arc and is playing some impressive defense with 1.6 steals per game.
The Indiana Pacers took game one of their series in a 102-95 victory where Anthony and Smith kept missing bad shot after bad shot. Maybe if they spread the love a little to a guy like Shumpert, the offense would balance out and the Knicks could start to look like a real basketball team again.
David West, Indiana Pacers
West gives the Pacers a tough interior presence.
Whenever you hear about the Pacers, it is probably something about Paul George emerging as a legitimate superstar. Guys like West get lost in all the talk of his ascension into the ranks of the elite.
Though West has never been the flashiest player, he has always been a contributor. Right now he is giving Indiana all he has got on the block.
He is averaging a solid 16.9 points per game and 5.6 rebounds so far in the playoffs. He has scored 20 points or more in his last three games, all of which the Pacers won.
Indiana simply would not be where they are without the interior presence of West (and Roy Hibbert for that matter). He needs to keep it up if the Pacers want to get past the Knicks and beyond.
Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
Butler has been a pleasant surprise for the Bulls.
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The Bulls probably did not expect Butler to have this much of an impact as a rookie, especially in the playoffs. But they cannot be upset with the production they have been getting from the rookie out of Marquette.
He has stepped in quite capably for the ailing Luol Deng. Almost all of his postseason statistics are greater than his regular season numbers.
Most importantly, Butler has proven that he is a valuable cog in the Bulls’ rotation. Considering that Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah have all been struggling with their health this postseason, having some stability in the form of Butler is a blessing.
Chicago is trying to get its stars healthy and figure out if Derrick Rose will come back for their series against the Heat or not. Until then, they know they can count on Butler to play his hardest every night.
Kevin Martin, Oklahoma City Thunder
Martin has the potential to replace Russell Westbrook's production.
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Martin is not getting anywhere near the publicity that James Harden used to get for essentially filling the same role that The Beard had with the Thunder.
Maybe that is for the best. The more under-the-radar Martin stays, the easier it will be for the Memphis Grizzlies to forget the instant offense he always has the potential to provide.
He is averaging a solid 15.3 points per game off the bench. Anything else he does for the Thunder is extra because all they expect from him is a hot shooting hand.
Without Russell Westbrook, Durant could really use a reliable second option. Martin is the only one on the Thunder with anywhere near the offensive ability to take over for Westbrook.
Tiago Splitter, San Antonio Spurs
Splitter is a workhorse for the Spurs.
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Splitter’s playoff numbers are almost all down from his regular season output. That is exactly why no one will see him coming against Golden State.
The 6’11” Brazilian is known for having one of the coolest names in the NBA more than anything else. He has quietly morphed into a prototypical San Antonio big man who fits Greg Popovich’s system perfectly.
He sets precision screens, rebounds and runs a mean pick-and-roll. Once in a while, he even steals some offense from Duncan.
The Spurs coasted in the first round behind stellar performances from Duncan, Tony Parker and the resurgent Manu Ginobili. They could use a guy like Splitter to step up offensively to help out against a Warriors team that can score the ball at will.
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors
Barnes has emerged as a new weapon for the Warriors.
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Ever since the Warriors went small and gave Barnes more playing time, they have become an offensive force. So it is only fair to recognize his contributions to the team.
Sure, Stephen Curry’s emergence and Andrew Bogut’s comeback get most of the attention. But the rookie out of North Carolina has stepped into this expanded role and lifted both his game and the entire team's.
He is now averaging over five more points per game and has upped his regular season three-point shooting percentage from .439 to .457. Barnes is slowly becoming a nightmare for opposing defenses.
This should not be too surprising for a guy who finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting. Judging by his play now, Barnes clearly deserved those votes.
Tayshaun Prince, Memphis Grizzlies
Prince can give the Grizzlies the extra element they need to beat the Thunder.
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It is still too early to tell whether the Grizzlies or Toronto Raptors won the Rudy Gay trade. One thing is for sure: The Grizzlies have been able to deal without Gay thanks to Prince’s ability to immediately step into that role.
Prince was the last starter on the 2004 Detroit Pistons championship team left in the Motor City. He must have been ecstatic to finally get the chance to start on a contender again.
The Grizzlies have benefited from Prince’s work ethic, long wingspan on defense and surprisingly adept shooting touch. He was never a prolific scorer, but he never had to be and still does not thanks to the fact that Memphis is built similarly to his old Detroit squad.
Prince gets to leave the heavy lifting to Memphis’s trio of Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. If he can keep averaging about 10 points and five rebounds a game plus his usual defensive effort, Memphis will be a dangerous team.