The NBA playoffs offer a stage for the game's biggest stars to showcase their skills. While the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant will undoubtedly mystify basketball fans, there is a place for under-the-radar players to excel as well.
Every successful playoff team seems to have at least one superstar who performs at an elite level, but those superstars must be supported by efficient role players. They may not receive the accolades that their more talented teammates do, but they are important nonetheless.
Here are three underrated players in particular who will rise to the occasion in the first round of the NBA playoffs, helping their teams achieve a great deal of success.
Houston Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley is probably best known as the player who caused Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook to suffer a torn meniscus during last year's playoffs. As it turns out, though, Beverley also happens to be a key cog in Houston's run toward an NBA title.
James Harden and Dwight Howard understandably steal most of the headlines for the Rockets, but Beverley is the type of player who does all the little things. With per-game averages of over 10 points, 3.5 rebounds, nearly three assists and 1.38 steals, Beverley does essentially anything that is asked of him.
He also happens to have some insane hand-eye coordination ability, as seen in this vine courtesy of the Rockets' official Twitter account.
Ironically, Beverley suffered a torn meniscus in late March, in what some might categorize as a case of karma coming back to bite him. That could have very easily ended Beverley's season, but he managed to battle through it and return to Houston's lineup on April 12. He immediately jumped back into the fray with 20 points in 33 minutes of playing time, so all signs point to him being ready to carry the burden of being a playoff starter.
According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, Beverley freely admits that he isn't fully recovered from the injury, but he still intends to play a big role.
It's been an up and down roller coaster for sure, but I'm happy and fortunate it's not a season-ending injury... I don't have to get any surgery on it. It's been up and down, but right now it's up. I've been working extremely hard to get back and get into the flow of things.
I feel good. Of course, I don't feel 100 percent, but I feel good. I feel I could play in a basketball game right now. I feel for the playoffs I should be fine.
Beverley will have to be at his best when he goes up against dynamic Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. He may not be able to shut Lillard down completely, but simply making life a bit more difficult for him will increase Houston's chances of advancing significantly.
The Washington Wizards are quite obviously a team on the rise thanks largely to the continued improvement of their young players. As good as the likes of John Wall and Bradley Beal have been, though, it can be argued that small forward Trevor Ariza is the biggest key to Washington's success moving forward.
Ariza has become a major threat on both ends of the floor for the Wiz, and his versatility will come in handy in a tightly contested first-round series against the Chicago Bulls. Ariza has long been lauded for his defensive capabilities, and that certainly hasn't changed. Ariza remains one of the better perimeter defenders in the game as evidenced by his 1.64 steals per contest.
With that said, Ariza's offensive game has come a long in a major way as well. Ariza's 14.4 points per game is his highest scoring average since putting up 14.9 per tilt for the Rockets in 2009-10. The biggest reason for his recent scoring jump is the fact that he is now a proficient three-point shooter.
According to Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post, Ariza is knocking down better than two trifectas per game as a spot-up shooter this season:
Trevor Ariza, who couldn't hit broad side of a barn in his first few yrs, made 2.1 catch/shoot 3s per game this yr http://t.co/H5SxQ9kbor— Evan Dunlap (@BQRMagic) April 19, 2014
Ariza is also connecting at an impressive 41 percent clip from downtown, which is something that comes in handy during the playoffs. Ariza hit daggers all season long, and there is reason to believe that will continue on the big stage.
No matter how much the San Antonio Spurs' star players age, they continue to be title contenders on a yearly basis. That is largely due to the fact that no team in the league meshes, gels and plays together quite like Gregg Popovich's Spurs.
Which unheralded player will perform best in the first round of the NBA playoffs?
Veterans like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker continue to play as if they are in their prime, but they are bolstered by a great supporting cast, too. The likes of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green made names for themselves during the playoffs last year, and it's safe to assume that more players will step up to the plate this time around.
Perhaps the best candidate is point guard Patty Mills. The Aussie sharpshooter averaged better than 10 points per game during the regular season despite playing less than 19 minutes per contest. He also stepped up in a big way when Parker was out of action, so he is perfectly capable of taking on a bigger workload.
As evidenced by this quote courtesy of the Spurs' official Twitter account, Mills has the perfect mentality to succeed in San Antonio:
“We all enjoy each other’s company and there’s no question that it helps with trust when it comes out on the court.” – Patty Mills— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) April 17, 2014
The Spurs don't have the easiest first-round matchup on their hands as they will face the Dallas Mavericks, but the expectation is that San Antonio will be able to come out on top. In a perfect world, the Spurs will be able to do so without wearing down their veterans too much.
Look for Mills to deliver some quality minutes that will help keep Parker fresh and allow the Spurs to be competitive in the process.
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