As the NBA regular season draws to a close, the postseason picture gradually begins to take shape, laying the groundwork for another world champion to be crowned. And while the league is one driven by stars, the difference in the razor-thin margins of the playoffs can often be the contributions of players that are not necessarily pegged as huge difference-makers going into the postseason. And while assessing who those players will be in a given year is, by nature, extremely difficult, it colors the NBA playoff picture just a bit more completely, and may help prevent these players from catching us completely by surprise. Here are some of the players whose performance could play a larger role than expected in this upcoming postseason, and who, with the right plays at the right times, could forever etch their names in NBA history.
Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies
18.3 PPG, 42.9 3P%, 58.8 TS%
1st Round Matchup: West 7th Seed
The Grizzlies have been one of the league’s most pleasantly surprising teams this season, and a large part of that success can be attributed to the play of Desmond Bane. After making a small name for himself as a three-point ace as a rookie out of TCU, Bane has continued to evolve this season, coinciding perfectly with the explosion of Point Guard Ja Morant to help the Grizzlies arrive to the championship contention party far ahead of schedule.
Bane has seen an increased role in every sense of the word this season, playing more significant minutes and doubling his shot attempts from 7.3 to 14.6 per game. That greater investment has paid dividends for Memphis, as Bane’s scoring has also jumped by over 9 PPG, and the Grizzlies have a net rating of +7.4 with him on the court versus +2.9 with him off.
Memphis enters the playoffs as the second seed in the Western Conference, with predictions from their finish ranging anywhere from first-round disappointments to surprise champions. With such a young team, inexperienced playoff performers will be counted on to deliver in moments they have never experienced before, and perhaps none (other than Morant) will be more heavily relied on than Bane. As a player whose shooting stroke can vastly raise or lower his team’s ceiling, Bane will be integral in the Grizzlies’ quest to achieve their playoff aspirations, just as he has been integral in their rapid ascent to this point.
Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers
5.8 PPG, 59.1 TS%, 3.4 Steal% (league-leading)
1st Round Matchup: Toronto Raptors
During his young NBA career, Thybulle has developed a league-wide reputation for one thing: tenacious defense. There may be no single perimeter player in basketball who is more disruptive, and despite his unorthodox style of typically playing from behind the basketball, he is a nightmare for opposing offenses. With Thybulle wreaking havoc at the point of attack and Joel Embiid protecting the basket, Philadelphia has become one of the league’s most consistently sound defensive units (3rd in Defensive Rating in 2021, 7th in 2022.)
But the most notable factor surrounding Thybulle and his potential imprint on the postseason is not his play on the court– it is when he will available to play at all. Due to a recent Canadian provision, Thybulle’s vaccination status jeopardizes his availability for games in Toronto. He is currently listed as “Ineligible to Play,” and his status is unlikely to change between now and Game 1 of the series. And considering the Raptors defeated Philadelphia 3-1 in the regular season series, the 76ers may need their full complement of weapons in order to advance.
Should Philadelphia earn a trip to the second round, Thybulle will maintain his invaluable status. Since trading for James Harden, the 76ers have seen mountainous highs (a four-game win streak to open Harden’s time in the city, and a franchise record 23 3-pointers in a recent victory over the Indiana Pacers) as well as cavernous lows (a three-game losing streak comprised of losses to last year’s Finals participants, the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns, as well as the dreadful Detroit Pistons.) At their best, Philadelphia has the look of a legitimate championship contender. And in order to realize that potential, they will need everyone, including Thybulle, to be operating at the peak of their powers.
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