Under the radar players to keep an eye on this postseason.
Star players are the ones who receive the most attention during the playoffs. However, they aren’t the only ones that can affect the outcome of a playoff series. Tyler Herro and Jamal Murray weren’t viewed as star players entering the playoffs last season. Despite that, they each helped their teams surprise many in the NBA bubble last season. Role players are members of a team that play an important role for that team despite not being a star player. Here are some times when role players helped their team win an NBA championship:
Shane Battier averaged just six points per game during the 2012-2013 NBA season. He certainly did not receive much attention on a team that featured Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. However, without Battier, the Miami Heat might not have won the 2013 NBA championship! Game seven of the 2013 NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat came down to the final minute. Battier went six of eight from the field and scored 18 points in the decisive game seven which helped the Heat win their second consecutive NBA championship.
The Golden State Warriors were down 2-1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers entering game four of the NBA Finals. Prior to game four, Andre Iguodala hadn’t started a single game for the Warriors the entire season. Iguodala was inserted into the team's starting lineup in game four and the two ensuing games. The Warriors won all three of those games to clinch the NBA championship. For his efforts, Andre Iguodala was named the 2015 NBA Finals MVP!
Fred VanVleet was just the 5th leading scorer for the Toronto Raptors in the 2018-2019 NBA season. Despite that, his efforts helped the Raptors win their first-ever NBA championship! The Toronto Raptors were up 3-2 entering game six of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. In that game six, VanVleet scored 22 points on 6-14 shooting which helped the Raptors dethrone the Warriors.
As you can see, role players can certainly influence a playoff series. Here are some players that might surprise some fans this postseason with impressive performances.
Danny Green has never been a star player, but he has been an important piece for multiple teams. Green was a starter for the past two NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors in 2019 and the Los Lakers in 2020! Now, Green has started all but three games for the Philadelphia 76ers, who sit atop the Eastern Conference. Will Green win this third consecutive NBA championship?
Guarding Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving will be a handful for opposing defenses this postseason. In order to limit the production of the Nets big three, opposing defenses will concede open looks to other players on the Nets. That could allow Joe Harris to be a key factor for the Nets this postseason, who is first in the entire league with a 47.5 three-point percentage!
Julius Randle and Tom Thibodeau have rightfully received lots of credit for the extremely surprising season the New York Knicks are having. However, we can’t ignore what RJ Barrett has done this season. In his second season in the league, Barrett is averaging 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists per game while shooting 44 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three. An impressive showing in the postseason could lead many to view Barrett as one of the best young players in the entire league.
Trae Young’s mere presence on the court makes the game easier for his teammates. Similar to Stephen Curry, Young is viewed as a threat even when he’s numerous feet behind the three-point line. All that attention generates open looks for his teammates, including Bogdan Bogdanović. The former Sacramento King is quietly averaging 16 points per game while shooting 47 percent from the floor, 44 percent from three, and 91 percent from the free-throw line. Bogdanović could help the Hawks win a playoff series.
Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Erik Spoelstra, and Tyler Herro rightfully got lots of credit for the Miami Heat’s surprising run to the NBA Finals last season. Despite that, what Goran Dragić did that postseason cannot be ignored! In 17 playoff games, Dragić averaged 19 points, four rebounds, and four assists per game while shooting 44 percent from the floor. Dragić could once again help the underdog Miami Heat make another deep run in the playoffs.
Jae Crowder started every single postseason game for the Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat during the playoffs last season. This season, Crowder has been a key piece for the Phoenix Suns, a team that shocked many by finishing the regular season 2nd in the Western Conference standings. For the second year in a row, will Crowder be apart of a team that makes a deep run in the playoffs?
Rajon Rondo isn’t the All-Star caliber player he once was and has seen his fair share of struggles during the past few regular seasons. Despite that, he has been an effective player in the postseason. In nine postseason games with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2018, Rondo averaged 10 points, 12 assists, and seven rebounds per game. In this previous postseason with the Los Angeles Lakers, Rondo averaged nine points and six assists per game while shooting 45% from the field and 40% from three. Rondo’s 19 point performance on 8-11 shooting in Game 6 of the NBA Finals helped the Los Angeles Lakers clinch the 2020 NBA Championship! Will Rondo serve as a key postseason piece for the other team in Los Angeles, the Clippers?
Bojan Bogdanović helped the Utah Jazz finish the regular season with the best record in the league. Bogdanović is averaging 17 points and four rebounds per game while shooting 44 percent from the floor, 39 percent from three, and 88 percent from the free-throw line. If the Jazz had Bogdanović in the 2020 postseason, they could have reached the Western Conference Finals instead of losing in the first round. Now that Bogdanović will be available when it matters most, will the Jazz make a deep playoff run this year?
Before the recent trade deadline, the Celtics acquired Evan Fournier in an attempt to improve their roster. Fournier was previously averaging 20 points per game while shooting 46 percent from the floor with the Orlando Magic. In 16 games with the Celtics, Fournier is averaging just 13 points per game while shooting 45% from the floor. The Celtics will be more likely to pull off a first-round upset if Fournier plays at a high level.
The NBA playoffs is the most important time of the season. These next two months of basketball will be very intense. The team that wins the NBA championship might be the team that gets the most production from their role players.