2011 NBA Playoffs: Most Important Player
Each team left in this year's NBA playoffs has a player that will have to step up if his team is going to bring home the championship. Everyone knows the James's, Durant's, and Rose's are going to get theirs. However, they can't do it alone, so who is going to help them get to the ultimate goal?
These guys may not be the stars of a game, but each of them have skills or roles that make them invaluable to their team's success.
Jeff Teague, in his second year out of Wake Forest, was thrust into a starting role for this round after an injury to starter Kirk Hinrich. Teague hardly played in the first series victory against the Orlando Magic and is now playing over forty minutes a night against the top seeded Chicago Bulls and MVP Derrick Rose.
Teague needs to find a way, any way, to slow down Rose. Rose has scored 44, 25, and 24 in the three games so far against Teague. Rose, not known for his defense, is allowing Teague to have solid offensive games scoring 21 twice, both losses.
If Teague can't grow up fast and stop Rose from taking over games at will, his Atlanta Hawks have no shot at advancing any further this season. If he can keep his efficient scoring up and keep Rose a little in check then the Hawks still have a shot at knocking off the regular season champs.
James Harden, and his beard, have an excellent jump shot. He hasn't shown it so far in his short career. The second year player out of Arizona was the third overall selection of the Oklahoma City Thunder, ahead of rookie of the year Tyreke Evans, and hasn't become the solid third scoring option they had hoped he'd become.
Right now the Thunder have NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant and all star point guard Russell Westbrook entrenched at scoring options one and two, respectively. After those two great players the Thunder really struggle. That's where Harden is supposed to fit in. If he can stretch the floor and take pressure off of Durant and Westbrook and give them another player who can score, this team will be a very tough out. If he keeps shooting poorly and is continually replaced by defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder will be watching the finals from home.
Tony Allen, on many occasions, has been accused of being less than sound in his decision making process. I think that's something the Memphis Grizzlies are accepting as long as he continues to play such great defense. Allen finished fourth in defensive MVP voting this season and hasn't slowed down in the playoffs.
After his Grizzlies knocked off the top seeded San Antonio Spurs in round one, his defense has been focused on Oklahoma City star and NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant. Durant has not looked comfortable yet this series. To top that off, for about eight critical minutes at the end of game three the Thunder couldn't score allowing the Grizzlies to come back from a 16 point deficit to win in overtime. If Allen can keep his erratic offensive decisions to a minimum and continue making it very difficult to the opponents top offensive threat, there's a possibility that the Grizzlies could make eight seed history with a championship run.
Shaquille O'Neal was brought in to add toughness and inside scoring to the defending conference champions. Instead, all they have gotten by his signing is a entertaining mascot. The Boston Celtics traded away starting center Kendrick Perkins planning on O'Neal and fellow O'Neal Jermaine to make up for what he brought to the team. A decent idea, but O'Neal hasn't been on the court to make that difference and the Celtics have suffered because of it. Against the Heat, Lebron James and Dwyane Wade are attacking the rim at will and if Perkins was still around that just wouldn't be happening.
The Celtics need "The Big Shamrock" to step on the court, punish the Heat for driving and give the Celtics some interior offense and rebounding. If he continues to sit on the bench the Celtics will have a whole summer to question general manager Danny Ainge and the future of coach Doc Rivers and the "Big 3" of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen.
Lamar Odom, this year's sixth man of the year award winner, does everything for the defending champs. He plays solid defense, rebounds, and can play inside and out on offense. He needs to do all of these things perfectly for four games if his Lakers are going to advance past the Dallas Mavericks and become the first NBA team to overcome a three game deficit. Odom will need to be a force on the offensive boards and step up his outside shooting. The Lakers are shooting just 19 percent from 3 point range. If they keep that up they won't be able to make up the three games they are down.
If Odom can play perfect basketball and inspire his teammates by spreading the floor and creating some easy shots for his struggling big men, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers have a shot. If Odom can't, he can focus on being Mr. Kardashian with his wife and continue his promising reality t.v. show.
This is Shawn Marion's eighth trip to the NBA postseason and has never been to the finals. He's going to need to play a little better if he wants to break that streak. He's shooting under 44 percent from the field and is scoring less than ten points per game so far this postseason. His Dallas Mavericks will need him to up his rebounding along with his shooting if they plan on taking home the championship.
Marion is playing solid defense and has many nice hustle plays to spark the Mavs. If he can keep that up and get a little more involved in the offense to give them another option the Mavs will be in a great position to finally appease animated owner Mark Cuban.
When the Chicago Bulls signed Carlos Boozer this past off season everything they imagined had come true for the regular season. Boozer played well and gave the Bulls a post presence they hadn't had since Elton Brand and could hide his defensive inefficiencies with Joakim Noah. Then the playoffs arrived and Boozer's best contribution has been as a cheerleader. He's battling various nagging injuries (as usual) but has been largely ineffective this post season.
Some attributed his poor first round to a tough matchup with the much longer and taller Roy Hibbert. However, round two has been much of the same against Al Horford and Josh Smith. Boozer will need to establish himself down low and take some pressure off of MVP Derrick Rose. Rose can take over any game, but he's much harder to stop when he can dump it inside to Boozer. And if Rose doesn't have to do everything every game, maybe he will survive long enough to get the Bulls to the finals since he's already sprained his ankle twice this month. If Boozer can't come up big and give the Bulls what they signed him for, they will be going home before the Finals and he will face a whole summer of scrutiny from the fickle Chicago media.
This one is simple, James Jones can shoot. I mean really shoot. Jones has single handedly made the Heat offense work this post season. He stretches the floor and gives Dwyane Wade and Lebron James so much extra space to work with. They can create whatever shot they want and if they draw Jones's defender he will make them pay with a 3.
Jones is shooting 58 percent from beyond the arc this postseason and hit 43 percent during the regular season. If he keeps up his hot shooting there is no reason the Heat can't bring the trophy back to South Beach to join the "talents."