In the NBA Playoffs, superstars such as Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and LeBron James dominate the headlines. But as we know, a team’s success in the postseason often hinges on the play of the less acknowledged players on the bench.
With players like Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson, Robert Horry and Toni Kukoc, bench play is always imperative in the playoffs throughout the NBA’s existence. In this year’s playoffs, it won’t be any different.
Let’s take a look at eight non-starters in the Eastern Conference who will be significant to their teams’ playoff success.
8. Detroit Pistons: Stanley Johnson
Stanley Johnson isn’t old enough to purchase an alcoholic beverage, but the Pistons will count on him throughout the playoffs. The rookie out of Arizona has the hard task of trying to guard LeBron James in round 1, and he’s been doing a lot of jabbering in the process. It’s likely that the Pistons won’t make it to 5 games playing against the top-seeded Cavs, but they will make things interesting just as they did during Game 1. Johnson is a bull of a small forward that has the athleticism and scoring ability to keep him on the floor during significant stretches throughout the series. In Game 1, Johnson arguably played a better game than starting small forward Tobias Harris and his impact will increase throughout the playoffs if he continues his heady play.
Through two games: 9.0 PPG, 5.0, RPG, 63% FG, 121.0 Offensive Rating per 100 possessions
7. Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner
I juggled between selecting Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles to represent the Pacers, but went with the talented rookie, Myles Turner. Turner gives the Pacers rim protection and an inside presence that lacks in the starting unit. Turner’s versatility grants him a key role in these playoffs. Against the Toronto Raptors, Turner can disrupt the pick and roll play initiated by Kyle Lowry with his length and mobility. Unlike most players his age, Turner likes to defend, and he also compliments his defense with scoring. The Pacers are viewed as a sleeper pick against the Raptors, and if Turner continues to outplay the bigs of Toronto, Indiana may sneak into the next round.
Through two games: 9.0 PPG, 3.5. RPG, 3.5 blocks per game
6. Charlotte Hornets: Jeremy Lin
It seems like it was many moons ago when Linsanity took the basketball world by storm. Jeremy Lin has found a home in Charlotte after underwhelming stops in Houston and Los Angeles. As the 6th man for the Hornets, Lin provides the scoring punch off the bench that the team needs. While facing the Heat in the first round, Lin has to continue to provide his scoring output from the bench, but it will be easier said than done against the feisty Heat team. As the Hornets look to keep pace with Miami’s suddenly torrid offense, it will be expected for Lin to step up just as he’s done all season.
Through two games: 10.0 PPG, 116.0 Offensive Rating per 100 possessions
5. Boston Celtics: Evan Turner
The Boston Celtics have quite a few Swiss-army knives in their stable, and Evan Turner may be their most important at this stage in the playoffs. With Avery Bradley out through at least this series against the Atlanta Hawks, the C’s lost a reliable scorer and top-flight defender. While Turner may not be the defender that Bradley is, he plays good defense and can guard three positions.
Turner, who excels as the role of a facilitator, has to take on bigger scoring responsibilities. In Games 1 and 2, the Celtics have scored a combined 62 points in the first half, creating a large hole for the team to get out of. The former second overall draft selection may not have lived up to his billing coming out of Ohio State, but he is still a good all-around player.
Through two games: 11.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 4.0 APG
4. Atlanta Hawks: Mike Scott
I’m still baffled that Mike Scott hasn’t received an endorsement from Apple, but that’s another story for another day. The king of emojis, Mike Scott has played a huge role for the Hawks all season in his role off the bench, and it has transitioned into the playoffs. Although players such as Dennis Schroder and Tim Hardaway Jr. may be more popular, an argument can be created that Scott is more valuable to the team.
The Hawks lack size at the forward positions, but they make up for it with versatility and sheer tenacity. With Scott, he exemplifies both. He can step out into the perimeter and hit the three-pointer, and he can bang inside with the big guys. Scott has outplayed the starting forwards as well as the forwards that come off the bench for Boston. As the Hawks look to take a 3-0 lead as the series shifts to Boston, Mr. Emoji himself will have to continue his solid play.
Through two games: 10.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 50% FG
3. Miami Heat: Justise Winslow
Justise Winslow plays mature beyond his years, and that’s one reason why he is hard to keep off of the floor. The rookie out of Duke can defend multiple positions, shoot the three at a respectable clip, and he’s fearless when he’s out on the floor. Winslow’s defensive prowess allows veterans like Joe Johnson and Dwyane Wade to relinquish the duties of guarding the opposing team’s best wing player. Against the Hornets, Winslow has played with a veteran’s savvy, and as the Heat look to continue their playoff run, he will be counted upon heavily.
Through two games: 8.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 66% FG
2. Toronto Raptors: Patrick Patterson
Patrick Patterson is a throwback player of sorts. While playing, Patterson resembles the look of someone’s uncle who tells countless stories at a cookout reminiscing how good he was in his hay day. Patterson is the perfect energy guy off the bench that gets things going with his defense and ability to score. He’s got an inside and outside presence that’s the perfect compliment to the work Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan put in the perimeter. So far, he’s come up big in the playoffs, which is crucial for Toronto in shaking off the pretender label and getting past the first round for the first time in 15 years.
Game 1 & 2 Stats: 11.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 81% FG, 100% 3P (3-3)
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Iman Shumpert
“Shumpman” has had a rough outing on the court this season, but that all can change during the playoffs. As the Cavs look to make a run for the NBA title, Shumpert’s defense will be key from here on out. As a starter in last year’s playoff run, Shump played solid ball, and now that he’s coming off the bench he will have to duplicate that output. While defense is his calling card, he can score in spurts. His three-point shooting isn’t what he’s known for, but he’s a good penetrator that applies pressure on the defense. He’s not expected to score much, but if he does it’s just an added bonus for the team.
Through two games: 5.0 RPG, 105 Offensive Rating per 100 possessions
Columbus, Ohio born. Ron is a first-ballot healthy hairline hall of famer. He spent the summer of ‘08 eating calamari pasta because of OJ Da Juiceman. He also loves to write about sports while listening to Sada Baby. Follow him on Twitter @Ron_Hamp