Every Potential NBA Playoff Team's Biggest Wild Card

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJune 26, 2020

Every Potential NBA Playoff Team's Biggest Wild Card

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    Consistency is a virtue in the NBA playoffs. The teams best positioned to win a title are typically those with the most known or superstar quantities. They are flush with the commodified type of predictability: reliability.

    But no squad depends entirely on givens or relative likelies. Every team has to lean on its fair share of wild cards, the players who, for whatever reason, have high-variance outcomes baked into their games.

    This isn't always a bad thing. Non-guarantees don't have to be sinister. They can be a general question mark in the rotation, an impactful player who's battling injuries or working through a down year or someone suddenly slated to take on a more prominent role. They can also be straight-up enigmas—not necessarily a secret weapon or X-factor, but anyone who can tilt an entire series, for better or worse.

    Our wild card for every team scheduled to enter the NBA's Disney World bubble will be chosen with this theme in mind. Everything and everyone is on the table, the lone exception being we won't select a player solely because we know he tested positive for COVID-19.

    Other than that, anything goes in this search for the biggest question marks and highest-profile mysteries and most important unknowns.

Loose Interpretation of "Potential" Playoff Team

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    Phoenix Suns: Mikal Bridges

    Mikal Bridges' defense is a constant. He works his butt off in one-on-one situations, and his closeouts are essentially teleportation.

    His offense is much less of a sure thing. The Suns cannot be sure which version of him they'll get when the season restarts: the one that doesn't hesitate to shoot or drive and creates opportunities for teammates with his dribble penetration, or the one that's much more passive and subsists on cuts to the basket.


    San Antonio Spurs: Trey Lyles

    Lonnie Walker IV is a good pick if you believe the Spurs will give him the playing time necessary to maybe establish himself as a defensive worker bee who can shot-make off the dribble. Color me skeptical that head coach Gregg Popovich affords him the requisite reps.

    Trey Lyles is basically an auto-pick. LaMarcus Aldridge is done for the year after having surgery on his right shoulder. Jakob Poeltl will absorb a bunch of his minutes, and San Antonio just signed Tyler Zeller, but Lyles is now bound to get more run at center—where he both has the potential to supercharge the Spurs offense  and nuke their defense.


    Washington Wizards: Rui Hachimura

    Davis Bertans isn't joining the Wizards in the bubble with free agency on the horizon. This is the right decision. Washington's playoff chances are virtually nil, and even in a cap-starved market, he's due for the first mega-windfall of his career.

    Rookie Rui Hachimura figures to sponge up a lot of the power forward reps Bertans leaves behind. He's already second on the Wizards in minutes per game, but this should be an opportunity for him to have more influence over the offense.

The West's Most Realistic 8th-Seed Options

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    Memphis Grizzlies: Justise Winslow

    Justise Winslow has yet to suit up for the Grizzlies while recovering from a back injury, but he's cleared to play as they head into Disney World. Memphis now gets to see how well he fits with the rest of the roster, which will in turn go a long way toward deciding whether the Grizzlies maintain possession of the Western Conference's eighth seed.

    Trying to forecast Winslow's contributions out of the gate is futile. He hasn't played since Jan. 8 and is joining a new team. But the Grizzlies have to hope he regains the three-point touch he wielded last season. That set jumper is paramount to him panning out on a roster with plenty of other players who prefer to operate on-ball.


    New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson

    Consider this your reminder that Zion Williamson has appeared in just 19 games. And this isn't meant to be an insult. Nor does it amount to skepticism. It is more so an inquiry into how much Williamson has instantly meant to the Pelicans.

    New Orleans is crushing opponents by 10.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. And that net rating has actually improved to plus-24.5 in the time he spends with Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday and Brandon Ingram, three players who require a significant number of touches.

    Will this hold? Are the Pelicans the favorites to grab the West's eighth seed if it does? What happens if Williamson is rusty or just not as good? Does it eliminate New Orleans from postseason contention?


    Portland Trail Blazers: Jusuf Nurkic

    Carmelo Anthony, Mario Hezonja and Gary Trent Jr. are all solid picks here. The Blazers' wing rotation will be thinner than ever without both Rodney Hood (Achilles) and Trevor Ariza (not joining the team). Anfernee Simons is an unending wild card himself. Zach Collins hasn't played since Oct. 27 after dislocating his left shoulder. Hassan Whiteside exists.

    But, like, seriously. It has to be Jusuf Nurkic.

    He's working his way back from compound fractures in his left leg, and when the season starts back up, he won't have played in an NBA game for over 16 months. His return will be welcomed—and is much-needed on the defensive end—but who knows how long it'll take him to regain form.

    Will he scamper off screens as quickly? Finish short rolls as effectively? Move as well on defense? The Blazers will have a puncher's chance at forcing a play-in situation for the eighth seed if he's close to normal, but this stretch of basketball, assuming he plays, could be more about getting him ready for next season.


    Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley III

    Marvin Bagley III's availability is a wild card on its own. A left foot injury has kept him off the floor since Jan. 20, and Sacramento never provided an official timetable for his return.

    If Bagley does play, he'll be toting a heavier burden of proof than he did last year. He closed his rookie season flashing a more dependable set jumper and a comfort level creating shots for himself down low that belied his age and experience. His offensive efficiency has since taken a nosedive.

    In 13 appearances this year, Bagley is shooting 18.2 percent from downtown and 31.6 percent on hook shots. The sample size is small and he has battled injuries, but even optimistic projections cannot ignore the glaring uncertainties in his game: Is he a power forward? A center? If he's a 4, does he have the range to play with Richaun Holmes? And if he's a 5, can the defense survive?

They Haven't Technically Clinched a Playoff Spot

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    Brooklyn Nets: Taurean Prince

    Absent a lockdown wing defender, the Nets have placed a ton of responsibility onto Taurean Prince's shoulders. He's held up...all right. He's still better off the ball than on, which can be problematic for the genre of players Brooklyn will have him guard.

    Prince is at times more of a wild card on the offensive end. The Nets have lightened his ball-handling workload, but his spot pick-and-roll initiation is still rife with misadventures. And his three-point touch is not the given it became over the past two seasons. He's shooting 33.9 percent on treys for the year and 27.8 percent since Jan. 31.


    Orlando Magic: Jonathan Isaac

    Jonathan Isaac is first and foremost a wild card because the Magic aren't quite sure whether he'll play after sitting out since Jan. 1 with a left knee injury. As he told ClickOrlando.com (h/t DraftKings' Ameer Tyree):

    “Will I be able to play? I can’t put my finger on it now. I’m going to continue to work every single day like I’m getting there. Like I’m going for it. Hopefully, that crosses paths the right way that it’s able to happen. If not, it sucks. But we’ve got time to get back and be completely ready for next season."

    In the event Isaac returns, he's an unknown for all the usual reasons. Will he be the same defensive monster, a one-man system unto himself? But this goes one step further. 

    Orlando gets much more interesting if Isaac is ready and able, and it sneaks into the playoffs as the East's seventh seed. Aaron Gordon has beefed up his playmaking and set shooting in recent months. Evan Fournier was cooking when the season stopped. So was Michael Carter-Williams. Nikola Vucevic is still Nikola Vucevic.

    Pit the Magic against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round and they're a four- or five-game out. Match up against the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors, with a healthy Isaac, and, well, they're still monstrous underdogs—but not hopeless ones.

Boston Celtics: Backup Center

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    Pinning down the Boston Celtics' wild card is tough. No one player fits the bill.

    Singling out Gordon Hayward is tired. The Celtics know what they have in him. He's played well enough for long enough to get the benefit of the doubt, and Boston is now iterations of itself removed from expecting him to be a star.

    Rolling with Brad Wanamaker would be fine, because, technically, the Celtics' backup point guard spot is iffy. But they have Marcus Smart, a near-positionless player these days, and don't need a conventional floor general when Hayward is so comfortable initiating the offense and Jayson Tatum has shown he can make more complicated passing reads.

    Settling on backup center, in its entirety, is the right move. It speaks to the uncertainty of Boston's pecking order in the middle, which is matchup-based and has shape-shifted over time and, ultimately, remains a mystery.

    Who will get a lion's share of the minutes behind Daniel Theis? Will it be Grant Williams? Enes Kanter? Robert Williams III? Might Boston trot out super-small combinations it hasn't yet ambitiously tested, with Hayward or Tatum or Jaylen Brown as the de facto big? Will Semi Ojeleye work his way into the conversation?

    And it isn't only the decision facing the Celtics. The end result matters just as much. Can Kanter more easily get played off the floor in the playoffs? Can either of the Williamses hang with any of the Eastern Conference's behemoths, namely Joel Embiid, but also Brook Lopez, Domantas Sabonis, Marc Gasol or Pascal Siakam?

Dallas Mavericks: Kristaps Porzingis

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    Kristaps Porzingis does not get the question-mark treatment because the Dallas Mavericks have to worry about his knees (they do), or because this will be his first trip to the postseason (that's true for Luka Doncic, too).

    He's an actual wild card.

    Just look at his true shooting percentage splits by month:

    • October (four games): 54.6
    • November (13 games): 48.3
    • December (14 games): 52.1
    • January (six games): 53.2
    • February (nine games): 65.6
    • March (five games): 51.0

    Dallas has carved out a consistent role for Porzingis. His efficiency has been anything but. And while the Mavericks are statistically better overall during the time he's on the floor, their offensive rating essentially goes unchanged without him.

    These little quirks matter. Failing a first-round date with the Denver Nuggets or Utah Jazz, Dallas is going to be at a severe star-power deficit in the playoffs. Doncic may be the Mavs' guiding light, but Porzingis' play will be just as pivotal in determining how much of a fight this team puts up.

Denver Nuggets: Gary Harris

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    Wild-card options abound for the Denver Nuggets.

    Jamal Murray is the type of player who can win or lose you a playoff series. Torrey Craig's shooting—or lack thereof—will loom large during matchups in which Denver can't afford to keep his defense on the bench. Michael Porter Jr. might add another much-needed layer of shot creation...if head coach Mike Malone actually plays him in the postseason.

    Nikola Jokic even sort of qualifies. He's lost 40 pounds since the league shut down on March 11. That bodes well for his end-to-end stamina and defensive mobility, but his post game is equal parts guile, finesse and force. The latter could theoretically be in jeopardy if he's carrying around less heft.

    Gary Harris still feels like the right answer. He's played like a shell of his former offensive self for the better part of two seasons. Right adductor and left hamstring issues didn't help him last year, and that same right adductor problem has flared up this season. But his struggles seem to go deeper.

    Never mind that he's converting just 33.6 percent of his three-point attempts since last year. His overall shot profile is a bigger concern than his efficiency. Fewer of his looks are coming at the rim compared to three seasons ago, and his three-point attempt rate has dropped from its 41 percent mark in 2016-17. His mid-range volume has spiked during this time, a troubling trend for someone who spends so many beats off the ball, almost solely as a play finisher.

    On the bright side, Harris is splashing in 57.7 percent of his three since the All-Star break. But his uptick in efficiency has included a drop in volume. And the Nuggets can't exactly bank on his scorching-hot outside clip after all that's happened over the past couple of seasons. They need to see his most recent performance hold over a longer period of time before assuming he's a net-positive offensive player again.

Houston Rockets: Eric Gordon

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    Eric Gordon didn't look right before his right knee surgery in November, and he hasn't fared that much better following his recovery.

    In the 25 games he's played since returning, he's averaging 15.8 points while dropping in 33.2 percent of his threes. He's now up to a 31.9 percent clip from distance on the season, and his conversion inside three feet (55.7 percent) is the fourth-lowest mark of his career.

    The Houston Rockets have him firing so many threes—10.7 per 36 minutes, the fourth-most in the league—that they can view his recent efficiency as a quasi-win. It is the equivalent of shooting around 50 percent inside in the arc.

    But they also rely on him for more than his outside volume. He has shouldered defensive wing assignments in postseasons past and hasn't appeared nearly as capable of doing that this year.

    That's a problem. Even with Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker on the docket, he won't be free from those spot responsibilities, particularly if Houston is at all interested in running out three-guard lineups with Gordon, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. (The latter is debatable given how small the team now plays on the front line.)

    Maybe the time away will prove good for Gordon. The Rockets better hope it does. They at the very least need him to be a source of more consistent shot-making.

Indiana Pacers: Victor Oladipo

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    Victor Oladipo is a wild card in the most absolute sense.

    The Indiana Pacers don't yet know if they'll have him in their rotation when the season resumes. He is in the process of testing his repaired torn right quad, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, and may not be inclined to take any chances with his free agency right around the corner (2021).

    If he does play, neither Oladipo nor the Pacers can realistically know what to expect. He had just 13 appearances under his belt when the league closed its doors. His return was only getting started. And now he'll be dealing with another four-plus months away from NBA game play.

    Rust needs to be the assumption. At the bare minimum, Indiana must be prepared to float Oladipo's previous offensive learning curve. His defensive movement was pretty good upon return, but his efficiency at the other end largely cratered.

    To Oladipo's credit, he entered the hiatus on a high note, averaging 19.5 points and four assists over his last four appearances while downing 42.9 percent of his threes. His finishing around the rim still hasn't kicked in, but he's generating more of his looks at the basket than last season and hitting his long twos at a ridiculously high clip.

    Indiana instantly becomes a team to watch if Oladipo even comes relatively close to sniffing his previous normal. Any opponent that isn't the Milwaukee Bucks suddenly seems beatable with him near the peak of his powers. But if he's still going through the recovery motions once the postseason tips off, or if he's not playing at all, the Pacers will have the look and feel of a first-round steppingstone—their performance without him thus far be damned.

Los Angeles Clippers: Marcus Morris Sr.

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    Feel free to suggest alternative selections for the Los Angeles Angeles Clippers. They have questions.

    Can Landry Shamet shoot himself out of his most recent rut? Will Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac be played off the floor in certain matchups? (Just so we're clear: Zubac is not a liability around the rim.) Can JaMychal Green recapture his small-ball-5 magic from last year if they do, even though the Clippers haven't much experimented with those lineups this season?

    Will Lou Williams close crunch-time games? Should he? Does he even need to? Can Paul George make it through what's left of the season without aggravating his right shoulder or left hamstring? Is fashion-icon Kawhi Leonard going to be OK with the NBA's Disney bubble dress code?

    Most of the Clippers' issues are incumbent of every NBA team (injuries) or matters of choice (lineup composition). Shamet's cold shooting comes closest to a headlining concern, but worrying too much about him when Los Angeles has George, Leonard and Patrick Beverley is more performative than genuine.

    Marcus Morris Sr.'s play is more critical anyway. The Clippers gave up Moe Harkless, this year's first-round pick and an intriguing second (via Detroit) to get him, and he will (probably) be the one they tap to man center in pocket-sized arrangements. They also have to figure out what he's worth ahead of free agency. (They have non-Bird rights and can pay him up $18 million in the first year of his next contract.)

    The first 12 games of Morris' L.A. tenure have not done much, if anything, to inform his current and big-picture fit. Save for a couple of strongish performances, he's looked out of place in an offense that, despite not being obsessed with moving the ball, doesn't allow him as many opportunities to dominate it.

    More than half of Morris' buckets went unassisted during his time with the New York Knicks. That share has plunged to 25 percent since joining the Clippers. His time of possession has been halved, and his overall number of possessions slashed. This role shift has coincided with a stark dip in efficiency. He's shooting just 28.3 percent from deep. And while his offensive wrinkles haven't torpedoed the Clippers' overarching performance with him on the court, they ponied up for a better version of Morris than the one they've thus far seen.

Los Angeles Lakers: Alex Caruso

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    Avery Bradley's decision to sit out the rest of the season complicates the Los Angeles Lakers' defensive hierarchy. He matched up with pretty much all guards, as well as some wings. Pestering the latter was a potential point of weakness in the rotation to begin with and is an even thornier situation now.

    Danny Green's workload cannot be expanded. LeBron James has played good defense this year, but he's yet to be responsible for guarding movers and shakers full-time. And though he can take on tougher wing assignments, the postseason isn't an excuse to throw him on certain point guards.

    Covering up for Bradley's absence will, to some extent, fall on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He's third on the team in minutes at just over 25 per game. He has the bandwidth to log some more. But Bradley was averaging over 27 minutes per game in Los Angeles' 15 tilts prior to the NBA's shutdown. It'll take a small village to make up the full scope of his playing time.

    Hello, Alex Caruso.

    Plenty of Lakers fans and NBA Twitterers have clamored for him to get more reps over Rajon Rondo. He is the rangier, more engaged defender, not to mention a better finisher at the rim and a comfier fit off the ball.

    Additional opportunity should default to him now, but those extra reps will be bittersweet. They are unlikely to come at the expense of Rondo and will instead put more pressure on him to replace someone who is, functionally, one of the Lakers' most important stoppers.

    How will he fare if he's suddenly the first or second line of defense against Jrue Holiday? Or Damian Lillard? The Lakers may be about to find out.

    (By the way: Head coach Frank Vogel will have an airtight wild-card case if the Lakers end up signing JR Smith. Does he use him to replace Bradley's minutes? Stick with Caruso? Give Kyle Kuzma more wing minutes?)

Miami Heat: Andre Iguodala

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    Andre Iguodala's importance to the Miami Heat's rotation was always going to exist in a state of perpetual lurch. They need his ball-handling and wing defense, but he is 36 and hasn't played much over the past year. How much of an impact can he actually have?

    Answering that question is a helluva lot harder now. Iguodala will have made 14 appearances during the previous 13-plus months when the season starts back up, and almost all of his off time was not spent with an actual team.

    His time in Miami has gone swimmingly to this point. He's averaging 18.5 minutes per game and has added punchiness to lineups without Jimmy Butler while shooting 37.5 percent from deep and defending everyone from guards and wings to some bigs.

    Still, the impending playoffs warrant follow-ups.

    How many more minutes can Iguodala play? Can he guard Khris Middleton and help with Giannis Antetokounmpo over the course of an entire series? Will the Heat give him more reps alongside Butler? And will those minutes get better after flopping across a microscopic sample size? Or is this similar to the Butler-Justise Winslow dilemma, wherein maybe they'll figure it out together but for the most part be better off separately? Can they both close games?

    Miami has the talent, on paper, to throw a wrench into the Eastern Conference's pecking order. It's just not yet clear how heavily—or exactly—Iguodala can or will or must factor into the team's postseason rotation.

Milwaukee Bucks: Eric Bledsoe

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    You knew this was coming.

    Eric Bledsoe's first two postseason go-rounds with the Milwaukee Bucks are memorable for all the wrong reasons. He was outplayed by Terry Rozier in 2018 and went ice cold during the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals, shooting just 17.2 percent from long range while roller-coastering inside the arc.

    Last year specifically, the Bucks offense imploded in the playoffs with him on the floor. Even with their letdown against the Toronto Raptors in mind, the same cannot be said for the rest of the starters.

    Perhaps Bledsoe is beyond the benefit of the doubt. That's fine. That's also different from hopeless. His wild-card status is fascinating because he's legitimately good.

    Whether he's less of an offensive question mark is a separate matter. He's still putting down just 34.9 percent of his wide-open threes...up from 33.2 percent last season. But he's also posting an effective field-goal percentage of 62.0 in isolation, which is the league's absolute best mark among 65 players to attempt more than 50 shots in these situations.

    Milwaukee has alternatives if Bledsoe's offense devolves versus tougher defenses. George Hill is extremely plug-and-play, and Donte DiVincenzo adds a morsel of shot creation while filling some of the defensive gaps that Bledsoe's absence would create.

    Ideally, though, the Bucks won't have to plan around Bledsoe's struggles. Their most efficient path out of the East includes his being part of the solution.

Oklahoma City Thunder: The Wing Rotation

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    Another committee pick. Sorry, not sorry.

    For the "Be more specific!" crowd, this blanket concern includes neither Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a battled-tested asset at both ends, nor Danilo Gallinari, who is more a 4 than a 3 and definitely not a 2.

    Everyone else who will see minutes at the wing spots for the Oklahoma City Thunder is looped into this: the recently NBA-contractified Luguentz Dort, Terrance Ferguson, Abdel Nader and even Darius Bazley. They will all be under an immense amount of pressure if and when they take the floor during the playoffs.

    Oklahoma City is so partial to three-guard arrangements at least somewhat because the small forward slot lacks offensive substance. Also: The Thunder are throttling opponents when Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder play together. Also, also: Gilgeous Alexander has the size and length to harass wings.

    But it's the offensive-substance thing, too.

    Nader is the only one of Oklahoma City's wing options shooting above the league average of 35.7 percent from beyond the arc. That includes Gilgeous-Alexander, as well as the previously unmentioned Deonte Burton and Hamidou Diallo. And aside from Gilgeous-Alexander, none of the Thunder's other wings promise significant ball-handling. Bazley or Dort is the next-best option in the non-Gallinari division.

    This says nothing of the defensive burden that befalls anyone who logs minutes on the wing, most notably when Gilgeous-Alexander is off the floor. The Thunder have leaned on Dort and Ferguson to tussle with star guards and 3s, a testament to both (mainly Dort) but also a harbinger of their spotty wing depth.

    How well someone like Dort shoots or defends will say a whole lot about Oklahoma City's postseason fate. That's kind of, sort of, definitely unsettling.

Philadelphia 76ers: Al Horford

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    Unscheduled time off may be just what Al Horford needed. His debut season with the Philadelphia 76ers hasn't unfolded according to plan, and they can only hope that his battle with left knee and Achilles issues are to blame.

    Then again, the awkwardness of Horford's fit beside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons isn't necessarily a matter of health. He doesn't have the same freedom to pick-and-pop and is out of his element when he's not setting ball screens in high volume.

    The Sixers can make it work if Horford is banging in threes. He's not. He's shooting 33.7 percent from behind the rainbow for the season, and not surprisingly, Philadelphia is a net negative with him on the floor since Christmas.

    Staggering his minutes from Embiid's offers a little cushion. That's in part why the Sixers acquired Horford: to help navigate stretches without their best player. But those stints will be fewer and further between in the playoffs, assuming Embiid plays more minutes. (He might not.)

    Either way, the Sixers need both bigs to be more complementary on the offensive end. They're scoring just 101.5 points per 100 possessions (5th percentile) with both on the court across a large sample size. Their offensive rating drops to 99.3 (3rd percentile) when adding in Simmons.

    Philly is not hopeless. The defense is super-elite with all three of its stars in the lineup. More importantly, Horford is shooting 37.7 percent on spot-up threes and 41.8 percent on wide-open triples since the start of February. He alone might hold the key—or rather, the outside touch—required to salvage this marriage of functional overlap and imperfection.

Toronto Raptors: Marc Gasol

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    Marc Gasol received the X-factor nod a couple of weeks before the NBA was forced out of commission. He's getting the wild-card tap, as well.

    Health is part of the calculus. A left hamstring injury has limited him to nine appearances since Dec. 18, and he has played in just one game since Jan. 30. His seemingly profound weight loss is also a driving force. Many of the same concerns about Nikola Jokic's physical transformation apply to him. Gasol is both guile and girth on the block.

    At the same time, he stands to benefit more from trimming down. He's roughly 10 years Jokic's senior. Carrying around less weight should increase his defensive mobility. And he doesn't operate down low nearly as often as last season. He averaged 6.1 post-ups per 36 minutes after getting traded to the Toronto Raptors. He's at 2.6 per 36 minutes this year.

    Does a leaner version of Gasol hold up as well against stockier bigs on defense? Perhaps not. But he feels more matchup-proof if he's any lighter on his feet. A measurable decline in strength really only hurts him against Joel Embiid.

    Disregard the health and weight-loss factors and Gasol's usefulness is still in less-predictable swing-piece territory. His passing alone should allow him to anchor lineups without both Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam—combinations that will be a rarity in the playoffs yet hold real value if head coach Nick Nurse wants to mirror the minutes of his two best players for as long as possible.

Utah Jazz: Mike Conley

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    Mike Conley is both more important and more of a wild card now that the Utah Jazz have lost Bojan Bogdanovic for the rest of the season following surgery on his right wrist. His arrival has not fueled a claim to inarguable championship contention; it has instead perpetuated the issue of whether Donovan Mitchell has enough help around him to avoid playoff-wild-card status of his own.

    Left hamstring issues have limited Conley's availability, but he hasn't inspired much confidence even when he strings together a bunch of appearances. He's putting down a career-low 42.9 percent of his two-pointers and taking more short mid-range jumpers—shots between four and 14 feet—than the Jazz's offense is supposed to allow.

    Conley did play slightly better coming out of the All-Star break, draining 41.8 percent of his threes. But he turned in consecutive 4-of-12 clips from the field prior to the league shutting down, hasn't found his groove within a pick-and-roll dynamic that doesn't include a floor-spacing big and isn't uplifting the offense in any meaningful way, if at all.

    Utah is winning the minutes Conley spends on the floor but scoring 2.2 fewer points per 100 possessions. And he hasn't floated the offense for arrangements in which Mitchell is catching a breather.

    Relative to the contending teams they're trying to rival, the Jazz's margin for error was always pencil-thin. Without Bogdanovic, it doesn't exist. They cannot afford for Conley to play like anything less than a star if they're going to make it out of the first round.

    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball Reference or Cleaning the Glass. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball InsidersEarly Bird Rights and Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @danfavale.