New X-Factors Emerging for San Antonio Spurs' 2014-15 NBA Playoffs Run

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2015

San Antonio Spurs' Danny Green gestures after hitting a three-point basket in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks Sunday, March 22, 2015, in Atlanta. The Spurs won 114-95. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
David Goldman/Associated Press

The San Antonio Spurs have been ripping through every opponent recently, establishing themselves as one of the hottest teams entering the NBA playoffs.

Kawhi Leonard's emergence and Tony Parker's resurgence have the defending champions executing at an elite level, winning 19 of their last 22 outings.

However, the 2014-15 edition of the team has a few X-factors who have stepped up to mitigate the struggles of Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw in particular.

And once the postseason begins, the Spurs will be able to showcase three players who occupy non-glamorous, advantageous roles on a potential title-winning squad.

Patty Mills Can Only Improve; Cory Joseph Can Replace Him Anyway

Patty Mills was a significant factor in San Antonio's second-unit explosion during the 2014 playoffs, but he's encountered his fair share of difficulty this year.

The backup guard has buried just 22 of 83 three-point attempts since the All-Star breaka middling 26.5 percent. Before the break, he'd connected on a still-mediocre-but-much-better 38.0 percent.

Although Mills basically can't get much worse, Gregg Popovich has tried to stick with the streak shooter in hopes of a slump-buster.

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"You've got to keep giving him shots to get out there," Popovich said, per Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. "You can't let him just sit on the pine."

But the Spurs have a luxury many other rosters don't: Pop actually could "let him just sit on the pine," because Cory Joseph has been terrific in 2014-15. Back in December, the fourth-year guard shined when Tony Parker and Mills were both sidelined.

Joseph has maintained that since stepping into second-string duties, even if only temporarily. Through six games, he's averaged 6.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 20.2 minutes, also providing an upgrade defensively over Mills.

"He's earned the spot," Popovich said, per McDonald. "If I don't play him it's like, 'What do I gotta do around here?' You've got to reward a guy and let him get minutes."

The logjam at point guard is a decent problem to have, since San Antonio has a legitimate solution in Joseph.

Danny Green's Versatility

Basketball fans might be familiar with Danny Green because of his record-breaking three-point performance in the 2013 NBA Finals. Otherwise, the shooting guard is likely the forgotten man of San Antonio's starting five.

A premier three-and-D talent, Green has blossomed in an increased role. He's racked up a career-best 28.7 minutes and 12.0 points while posting a 115 offensive rating and 100 defensive clip, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

Plus, Green leads the league with 423 points as a spot-up shooter on a 63.5 percent effective field-goal percentage, per NBA.com. His 42.2 three-point mark ranks 10th in the league.

But long-distance excellence isn't his only major benefit. Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra complimented Green's versatility, as noted by Jonathan Jones of The Charlotte Observer. Spoelstra said:

He's not just a spot-up shooter, he's a basketball player. He's a throwback. He does a lot of things that he's underrated for. He has some of the best hands defensively in this game. He can guard multiple positions, he rebounds well. And then as a shooter, he's an elite spacer, but he knows how to move into open spots.

In addition to 4.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per outing, Green has displayed excellent transition and isolation defense.

Per NBA.com, Green is the seventh-best iso defender out of 64 players who have faced at least 75 such situations, allowing just 0.67 points per attempt. Additionally, he's caused a turnover the fifth-most times.

San Antonio has posted more efficient numbers with Green in the lineup, as seen through his on-/off-court splits.

Danny Green On-Off Splits
SituationeFG%BLK%ORtgOpp eFG%Opp ORtg
On-Court52.89.9110.747.7101.6
Off-Court50.06.2105.949.1102.8
Basketball-Reference.com

Yes, Green can be inconsistent from three and make some boneheaded decisions that draw Pop's uncensored wrath. But the "Tar Heel Triple" gives the Spurs a perimeter weaponboth offensively and defensively—that many teams don't have.

The Physical Force That Is Aron Baynes

San Antonio would be hard-pressed to physically hide Aron Baynes, who slams his 6'10", 260-pound frame around in the post, but some NBA-watchers still don't know about him yet.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 8:  Aron Baynes #16 of the San Antonio Spurs shoots the ball against the Houston Rockets on April 8, 2015 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or us
D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

Baynes spent his first two seasons as an end-of-the-bench reserve, pounding away in garbage time or if Tiago Splitter sustained an injury—which isn't a rare occurrence. After re-signing last summer, however, Baynes has taken on more responsibilities.

The Washington State product has amassed career-high numbers, scoring 6.5 points and grabbing 4.6 rebounds over 15.9 minutes. What's more, Baynes has managed a 9.6-point, 6.7-rebound average during 15 starts.

His biggest contribution is, well, being big and physical. Baynes hasn't backed down from any opponent, trying to throw each one like a rag-doll—sometimes successfully, too.

San Antonio is never better at defensive rebounding than when Baynes is clearing space down low. The Spurs' 79.1 percent clip and Baynes' plus-2.4 difference are the highest collective and individual marks by any everyday player.

Though the efficiency of San Antonio's starters dips when he's in the lineup, Baynes has proven himself as a capable replacement for Splitter. However, as long as the Brazilian is healthy, Baynes can return to the second unit, where he's been a force.

Per NBA.com, the five-man unit of Baynes, Marco Belinelli, Diaw, Ginobili and Mills has compiled a 100.2 offensive rating compared to a stellar 75.9 defensive mark. When substituting Joseph for Mills, the numbers change to 106.1 and 87.6, respectively.

At this rate, it won't take much longer for casual fans to know Baynes' name. He's a fixture in the Spurs' rotationand impossible to miss.

Unless otherwise noted, stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference and are accurate as of April 9.

Follow Bleacher Report NBA writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.