NBA Playoffs 2013: X-Factor for Every Team in the Conference Semifinals

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistMay 7, 2013

NBA Playoffs 2013: X-Factor for Every Team in the Conference Semifinals

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    Clutch performances come in a variety of different forms, but it's often those from unsung heroes that wind up changing the dynamic of the postseason.

    With superstars expected to produce night in and night out, X-factors can prove to be the difference in the playoffs.

    Whether they are defensive specialists or spark plugs providing energy off of the bench, there's always room for a contributor to burst onto the scene and leave his mark on a given series.

    Note: All statistics from Basketball-Reference unless noted otherwise.

Chicago Bulls: Marco Belinelli

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    The Chicago Bulls have the defense to compete with the Miami Heat. What they often lack is the offense.

    Thanks to 50 percent shooting and the 17 points per game each that Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson contributed against the Brooklyn Nets, the Bulls were able to escape Round 1. But to remain competitive with the Heat, the Bulls will need stellar performances out of another unsung hero.

    As this series moves forward, keep an eye on Marco Belinelli, who was a major factor in the Bulls' upset of the Nets. According to, the Bulls were significantly better on the offensive end with Belinelli on the court.

    In his 156 minutes against the Nets, the Bulls posted an offensive rating of 105.9, more than six points higher than when he sat on the bench.

    While the Bulls' defense did suffer when Belinelli was on the floor (defensive rating of 112), the streaky Italian sharpshooter will undoubtedly receive significant time against the Heat.

    Although he shot 3-of-10 from the field in Game 1 against Miami, Belinelli came up with some timely treys that helped propel the Bulls to a stunning victory. On the night, the perimeter gunner finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, playing a hefty 46 minutes in place of Luol Deng.

Golden State Warriors: Harrison Barnes

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    Stephen Curry was spectacular as usual in the Golden State Warriors' first-round series with the Denver Nuggets, but rookie Harrison Barnes was the Warriors' most surprising contributor.

    Barnes emerged as a major player for coach Mark Jackson, playing 10 minutes more per game in the first round (35.5 minutes per game) than he did during the regular season (25.4 minutes per game).

    Not only did Barnes shoot a steady 45.7 percent from the field, but he shot a lethal 40.6 percent from three over six games. And, according to, the Warriors were 7.4 points better per 100 possessions when Barnes was on the floor in Round 1.

    In Game 1 against the Spurs, Barnes was a major contributor yet again. He played 53 minutes (the second-most behind Curry), scoring 19 points on an efficient 8-of-14 shooting (3-of-6 from three) and pulling down 12 rebounds.

    With an improving jump shot and ideal athleticism and length to defend on the wing, sustained production from Barnes will be necessary if the Warriors have any hope of pulling off a second consecutive upset.

Indiana Pacers: Lance Stephenson

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    As seen in Sunday's Game 1 win over the New York Knicks, Lance Stephenson has become an integral piece of this Indiana Pacers ballclub. One of six Pacers who scored in double figures, Stephenson shot 5-of-9 from the field en route to an 11-point outing.

    However, it's what Stephenson can contribute outside of the scoring column that makes him so valuable.

    Coming off a series in which he averaged eight rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game, Stephenson tacked on 13 rebounds, three assists and three steals to his line in Game 1. Though his Game 2 showing was not nearly as impressive, he still chipped in across the board. 

    Stopping the Knicks' plethora of shooters is a tall task, but Stephenson has the ability to step up and make life difficult for shooters like J.R. Smith on the perimeter.

    A gritty guard who's not afraid to do the dirty work, Stephenson has a chance to leave his fingerprints all over this series and spoil the Knicks' season.

Memphis Grizzlies: Quincy Pondexter

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    Because Memphis a notoriously poor jump-shooting team, Quincy Pondexter allows the Grizzlies to stretch the floor. 

    On the season, the Grizzlies recorded the league's 10th-worst field-goal percentage (44.4 percent) and seventh-worst three-point percentage (34.5 percent).

    Pondexter wound up being one of the few Memphis players who was steady from deep, hitting on 39.5 percent of his three-point attempts throughout the regular season.

    In fact, Pondexter became known as a reliable shooter from the corners, where he hit on a combined 45.5 percent of his attempts, according to

    Pondexter may have missed potential game-tying free throws in Game 1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but he has been otherwise steady in the Memphis Grizzlies' second-round series. 

    Thus far in the postseason, Pondexter is shooting nearly 40 percent from distance, providing the Grizzlies offense with a different dimension.

Miami Heat: Chris Andersen

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    During the regular season, the Miami Heat ranked dead last in total rebounds per game, averaging 38.6 a contest.

    When the Heat and Bulls clash, it is imperative that Miami makes its presence felt on the glass. Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer averaged 20.5 rebounds in the first round, and Noah pulled down an average of 4.4 offensive rebounds per game, creating a bounty of second chances for a Bulls offense that is known to sputter at times.

    To combat the Bulls' intensity on the boards, the Heat would be wise to dole out a few extra minutes to Chris Andersen.

    Although Andersen played just 14.8 minutes per game in the Heat's first-round sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks, his presence on the floor was always felt. During the 59 minutes in which Andersen was on the floor, the Heat allowed 82.8 points per 100 possessions, according to

    In Game 1 against the Bulls, Andersen was visibly out of it. He was bullied by the relentless pairing of Noah and Boozer, and he pulled down just one rebound in 16 minutes of action.

    With the Heat at a significant disadvantage in the frontcourt, Andersen will need to bounce back in a big way to help Miami even the series.

New York Knicks: Iman Shumpert

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    The offense that made the New York Knicks so feared during the regular season has transformed into one that's overly reliant on isolations from Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith.

    Going up against a stingy Indiana Pacers defense, that style of play isn't going to cut it. Quick ball rotations will be key, and one man who would be happy to be on the receiving end of them is Iman Shumpert.

    The dynamic guard could be relied upon to score in big spots for the Knicks, just as he was in Game 6 (17 points, 6-of-9 shooting, 3-of-3 from three) against the Boston Celtics. He will be needed on the defensive end as well, where he's established himself as one of the league's best wing defenders in just his second season. 

    According to, the Knicks were plus-19.8 points per 100 possessions with Shumpert on the floor in Round 1, while they were minus-12.9 per 100 possessions when he sat.

    With the length necessary to disrupt Paul George's versatile game, Shumpert will be the Knicks' most important player not named Carmelo in this second-round series.

    In Game 2 against Indiana, the second-year star showed up in a big way. Not only was he his usual defensive-minded self, but he ignited the Knicks offense in the second quarter, including one major putback flush. He would finish with 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting in the win.

    That contest exemplified how valuable Shumpert is to the New York offense. When he's locked in, he gives Mike Woodson another weapon to utilize—one who can attack off the dribble and off the catch.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Reggie Jackson

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    Believe it or not, Reggie Jackson was the Oklahoma City Thunder's third-leading scorer in the first round of the playoffs, averaging 14 points per game.

    With Russell Westbrook out, the Thunder are in need of a point guard capable of creating his own shot. Jackson could turn out to be just that, though his defense remains a liability.

    Going up against a much-improved Mike Conley, Jackson will need to focus a good deal of his attention on containing the crafty floor general.

    According to, the Thunder were 20.6 points better per 100 possessions defensively when Jackson was off the floor in the first round. They were also 10.2 points better offensively per 100 possessions when he was on the floor, which could wind up being more important going up against the NBA's best defensive team.

    In addition to the clutch free throws Jackson knocked down on Sunday afternoon in Game 1, he is one of three Thunder players to score in double figures in both games of the series (Kevin Durant and Kevin Martin being the other two).

    As the Thunder and Grizzlies slug it out, Jackson's maturation will be a storyline to keep an eye on.

San Antonio Spurs: Manu Ginobili

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    Manu Ginobili only played an average of 19.5 minutes per game in the first round but was arguably the best player on the floor in limited action.

    Although he's nearly 36 years old, Ginobili proved that he can still be a game-changer. The Argentine racked up 11.3 points, 4.8 assists, 1.8 steals and a PER of 28.8 in four games against the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Going up against a backcourt comprised of Stephen Curry and Jarrett Jack, the duo of Ginobili and Tony Parker will need to be as sharp in Round 2 as they were in Round 1.

    As expected, Ginobili delivered in a big way in Game 1 against the Dubs. Despite struggling to the tune of 5-of-20 shooting from the field, Ginobili's clutch three in double-overtime secured a 129-127 come-from-behind win for the Spurs.

    On the night, Ginobili finished with 16 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds, proving that he can still have a profound impact on a game when his shot isn't falling.