It’s the most wonderful time of the year with the NBA Post Season officially getting underway this upcoming Saturday. The Suns weren’t able to complete their bid for a post season spot, but this year’s field promises to be one of the most competitive post seasons in the Western Conference. Today, the TSFJ team takes a look at the most important player on every Western Conference team — not the best player.
8. Dallas Mavericks: Monta Ellis
If someone had said that “Monta Ball” consisted of Monta Ellis playing productive basketball in conjunction with his team, then many would of had their doubts. Yet here we are and that is exactly what this season has showed us. Having escaped NBA purgatory otherwise known as the Milwaukee Bucks after being exiled from the Golden State pastures, Ellis has found new life on a team that fits him.
The Dallas Mavericks have their undisputed leader in Dirk Nowitzki, but if they’re going to do any damage in the playoffs they’re going to need Monta at his best. The roster compliments itself in various ways, but the key for success is Monta getting out of his own way. He’s spent the entire season doing just that, using better looks to take slightly better shots while still attacking the paint as needed.
Going up against a team as technically sound as the San Antonio Spurs, Monta will have to be as selfless as he’s been all season. No longer boldly leaping into plays without surveying his options, he’s been able to adjust his game and compliment his teammates in ways that we never saw him do before. The Spurs are going to disrupt the 7th seeded Mavercks, and they’re going to do it early. Fortunately Monta has shown improvements in the patience department, and has picked up on openings that his teammates have opened up for him. Playing off Jose Calderon has allowed him to position himself in ways that allow him to attack the space that he creates just by being on the floor. Keeping that in mind, he’s become adept at kicking the ball out to a fully capable Dirk when the lanes have been blocked. Worst-case scenario Monta falls into old habits and shoots Dallas out of this series. Best-case, he proves that he finally gets “it”, and engages in a well executed scoring display that results in an upset to the number 1 seeded Spurs. In Monta they trust. — @easystylez
7. Memphis Grizzlies: Courtney Lee
Here’s another guy that made his name with the ’08 Orlando Magic – Rafer Alston should have started in the Finals, but I digress – after being a strong rookie role player en route to the six-game series with the Los Angeles Lakers.
At the time, the immediate reactions about Courtney Lee centered on how he could be the consistent third option behind Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson that the Magic needed to get back to the Finals. Yet, Orlando felt that Vince Carter still had some legs left and Lee was traded the first of four times in his career. After New Jersey and Houston, Lee had been sitting in purgatory in Boston prior to being dealt to Memphis before the trade deadline.
On a team that reached the Western Conference Finals last spring, Lee picked up some of the guard scoring that was missing with the trade of Rudy Gay in 2013. Starting all but two games with the Grizzlies, Lee scored at a career-high 47% clip, averaged 11 PPG (best since 2011-12) and found his fit in the grind-out defensive style Memphis prides itself in.
The Grizzlies have become a playoff stalwart because we know what to expect from Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and yes, Mike Conley. Between the three, you have second-chance points from offensive rebounds, a potent half-court game and a point guard that takes care of the ball. Yet, with Lee, do we get a guy that sees a mostly similar situation from the one that got him noticed in Orlando?
Oklahoma City is unquestionably favored, so Memphis fans better hope that guy shows up quickly. — @asportsscribe
6. Golden State Warriors: Draymond Green
The Draymond Green era with the Golden State Warriors has been one of the more fun experiences I’ve partaken in since moving to the Bay Area. I remember going to a TGIFriday’s in the suburbs one evening with a young lady and I saw Draymond in there with his young lady. As I gave him the familiar head nod from afar and walked by his booth on the way to our booth, I happened to notice he ordered the Southwestern Egg Rolls. BRUH! That’s what I order every time when I go to Friday’s! It’s the best stuff ever.
What this has to do with Draymond and his role in the Warriors run in the playoffs? Nothing really, other than that Draymond is an appetizer to the main course that is Stephen Curry and the Dubs. That’s not a bad thing, but Draymond is in an intriguing position. He’s went from small-time role player to a critical asset on Mark Jackson’s roster in the span of 6 months. If you gave me just an order of Southwest Egg Rolls to eat, I’d be unsatisfied. If you gave me too many Southwest Egg Rolls, I’m gonna feel guilty of how much I ate. We need the right about of Draymond in the playoffs, and if we get that, we all might flourish with a good looking young lady in a booth. — @edthesportsfan
5. Portland Trailblazers: Nicolas Batum
I went to Portland in early March. I had never been. I rarely attend NBA games. I saw the Blazers play the Hawks.
The fans were nice and the weather was awful. Portland destroyed whatever the Hawks are – I hear they’ve made the playoffs? Is this a world where we want to live?
Nicolas Batum is French. He balled out that night, went for 14 and 18. For a person who doesn’t watch much pro ball, I was astounded at his ability. Maybe it was just for a night, or maybe he’s really a “championne.”
Either way, I remember that city and I remember the people who cheered so hard. They knew their hoops, right down to the kid next to me named for Michael Jordan holding his Go Blazers sign.
His mother was a nice lady, and I wish the Blazers would win for their sakes.
Batum might be the key to that. Or the Lillard King.
Either way, we have to hope a lanky big man can stretch the floor like a shooter, rebound like a big and pass like a guard.
Someone will have to do it all against the Rockets if Rip City wants to advance.
Long live you, City of Roses with your Batum. Long live you, Rip City. — @mtrible
4. Houston Rockets: Terrence Jones
Our own Eddie Maisonet preached the gospel that is Terrence Jones’ sophomore season in January. Over an 82-game sample platter, one truth stands somehow more relevant today than it did when Ed The Ladies Man scribed his peace: Terrence Jones is really, really good and he’s still learning how to operate at the pro level.
Across the board, T.J.’s points, rebounds, shooting percentage, etc. all skyrocketed. Can you win a title with Jones as your best player? No. Second best? His career trek remains to be seen given the fact he’s only 22. But as your third or fourth best right now? Now we’re talking. By no means is this intended as a knock on Terrence, but rather highlighting the fact he’s as versatile and problematic for opposing teams as there is heading into the playoffs for a non-superstar.
James Harden and Dwight Howard carry a bulk of the headlines (and probably tabs at H-Town’s storied strip clubs), and will do so in the postseason. But it’s a guy like Jones who’s capable of giving Houston 20-10 on a given night all while spacing the floor. If Houston is to advance past Portland in the first round, don’t be surprised if a critical basket or rebound comes from Jones.
Note to self: Of course, for these words to hold any sort of credibility, Jones must do better than his 12 points, six boards and six assists against Portland. Those aren’t averages. Those are his totals over three games against the Blazers. — @justintinsley
3. Los Angeles Clippers DeAndre Jordan
It was an incredibly well designed play, and the result was much more than Vinny Del Negro could have ever expected. It was a staggered pick and roll set for Chris Paul at the right win with DeAndre Jordan setting the first screen then pulling out behind Lamar Odom. As Odom set his screen, Jordan slipped behind him unnoticed by the three defenders involved with the action up top.
The lane was essentially Jordan’s for the taking. Even with three defenders obstructing his view, Paul saw Jordan’s opportunity for an easy two points and lofted the ball toward the rim as Jordan crossed the free throw line.
Brandon Knight is a good ball player. A smart ball player. And, unfortunately, a solid team defender. Just like they teach you in AAU hoops, jump to help side when you’re two passes away, and that’s what Knight did — except he ended up being one pass away. One floating, deathly pass away. Knight jumped before Jordan anticipating the lob, but he wasn’t able to anticipate the ferocity at which Jordan would jump. The heights he would reach and the depths he’d fall — perpendicular to the floor — to his death.
DeAndre Jordan can do these things, but he’s going to have to be so much more to the Clippers than an athlete. He’s going to have to protect the paint, collect all 50/50 balls within his reach rebound like his life depended on it. It won’t hurt to take the life of another unsuspecting point guard, either. — @imsohideouss
2. Oklahoma City Thunders: Thabo Sefolosha
There was a time when Thabo Sefolosha was considered one of the better 3-point shooters in the NBA. For the last two seasons the Swiss wing has posted a 3-point percentage above 40%, and combined with an ability to defend almost any swingman who crosses his path However, Oklahoma City’s problem is two-fold. One, Sefolosha’s only got a few games under his belt and they can’t afford to have his defense be anything other than exceptional for the postseason. Two, Thabo has a tendency to forget how to shoot the ball in the playoffs. Those threes he’s likes to shoot? Yep, Drop 10 percentage points off of his usual clip and you’re in range of his postseason output.
Sefolosha is like how Hilary Banks was on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Hilary wasn’t really an integral part of the show, but she always had clutch moments in the show when it was needed. Thabo’s not nearly as fine as Hilary Banks, but there will be a key defensive possession, a corner three or a finish on the fast break, that could be all it takes to get OKC over the hump. — @edthesportsfan
1. San Antonio Spurs: Boris Diaw (Barnett)
For a few minutes in last year’s NBA Finals, Boris Diaw was the second best basketball player on the planet. He guarded LeBron James one-on-one. He took guys off the dribble. He shot the J. He passed the hell out of the ball. He rebounded.
Boris Diaw basketballed.
A lot of credit for the Spurs early success (and with reason, no doubt) was Danny Green’s ungodly shooting from 3-point range, Kawhi Leonard’s ostensible coming out party, and Tony Parker being Tony Parker. Gregg Popovic received love for a wonderful game plan and Tim Duncan received love for still doing what he does at a reasonably high level despite his age.
The Spurs did what they always do, but Boris Diaw was doing the little things when he started getting minutes from Game 4 and on. It was fun. It was exciting. It was fascinating. This season, Diaw has a more defined role which has allowed for 25 minutes a night at the high post letting him do what he does best. Diaw is going to have to have a great post season more than nearly anyone else on this Spurs team. His skill set is so broad that he can often hold things together no matter the other four players on the floor. Boris Diaw is the NBA’s everyman. Every title team needs an everyman. — @imsohideouss