They aren’t quite the kind of world-renown superstars that can be easily identified by just their first names, ala LeBron, Kobe, Dwayne, Dirk, Carmelo and Dwight. They also aren’t primed to win the NBA scoring title (Kevin Durant) or reigning as league MVP (Derrick Rose).
However, they could still shift the balance of this year’s playoffs and, potentially, represent the difference for their clubs between a deep run and a first round exit. Here are a few of the prospective game changers that could shape the postseason.
Arguably the league’s best perimeter defender, Allen is a major part of the reason that the Memphis Grizzlies are viewed as a potential wild card in the wide open Western Conference. He will be of particular value in a first round tilt with the L.A. Clippers, as he will get the bulk of the defensive assignment on Chris Paul, but could be switched off to defend Caron Butler, Nick Young and even Blake Griffin.
Going from filling a back-up point guard role on a lottery-bound Cavs team to a starting job with the Lakers might have made Sessions the biggest trade deadline winner. After improving his points and assists averages out West, he’s offered every indication that he can be a meaningful contributor to the Lake Show this postseason. L.A. will either meet Dallas or Denver in first round action, meaning that Sessions will be matched up against either Jason Kidd or Ty Lawson. In either scenario, the 26-year-old should hold a distinct edge at the position.
No one has stepped up to fill the Dwight Howard void in Orlando quite like Nelson, who has averaged 16.6 points and 7.6 assists per game since Howard’s season – and, possibly, his Magic tenure – came to a close at the end of March (note: I excluded an April 22 game in Denver in which Nelson played just two minutes). Nelson isn’t the only Magic player who could take charge, but he’s historically seen his scoring rise in the postseason (14.9 career playoff scoring average to 12.4 in the regular season) while other void-filling candidates on the Magic like Hedo Turkoglu and Ryan Anderson have seen their scoring decline come the NBA’s second season.
It’s been a long journey back to the playoffs for Jefferson, who will snap a seven-year drought this spring. He will lead a hungry Utah Jazz team that relies heavy on its young rotation of talented bigs that, aside from the former Celtic, includes Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. As the underdog No. 8 seeds heading into a series against the No. 1 San Antonio Spurs, Jefferson and his frontcourt cohorts (the Jazz own the league’s third-best rebounding average) offer one of the few distinct advantages held by Utah. They may be able to own the paint against Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter.
It would seem overly simplistic to suggest that Boston’s turn-around this season could be credited to the insertion of Bradley into the starting five if the numbers didn’t back it up. Since the University of Texas star stepped in for Ray Allen at the shooting guard spot on March 25, the club has gone 13-4 in Bradley’s 17 of 18 games started. At a time when 14 of the previous 15 Defensive Player of the Year winners have been big men and, outside of Allen, elite perimeter defenders seem to be on the decline (Shane Battier, Metta World Peace), Bradley seems to be staking his claim at the next great stopper on the wing.