NBA Playoff X-Factors

The NBA Playoffs are almost upon us! Here are ten players this post season that can have major impacts for their teams.

Royce O’Neal—Utah Jazz

The average NBA fan doesn’t realize how much rests in the hands of O’Neal these playoffs. He’s top 5 in matchup difficulty rating, which measures how good a player is matched up against. This doesn’t necessarily mean O’Neal is a great defender, but it does mean that he has the tough assignments. He’s top 10 in the league in defensive win shares, the highest-ranking for a small forward. The majority of elite perimeter players in the west have had some slight dips in production when playing Utah. Others (like Luka, Zion) have had no problem at all. The stats say O’Neal is a favorable defender. Utah is top-dog in the west, and O’Neal will be assigned to players like Kawhi, LeBron, Paul George, and Dame. The Jazz are depending on the third-year pro to slow down names like those come playoff time. 

Mikal Bridges—Phoenix Suns

To call Mikal Bridges a 3-and-D player is a gross understatement and a sin. Repent while you can. Bridges is the kind of wing defender that anchors an entire defense. He’s 14th in win shares, higher than the likes of Luka Dončić and Julius Randle.  Using a mix of smart defensive instincts and God-given gifts like his 7-foot-1 wingspan (!!), Bridges is able to switch 1-4. Remember that matchup difficulty rating from before? He’s ranked 3rd in that category behind Dillion Brooks and Lu Dort. If the Suns are able to stay in the playoffs for consecutive series, he will probably be matched up against at minimum three players the likes of Donovan Mitchell, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Luka Dončić, and Damian Lillard. The stats show Mikal Bridges has championship defense ability, but that doesn’t do him justice. Do yourself a favor and watch Mikal Bridges, and you’ll see why the Suns are one of the best teams in the NBA.

Reggie Jackson—Los Angeles Clippers

I expect Reggie Jackson to play a big role in LA’s playoff push. Last year in the postseason, he averaged only 14 minutes a game. With the way he’s been playing, it would be surprising to see that happen this year. His points per game have gone up from 7.0 in December, to 13.6 in April, while keeping his field goal percentage consistent. He’s also taking and making more three-pointers, greatly increasing his three-point percentage to 43.2 percent. He’s a better shooter than Patrick Beverley and is a better defender than Luke Kennard. Having that level of three-point shooting is going to make life easier on the Clippers spacing, especially next to Rondo, who is less than a willing shooter from outside. With a team trying to regain some respect this postseason, consistent play like Jacksons will be extremely valued.  

Norman Powell—Portland Trailblazers

The Blazers traded for Norman Powell to perform in the playoffs. Before being traded to Portland, he was averaging nearly 20 points a game, shooting 43.9 percent from three. Although his three percentage has taken a dip, he’s still averaging 17.2 points per game, third on the team. Since trading for him, the Blazers’ best three-man combination on the court is McCollum, Lillard, and Powell. On average, when these three are on the court, they have 15.1 point advantage over their opponents per 100 possessions. Powell is also on the Blazers’ most five-man lineup. He also plays the second-most minutes per game for the Blazers, and that says a lot. He’s a two-way player that has played in big moments before. In the Warriors-Raptors series, Powell didn’t have any eye-popping numbers, but his box plus/minus in the series is constantly solid. When he’s on the court, he plays within the offense and doesn’t force anything. Don’t be surprised if the success of Portland runs parallel to Powells performance this post-season.

Jalen Brunson—Dallas Mavericks

Luka Dončić might dictate his team’s success more than any other player in the playoffs. But this doesn’t mean Jalen Brunson will sit as a role player. He is so much more than a solid backup. First off, in the 20 games, he has started, he’s averaged 16.9 points 3.9 assists all while shooting 42 percent from three. The second most used lineup for the Mavs is Brunson, Finney-Smith, Prozingis, Hardaway Jr., and Richardson. This lineup is statistically more efficient than the Mavericks starting lineup. They average a positive point differential against opponents of 17.5 points and are also a much better rebounding lineup compared to the starters. This is a big upgrade from last year in the bubble. When Luka was off the floor in the playoffs, Dallas’s offensive rating plummeted 10.9 points. The Mavericks are one of the teams in the west that have major questions about how the supporting cast can handle having their star off the court for extended periods of time. Jalen Brunson will maximize his production playoffs making life easier on Luka.

Seth Curry—Philadelphia 76ers

The most effective lineup the 76ers have is Simmons-Curry-Green-Harris-Embiid. If the Sixers insist on playing Simmons and Embiid together, they need Seths shooting, whose 44.3 percent is 9th in the league. In the bubble with Dallas, he averaged 28.3 minutes per game, 12.8 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 69.7 percent. He solidified himself as the fourth guy behind Luka, Porzingis, and Hardaway Jr. Curry finds himself in a similar situation with the Sixers, arguably behind a better big three. If Embiid is sidelined for a good part of the playoffs and Simmons is passive, Seth could have a bigger role in these playoffs. If Seth picks up where he left off playoff-wise, it will be another reason why this Sixers team can win it all.

Derrick Rose—New York Knicks

Rose has been averaging over 16 points a game post-All-Star break, and he’s on track to average 22 points in May. When you see him play, you can definitely tell he has been in a Tom Thibodeau system. The question for Rose is performance in the clutch. In 22 games and 74 minutes of crunch time, his field goal percentage plummets to 27 percent. Julius Randle is going to be the go-to guy in these situations, but the Knicks could really use the normal Derrick Rose when the game slows down and every possession counts. The Knicks are barely over .500 in the clutch, despite being the 3rd highest in net and 1st defensive rating during that time. If the Knicks stick around for a while in these playoffs, they will probably match up with the Nets or 76ers, the two best teams in crunch time. The Knicks can be a tough team to beat. A big part of that is due in part to Rose.

Nicolas Claxton—Brooklyn Nets

This Brooklyn Nets team may have the greatest big three ever assembled in the history of basketball. But with this talent comes a price, and that price is defense. They only rank top ten in four major defensive categories (assists allowed, defensive rebounding, blocks, and opponent field goal percentage), compared to the average nine for contending teams. Due to these stats, the Nets are going to ask a lot of defensive output from players like Claxton. I chose Claxton over players like Jeff Green because when Claxton is at his best, very few can match his defensive ability. He’s six-eleven and three quarters with over a seven-foot wingspan and has a max vert of 36.5 inches. What will hold Claxton back from being a potentially major impact player is his free throw percentage and uninspiring rebounding numbers. He also is still learning how to defend the rim at an NBA level. We’re going to see Claxton matched up on the best players in the East, it’s just a matter of how often. 

Bogdan Bogdanović—Atlanta Hawks

Due to an easy remaining schedule, the Hawks have can lock up the fourth seed with ease. This is thanks in part to Bogdanović, who has been playing basketball. In May, he’s been averaging 21.5 points per game. He’s also taking over 10 threes a game at a blistering 50.1 percent clip. This comes after his already terrific averages in April, where he averaged 21.9-4.5-4.3 shooting 48.5 percent from three. This outburst could not come at a better time. If the cards fall in the Hawks favor in terms of matchups, they can face some of the worst three-point defenses in the league. Statistically speaking, the Hawks are an average three-point shooting team. This is surprising given they have four players shooting over forty percent from three along with Trae Young. If the Hawks want to do damage in the playoffs, they will need to drastically increase their three-point attempts. Bogdan has a chance to set the standard for great three point shooting this postseason. 

Tyler Herro—Miami Heat

The Victor Oladipo injury might not hurt Miami that bad. In four games with the Heat, he only averaged 12 points on 37 percent shooting. His box plus-minus was also sub-par. The majority of the minutes will probably go to Tyler Herro. He played a crucial role in last year’s Finals, playing the second-most minutes on the team. Compared to last year, Herros stats are relatively the same. After a historic playoff run as a rookie, Herro has been quite polarizing. Some call him the next Steph Curry (I wish I can say I was joking), others say he was a flash in the pan. Expect Herro to be aggressive this post-season. An aggressive Herro can either be a good thing or a bad thing for Miami. Herros average impact on Miamis offensive rating is -5.4 points. For a player in Herros position, that is a serious impact for the worse. For example, in the same stat, Bam Adebayo has a positive impact of 0.8. The Heat have an underwhelming offensive rating of 111.2, 18th in the league. Similar to last year, Herro will have a large impact in Miami. Let’s hope that it’s for the better.

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