The Five Most Underrated Players of the 2011 NBA Playoffs
Here are the unusual suspects of the 2011 NBA playoffs:
[Note: Zaza Pachulia and Zydrunas Ilgauskas will not be included on this list because of their sorry excuse for a fight Tuesday night. Not that they would have made it anyway.]
Rumble Young Man Rumble: Thaddeus Young
In all likelihood, Jason Terry or Lamar Odom will take home this year’s 6th Man of the Year Award.
If I had anything to say about, I might just think about selecting Sixers forward Thaddeus Young.
He doesn’t have the handles and court vision of Odom or the on-command, spot-up jump shot of Terry. He doesn’t play on a contending team. In fact, I don’t think anyone expects Philadelphia to win more than a game against the Heat in the first round.
Nonetheless, as you watch the Big 3 from South Beach do their thing in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, check out No.21 in red and blue as well.
After starting 45 of 67 games last year, the third-year pro out of Georgia Tech has found a new role coming off the bench under first-year coach Doug Collins.
Collins, who’s known for getting the most out of his team in the honeymoon stage (1-2 years), has certainly achieved that with Young.
Off the bench, Young was straw that stirred the seventh-seeded Sixers’ late season drink. He can score with the basketball (12.7 points per game) on the block, off the drive and even with some regularity from mid range (although his shot is by no means a thing of beauty).
More note worthy is his newfound affinity at the defensive end.
Even in a reduced role, Young averaged a career-high 5.3 rebounds per game this season. And to top things off he has started to recognize his length and frame can be assets against opponents who are quicker and more athletic than he is. His defensive range will make him a fitting candidate to guard both LeBron James and Chris Bosh throughout the first round.
No Longer Waiting for Superman’s Sidekick: Ryan Anderson
When Otis Smith pulled the trigger on two separate trades on Dec. 18, help seemed to be on the way for Dwight Howard in the form of former All-Star Gilbert Arenas and offensive-minded forward Hedo Turkoglu.
While the final 57 games illustrated that Arenas is a shell of the player he was four years ago and that sometimes, in the case of Turkoglu, things can’t go back to the way they used to be (11.4 points per game this season compared to the 16.8 he poured in during Orlando’s Finals run in 2008-09), Smith and coach Stan Van Gundy found their own Disney-esque version of a diamond in the rough with Anderson.
In just his third season, Anderson – filling a void left by the absences of Marcin Gortat and Rashard Lewis - has played a career-high 22.1 minutes per game for the Magic.
Taking advantage of the double teams Howard receives in the paint, Anderson has been Orlando’s most consistent shooter since the December trades (43 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from 3-point range).
In addition to his confidence around the perimeter and in the lane, at 6-foot-10, the former Cal star isn’t afraid to throw his body around on the boards (he averaged a career high 5.5 rebounds per game).
Outside of their traditional shellacking of the Atlanta Hawks, the Magic will face a tough road if they are to advance to the championship round for the second time in three years.
If the Magic go deep into the playoffs, it’ll likely have something to do with Anderson. He gives Orlando a complementary piece off its bench that is bound to provide matchup problems against the likes of slow-footed big men Joakim Noah and Kevin Garnett.
Wes Bound and Up: Wesley Matthews
It’s not every day you go from undrafted free agent to player worthy of a $34 million dollar contract in just two seasons.
But in the case of the Trail Blazers’ Wes Matthews, it’s a well deserved ascension.
Playing on a team that once again suffered through its share of injuries (Greg Oden, Marcus Camby, Brandon Roy), Matthews found himself right at home in Rip City.
Whether in the starting lineup (he started a career high 69 games) or coming off the bench, the second-year guard out of Marquette managed to distinguish himself at the offensive end (he’s second on the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game) in what is already a deep rotation for Nate McMillan.
Matthews is freakishly athletic for his 6-foot-5 frame, creates points off turnovers (1.2 steals per game), is clutch at the line (84.4 percent on the year), and gets to the basket with ease while also displaying touch from beyond the 3-point arc (40.7 percent from downtown in 2010-11).
Going up against teams like Dallas (and potentially Los Angeles), Matthews will have plenty of chances to exploit opposing defenses that try to take away primary threat LaMarcus Aldridge, who is averaging a team high 21.8 points per game. And with his arsenal of offensive skills, don’t be the least bit surprised if Matthews carries Portland at key points down the stretch of tight games.
What if I told the Knicks’ first playoff appearance in seven years had as much to do with a rookie as it did the star-studded tandem of Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony?
You’d probably laugh at me, so I won’t suggest it.
But rookie forward Landry Fields is just the kind of guy a Mike D’Antoni-coached team has never had: a two-way player who competes every minute as if it’s the final 60 seconds of Game 7. Well, the Suns had Raja Bell. But you get the idea.
This win-at-all-costs mentality has won over teammates and front row socialites alike – including Spike Lee (who is often seen wearing his No. 6 retro jersey) and Knicks legend/ TV color analyst Clyde Frazier (who typically refers to the former Stanford Cardinal as a “precious neophyte”).
Adoration aside, Fields’ first year in the league (9.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and a steal per game) has given New York a splash of youthfulness as well as an unexpected dose of defensive intensity that can often get lost in D’Antoni’s score-first system.
While he may be the least respected starting shooting guard in the Eastern Conference playoff picture (Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Joe Johnson are just a few of the names ahead of him), if the Knickerbockers are to win a series for the first time in over a decade, Amar’e and Carmelo are going to need Fields to dream big.
The Thunder Down Under: Nick Collison/Nazr Mohammed
No, not those half-naked men people get ripped off to see in Las Vegas. These two under-the-radar players provide Scott Brooks’ Oklahoma City squad with a little extra grit and versatility off the pine.
Overshadowed by the mid-season acquisition of center Kendrick Perkins, Collison gave the Thunder 4.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. More importantly, he provided a legitimate post presence at the defensive end when Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant needed a breather.
In 24 games since coming over from Charlotte, Mohammed has given the Thunder an unlikely spark at the offensive end (6.9 points per game). Although he averages just over 17 minutes per game, Mohammed may have finally found his shot in what is now his seventh NBA destination. The 14-year veteran shoots the ball with confidence from 8-12 feet and can be used in up-tempo contests if Ibaka or Perkins prove ineffective.
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