- Several teams experiencing success in the NBA playoffs are doing so with the help of major in-season additions. The Crossover takes a closer look at the Blazers, Rockets and more.
The league’s All-NBA talent will swing the majority of postseason contests, thrilling fans with 40-point explosions and triple-double symphonies as the chase for the Larry O’Brien trophy continues to intensify. But not every game is decided from those atop the NBA power structure. Danny Green and Boris Diaw buried LeBron and the Heat in 2014. P.J. Tucker was one of Houston’s most reliable player in last year’s Western Conference finals. A role player’s moment in the sun can swing a playoff series.
The same could prove true in the 2019 postseason, highlighted by a slate of familiar faces in new situations. The Rockets have bolstered the back of their rotation with a duo of seasoned veterans, while the 76ers and Blazers continue to mine big minutes from two mammoth centers. So which under-the-radar additions may have a big impact in the second round of the 2019 playoffs? We at The Crossover highlighted five key players.
Enes Kanter, Blazers
It’s a touch surprising to see Kanter so spry after being largely buried in New York for much of 2018-19. The 26-year-old center, who signed with the Blazers in February, earned some revenge over Billy Donovan and the Thunder in a 104-99 Game 1 victory, pouring in 20 points and 18 rebounds with a team best plus-15 in 34 minutes. His Blazers also took the series win in a dramatic 118-115 Game 5 victory. Billy Donovan’s “Can’t Play Kanter” moment became instant karmic fodder, and Kanter logged some of the best minutes of his career. He’s not a playable matchup against every team, yet matched up with Steven Adams and Oklahoma City, Kanter has largely thrived throughout the first round.
He should face another favorable matchup in Round 2. Kanter could feast against San Antonio, and he won’t get run off the floor by LaMarcus Aldridge. Nikola Jokic will provide a more difficult task, though the Joker isn’t quite athletic enough to give Kanter fits. The slower the better for the Turkish big man, and Portland won’t need to steal significant minutes from Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard in round two. Kanter won’t be exposed prior to the conference finals.
A battle with Golden State or Houston is a far different story. The Warriors will dance past Kanter at will. James Harden and Chris Paul would give a whole new meaning to the phrase “stumps on skates,” potentially unleashing the season’s cruelest crossover. Al-Farouq Aminu could assume major minutes at the five, and Portland may try to small ball its way to the Finals. The outlook isn’t promising.
Kanter should be an asset in round two, though his value is capped if the Blazers reach the conference finals. Still, Kanter has revived his career in Portland, setting the stage for a potential payday when he hits free agency in July.
Austin Rivers & Kenneth Faried, Rockets
Daryl Morey won’t win Executive of the Year in 2019, but his midseason additions have played a significant role in Houston’s rebound from an 11–14 start to legitimate contenders for the franchise’s first championship since 1995. Let’s start with Rivers. The former Rockets adversary joined the Rockets in December and has emerged as an impact fourth guard behind Harden, Paul and Eric Gordon, shielding Harden in particular from the toughest defensive assignments. Rivers is a career 36.1% shooter from three, a respectable mark that should improve amid a sea of wide-open triples. He’s another body to throw at Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in the playoffs and will earn crucial minutes throughout the West semifinals. An improbable addition has made a marked impact early on.
Faried was bought out by the Nets before joining the Rockets, yet he picked up the slack in a big way as Clint Capela battled a thumb injury midway through the season, providing such a boost that it was frankly shocking Denver and Brooklyn banished him to the bench in the first place. Now, Faried is Houston’s energizer bunny, fully channeling The Manimal en route to 12.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Faried is a quality rim protector and an offensive glass extraordinaire. He’s mobile defending the pick-and-roll and a passable finisher rolling downhill. Even if the Warriors unleash the Death Lineup, Faried will still have a significant impact against Golden State.
Boban Marjanovic, 76ers
The NBA’s friendliest giant was an afterthought in Philadelphia’s Tobias Harris trade, but Marjanovic has quickly proved to be a vital part of the Sixers undermanned bench unit in round one. Joel Embiid’s health remains a mystery and Greg Monroe is often unplayable. Marjanovic is more than a serviceable backup, though, capable of big production in limited minutes.
The fourth-year center has scored in double figures in each of Philadelphia’s first three games against Brooklyn, snatching eight boards in Game 2 and Game 3. Marjanovic is more nimble than one would think. He’s got soft hands and doesn’t panic in a crowd, even finding Tobias Harris for a deep three in the second quarter of Game 3. Marjanovic is happy to plug the lane with Embiid out of the lineup, and his sheer size provides a legitimate deterrent at the rim. After easily defeating the Nets 122-100 to close ther first-round series, Philly needs a healthy Embiid to advance past Toronto. That'll mean some quality minutes are expected from Marjanovic.
Nikola Mirotic, Bucks
Milwaukee’s most decorated in-season addition hasn’t been a key character thus far, logging just 60 minutes in the Bucks’ round-one sweep over the Pistons. He may continue to ride the pine in round two. Mirotic is best deployed as a small-ball big next to Giannis Antetokounmpo, exploiting twin tower lineups (like Indiana with Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis) while adding significant stretch. Milwaukee is plus-16.1 points per 100 possessions with Antetokounmpo and Mirotic on the floor, a dominant figure in 126 minutes. The pairing can pour in the points at a lethal rate.
Mirotic may not see much daylight against Boston. The Celtics will likely use Al Horford as its lone big for the majority of the series, riding with a slate of smaller wings at the four. The Horford-Aaron Baynes duo is minus-8.6 points per 100 possessions in the postseason. Marcus Morris is a better fit, and Jayson Tatum can even log some minutes at the four. With Boston already comfortable in small lineups, the advantage brought by Mirotic stretch is minimized. Milwaukee may choose to leave Brook Lopez on the floor and milk a potential size advantage.
The conference finals may provide a quality window for Mirotic, giving Joel Embiid or Marc Gasol headaches as he shuffles out to 27 feet and beyond. Yet the door looks closed against Boston, with limited opportunities to make a significant impact.