Each year during the playoffs, we see players step up and elevate their game when the spotlight is brightest. With their season on the line, players will do whatever it takes to help their team achieve the ultimate goal of winning a championship.
We expect the top players in the league, like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook among others, to rise to the occasion and lead their teams. While it’s important for those players to turn the intensity up, it’s also extremely important for role players to step up as well.
For these players, the playoffs is a great time to show off their game in front of a national audience. Viewership this postseason has been at an all-time high, and we’ve seen a number of role players turn in great performances. Some of these players are about to become free agents in July in what is shaping up to be one of the craziest free agency periods in NBA history due to the $92 million salary cap. Players who performed well this postseason have helped their stock before they hit the open market.
Here are several players (in no particular order) who have helped their free agency value after a successful postseason:
Maurice Harkless, Portland Trail Blazers:
During the first few months of the season, playing time for Harkless was uneven. He averaged less than 16 minutes per game in December and January, but then seemed to break through into the lineup. His playing time spiked up to around 20 minutes per game in February and March, and then up to 28 minutes per game in April.
Harkless earned starts in the last 11 games of the regular season and showed that he can produce when given the opportunity. In 14 games as a starter in the regular season, he averaged 11.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and one block per game. Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts kept Harkless in the starting lineup for the team’s postseason run and Harkless played well in that role.
He averaged 12.7 points and 6.2 rebounds in the Blazers’ first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, and then nine points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in the second round against the Golden State Warriors. He scored in double figures in five of the six games games against the Clippers, and turned in his best playoff performance in Game 5 – recording 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Fresh off of his solid play for the Blazers this postseason, Harkless is set to hit restricted free agency once the team extends him a $4,045,894 qualifying offer. While it remains to be seen what Harkless stands to earn this summer, it’ll be significantly higher than the four-year, approximately $16 million deal he turned down from the Blazers last offseason.
Bismack Biyombo, Toronto Raptors:
Biyombo became perhaps one of the Raptors’ most important players during their second-round series against the Miami HEAT. He was placed into the starting lineup in Game 4 after an ankle injury sidelined starter Jonas Valanciunas for the remainder of the series.
Biyombo’s impact for the Raptors was felt immediately. He started the final four games of the series and averaged 11 points, 12 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and one assist per game. With the HEAT missing starting center Hassan Whiteside for much of the series, Biyombo was able to have his way against Miami’s smaller defenders. In Toronto’s Game 7 win on Sunday, Biyombo recorded a career-high 17 points and 16 rebounds.
Given his strong play thus far this postseason, it looks as though Biyombo will receive a pretty big payday. He currently holds a $2,940,630 player option for next season and it seems extremely likely that he’ll decline that option and test the free agency waters this summer. With nearly every team having ample cap space and talented big men always being highly coveted, Biyombo should receive a ton of interest.
Jeremy Lin, Charlotte Hornets:
It’s well documented that Lin will likely decline his $2,235,255 player option next season and hit the free agency market. After a couple of outstanding playoff performances in the Hornets’ first-round series against the HEAT, Lin has likely earned himself a bigger contract next season.
Lin was the biggest scoring option off of the bench for the Hornets against the HEAT and was a key piece in pushing that series to seven games. He averaged 12.4 points, 2.6 assists and 2.3 rebounds during that series and hit several big shots throughout.
His best performance of the series came in Game 4 when he scored 21 points and then followed up that outing with 11 points, seven assists and six rebounds to give the Hornets a 3-2 series lead at the time.
It’s clear that Lin has established himself as a solid backup point guard option for teams. Both Lin and the Hornets have said that they’d like to work out an agreement that keeps the 27-year-old in Charlotte, but we’ve seen before that nothing is guaranteed in the NBA. He’ll likely field offers from several teams and will have the option to pick the best situation for his career moving forward.
Austin Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers:
One of the biggest stories of the postseason thus far was the injuries that the Clippers suffered. In Game 4 of their first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers, Chris Paul broke a bone in his right hand and Blake Griffin aggravated the injury to his left quad tendon. The team announced after that game that both players would miss the remainder of the playoffs.
In support of Paul, Rivers turned in a couple of solid performances and proved he could play at a high level in the playoffs. His outing in Game 6 was perhaps one of the most courageous performances we’ve seen in quite some time.
Rivers took an elbow to the face during that game and would receive 11 stitches in all. He returned to the game just one quarter later and would end up recording 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds in the game. The most remarkable thing about his performance was that his eye looked to be swollen shut following the injury. His performance left his teammates, opponents and fans watching the game impressed as it proved that he is a tough guy who will do anything to help his team.
Rivers holds a $3,344,106 player option for next season and will almost certainly decline it. The 2015-16 season was Rivers’ best of his short career and will likely allow him to earn a bigger contract this summer.
Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers:
The Clippers were forced to lean on Crawford heavily as well after the injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Crawford has proven to be one of the best bench players in history after earning a record third Sixth Man of the Year Award this season.
In his 16th season in the league, Crawford averaged a postseason career-high 17.3 points, 2.2 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. His 32 points in Game 6 against the Trail Blazers were the most for any reserve in a postseason game in Clippers franchise history.
Crawford will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and will likely earn more than the $5.675 million he received this past campaign. The Clippers are in an interesting place this summer as it’s been speculated that the team could look to change things up after failing to advance to the Western Conference Finals during its current five-year postseason streak.
Crawford has previously said that he’d like to return to the Clippers next season as he and his family are comfortable living in Los Angeles, but it remains to be seen if the Clippers will elect to re-sign him or if the two sides can agree on a fair price.
Honorable Mention: Raymond Felton, Marreese Speights, Solomon Hill, Allen Crabbe, Kent Bazemore, Nicolas Batum, J.R. Smith, Marvin Williams, Harrison Barnes and Matthew Dellavedova.
While these players above stand out among those who have helped improve their free agency stock, there have been several others who have helped their case as well. In a summer where teams will have a record amount of money to spend, there will be plenty of players landing huge contracts.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.
PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.