LOOK: X-Factors for the 2019 NBA Playoffs

Adrian Dy on Apr 13, 2019 09:01 PM
LOOK: X-Factors for the 2019 NBA Playoffs
NBAE via Getty Images

The best players in the Association come out to play under the bright lights of the Playoffs. However, they're a known quantity, and oftentimes, it's the unheralded and unexpected that can tip a series in one direction or the other. Here's one player from each of the 16 playoff squads that could be the sneaky-deciding factor.

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Western Conference

(1) Golden State Warriors: Draymond Green

The Warriors are renowned for their offense, but what wins them games is their defense. During the regular season, they don't often go all-out, understandably, but with the Playoffs now taking place, expect them to go back to locking foes down. Leading the way? Draymond Green of course. His play has ramped up this past month: averaging 1.6 blocks and 1.6 steals in five games. Another thing that could tip the scales? A 38.5 percent three-point shooting clip in that same span.

(8) LA Clippers: Landry Shamet

Speaking of three-point shooting, rookie Landry Shamet, acquired at the trade deadline, is not afraid to light it up. In 25 games as a Clipper, he's making 2.7 triples out of six attempts per game, a 45.0 percent clip. With defenses keying in on Lou Williams, Shamet could be left open and make the defending champs pay.

(2) Denver Nuggets: Monte Morris

Why did Nuggets head coach Mike Malone opt to take Isaiah Thomas out of the rotation? Simply put, Monte Morris has been much better. The sophomore guard has played all 82 regular season games, and normed 10.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in 24 minutes an outing. He's shooting 49.3 percent from the field, and 41.4 percent on three's. An especially underrated stat? He's turning it over a mere 0.6 times per game, for a team-best 4.8 turnover ratio.

(7) San Antonio Spurs: Bryn Forbes

When the season began and the Spurs were bereft of point guards, San Antonio was forced to press Bryn Forbes into service at that spot. Despite being known more as a shooter previously, Forbes did splendidly, with DeMar DeRozan also aiding in ball-handling duties. For the season, Forbes is averaging 11.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists, versus just one turnover. His shooting hasn't been affected either, as he's converting 42.6 percent of his 5.0 triple tries per game.

(3) Portland Trail Blazers: Enes Kanter

The Blazers' postseason chances took a big blow when Jusuf Nurkic was ruled out of the remainder of the season. Luckily for them though, they opted to add the previously-waived Enes Kanter, giving them a solid option in the slot (13.1 points, 8.6 rebounds with the Blazers). And yes, defensively, he might struggle, but his Thunder counterpart, Steven Adams, isn't exactly someone OKC throws the ball to in the post. If anything else, the match-up between the former Mustache Brothers ought to be very Clash of the Titans-esque.

(6) Oklahoma City Thunder: Jerami Grant

We don't often talk about the Thunder developing players, but Jerami Grant is someone that stands out in that regard. Grant was originally seen as a bouncy, energy guy off the bench when he was acquired from the 76ers, but the Thunder staff has managed to refine his skillset since. Now averaging a career-best 32.7 minutes per game, he's shooting 39.2 percent on three's (a career-high), to go with 13.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, and 1.3 blocks. Grant versus the likes of Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless should be a good battle.

(4) Houston Rockets: Kenneth Faried

Put another mark in the win column for Coach Mike D'Antoni's system, because Kenneth Faried has been an integral part of the Rockets rotation since they added him off waivers. Succeeding both as a starter and a back-up once Clint Capela returned from injury, Faried's numbers (12.9 points, 8.2 rebounds) are some of his best since his peak in Denver. At the very least, he'll be six more fouls against the Jazz's Rudy Gobert, but he'll likely contribute plenty more than that (including the occasional three-pointer!).

(5) Utah Jazz: Ricky Rubio

The last time the Jazz and the Rockets met in the Playoffs (last year!) Ricky Rubio was sidelined by injury, and his presence was missed at the point guard position. His numbers this season though are not as impressive compared to his first year with Utah. After posting career-best shooting numbers in 2017-18, his percentages have dipped, and he's turning it over at a career-high rate (per 36 minutes). Who knows though; he's likely itching to have an impact against the Rockets, as they seek a different ending to this matchup.

Eastern Conference

(1) Milwaukee Bucks: Sterling Brown

The Bucks enter the Playoffs with their depth banged-up; they'll likely not have Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic, and Pau Gasol for some part of the first round. But because these injuries have largely lingered since after the All-Star break, others have gotten the chance to fill in those spots in the rotation, and have begun to shine, as a result. Taking the place of Brogdon has been Sterling Brown, a second-year guard. In seven games as a starter, Brown posted averages of 13.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. He's also shooting a blistering 50 percent from the field, 39 percent on three's. Without a doubt, he should hold down the fort nicely for the top-seeded Bucks.

(8) Detroit Pistons: Wayne Ellington

One of the biggest issues with the Pistons in the past has been their inability to surround Andre Drummond, and later, Blake Griffin, with quality shooters. With that said, their last attempt at a solution, snagging Wayne Ellington off waivers, has been their best. The former Heat gunner has matched his career-best with 2.9 triples a game on a 37.3 percent clip in his time in the Motor City. He should be called to do more in the Playoffs though, if Griffin remains sidelined.

(2) Toronto Raptors: Marc Gasol

The Raptors made noise at the trade deadline when they landed Marc Gasol, but after the initial shockwaves, the former DPOY has been largely quiet. Up North, Gasol is averaging career-lows in minutes, points, and rebounds, as the team works him into their tactics and schemes, and also, saves him for the postseason. He should be a factor right off the bat though, as he'll be called upon to check Magic All-Star center Nikola Vucevic.  

(7) Orlando Magic: Terrence Ross

When Terrence Ross waxes hot, the Magic usually win. In victories, Ross connects on 41.6 percent of his three-point shots, resulting in an average of 3.1 made triples. In losses? That number dips to 2.3 connections on just a 34.4 percent clip. Odds are good the Raptors will sic Kawhi Leonard on him the moment he starts to heat up, but if he gets into a groove? Look out. (Bonus points for him going up against the Raptors, who originally drafted him).

(3) Philadelphia 76ers: Greg Monroe

Not having Joel Embiid in the line-up is always going to suck, and to be honest, Greg Monroe is going to be hard-pressed to replicate what Embiid does. That said, he's the best of a bunch that includes Jonah Bolden, Amir Johnson, and Boban Marjanovic, so you know he'll make the most out of his opportunities. In three regular season games with Philly, Monroe normed 13.7 points on a 65.2 percent shooting clip, plus 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists, in just 17.3 minutes an outing.

(6) Brooklyn Nets: Jarrett Allen

Brooklyn's one-two point guard punch of Spencer Dinwiddie and D'Angelo Russell usually steal the headlines, but don't sleep on their young big man, Jarrett Allen. Just in his second season in the Association, he's already averaging 10.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks. It's that last skill which has gotten him the most recognition. In this past season, he's already rejected the likes of LeBron James, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Anthony Davis. Toss in the fact that Joel Embiid could miss games in this series, and Allen could bust out in front of our eyes.

(4) Boston Celtics: Gordon Hayward

You don't come back from devastating leg injuries like it was nothing. We keep forgetting that, and so when Gordon Hayward was submitting sub-par performances early in the season, many assumed the worst. Flash-forward to the present, and Hayward has just wrapped up his best month of the elimination round: 18.3 points on 65 percent shooting, to go with 5.3 boards, 3.0 dimes and a swipe. If that's the Gordon Hayward the Celtics get in the postseason, then expect this squad to outperform their (lowered) expectations.

(5) Indiana Pacers: Tyreke Evans

Last season, Tyreke Evans was the best player on a decimated Grizzlies team. This time around, even with Victor Oladipo sidelined, a medley of minor injuries have kept Evans from being as prolific as he was in Bluff City. With that said, he closed the regular season strong, norming 14.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in the Pacers' last four games. Call it a looming throwback perhaps for the former Rookie of the Year?

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