As Russell Westbrook may now have realized, there is really no “I” in team. It’s simply impossible for one man to carry a whole squad through 4 grueling rounds of the highest level of basketball play. Which is why teams will have to rely on other role players to step up and take over star duties to preserve their own cornerstone pieces.
With the exception of the matchup between the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers, the second round of the playoffs is now set in stone. Now is the time where the real contenders start to show. More than ever, the teams will now have to know who they can trust to step up for the long haul.
That being said, let us look at the remaining 9 teams’ rosters and determine who should act as the Ray Allen to the LeBron James of 2013.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers – Deron Williams
It should concern the defending champions that their stars LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are already averaging around 40 minutes a night on a combined 62% usage rate on team possessions. Luckily for them, they have one player who is very much familiar of the things they heavily rely on: star power, ball movement and perimeter spacing. That is Deron Williams.
Although no longer the offensive juggernaut he once was in Utah and Brooklyn, Williams is still a former All-Star who was still given starting duties before he was waived from Dallas. He proved he is still game-ready when he dropped 35 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds on a whopping 46 minutes in a regular season loss against the Miami Heat where James and Irving were rested.
It’s safe to say that if he’s given the minutes, he has the Cavaliers’ back.
2. Golden State Warriors – JaVale McGee
For the third time since the playoffs began, we are turning our focus to the now-local hero JaVale McGee. With the perimeter all locked up with All-Stars Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, the Warriors have to rely on McGee’s size to match up with the big men they face in the second round, whether it be the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan or the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert.
Draymond Green deserves all the credit in the world for being a Defensive Player of the Year candidate at his size, but he simply needs someone else to properly bang with the real seven-foot giants of the playoffs, and McGee is that man. Sit down, Zaza.
3. San Antonio Spurs – Patty Mills
After more than a decade of playoff experience, 34-year old Tony Parker is at the twilight of his career, so much so that it is already a big surprise that he scored 27 points to eliminate the Memphis Grizzlies.
Improving steadily as his backup is the Australian shooter Patty Mills, whose regular season averages are already nearly identical to Parker’s. Both averaged around 10 points and 4 assists at around 20-25 minutes a game. It’s almost as if Coach Gregg Popovich is grooming Mills to be the replacement of the French legend.
He is certainly living up to the task, averaging 10 points in 21 minutes in the playoffs at an absurd 52% from three-point land. It is not easy to replace one Tony Parker, but Mills is doing a fine job on his own.
4. Boston Celtics – Marcus Smart
In what is now a true tale of redemption amid tragedy, the Men in Green won 4 straight games over the Chicago Bulls to clinch the season series. During a time of unimaginable grief for their star player Isaiah Thomas, who lost his sister to a road accident one day before Game 1, everyone around him stepped up and helped ease the load off their leader.
However, the emotional stress is still evident with Thomas finishing Game 6 with just 12 points, which is why now is a time for backup point guard Marcus Smart to act his age and shape up. Looking beyond his despicable acts of flopping and throwing up middle fingers to his own fans, Smart is, pun intended, a smart and bulky guard on the defensive end.
For the playoffs, he is just everywhere on the court, averaging 8.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks while being second in the team at plus-minus* – ahead of Al Horford, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley. He needs to keep playing at this level if they want to contain Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal, who combined for 73 points to eliminate the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6.
*Basically, the higher this stat, the more valuable you are to the team when you’re on the court
5. Houston Rockets – Clint Capela, Ryan Anderson and Nene Hilario
It’s a Texas Two-Step once again. The semifinals matchup between San Antonio and Houston is one of the most anticipated battles of the second round, as both teams are masters of team basketball and the homes of MVP-caliber players James Harden and Kawhi Leonard.
However, for the Rockets to have a shot at ousting their longtime Texan rivals, their big men must give their all to contain the post plays and slashing of Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. It is already no secret that their backcourt of Harden, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams will run circles around the Spurs’ aging guards so it is now up to Capela, Anderson and Hilario to nullify the damage down low.
6. Toronto Raptors – Jonas Valanciunas
It’s not a good sign when you get benched and your team wins two straight games to advance to the semifinals. But that’s what happened to the fourth-year big man.
Valanciunas was benched after 4 games against the Milwaukee Bucks because he certainly fanned the flaming Barney references flung at them. In those four games, the starting center totaled only one steal and zero blocks. This was against a team who should’ve been a shot blocker’s feast with their inability to rely on the three-point shot.
You’re 7-feet tall, Jonas. You’re now expected to stop LeBron and Kyrie from driving to the paint. Good luck.
7. Washington Wizards – Otto Porter, Jr.
Behind the flash and pop of the dynamic Wizards back court of Wall and Beal lay Porter, literally in wait. In 80 regular season games, all he did was zoom around the court ready to shoot, and he did just that. In one of the quietest ways possible, Porter is now about to be handed a $100 million contract after posting extremely efficient averages of 10.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals and just 0.5 turnovers on 53% shooting and a top-five 43% from three.
For the playoffs, however, his averages have dipped all across the board despite playing the same minutes. Now is definitely not the time to start a slump after 80 games of stellar play.
8. Utah Jazz – Joe Johnson
We’ve said enough about the offensive prowess of Iso Joe, so we’ll keep this one short. But for those who have forgotten, the 35-year old, $22 million man is averaging 16.7 points on 51% shooting and 35% from three. Oh, and don’t forget the two game-winning plays he did both on the opponent’s home floor.
Time to get one more, Joe. The Warriors are getting bored with all the rest they are having.
9. Los Angeles Clippers – Doc Rivers
The person capping everything off is not a player, but a coach. Not just any coach, but the 2008-championship winning Doc Rivers.
With his team on the brink of either escaping to the semifinals or dropping another first round series, all eyes are now on Rivers to deliver one more time after years upon years of embarrassing playoff performances with the Clippers. The common belief is that he is supposed to be winning more with 3 All-Stars under his wing.
Although winning a championship this year would be a major surprise for the basketball world, choking out of another first round would now put his job in serious jeopardy. He may be also the President of Basketball Operations, but he is not immune from getting axed out. You don’t want that crazy owner Steve Ballmer to have a reason to do so.
The second round of the playoffs are upon us. Don’t waste 82 games for nothing, gentlemen. – Rappler.com
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