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. 


Dorian Finney-Smith, Dallas Mavericks

10.9 PPG, 38.5 3P%, 1.7 VORP

1st Round Matchup: Utah Jazz

After two hard-fought defeats in the last two postseasons, the Mavericks return to the playoffs with a slightly new look but the exact same hunger for success. Luka Doncic has been a dynamo since the moment he stepped onto an NBA court, and that dominance has traveled to the playoffs, but he has no series victories to show for it, primarily because of a lack of help from his supporting cast. Finney-Smith is one such player that has failed to elevate his play in past postseasons, but this season, it appears he is more poised than ever to make a major impact and help Dallas escape the toils of the first round. 

Finney-Smith is incredibly versatile, filling many different roles at once in both Dallas’s offensive and defensive gameplans. He is bursting with athleticism, making him an adept cutter to and finisher at the rim, and his jumpshot is an asset to the Mavericks’ floor spacing, and creates one more potential path for a Dallas victory (see his 28-point, six 3-pointer performance in a March 30 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.) Finney-Smith makes his teammates’ lives easier offensively, but defensively, he makes the lives of his opponents demonstrably harder. Often matched up with the opposition’s most effective offensive player, Finney-Smith has made a name for himself as a defensive stalwart, with the physical tools to execute properly and the intelligence to do so on the fly. 

The role of Finney-Smith and the rest of the Mavericks is further complicated by Doncic’s availability. After suffering a calf strain in the regular season finale, there is no timetable for his return, but he is not expected to be fully healthy for the start of Dallas’s tilt with Utah. This foists Finney-Smith into greater responsibility, and changes his role from a secondary agent of victory to a primary one. Whether Doncic’s health spells doom for the Mavericks’ season or is merely a bump in the road will largely depend on the play of those they previously relied on to reinforce him.

It is easy to look at the Mavericks’ roster and boil their playoff hopes down to “They will go as far as Luka will take them.” And while it is undeniable that Doncic’s play (and his ability to play) will be the largest determinant of their success, stellar performances from their lead horse have not been enough to advance the Mavericks in recent years. For this chapter of the story to have a different ending, they will need as much production as possible out of players like Finney-Smith, who, like many other unheralded stars this postseason, has the chance to leave an impression that will not soon be forgotten.