With the NBA postseason just around the corner, these are the hidden x-factors for every Eastern Conference playoff team.
With last night’s excitement putting a fitting cap on what was a fantastic regular season, we are now just a couple days away from the start of the postseason. Every playoff team has hopes of making a long postseason run, but we will find out very quickly which of the 16 teams are truly for real.
Every team needs their star(s) to play well in order to have playoff success, but they all also have role players with equally important roles in their playoff runs. While those players might not get the media attention or national spotlight of their more famous teammates, these X-Factors will have a major impact on what happens in the 2018 playoffs.
Washington Wizards – Tomas Satoransky
Over the past few seasons, Washington’s starters have proven they have the talent to go head-to-head with the league’s best. While not all of the Wizard’s past postseason shortcomings can be blamed on the bench, opponents have frequently feasted on an overmatched second unit. This season, Satoransky’s development into a very reliable backup point guard has helped Washington buck that trend.
Satoransky has a fantastic +13 net rating for the season and is averaging 11.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per 36 minutes. When John Wall went down for nearly two months with a left knee injury, Satoransky filled in admirably and helped the Wizards stay afloat with a 15-12 record over that span. His size and strength at 6’7” often creates an unexpected mismatch against smaller backup point guards, and he gives Washington an added dimension that could help them pull a first-round upset.
Miami Heat – Josh Richardson
While Richardson has had a very strong season in Miami, the third-year pro often flies under the national radar. He’ll give you a solid 10-15 points a night, knock down open shots, and get a handful of assists and rebounds, but his real value is doing all of the little things that exemplify why Miami is a sneaky dangerous first-round opponent.
Richardson’s greatest value to the Heat is his excellent, pesky style of perimeter defense that makes life miserable for opposing wings. Richardson will give his matchup a nightmare of a time when he’s on the court in what will surely be a tough, physical first-round series. Miami is far from the most talented team in the East, but Richardson could help the Heat surprise a lot of people and pull a first-round upset.
Milwaukee Bucks – Eric Bledsoe
Milwaukee’s playoff hopes rest firmly on the shoulders of Giannis Antetokounmpo, but for the Bucks to get to round two, they are going to need Bledsoe to play like the star they thought they were trading for earlier this season.
Since departing Phoenix, Bledsoe has averaged 18.0 points and 5.1 assists per night for Milwaukee. Those aren’t terrible numbers by any stretch, but the Bucks need him to find that next level. They are 8-4 in the 12 games Bledsoe has totaled at least eight assists this season, and 4-0 when he gets at least nine. They are also 19-9 when he scores 20 points. If Bledsoe can consistently play up to his potential and find those extra couple points and rebounds a night, then Milwaukee will have a shot at getting past round one.
Andy Lyons - NBAE via Getty Images
Indiana Pacers – Myles Turner
For as surprisingly successful 2017-18 has been for Indiana, Turner’s year has been far more tumultuous. Turner came into the season as a forgotten unicorn and while he still has the potential to earn that recognition, he has a lot of ground to make up.
Many thought this would become Turner’s team after Paul George was traded away this past summer, but Victor Oladipo quickly dispelled that notion. Instead of making a jump, Turner regressed. While injuries have limited his time on the court, he is averaging fewer points, rebounds, and blocks than last season, and has twice as many single-digit scoring nights than games with 20+ points. Facing Cleveland in round one is a sizable task for this team, and they will need Turner to quickly come into his own if they want to upset the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs.
Cleveland Cavaliers – JR Smith
For as ridiculous, childish, and unnecessarily dramatic a season as Cleveland has had, they enter the playoffs in a relatively familiar position. Surrounding LeBron James with shooters has worked in the past and Cleveland is trying to go back to that well, but perhaps no player is more important for that strategy to work than Earl Joseph Smith III.
Smith has continued his career-long trend of hot and cold shooting this year, but his hot streaks have a strong correlation with Cleveland’s. When Smith makes at least 40 percent of his threes, the Cavs are 24-8. In wins, he shoots 42.5 percent from three. In losses, he shoots 30.3 percent. Shooters shoot and JR Smith is nothing if not a shooter, but his ability to knock down the attempts he will invariably take will have a huge say in whether Cleveland can return to the NBA Finals.
Philadelphia 76ers – Robert Covington
While Covington often is left in the massive shadows of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers know just how important he is to their team. Earlier this season, Philadelphia signed the undrafted fifth-year pro out of Tennessee State to a four year, $62 million deal to properly compensate him for becoming one of the best 3-and-D wings in the league.
While Covington’s shot has struggled a bit since signing that contract, the mid-season additions of Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli have made his defense the far more important half of his two-way moniker. Covington has elite size and length for a wing defender, and with Philadelphia now second-favorites to reach the East Finals according to FiveThirtyEight.com, it’s likely the Sixers will need him to prove his worth by going up against either LeBron or DeMar DeRozan.
Boston Celtics – Jayson Tatum
When Boston traded for the pick that became Tatum this past summer, Danny Ainge saw his potential to become a number one offensive option. The plan was to give Tatum time to grow in Brad Stevens’ system, but injuries to Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward dramatically accelerated that timeline.
Irving and Hayward’s absences have thrust the 20-year-old Tatum into the playoff spotlight, but he seems ready to take on that role. Boston is 8-4 when Tatum scores 20 points, and 28-11 when he shoots 50 percent from three. Given that he’s shot at least 50 percent from deep in 10 of the 12 of the games he’s scored 20 points, the Celtics are going to need Tatum to his outside shots if they want a productive offense. Irving’s absence may prove to be a fatal blow to Boston’s championship hopes this season, but the coming weeks will be huge for the maturation of Boston’s young star.
Toronto Raptors – OG Anunoby
While not quite as substantial a role as Tatum, few expected Anunoby to be in this position this quickly. Not only is the 20-year-old Anunoby starting for the team with the best record in the East, he’s going to be Toronto’s primary wing defender in most games. Given the recent trends of the Eastern Conference and Toronto’s championship ambitions, Anunoby will likely be facing off against LeBron sooner or later.
The past few weeks have created an uneasy feeling of déjà vu for many Raptor fans. Their end-of-season struggles have coincided with Cleveland finding its form, and the ghosts of playoffs past could be rearing their ugly heads in Toronto. While DeRozan and Kyle Lowry will have the most say in whether the Raptors can finally get the monkey off their back, a large share of the Toronto’s playoff hopes rest on Anunoby’s shoulders.
Edited by Emily Berman.
CORRECT!Your overall SQ:
Your NBA SQ:
WRONG!The answer was: Answer more NBA questions »
- Paul Pierce
- Kevin Garnett
- Dwayne Wade
- Dwight Howard