Hide Bonus Offers

Iman Shumpert and Every Team’s X-Factor in the 2017 Playoffs

By Kody Miller in Sports
| April 17, 2017 12:00 am PDT
X-Factor NBA Playoffs Feature Image

If you are reading this thinking that Russ, Bron, Harden, Kyrie, Steph and so on are key to their team’s success, you are right! The thing is anyone that follows sports knows that those guys are the world’s best and their respective teams would not be in these playoffs without them.

An x-factor makes the job a little easier for the go-to players. They are the gritty, hardnosed guys that each night put up solid numbers but never get credit. This is a list of lockdown defenders, rebounders, and maybe some double-double guys that like to bang down low.  Maybe it is their high energy and motor that sparks a run for their team this year.  All 16 teams in the playoffs have some key players that bring so much to their lineup.

The following list consists of mostly bench players, but there are some starters on it as well. Their team’s success is dependent on the success of these X-Factors whether it be on the offensive or defensive end.

Avery Bradley – Boston Celtics

A fairly easy pick when it comes to the Celtics X-factor, Bradley is certainly a lockdown defender that can be “pesky” to opposing teams and their guards. He has an extremely high energy level and leaves everything out on the court.

He also continues to be one of the better rebounding guards in the League, which involves extra defensive effort, boxing out, and being aware where he is at all times. He can certainly wear you down on the defensive end, but his high motor can also effect a defensive scheme as well trying to keep him off the boards.

He was averaging seven boards a game up until he injured his Achilles in December, since then he has not been as active crashing the boards but ended the season averaging just over six to go along with 16 points a game. The Celtics are in need of services throughout the playoffs and Bradley playing well could stop LeBron from making it to his seventh straight finals.

Iman Shumpert – Cleveland Cavaliers

Shumpert’s offensive production has been mediocre at best during his past two seasons with the Cavs. When he was traded from the Knicks, he averaged 9.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game with Cleveland as a serviceable offensive option since then his ability to score has decreased each season.

This season Shumpert has been able to improve his offensive production and take advantage of some key injuries to starters throughout the regular season, averaging almost 26 minutes a game. He saw an improvement in his 3-point percentage between this season and last but continues to struggle on the offensive end.

A player known more for his defensive tenacity than offensive production, “Shump” was a lockdown defender on Steph Curry and Klay Thompson during the 2015 NBA Finals. Cleveland does not need him to be much of an offensive threat with so many other scorers but instead to contain his shot selection and work to find better options on every possession while bringing back that edge defense.

His defensive effort needs to be at a high level if Cleveland wants to make another Finals run. As they have struggled at times to stop opposing teams on the defensive end. This year’s match-up against the Warriors looks a little different when you throw Kevin Durant in the lineup.

Cory Joseph – Toronto Raptors

Joseph did an excellent job filling in for Kyle Lowry as the starting PG. When he was in the starting role for Lowry, Joseph was averaging almost 12-points per game and 5 assists. These are commendable numbers considering the Raptors were in the middle of a fight for the three seed and many of those games were similar to playoff atmosphere basketball.

There will be times where his number will be called to run the offense and guard some of the most productive and talented PG’s in the league, including a possible second round meeting with Kyrie Irving.

If he can give Toronto a spark off the bench just as he did in the time he started, Joseph could be a key player off the bench. Not to mention Kyle Lowry’s performance in the first round last year where he was ice cold and if that happens in 2017 look for the next man up to play solid minutes. If he is a legitimate leader on the court, Toronto will grow even more dangerous during the postseason.

Markieff Morris – Washington Wizards

Markieff has the duty of guarding all-star power forward Paul Milsap during the first round. If Morris can manage to lock Milsap down anywhere near the way he did during two of three matchups the Wizards would be lucky. When Milsap struggled, Morris did a tremendous job guarding him. Other than one good game Milsap did not score double-digits and struggled from the field.  Markieff is a young, athletic talent that can matchup with Milsap’s offensive talents.

The Wizards X-factor is not only a key defensive piece to the team as he averaged 14 –Points and 6 rebounds per game this season. Morris is a very capable scorer down low and grabs a ton of rebounds. Also on the offensive end, he knows his roll taking smart shots and limiting his turnovers being a safe out for John Wall driving to the basket.

Thabo Sefalosha – Atlanta Hawks

If you can recall Sefalosha missed the teams run in the 2015 playoffs because of a scuffle with the NYPD that resulted in a broken leg. That year they would play the Cavs in the Conference Championship without the small forward in the lineup and many thought they would have beat the Cavs with him, instead it was a four game sweep.

He is a smart player on both ends of the ball and his contribution is key to the Hawks success. Sefolosha is not going to go for more than 12 points in a game, but he is a decent shooter and a huge piece to the Hawks defense. This was noticeable during his recent injury and the Hawks defensive struggles during that time.

You could compare Sefalosha as a quarterback on offense; the plays can go through him as he can run a screen and roll with Paul Milsap or hit a three with Dennis Schroeder kicking it out. On defense, he is like a linebacker, looking for the holes in the offense getting ready to make a big play and lock the opposing team down.

If he can stay healthy and give the Hawks valuable minutes they will be a threat throughout the playoffs. Their defense with Dwight Howard at the rim can hang with any team in the East.

Matthew Dellavedova – Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee’s roster is full of aspiring stars, such as 22 year-old Giannis “the Greek Freak” Antetokounmpos who leads this Bucks team in every statistical category. Their roster is one full of young, versatile and raw players. There is not another player on the Bucks roster with the experience and poise that Dellavedova brings to the lineup.

After leaving the World Champion Cavaliers for this Milwaukee team, his first year has been quite productive averaging a career high in minutes (26.1) and points (7.6). The biggest statistic that stands out is ability to distribute the ball without turning it over too much, averaging 4.7/1.8 assist turnover ratio.

The Bucks need him to play well but they need his leadership and experience more with a young talented core. If Dellavedova can bring his hustle and tenacity to this team, he may be one of the biggest X-factors in the playoffs. He has been there before but he is now playing a bigger role with the Bucks relying on him heavily to produce.

CJ Miles – Indiana Pacers

Paul George has officially recovered from his horrific injury in the Olympics and is on his way to a career high in scoring (23.2 per game), all while shooting a career best field goal percentage. He is missing another big contributor the other stars have but CJ Miles can certainly be an option. Miles may be the biggest piece to the Pacers success this postseason, especially against the Cavs where he is averaging 17 points a game against the 2-seed, almost 7 points over his season average.

Miles’ reason for success against the Cavs is Cleveland’s ever so soft defense, such as JR Smith who is a liability. The Cavs as a whole struggled on defense to the end the season; they put forth a pathetic effort showing no hustle or willingness to dig their heels to win a game. Whatever it was, CJ Miles seemed to take full advantage of it and Indiana hopes he can continue that success in the post season.

Miles is a reliable scorer from deep and can take it to the basket with a solid mid-range game. He is a lot to handle for someone who is not willing to put in the effort on D and if he can continue his effective play against the Cavs the Pacers could sneak in a few scares.

Nikola Mirotic – Chicago Bulls

After the Bulls traded away Doug McDermott this season an already struggling three-point shooting team got even worse (actually the worst in the NBA). Their stars Jimmy Butler and Dwayne Wade have never been known for their ability to shoot the ball, both actually struggle quite a bit from behind the arc. Throw in Rajon Rondo who is comparable to a big man from three-point range and you see the Bulls need a serviceable shooter.

Mirotic been far from a consistent shooter and is actually a pretty bad one this season, but the Bulls need him to find some sort of shooting stroke for them to hang in the playoffs. As of late he has been exactly what the Bulls will need to pull off a first round upset. In the last 10 games Mirotic is averaging an impressive 15.9 point and 7.4 rebound a game, if he can continue that throughout the playoffs the Bulls are looking at something positive.

The biggest question is will the Yugoslavian big man be able to continue his strong play since coming into the starting lineup? There is chance he will resort back to his early season form, struggling in every aspect of his game. The final seed in the East needs him to stay consistent.

JaVale McGee – Golden State Warriors

I know…. You could probably choose just about any of the Warriors’ key bench players to be their x-factor, they provide a spark more than any other team in the league with the likes Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, but the presence of JaVale McGee’s athleticism and big body are going to be extremely important for the Warriors.

McGee is most useful on the offensive end where he is known for receiving lobs from his star guards, resulting in a shooting percentage over 65% while taking advantage of being forgotten about with all of the other threats. McGee is a completely different player compared to starter Zaza Pachulia and when he is in the lineup, the Warriors are a different looking team.

His athleticism, offensive output and toughness are going to be important when facing some teams with a solid inside game starting with the Blazers if Center Jusuf Nurkic gets the green light to play in their first round match up.

McGee did not have much success against the Blazers but Portalnd did not have a perennial powerhouse center yet either. He has not logged many minutes this season but should see more minutes come the playoffs and if his inability to understand a defensive strategy/lackadaisical defense can turn around then he may end up playing a much bigger role than expected.

Patty Mills – San Antonio Spurs

The Saint Mary’s product has been a key bench player for the Spurs and Greg Popovich for about five seasons now and he continues to grow as a player. Mills is backup to Tony Parker and is a big energy guy that loves to play fast and create even if it looks like coach Pop may blow a gasket. He is still averaging substantially more minutes and points compared to last season.

Mills is going to be huge to the Spurs success this year especially if they meet up with the Warriors, where his energy is needed more on the defensive end than offense trying to keep up with Steph Curry. On the other hand, Patty is a consistent shooter averaging just over 41 percent from three-point range.

The only downfall is that his size can be an issue. At only 6 foot there are a handful of guards that can post him up or take him to the hoop.  He also needs to play under control, slow the pace, and play smart when he is in for Tony Parker. In the 2014-15 playoffs, he averaged just over 10 points in 16 minutes per game for his best post-season production and the Spurs would benefit from that this season, as Tony Parker gets older.

Trevor Ariza – Houston Rockets

Houston is an extremely talented offensive team only being behind the Golden State Warriors this season. I mean they have an MVP candidate in James Harden, who only averages a freakish 29 points per game to go along with over 11 assists. However, just as every other team knows, your offense can only get you so far into the playoffs and eventually defensive stops are key.

Their defense is mediocre at best, starting with James Harden who is one of the best scorers but he can be a liability on defense and can be borderline bad. Ariza’s role is crucial as he may have to defend the likes of KD and Khawi Leonard. He leads the Rockets in steals per game (1.8) while averaging almost 12 points.

Ariza, along with Point Guard Patrick Bverely (the other key to defense) will have to stay in front of their man and play strong on the ball defense for the Rockets to be successful.

Jamal Crawford – Los Angeles Clippers

Crawford has been a consistent scorer for years and the former sixth-man of the year can still provide a scoring spark. His career is filled with highlights of his offensive talents where he has typically provided his services from the bench, a scoring luxury most teams do not have as a backup.

At 37 years old, he was still able to average just over 12 points a game, scoring freely on opponents such as Utah where he dropped 28 points against them not too long ago in a heated game. He is an integral piece off the bench for Doc Rivers with his smooth play and leadership and Crawford is a soft-spoken killer on the offensive end.

The game where he scored 28-points, Jamal simply took over in the fourth quarter and scored 17 points. He has never found a shot he didn’t like and needs to warmup for a playoff run.

Rudy Gobert – Utah Jazz

A young 7-footer that ended the season averaging a double-double. Gobert has to be the biggest X-factor for a Jazz team facing off against the Clippers, who have the duo of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. If they can get past them look out.

He is averaging an impressive 14 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. He leads the team in rebounds while also grabbing four offensive boards. He is an extremely hard player for any team to handle especially a roster that lacks any size.

It should be an interesting first round matchup with this youngster going against the Clippers’ veteran big men.  Gobert is averaging four less points per game when they face the Clippers, so he will need to step up his offensive output and try to get DeAndre Jordan into foul trouble.

Taj Gibson – Oklahoma City Thunder

Gibson was a midseason acquisition this season for the Thunder with the Bulls sending him over with Doug McDermot. He is an addition that improves the thunder locker room with a veteran mindset that can calm the young guys. Gibson provides Russell Westbrook with another high energy, athletic player like himself but more on the defensive end of the ball.

On the season, he has averaged 10.8 points and 6.2 rebounds, solid numbers that will need to stay there if the Thunder want to make any sort of run.  He can help Russ out in many ways on the court, cutting to the basket and running a screen and roll. Russ cannot do everything on his own and Gibson could be a player that can be a safety valve with his short-range game where he shoots over 50% from the field, anything outside of 15 feet or so Gibson is a non-factor with zero long-range ability.

Gibson’s biggest role is on defense where the Thunder need him to excel and produce solid minutes.  He will have to defend some key players, especially in the first round when the thunder have to control the Houston Rockets run and gun offense.

Vince Carter – Memphis Grizzlies

As the Grizzlies take on the Spurs who are always a consistently strong half court defensive team, a player who can score needs to be an x-factor for Memphis. That is hard find on a team with their only scorers being Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley Jr. where they are actually the players on their roster that average over 10-points per game.

Carter has to be the next man up for the Grizzlies and he has shown us that there is still something left in the tank. The 40 year-old former all-star is averaging the 5th most minutes per game on their roster, only scoring 8 points. He needs to find a way to score more than that each game, all the while trying to keep up with Khawi Leonard. The reality of it is Memphis is not a high scoring team. They succeed off of defense and smart basketball. If they can get Carter to hit some open looks from deep it may open up the game for their big men and Mike Conley.

It is up to Vince Carter to be the backbone for the Grizz, hitting his years in the NBA and giving it one last ride in the playoffs. Since at 40 most players have been retired for a few years, Vince wants to show all of his critics wrong and still play at a high level.

Jusuf Nurkic – Portland Trailblazers

One of the biggest names on our list, if the big man can play it definitely increases the chance of a first round upset against a Warriors team that isn’t very strong down low.

If he is healthy enough to play, the center is also one of the biggest question marks as an X-factor because of his limited time in Portland (20 games) and he did not play in the final seven games. He is a proven big man, an offensive threat in the paint and a nice fit with the other Blazer stars.

There is no question the big man can have success alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. All you have to look at is his performance against the Denver Nuggets where he scored 33 points and grabbed 15 boards. Numbers like that are no fluke.

If superstar Damian Lillards’ prediction of beating the Warriors in six games this year has any chance of being accurate then Jusuf Nurkic has to be in the lineup. His presence down low is something the Warriors have yet to face this year getting all of their games against the Blazers prior to Nurkic joining.

Keep an eye on his injury report as it sounds like he will be a game time decision for game 1 on Sunday afternoon.



Back to top