Basketball is the kind of sport where guys are reliant on others on their team to do their job. It’s needless to say that superstars like LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Durant come through for their team whenever it is needed. These are the superstars who get all the endorsements, get the most important questions during post-game interviews, and have the lights on them at all times of the day and at night.
However, the unsung heroes are the players who are able to step up when the team needs them most. The coach has utter confidence in these players to do a great job and gives them the opportunity to shine in playoff moments. Every winning team has players who step up at one point or another that turn them into the major players in the series.
During the Jordan-era Bulls teams, John Paxson and Craig Hodges were trusted on the floor by Jordan and by Coach Phil Jackson. During the Houston Rockets’ back-to-back Championships, Hakeem Olajuwon is undoubtedly the most memorable player, but the team got valuable contributions from Robert Horry and Kenny Smith. Even in more contemporary history, the 2011 Mavericks rallied behind Dirk but he was helped by Jason Terry and Jason Kidd. Even the reigning Champions were saved by big contributions by Ray Allen and Mike Miller.
This list will examine the players to step up during the first round of the 2014 playoffs. This does not mean we do not recognize the skill of players like Steph Curry or John Wall, but this is a special recognition of the unsung heroes, who we don’t hear much about, but who made big contributions to their team.
10. Chandler Parsons, Houston Rockets
This spot was either going to Chandler Parsons or Jeremy Lin. Parsons got the nod due to his consistent contributions to the team for the entire series. Throughout the playoffs, Parsons averaged 19.3 points per game and added another 6.8 rebounds a game. Parsons is not the flashiest player on the Rockets, but he’s become the jack-of-all-trades on their team.
He is able to handle the rock and finish on fast breaks, plays strong defense, and hits open threes from anywhere on the floor. Parsons’ role on the team cannot be undervalued because of his impact on every facet of the game.
9. Josh McRoberts, Charlotte Bobcats
This was thee last time we see the Bobcats uniform being worn on the hardwood and McRoberts did not disappoint the team. McRoberts is the point-forward on the team and his teammates and coach were never afraid of giving him the ball to set up plays or to control it on fast breaks.
He’ll be remembered this playoff run for his poster on the Birdman, but he contributed more than that. He stepped up when Al Jefferson got injured and held together the Bobcats in the paint for the majority of the series.
8. Vince Carter, Dallas Mavericks
Raptors fans will remember this year for the massive playoff run, but also because of Vince Carter’s incredible shot which has been deemed The Redemption. Carter’s game winning shot in game 3 was eerily similar to the shot that he missed while playing for the Raptors in 2001 against Philadelphia.
Vince has turned into a certified bench player late in his career but he has done so with grace and skill. He is one of the best scorers to come off the bench and has embraced his role on this veteran Mavericks team. Despite being eliminated in the first round, Vince, and this team, showed plenty of heart and courage, and will definitely be expected in the playoffs again next year, if he resigns with them of course.
7. Greivis Vásquez, Toronto Raptors
Vásquez was one of the Raptors’ best players this series and gets little recognition behind the Raptors star players like DeRozan and Lowry. However, despite being less known, Vásquez proved his worth to this team by constantly hitting big shots and leading his team down the stretch of every game.
Vásquez, despite his slow style of play, controls the tempo of the game and gets his teammates involved. Hitting big shot after big shot, Vásquez constantly encourages the fans to get louder and get more into the game. Vásquez has become a name well-recognized in Toronto and he’s only been there for 5 months.
6. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Green was inserted into the lineup as a key player after Jermaine O’Neal went down with his injury and with Andrew Bogut already ruled out of the first round with a rib injury. Green did not disappoint as his physical play made Blake Griffin seem visibly uncomfortable on the floor on offense and on defense.
Green played 4 years of college ball at Michigan State, where he learned to play tough, rugged defense. The years have paid off as he became one of the primary options inside for the injured team, and has the ability to stretch the floor on offense. He has become a formidable piece of the team and will definitely have a place for years to come.
5. Robin Lopez, Portland Trailblazers
A key part of Portland’s success this year was due to acquiring Robin Lopez. He gobbles up rebounds inside, and plays tough defense against the bigger centers in the league, such as Dwight Howard. In the match up against Houston, Lopez played tough defense against Howard and made him earn every point on the floor instead of giving up easy buckets.
He also hustled and got plenty of offensive rebounds for the team, despite not having any plays called for him. His offensive capabilities and defensive awareness takes a big load off LaMarcus Aldridge, who is able to get open looks because of Lopez’s hard work.
4. Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder
This spot was going to Tony Allen if the Grizzlies had won, but since the Thunder advanced, it only makes sense that Reggie Jackson earns his place. Jackson, despite not living up to expectations during the regular season, did it again and stepped up during the playoffs. The only difference this year is that Russell Westbrook is around and Jackson still got his looks.
He provides a spark off the bench and leads the team’s bench scoring. He plays hard-nosed defense, gets plenty of steals and is able to drive the lane as well as he can shoot the ball from deep. At only 24 years old, this young player has lots to learn but is doing so as a key-piece on title contender.
3. Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets
From game 1 until game 7, the Raptors had no idea how to cover Joe Johnson. He took them inside and put post moves on DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross that neither could handle. When Patrick Patterson or Amir Johnson covered him, he brought them outside and hit 3-pointers at ease. His scoring has always seemed effortless and it was clearly demonstrated in this series.
Even when the Raptors thought they found an answer for him (Vásquez), he swung the ball outside and got his shooters opened. Now he was an all-star this year, but going into the series, all the attention was on Pierce, Williams, and Garnett (who knows why Garnett got any attentions). Johnson was forgotten despite his list of clutch shots, and in turn, he did it again.
2. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
In the last couple of minutes of game 7 against the Warriors, the teams were still tied and both knew they had to make a push to separate themselves. This was no player who sized the moment more than DeAndre Jordan who became an absolute beast, pulling down rebounds and blocking Stephen Curry which led to a Blake Griffin alley-oop play on the other end of the floor.
When Jordan was disengaged this series, the Clippers lost their games. He has become the defensive anchor of this team, which had the best offense in the league during the regular season. He averaged 15.1 rebounds per game and 4 blocks per game during the series. The numbers speak for themselves as the Clippers moved on to the second round.
1. Nenê, Washington Wizards
Nenê has had injury-prone career and this year was not any different. The Wizards lost their big man for 29 games this season, including at the end of the season. Nenê was forgotten as one of the primary options on the team and he made the Bulls pay for forgetting how talented he really is.
He averaged 17.8 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game. These are not numbers that will blow your socks off, but Nenê provided an offensive threat that the Bulls were not ready for. He got defensive rebounds, eliminated Taj Gibson’s offensive game and provided a scoring touch in the front court that Trevor Booker cannot do. Nenê’s presence in this series threw a curveball at the Bulls strategy and led the Wizards to the second round.