5 NBA X-factors for the 2023 playoffs who aren’t superstars

5 NBA X-factors for the 2023 playoffs who aren’t superstars

We’ve all heard the tropes and the common sayings: star players win championships. The NBA season is long and often a war of attrition, where the healthiest and most stable star groupings are the ones cutting down the nets in June.

Stars don’t get there alone, though. The postseason is unrelentingly brutal on role players, guys who either get picked on by those superstars or are tasked with stopping them. A playoff series is a lot like a game of chess: even if the queens, bishops, and knights are doing most of the damage, the pawns make for a great defense and can swing the battle in your direction.

For teams with title hopes, there are a few role players on their team — either in the starting lineup or off the bench — who will have a major swing on the outcome of their series.

Steven Adams, Memphis Grizzlies

By most on-off metrics and other analytic indicators, Steven Adams has been the Memphis Grizzlies most important player. Adams has been out since January 22nd, and the Grizzlies are 4-7 in that span. They’re 9.2 points per 100 possessions better when he’s on the court than when he sits, and especially more potent on the glass. Adams swings the rebounding margin in their favor drastically; the Grizzlies are one of the worst rebounding groups in the league when Adams isn’t on the court.

All of this stands to make Adams an incredibly important piece for the Grizzlies. On offense, he’s a constant screener, an effective finisher, and has improved this season as a playmaker atop the key when he gets touches. On defense, he patrols the paint and locks down other bigs down low, enables Jaren Jackson Jr. to chase blocks as more of a help defender, and is a great partner for Ja Morant in Drop coverage.

On the flip side, Adams is a dreadful free throw shooter. He’s a career 53.6% shooter and is down to an abysmal 36.4% mark on the season. Opponents might have to consider embracing a hack-a-Shaq strategy with him (outside of the final two minutes) to see if the Grizzlies counter by taking him off the floor. From a pure metrics basis, two free throws for Adams this year results in 0.72 points per possession (PPP), a mark far lower than their expected half-court creation.

How Taylor Jenkins balances Adams’ minutes — which are clearly positive but have an area to be exploited — could determine if the Grizzlies win a few close games in April and May. The Grizzlies must survive the rest of the regular season first and monitor his minutes as he is close to returning from a knee injury.

Donte DiVincenzo, Golden State Warriors

In his first year in the Bay Area, Donte DiVincenzo has been a silent assassin for the defending champions. He’s averaging 9 points a game, shooting over 40% from 3 on high volume, has over a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio, and is the team’s leader in steals. DiVincenzo had a sensational string of games heading into the All-Star Break as well, averaging 13 points and shooting 53.3% from deep over his final seven contests.

While the Warriors are somewhat small, they don’t force a ton of turnovers, ranking middle of the pack in steals. DiVincenzo brings the offensive firepower as a floor-spacer to go with much-needed aggression on defense. He shoots passing lanes and is looking to get out in transition, an area the Dubs have not hit as hard as they normally do this year.

Donte DiVincenzo is an excellent anticipatory off-ball defender. Sinks briefly to discourage the corner pass, and recovers perfectly to pick-six the pass intended for Kendrick Nunn pic.twitter.com/s5C0ITZz1L

— Charlie Cummings (@klaytheist11) February 14, 2023

A healthy Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole likely limits the minutes that Donte will play in a postseason series. But he’s earned at least a key spot in the rotation, and his championship experience with the Milwaukee Bucks can help stabilize a bench unit suddenly thin on offensive production.

Dean Wade and Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers

Here’s a [not so] trick question: which Cleveland Cavalier, with a minimum of 100 minutes played, has the best net on/off rating this season?

Yes, it is Dean Wade, the backup forward the Cavs were so confident in that they benched (and then released) Kevin Love. Wade has been fantastic by almost every metric. He’s drilling 42% of his corner 3-pointers, has sensational defensive metrics when he’s on the floor, and is smart when attacking closeouts. Wade’s offensive role is somewhat limited as the fifth cog in the wheel, but he’s been really good for the Cavs this year and doesn’t get a ton of attention.

While Wade was out with an injury this winter, former third overall pick Isaac Okoro stepped in a big way. He’s shot 44.4% from 3-point range since January 8th. Even though it’s on fairly low volume, his impact in the corners is important around Cleveland’s pick-and-roll attack. When opposing defenses sell out to help on Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley’s rolls to the rim, Okoro will be the open one in the corner and gets tons of looks as teams ignore him in favor of protecting the basket:

The Cavs have been 10-4 since Wade made his return and are 22-9 overall in games he plays (they’re 16-14 when he’s out). Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Allen, and Mobley are the clear stars in Cleveland, but Okoro and Wade are necessary pieces to flank them with efficient, mistake-free play. The role-playing wings holding up in the playoffs could be what allows the Cavs to pull off a surprise run deep into May.

Reggie Jackson, Denver Nuggets

While most of the headlines discuss Russell Westbrook’s new arrival with the Los Angeles Clippers, the signing of Reggie Jackson by the Nuggets could be a major game-changer for them. Just two years ago, Jackson was averaging 18-3-3 in the playoffs for the Clippers and going nuclear from 3-point range. The minutes dipped this year in the City of Angels, but his production as a spot-up shooter was legitimate. According to Synergy Sports Tech, R-Jax drilled 42.5% of his 175 catch-and-shoot jumpers this year and 47.4% of his shots off screens.

Playing in Denver’s Nikola Jokic-centered offense, Jackson will likely play off-ball more in minutes when he’s with the main guys while getting the long leash to go score it on his own with the second unit. His experience makes him a sneaky good acquisition and an important piece for a Nuggets team starved for bench production.

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Kraken Onion Market