As we head into the home stretch of another fun and exciting NBA season it is time to take a look ahead towards the playoffs. With the trade deadline having passed, and most teams finished with the free agency market, many playoff bound rosters are beginning to look finalized.
Some teams, such as the Rockets, Cavaliers, and Thunder all made some potentially impactful moves at the deadline. Others, such as the Celtics, Warriors, and Clippers decided to stand pat with what they have (although, what else do the Warriors really need?). With the current playoff structure in the NBA, half of the league is eligible for the playoffs, meaning, we will see plenty of household names once the postseason begins. What also tends to happen come playoff time is we see lesser known players, or players who many assumed were washed up, come alive when the lights shine brightest. Today we will give you a sneak peak into the future as we brief you on which stars will disappear and which bench players will step up come playoff time. With that in mind, this list is only regarding teams who actually have a legitimate chance of making the postseason this year.
15 Disappear: Tony Parker
A former Finals MVP and sure fire future Hall of Famer, Tony Parker has clearly began his desecration from greatness. At one point it could be argued that Parker was the best point guard in the NBA; today he doesn't crack the top 10.
It was a dramatic fall from grace for the Frenchman, who is having the worst season he has had since his rookie year. For the first time since 2001 Parker is averaging less than five assists per night, and his 10.7 points per game is also his worst since '01. Parker without a doubt is still a quality player, but with the presence of Kawhi Leonard, and LaMarcus Aldridge in San Antonio, Parker will be expected to do less than ever this postseason. One other thing that will prevent Parker from being relevant this post season is the emergence of Dejounte Murray and Patty Mills; two players proving they deserve some crunch time minutes as well.
14 Hero: Dejounte Murray
Murray has spent a majority of the season bouncing between the San Antonio Spurs' roster, and their D-League affiliate, the Austin Spurs' roster. You would probably ask how a guy who has spent as much time in the D-League as Murray could possibly have a playoff impact. The answer is simple, it's Gregg Popovich.
Coach Pop is always pushing players to become better throughout the season. On several occasions Pop has praised his young guard for his work ethic and blue collar work ethic. Popovich loves players who just do the dirty work and grind it out in the gym. That is exactly what Dejounte is proving to be, he is a quintessential Spur, and with the star studded cast around him it is only a matter of time before Murray breaks out, and it could most definitely be this postseason.
13 Disappear: Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry is a freshly minted All-Star, for the third straight season. He is undoubtably one of the top point guards in the Eastern Conference. He also has plenty of playoff experience at this point in his career. So, how in the world would he have no impact in the postseason this year? Well it is rather simple actually. Lowry has recently suffered a wrist injury, and is expected to miss a substantial amount of time.
Lowry has always been known for his physical style of play at the point guard position, and with an injury like this, he could easily be timid upon his return to the court. The fact that his return coincides with the start of postseason play is only more bad news for the Raptors and Lowry. As we all know, playoff basketball brings another level of physical play, and coming back from a serious injury is not a good way to get your playoff push started.
12 Hero: Channing Frye
A key acquisition last season, Channing Frye has only gotten better with the Cavaliers this season. With Kevin Love missing time due to injury problems, Frye has seen more playing time as of late. In Love's stead, Frye has become one of LeBron James' favorite and most trusted teammates.
Once Kevin Love is cleared to return, and ultimately retakes his spot in the starting line up, Channing will have the opportunity to become a key contributor off the bench. Given the nature and flow of Cleveland's offense, Frye should have no hiccups when it comes to his production. He is a member of the Cavaliers "death lineup," which includes LeBron James, Richard Jefferson, Kyle Korver, and Derrick Williams. Anyone but LeBron could have been placed on this list as a matter of fact, but we chose to go with Channing on this one.
11 Disappear: Kevin Love
The often injured Kevin Love is an unlikely inclusion on this list after his performance in last season's playoffs. However, with another injury and limited practice time before the postseason does begin, Love is again going to be forced into the playoff fire without much rehab time.
With the limited amount of practice and game action Love will get before the playoffs begin he is likely going to need the first round just to shake the rust off. Combine that with the additions of Derrick Williams, Andrew Bogut and the emergence of Channing Frye, Love could see a decline in his usual playing time. Luckily for Cleveland they don't rely too heavily on Love other than his rebounding presence and ability to stretch the floor, but like we mentioned, Cleveland already has pieces to fill those roles, even when Love does return.
10 Hero: Taj Gibson
Very much in the vein of a Tristan Thompson or Dennis Rodman, Taj Gibson is the kind of player who goes unnoticed along the way to an NBA title. Gibson has been in the NBA for over a decade now, and he had spent his entire career with the Bulls. While in Chicago, Gibson proved he has what it takes to make a big impact on a playoff game, and a playoff series.
Now that he has been traded to the Thunder, Gibson seems to have been given a new lease on life. He seems thrilled to be playing along side MVP front-runner, Russell Westbrook and his already high motor seems to have reached another level. Expect Gibson to put up double-double numbers once the postseason rolls around.
9 Disappear: John Wall
There is no doubt that this season John Wall has begun to separate himself as one of the elite point guards in the game. He has harnessed his speed and quickness into a package that actually works now. His jump shot has improved, and his passing ability ranks up there with any player in the league. What still stunts Wall's ascent to the top is his lack of experience at the highest level, and his tendency to resort back to being a one man show in crunch time.
Wall have never been past the second round of the playoffs, and this season that will be no easy task as the Eastern Conference is looking stronger than it has in decades. When the Wizards find themselves in a tight playoff series, late in a game, it will all come down to the decisions Wall makes, and his propensity to go one on five could ultimately come back to bite him.
8 Hero: JaVale McGee
Once a laughing stock of the NBA, JaVale McGee has found a home in Golden State. McGee has always been one of the most athletic players in the league, what hindered him for years was his basketball IQ. Since joining one of the smartest teams in the NBA, Javale has seemingly become a new man.
Not only is the system in Golden State helping JaVale become a better player, but he feels at home there. When he and Shaq infamously got into Their twitter war, McGee's teammates were quick to stand up in his defense against O'Neal. It sure seems like JaVale didn't miss that act of brotherhood by his teammates. Since then he has been on a tear and looks to be earning himself a lot of meaningful playoff minutes.
7 Disappear: Paul George
Once donned as an MVP candidate before the season began, Paul George has had a less than stellar season thus far. He is still leading the Pacers to a playoff appearance, but the thought of him being an MVP candidate has become ancient history.
George, now in his sixth season, is performing well below his career numbers. In a season in which he was expected to break out and become an elite level player, George seems to have taken a step back. With new coach Nate McMillan running the show in Indiana, perhaps that has had an impact on Paul's decline this season. Regardless of the reason, don't expect too much out of PG13, or the Indiana Pacers this spring.
6 Hero: Eric Gordon
Fresh off his 3-Point Shootout victory, Eric Gordon is looking more and more like this season's 6th Man of the Year. Gordon has helped lead the Rockets to one of the best offensive seasons in NBA history, and is on pace to set a new Rockets record for made three point shots in a season.
With James Harden running the show in Houston, it is easy for the supporting cast to get involved. Harden who is among the elite assist men in the NBA has a knack for finding his shooters open for the three ball. Gordon now has company on the bench in Houston as they recently acquired Lou Williams from the Lakers. Lou could have also made this list, but there are only so many spots, however look for Lou and Eric to have a big impact on this post season.
5 Disappear: Anthony Davis
Many people believed the Pelicans would be a shoo-in for a playoff spot once they traded for DeMarcus Cousins. It is understandable when you think about Cousins and Anthony Davis roaming the paint for the same team. However, the rest of the Pelicans roster is abysmal, and there is no hiding that when it comes playoff time.
There was a debate here on whether to put Davis or Boogie on this list, it boiled down to the Pelicans being Davis's team, and therefore he shoulders the brunt of the criticism if the team struggles, at least for now. If the Pelicans can make the playoffs this season they will likely be matched up with the Warriors in the first round. That will likely be a four of five game series, with the Warriors making quick work of the undermanned Pelicans, and for that reason we will not have much impact out of Anthony Davis this year.
4 Hero: Jamal Crawford
Arguably the greatest 6th man in NBA history, Jamal Crawford is in the running yet again for the award, already having won it more times than anyone in history. Crawford is one of the most exciting players in the league, as well as one of the most clutch. When the lights shine brightest Jamal seems to shine equally as bright.
The Clippers are again not as talented as the Warriors, and not as well coached as the Spurs, yet somehow they find themselves right in the thick of things out west. If Chris Paul is able to stay healthy the Clippers will have a puncher's chance in the west. Crawford is the x-factor for the often underachieving Clippers, and if he is able to catch fire during some of their playoff games he could change the fortune of an historically pathetic franchise.
3 Disappear: Dwyane Wade
Against my better judgement I am putting Dwyane Wade in the no impact category this year. Wade has proven throughout his career to be a clutch player, with the ability to fight back against father time. However, this year it seems that Wade and his supporting cast will be over matched against whoever they end up squaring off with in the playoffs.
Wade, now 35 years old, has not had a season to remember this year. Hidden between the team underperforming, team bickering, coaching controversy, and a bevy of other things Wade has quietly had a very subpar season. His age is finally starting to show, and his teammates have been unable to bail him out in those moments, but rather the Bulls have looked to Wade to save them. It is unfair for Wade to be depended on that heavily at this point in his career, and with that, it appears we will not see much of that vintage Wade we all miss and love.
2 Hero: Deron Williams
Several weeks ago LeBron James lamented that his team needed a playmaker. He said it a little more aggressively than that, but that is the gist of what he meant. Well lo and behold, here comes three time All-Star Deron Williams. The Cavs needed someone who could create for others as well as themselves, and Deron Williams is just that.
Williams is no longer the quick 25-year-old we saw in Utah many years ago. He is now a 32-year-old veteran with a hunger for winning. After years of basement dwelling in New Jersey, Dallas, and Brooklyn, Williams is now ready to return to the playoffs and help contribute to a championship caliber team. Look for Williams to get plenty of minutes in the next few weeks, as Cleveland gets themselves into true playoff form.
1 Disappear: Blake Griffin
Perhaps the most overhyped player in the NBA today, Blake Griffin always seems to find a way to disappear come playoff time. Last season a late season injury combined with a suspension cost him yet another chance to prove himself among the NBA elite.
Blake has no problem putting up All-Star caliber stats during the regular season, but it is his playoff career that would worry me if I was a Clipper fan. With Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford around, there is no excuses for the Clippers not having done more in terms of postseason success. As far as I can see, the blame should be shouldered by Blake. He is the team's best scoring option, yet his game seems to be susceptible to long stretches of silence. This will be yet another opportunity for Blake to prove the doubters wrong. If he doesn't, we could see the Clippers move on from him this offseason.
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