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.
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