NBA

The Most Important Role Players in the 2014 NBA Playoffs

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterApril 29, 2014

The Most Important Role Players in the 2014 NBA Playoffs

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    USA TODAY Sports

    You can't win in the playoffs without production from your role players. The teams that continue to advance are the ones whose star players typically get solid support. 

    These are the guys whose performances could end up making or breaking their teams' playoff chances. And none of them is a go-to option in his offense.

     

    Note: Stats up to date through games played on Tuesday, April 29. 

Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Mark Humphrey

    Reggie Jackson lit up the Memphis Grizzlies in the fourth quarter of Game 4 for 17 of his 32 points. And the Oklahoma City Thunder needed it. 

    He has to be that guy who provides consistent firepower off the bench. Because if he isn't, the Thunder then have to turn to the likes of Derek Fisher, Caron Butler and Nick Collison for offense—all capable guys, but not ones you want to lean on series after series in the Western Conference. 

    In Oklahoma City's three losses, Jackson combined to shoot 4-of-21 from the floor for 12 total points. 

    Jackson has that ability to catch fire and take over offensively, but inconsistency has kept him from making the impact his talent suggests he should make. 

    If the Thunder are going to emerge from the West, they'll need Jackson on his A-game.

DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks

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    Darron Cummings

    DeMarre Carroll has emerged as a key member of the Atlanta Hawks starting lineup after having the most productive season of his career. 

    Through five first-round games against the Indiana Pacers, the Hawks have won when Carroll played well and lost when he stayed quiet. 

    He's averaging 15 points on 67 percent shooting from downtown in Atlanta's three wins and four points per game in its two losses.

    Carroll isn't a guy expected to create offense, but when the ball finds him in scoring position, whether it's as a spot-up shooter or opportunistic driver, Atlanta is going to need him to convert.

Vince Carter, Dallas Mavericks

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    LM Otero

    Vince Carter sure looked important on the Dallas Mavericks' final play of Game 3 against the San Antonio Spurs—the one in which he nailed a buzzer-beating three for the win. 

    Though it was just one shot, it epitomized the Mavericks' need for Carter—specifically, his scoring touch. Outside of Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, Carter really might be the next best option for offense. 

    He's become a reliable shot-maker on the perimeter as some of his athleticism has faded over the years. And the Mavericks are going to need Carter to knock down shots to give the top two guns some cushioning. 

    He's averaging just 9.3 points on 33.3 percent shooting from downtown through four postseason games. If the Mavericks are to make a deep playoff run, they're going to need Carter in double digits.

Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Harrison Barnes is the Golden State Warriors' X-factor off the bench.

    In their first two losses to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, Barnes combined to shoot 5-of-15 for a total of 13 points. In the Warriors' first two wins, he went 10-of-18 for 29 total points. 

    There aren't many offensive weapons sitting on Golden State's bench. That's Barnes' job.

    And there isn't a spot on the floor he isn't capable of making a shot from. But the Warriors can't afford to have Barnes disappear like he did in Game 5 (five points) for the rest of the series. 

Trevor Ariza, Washington Wizards

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    USA TODAY Sports

    With Trevor Ariza averaging 15.6 points through five postseason games, he's helped make the Washington Wizards look like a legitimate force in the East. 

    This team has been looking for a scorer on the wing, and John Wall has needed another reliable target to drive and kick to. And Ariza stepped up big time in the first round, particularly in Game 4 with Nene Hilario suspended, when he dropped 30 points on 6-of-10 shooting from three. 

    "We're a smart enough group to understand that when one of your pieces goes down, you have to find ways and a will to win," Ariza told Jason Reid of The Washington Post after Game 4. "[Today] was my [day] to take on the scoring load."

    Ariza was knocking down the shots that were finding him in the offense, and he was creating a few of his own. 

    He'll have to continue connecting from outside and capitalizing on his drives and slashes in the half court in the second round. Washington just doesn't have enough firepower off the bench.

Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    If the Portland Trail Blazers are going to make a serious move, they're going to need Nicolas Batum on full blast the rest of the way. 

    He's having a great series against the Houston Rockets, and not surprisingly, the Blazers have the early edge. Batum is averaging 17.8 points, seven boards and five assists, making plays off the ball and creating others one-on-one. 

    Batum scored five consecutive clutch points in overtime of Portland's Game 4 win over Houston. With defenses completely locked into Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, Batum will have to make them pay as a No. 3 option in Portland's offense.

Amir Johnson, Toronto Raptors

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Amir Johnson isn't known for creating offense, but his ability to finish holds significant value in the Toronto Raptors lineup. And Toronto needs him to finish the scoring chances that find him in the paint. 

    In the Raptors' first two wins against the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, he averaged 16.5 points and 7.0 boards. In their first two losses, he's averaged 4.5 and 3.5. 

    Pick-and-rolls, offensive putbacks, low-post opportunities—these are the plays in Johnson's wheelhouse that he needs to convert consistently. And as a starting power forward, any extra interior activity—tips, blocks, rebounds—can't hurt either.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

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    USA TODAY Sports

    At 6'7" with terrific athleticism, length and strength, the Spurs need Kawhi Leonard to help out in more areas than one. 

    Of course, they could use his scoring and shooting on the wing. But they need his passing, rebounding and overall physical presence just as much. And they need it on a consistent basis from here on out. 

    Leonard was a no-show in the Spurs' Game 2 loss to the Mavericks, finishing just 1-of-5 from the field with five boards. And at this point in his career, the bar should be raised a little higher.

    The Spurs are going to need his youth, energy and athleticism to get past Dallas and continue advancing deeper into May. When Leonard is on his game, this team becomes much tougher to beat.

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