Every NBA Playoff Team's Secret Weapon
With few exceptions, it takes at least one top-10 superstar in his prime to secure a title. But along the way, just about every team gets a boost from an unlikely source as well.
Harrison Barnes slid over to the power forward spot in last year's playoffs, turning the Golden State Warriors into a vastly more dangerous small-ball bunch. And Mike Miller continued his habit of hobbling off the bench to bury critical threes for the eventual champion Miami Heat.
So, who's the next secret weapon set to lift his team and surprise everyone in the process?
Here's a hint: One of them is about to reprise Barnes' shock-duty stretch 4 position for the Golden State Warriors.
We'll scour each postseason entrant's roster to find the most likely candidates. Obviously, established stars in their primes are disqualified—they're hardly secret. But we might run across a few aging vets with stardom in their pasts. And don't expect to see too many starters, either.
Ultimately, we're out to find the X-factors, the hidden gems and the quiet producers who figure to have key impacts in the playoffs. Maybe they provide an intangible nobody else on the team brings, or perhaps they fill a critical role against a particularly vulnerable opponent.
You'd usually have to dig deep into the scouting report to find these guys, but don't be surprised when one or two of them swing an entire series on their own.
Here is every team's secret weapon for the upcoming NBA playoffs.
Note: This article is based on the projected playoff field. Therefore, the New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies were not included.
Atlanta Hawks: Pero Antic
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 7.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.3 steals
Weapon of Choice: Spacing
You don't have to search very hard to figure out why Atlanta Hawks center Pero Antic will be a useful postseason weapon.
Atlanta's 107-88 thumping of the Indiana Pacers on April 6 provided proof enough.
Antic is far from a conventional center. He has the size of a guy who probably belongs on the block but features a game you're far more likely to see in a player a full foot shorter. Essentially, Antic is the rare "stretch 5."
So when Roy Hibbert didn't play in the second half of Indy's latest loss, it wasn't just because the big man was tired. It was also because sticking with the perimeter-oriented Antic, who finished with 18 points, was too much of a chore.
Per The Associated Press (via USA Today), Pacers coach Frank Vogel said:
(Hibbert) looks worn down. He's a 7-foot-2 player who has played every game this year, which is very rare. He looks to me to be worn down. He's given good effort but he looks to me to be worn down. Combine that with the fact that they have a 3-point shooting 5-man most of the game. It's a difficult matchup.
Antic's 34 percent stroke and bulk on the defensive glass could force the Miami Heat to make a difficult decision between size and shooting in the first round.
Brooklyn Nets: Mirza Teletovic
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 8.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.4 steals
Weapon of Choice: The Takeover
There's no shortage of shooting on the Brooklyn Nets roster. Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Marcus Thornton and Deron Williams all connect on better than 36 percent of their long-distance attempts. As a result, Brooklyn has the league's eighth-best mark from beyond the stripe.
We know about the Nets' stable of reliable wings and backcourt players, though. What some may have forgotten is that none of them showed the ability to catch fire like sweet-shooting forward Mirza Teletovic.
In a Jan. 24 contest against the Dallas Mavericks, Teletovic poured in 24 points in the second quarter. He finished with a career-high 34 in all, and the Nets wouldn't have come close to notching the one-point victory in that game without the outburst from their reserve sniper.
On the year, Teletovic is hitting 38 percent of his threes.
With a likely first-round matchup against either the Chicago Bulls or Toronto Raptors—both of which boast top-10 defenses—added scoring punch (and the ability to take over a game from the perimeter) will be critical.
With all of the established scorers on Brooklyn's roster, it'll be impossible to give Teletovic a large share of defensive attention. If he gets rolling, he could swing an entire series all by himself.
Charlotte Bobcats: Josh McRoberts
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 8.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 0.6 blocks, 0.7 steals
Weapon of Choice: Pinpoint Passing
Conventional wisdom says the Charlotte Bobcats' upset chances depend on Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker playing like stars, but let's not forget how integral Josh McRoberts is to everything his team does on the offensive end.
McRoberts is a clever passer from the elbow, which is a valuable big-man skill, and a lot of Charlotte’s pet sets feature McBob running things from there via passes, screens, and especially dribble handoffs. And when he’s feeling frisky, McRoberts will fake a handoff, spin around, and set off on an adventure toward the hoop.
And get this: McRoberts—not Walker—leads the Bobcats in assist ratio. In fact, only four players in the entire NBA (of those who play at least 30 minutes per game) register assists more frequently per 100 possessions: Ricky Rubio, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Jameer Nelson, per NBA.com.
Basically, the Bobcats offense doesn't function without McRoberts directing traffic. Knowing that, it's a little surprising he falls into the "secret weapon" category. But unless you're a hoophead in Charlotte, you probably weren't familiar with his immense value.
Now you are.
Chicago Bulls: D.J. Augustin
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 12.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 0.0 blocks, 0.8 steals
Weapon of Choice: Small-Ball Offense
When you think about the Chicago Bulls, defense is always the first thing that comes to mind.
It should be.
On the year, the Bulls are holding opponents to 97.6 points per 100 possessions, the second-best mark in the league. If they're going to make a real playoff push, they'll do it on the strength of their stopping power.
But there's also been a surprising development in Chicago over the past few months: D.J. Augustin has breathed life into the Bulls offense as part of a surprisingly effective two-point guard attack.
Per NBA.com, the Bulls' best two-man configuration in terms of net rating features Augustin and Kirk Hinrich on the floor together. In over 400 minutes this season, those two have led Chicago to an offensive rating of 107.6, a figure that would rank in the league's top 10 on the year.
Best of all, Chicago's defense has held up despite the size a Hinrich-Augustin backcourt surrenders. The Bulls sport a tidy defensive rating of 95.5 when those two share the court.
It's not hard to see why Augustin has been so valuable for the Bulls. He offers a secondary shooter, penetrator and facilitator on the weak side when defenses overload the strong one. We've seen plenty of other teams adopt a dual-point approach for the same reason: It allows for serious offensive variety when the ball swings back to the weak side.
Thanks to Augustin, the formerly one-dimensional Bulls can trot out a closing lineup that gives opponents trouble on both ends.
Dallas Mavericks: DeJuan Blair
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 6.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.8 steals
Weapon of Choice: Bulk
Depending on the matchup, reserve forward Brandan Wright and his rangy length might be another secret weapon for the Dallas Mavericks. But there's no discounting the worth of DeJuan Blair's rugged interior play.
After seemingly falling out of the center rotation, Blair answered the call with big minutes, key offensive boards and plenty of intensity when head coach Rick Carlisle tossed him in against the Sacramento Kings on April 6.
In 17 minutes, he tallied six points and hauled down nine rebounds in a 93-91 win. Not bad for a guy who'd played a grand total of 19 minutes in his previous four games.
"This ain’t nothing new to me," he told Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. "I’m a team player. Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do it. When Sam went down with two fouls. He called on me and I was able to step up. It was pretty cool."
Blair isn't a leaper, but he'll carve out space under the glass. His physicality and ability to get the Mavs extra possessions will count for a lot in the postseason, regardless of their opponent. If they draw the Oklahoma City Thunder, Blair will ugly things up down low.
And if the San Antonio Spurs are on the schedule, he'll be fueled by a desire for revenge against his former team.
Either way, Blair, always ready, is going to have an impact this spring.
Golden State Warriors: Draymond Green
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 6.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.9 blocks, 1.2 steals
Weapon of Choice: Attitude
To be honest, limiting Draymond Green's weapon of choice to "attitude" is an all-time undersell. The guy does so many things for the Golden State Warriors that it's hard to list them all.
He defends four positions, stretches the floor far more effectively than David Lee, always comes up with the loose ball and has a knack for pulling down rebounds in traffic. Toss in a competitiveness that's second to none and a Buick-sized chip on his shoulder, and you've got a guy built to make a postseason impact.
Thanks to head coach Mark Jackson's justifiable love affair with the second-rounder and Lee's indefinite injury absence, Green might not be a secret for much longer.
Likely to start at the power forward spot ahead of Harrison Barnes, a much more widely known but less effective sophomore, Green is about to show the broader NBA community what he can do with big minutes. So if you thought Barnes' so-called breakout in last year's postseason was impressive, just wait.
There's not a bigger playoff X-factor than Green.
Houston Rockets: Omer Asik
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 5.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.3 steals
Weapon of Choice: Insurance
Who needs Dwight Howard?
Omer Asik has averaged 12 points and 16.8 rebounds during the recent five-game stretch Howard has missed with a bad ankle. Granted, Houston went just 2-3 in that stretch, but one of the wins came against the Thunder on April 4.
We've known all along what Asik could do if given the minutes (and properly motivated). He proved that in his final year with the Bulls and during his 2012-13 campaign in Houston. But he spent most of the season sulking, and many fans forgot about his considerable skills.
Fortunately, he seems to have left behind his early-season "Sad Omer" persona at just the right time. Perhaps the extra minutes have something to do with that.
Whatever the case, Rockets general manger Daryl Morey looks like a genius for refusing to accommodate Asik's trade demands, and now Houston has a fantastic backup center for its postseason run.
If Howard's ankle issues persist, the Rockets aren't necessarily doomed. It's a rare secret weapon that can morph into a high-impact starter, but Asik is no ordinary reserve.
Indiana Pacers: C.J. Watson
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 6.3 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.9 steals
Weapon of Choice: Stability
The Pacers have more problems than any one player can fix on his own, and nobody's arguing C.J. Watson is more than a steady rotational cog. But the reserve point guard's bad hamstring has cost him 16 games over the past couple of months, a stretch that has seen Indy fall apart.
Frank Vogel admitted a healthy Watson might have helped slow the Pacers' slide to Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star: "I think it's a big part of it. Every team deals with guys being out of the lineup, so you can't use that as a crutch. But it's certainly been a factor."
Watson's return could be days or weeks away, but if he comes back in time to provide even a sliver of stability to a reeling Pacers squad, he could make a major impact.
Evan Turner has been a disaster as a secondary ball-handler, and Lance Stephenson is becoming less reliable by the second. Watson is a low-mistake player who can knock down an open jumper, which are two things Indy desperately needs right now.
It's never a good sign when a secret weapon might have to be a savior, but that's the state of things in Indiana right now.
Los Angeles Clippers: J.J. Redick
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 15.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.8 blocks
Weapon of Choice: Marksmanship
The Los Angeles Clippers boast the NBA's second-highest offensive rating this year, so they clearly don't need a whole lot of help scoring the ball. Still, the impending return of J.J. Redick will be a welcome boost.
The hot-shooting wing whose bad back cost him a full month of games inflates L.A.'s offensive rating to a ridiculous 113.2 when he's on the floor, per NBA.com. More than that, though, he offers enough size and smarts on the perimeter to effectively defend—something neither Darren Collison nor Jamal Crawford can do.
Redick is a fairly well-known name, but missing an entire month has a way of making folks forget how important a player can be.
If his back holds up, he'll give the Clips a leg up on both ends of the floor.
Miami Heat: Greg Oden
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 3.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.0 assists, 0.6 blocks, 0.3 steals
Weapon of Choice: Size
We all know why Greg Oden wound up in Miami, and it's not because the Heat wanted a player with more forehead wrinkles than LeBron James. Oden's a big body, and he gives Miami the option to square off with the Roy Hibberts of the world on equal terms—if only for a few minutes per game.
Oden's potential impact would be greater if the Pacers looked anything like a team capable of reaching the conference finals, but his rebounding and shot-deterring will be valuable to the Heat either way.
Full disclosure: It's hard to know if Oden will be Miami's secret weapon or not. But we know for certain somebody will emerge from the bench to have an impact. It happens every year.
Shane Battier rediscovered his stroke just in time to have a huge say in the Finals two years ago, and Mike Miller showed up for a couple of key postseason tilts in 2013. Maybe Michael Beasley will take over a quarter or two this time around. Maybe Norris Cole will dart back into the rotation somehow.
Oden seems like the safe pick, but Miami has a bevy of potential alternates.
Of course, with the way the East looks increasingly like a one-team conference, the Heat might not even need a secret weapon.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Perry Jones
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 3.5 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.2 steals
Weapon of Choice: Length
It's rare to see a specific game in the regular season point directly toward an unheralded player's hidden worth, but we saw one on Jan. 29 when Perry Jones helped the Thunder come back from an 18-2 deficit to beat the Heat.
Head coach Scott Brooks swapped Jones into the starting lineup after halftime, and the rangy forward's individual defense on James was a huge reason for OKC's comeback win.
Jones was the chip that tipped the scale in the Thunder's favor. He played 30 minutes Wednesday and covered LeBron James for the majority of the third quarter. Although James scored 12 points in the period, Jones' presence in the lineup allowed Serge Ibaka to slide from Shane Battier to a more natural matchup with Chris Bosh. It also allowed Kevin Durant to take a break from guarding James and focus more on providing necessary offense while avoiding costly foul trouble.
Jones is a key for the Thunder's success, in part because he isn't Kendrick Perkins, the guy who bogs down the offense and doesn't have a role against opponents' small-ball lineups. More than that, Jones turns an already athletic Thunder team into a a 4x100 relay team disguised as basketball players.
Repeating his eye-opening effort against Miami will be difficult. But we know OKC has an intriguing ace up its sleeve if the conditions are right in the playoffs.
Phoenix Suns: P.J. Tucker
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 9.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.3 steals
Weapon of Choice: Emotion
The Phoenix Suns are still in playoff position because of P.J. Tucker's refusal to quit.
In the closing moments of a season-saving 122-115 win over the Thunder on April 6, Tucker laid it all on the line, diving for a loose ball and drawing a foul that led to a couple of breathing-room free throws for the Suns.
His 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists in the contest didn't hurt, either.
The key for Tucker is an instinctive, passionate brand of ball that inspires his more even-keeled teammates. You can tell how naturally that kind of lead-by-example demeanor comes to Tucker from his comments after the win against Oklahoma City.
Of that fateful dive after a loose ball, Tucker told Kevin Zimmerman of SB Nation: "I have no idea what happened. I don't recall any of that. That stuff is just raw emotion. It's one of those things, we got to win. Fate is in our hands. We can't take any of these games lightly."
Goran Dragic is the Suns' best player, and the cadre of capable shooters on the roster makes the offense dangerous. But it's Tucker who represents the elevated heart rate of this team. No matter how overmatched Phoenix might be in its first-round series, Tucker won't let his boys give up.
There's an awful lot of value in that.
Portland Trail Blazers: Thomas Robinson
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 4.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.3 steals
Weapon of Choice: Unpredictability
It's a stretch to call anyone on the Portland Trail Blazers' bench a "secret weapon," mostly because there aren't really any weapons there at all.
For the second year in a row, Portland's starters have been dynamite. And for the second year in a row, they've been taxed by heavy playing time because the reserves can't be trusted.
Among those reserves, the most conventionally productive player this year has been Mo Williams. But his frenetic play and shot-hunting nature tends to put the offense into a panic, upping the tempo in a negative way.
Thomas Robinson is hardly a key piece of the rotation, but his athleticism and tendency toward streaks of inspired play make him a potentially dangerous option. He's capable of turning the tide of a game through effort on the glass alone.
Unfortunately, that effort level comes and goes.
Robinson is unpredictable, as capable of a 15-rebound game as a total no-show. So I guess that makes him as close to a secret as the Blazers can boast.
San Antonio Spurs: Patty Mills
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 10.1 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.8 steals
Weapon of Choice: Opportunism
Because Patty Mills plays for the Spurs, he obviously understands how to play system basketball, share the rock and defend within an airtight scheme. You don't get off Gregg Popovich's bench if you can't do those things.
But what Mills brings to the Spurs in addition to those prerequisites is a knack for terrorizing second-unit defenses.
Thanks to better conditioning and a refined three-point stroke (Mills is shooting 42 percent from distance), Popovich has let out a little slack on Mills' leash this year. And when given the minutes, Mills has run wild.
Relentlessly aggressive and dangerous out to 25 feet, the Aussie point guard never lets defenses relax when Tony Parker takes a seat. He capitalizes on reserve defenders, leading them around endless loops of screens and firing away with gusto whenever he's left alone.
Marco Belinelli is the more heralded reclamation reserve in San Antonio this year, but Mills could have just as big of a postseason impact as his fellow backcourt bench player. Mills is an opportunist, and he delights in burning backups who aren't prepared to stay glued to his hip.
Even as rotations shrink in the playoffs, expect him to play a major role.
Toronto Raptors: Patrick Patterson
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 8.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.5 blocks, 0.9 steals
Weapon of Choice: Not Being Rudy Gay
It almost seems unfair that the Toronto Raptors were able to get back a hugely valuable and versatile forward in the process of ridding the roster of Rudy Gay's chemistry-killing game and team-killing contract.
But they did.
Patrick Patterson has been an under-publicized catalyst behind Toronto's vast improvement this year, thanks to his willingness to guard bigger opponents and always reliable effort. And while his contributions might not warrant mention on SportsCenter, Patterson's coach is well aware of his worth.
Per Doug Smith of the Toronto Star, Dwane Casey said:
I tell you what. He’s been a godsend for us. His intensity, his work ethic, how hard he plays … he’s one of our best pick and roll defenders because he uses his quickness and then he can go down and stretch the floor out.
Not a lot of guys can do that.
Whether the first round brings a meeting with the Washington Wizards or Brooklyn Nets, Toronto will need a forward capable of keeping the high screen-and-roll in check. Patterson is the man for the job.
And if he knocks down a few threes as well, all the better.
Washington Wizards: Drew Gooden
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics: 9.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.5 steals
Weapon of Choice: The Wisdom of a Journeyman
It had to be Drew Gooden, didn't it?
A player doesn't just roll in off the street to join the frontcourt rotation of a playoff team every day. But that's what Gooden's done, thanks in no small part to the prolonged absence of Nene.
Expect him to keep his spot in the rotation even after Nene returns to the floor in the postseason, though. Washington, for good reason, would like to avoid playing Trevor Booker or Kevin Seraphin up front as much as possible. Both are severely limited offensive players with little to offer on the other end.
Al Harrington will continue to see minutes as a smaller option, but Gooden brings enough perimeter shooting to make even Harrington nervous about his spot. And there's no doubt Gooden offers the best rebounding numbers from among the frontcourt reserves.
Unlike the other secret weapons on this list, Gooden was literally hidden away for most of the season. If he can give the Wizards 10-15 minutes of sneaky veteran play off the bench, he'll be a real weapon.