With the 2020 NBA Playoffs underway, each Eastern Conference team is in a battle for a spot in the second round. Some teams already have taken commanding leads, like the Raptors and the Celtics. For each team, there is always one “X-factor”. This player may not be the best or most talented on their team, but their performance is instrumental to their team’s success. Let’s take a look at those players.
Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com
Player: Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe was abysmal in the playoffs last season. After the loss of Malcom Brogdon, he’s going to have to improve upon last season’s playoff stats (13.7 points, 4.3 assists on 41% shooting). His main downfall was his three point shooting, in which he shot 24% in the playoffs last season. In the biggest series of his career, he shot 5 of 29 from three against the Raptors.
With teams having to worry about Giannis and Khris Middleton, it will leave Bledsoe with a lot of catch and shoot opportunities. However, he only shoots 28.7% on catch and shoot threes. Bledsoe is a key player on both sides of the ball for the Bucks. If he can be an efficient shooter, the Bucks will have a significantly higher shot at reaching the Finals. Only four seasons ago, Bledsoe shot 37% from deep on the season. He has the capabilities to knock down threes with efficiency; he just has to execute.
Player: OG Anunoby
Anunoby missed the Raptors playoff run last season due to an emergency appendicitis. This season, he has emerged as arguably the Raptors best defender. Anunoby will have the tough task of potentially guarding Caris Levert, Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Anunoby ranks in the Top 20 for defensive rating and gives player problems with his lengthy and athletic frame. With the loss of Kawhi Leonard, Anunoby will have to do his best to replicate his defense in order to give the Raptors a chance to win.
Offensively, Anunoby has been an efficient scorer, especially around the rim and in the corner. With two solid scorers in the lineup in Vanvleet and Siakam, Anunoby will have to be an efficient shooter as he has been in past playoffs games(shot 45 percent from three in the 2017-2018 playoff). Anunoby will be the key for the Raptors if they want to repeat as NBA Champions.
Player: Marcus Smart
The Boston Celtics are an immensely talented team, full of All-Stars or near All-Stars. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker are the clear cut leaders in the talent category.
However, a winning team needs more than just talent. They need a vocal leader, someone who instills in everyone else a drive and fervor to succeed on the court. For Boston, that player is Marcus Smart. Although not the most skilled, Smart is the moral leader of this team, and his performance is just as crucial, if not more, to the other star players.
Outside of his leadership qualities, Marcus Smart is also an elite defender. He’ll be tasked with some of the most important defensive assignments throughout the playoffs, from Giannis Antetokounmpo, to Pascal Siakam, to maybe even LeBron James. Smart’s ability to play these offensive powerhouses could be the deciding factor in the Celtics’ playoff success.
Player: Malcolm Brogdon
The Pacers have been led by the bubble king TJ Warren and Victor Oladipo, but this matchup with the Heat poses a big challenge for the Pacers. Warren struggles against the Heat and he will be matched up against Butler. If he continues his struggles, the Pacers will need a viable second option. This will have to be Malcom Brogdon.
Although his efficiency has decreased tremendously this season, he is a very underrated playmaker averaging 7 assists and he will be vital in creating opportunities for Warren, Oladipo and Turner. In the Bubble, his three point shooting has improved along with his shooting percentage. Teams will key in on TJ Warren and Oladipo, leaving Brogdon with good looks from the three.
Brogdon will have the task of guarding Jimmy Butler, the Heats leading scorer and best player. Slowing him down and forcing the inexperienced players to make plays will surely give the Pacers the upper hand in the series
Player: Tyler Herro
This Heat team is very inexperienced outside of Igoudala, Butler, and Dragic. They will need an elite scoring option off the bench. Insert Tyler Herro. He is averaging 17.2 points in the bubble, but in the last 5 games, Herro’s been an efficient shooter.
Off the Bench, the Heat do not have a player who can score efficiently and at will. Considering that the Pacers have the 20th ranked scoring bench in the NBA, the Heat can take advantage of this to extend their lead. Herro will have to play a pivotal role in this both in initiating the offense and being the focal point of the scoring.
Player: Josh Richardson
Josh Richardson joined the 76ers to replace Jimmy Butler, and he’s done his job well with a reduced workload. However, in the bubble, Richardson has been very inconsistent. With the loss of Ben Simmons, he will have to step up offensively, as a playmaker and scorer. If Horford and Embiid are on the floor at the same time, Richardson will have great looks from the three point line as teams will have to clog the paint to stop both Embiid and Horford.
Richardson will also likely draw the task of guarding the opposing teams beast guard. He will likely matchup against Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry and Eric Bledsoe in a 76ers playoff run. Slowing down those teams’ second option will give the 76ers a huge boost as the 76ers ranked 20th in points per game.
Player: Joe Harris
The Nets have been playing great in the bubble considering the fact that they are missing Spencer Dinwiddie, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving. Caris Levert has been bullying guards in the paint in past games and will likely attract a crowd of defenders every time he drives, freeing up Joe Harris for open three-point looks. Harris has gotten much better at scoring off the dribble so on hard closeouts, he can easily blow by defenders for an easy layup or pull-up jumper.
Teams will also have to respect his three-point shooting ability, leaving the lanes open and giving players like Levert and Allen more space to work within the paint. The Raptors shot 50% from three in Game 1 and made 22 threes, while the Nets shot an abysmal 31% while making 11 threes. They are going to have to fight fire with fire and light it up from three-point land and it starts with Joe Harris.
Player: DJ Augustin
Augustin is the 6 man for a Magic team that stands to likely lose to the Bucks. Orlando did take game one, but it is nearly impossible to see the 1-seed Bucks losing in the first round. Augustin is their only viable scoring option off the bench, from which the Magic will need big points from in order to keep up with the Bucks, who are the NBA’s highest-scoring team.
Augustin played a pivotal role in their Game 1 victory over the Bucks. He wasn’t at his best shooting wise, but he tore up the Bucks defense. He had 11 assists showing off his ability to pick apart defenses and create opportunities for others. His shooting percentages have dropped drastically, especially in the bubble, but if the Magic want to upset the Bucks, they will need Augustin to score efficiently.