Late-Season Additions Playing Key Roles in NBA Playoffs
Often times, when a strong playoff team adds an unsigned free agent to its roster late in the regular season, it's overlooked.
Why wouldn't it be? Typically, here's a roster already playing well, and to the naked eye needs no personnel related improvements. But the future is unknown by all, and these signings are important for that very reason.
During the All-Star break, nobody knows who will be healthy, or what rotations might be altered by a debilitating slump.
Late-season signings are commonly viewed as "insurance," but in the NBA that metaphor doesn't quite hold up. More often than not, these players will be called into action in a situation where they're desperately needed to step up.
All five players listed here have not only played, but played well. They're ranked by their level of impact since the postseason started.
All statistics in this article are from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
5. Aron Baynes
The casual NBA fan wouldn't recognize Aron Baynes if he sat next to them at a bar, and even the league's most dedicated basketball nerd probably struggles when spelling his name.
That's because the 26-year-old rookie has appeared in only 16 regular season NBA games and registered 23 total minutes in these playoffs.
Born in New Zealand, the 6'10" Baynes might be best known as Gregg Popovich's fouling puppet, used in the first round to hack Dwight Howard as much as possible (he's averaging 6.3 fouls per 36 minutes), even in a few comically intentional situations.
But with Tiago Splitter hurt by a sprained ankle, it'll be interesting to see if Baynes might see some more time as the playoffs go deeper.
4. Keyon Dooling
Less than two months ago, Keyon Dooling was director of player development for the Boston Celtics; it appeared then that his 12-year NBA career had finally come to a close.
Then the Memphis Grizzlies came calling and Dooling decided his playing days weren't over after all, making them his seventh team.
Dooling wasn't expected to serve as anything more than a security net deep down the depth chart, but so far he's played 62 meaningful playoff minutes, using his long wingspan to harass opposing point guards and—in extremely limited situations—his poise from downtown to sink a few shots.
Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins went away from Dooling in Game 2, playing him for one 22-second stint at the end of the third quarter to get Marc Gasol some rest, but before that he was trusted as Mike Conley's relief.
Getting a player in early April who's then able to contribute in the playoffs is always an incredible value, and Dooling's been just that.
3. Derek Fisher
When Russell Westbrook went down, Derek Fisher stepped up. That statement feels like it should be written in a different year, or, perhaps a different universe, but it's true.
So far in these playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder have outscored opponents by a gargantuan 21.6 points per 100 possessions with Fisher on the court. When he's off, they're actually outscored by 8.7 points per 100, according to NBA.com/Stats.
Fisher has never been a superstar, or even an All-Star, but he knows where to be, when to be there and, most importantly, how to knock down shots when it's his time to shoot. He's averaging 9.5 points per game (I can't believe it either) on a steaming 61.3 percent shooting behind the three-point line.
After parting ways with Fisher upon losing in the 2012 NBA Finals, the Thunder re-signed him on February 25th. It's turned out to be a fortuitous decision.
2. Chris Andersen
If the Miami Heat were missing one thing before gearing up for their repeat run (that's a huge if at the beginning of this sentence), it was a big man capable of delivering 15 minutes of non-stop, crazy intensity on both ends of the court every game.
They needed someone who could swat a floater off the backboard, then throw down an alley-oop in the following sequence. To the rest of the league's dismay, they found him. His name's Chris Andersen, and he's fit in like a tailored suit.
Some metrics indicate he might even be the most reverberating piece in the whole postseason. Miami is averaging an insane 1.25 points per possession with Andersen on the court this postseason (1.02 with him off the court), per NBA.com/Stats.
The Heat would remain heavy favorites even if Andersen had never been signed. But he was, and their odds are improved because of it.
1. Kenyon Martin
Kenyon Martin spent much of last year wondering if he'd ever enjoy the roar of an NBA crowd again, if he'd burned one too many bridges on his way out of Los Angeles and if his days as a professional basketball player would now be limited to leagues competing across the Atlantic (or Pacific) Ocean.
Then, in late February, he signed a 10-day contract with the New York Knicks, and everybody wondered, "what took so long?"
As one of the five most intimidating paint protectors left standing, swatting shots and laying down fouls with a 2x4, Martin's been awesome in these playoffs.
In about 20 minutes per game, he's averaging just over six points and just under five rebounds an outing. Martin's shooting 60 percent from the floor and gave New York crucial minutes for an ailing Tyson Chandler in the first round series against Boston.
As they wage battle against Indiana's size, Martin continues to be the NBA's most significant late season pick up.