Around this time each season, NBA teams look to add that final piece of the puzzle for a playoff run. The trade deadline is long gone, so teams looking to bolster their roster for the postseason often scour the waiver wire for additional help.
The deadline for teams to buy out a player’s contract in order to be eligible for the playoffs was this past Thursday. There have been quite a few players who were waived in advance of the Mar. 1 deadline and most of them have already found new homes.
Here’s a look at some of the guys who are in new situations that should make a difference as their teams gear up for the playoffs.
1. Joe Johnson – Houston Rockets
A double-digit scorer for most of his career, Joe Johnson has seen his scoring average drop in each of the past two seasons. That’s not to say that he can’t still be a difference maker. Prior to the buyout, he was averaging only 21.9 minutes per game, the lowest since his rookie year in Boston. He was shooting only 42 percent from the field, and an abysmal 27.4 percent from the three-point line.
Since coming over to the Houston Rockets, he’s seen his playing time jump up to 27.2 minutes per game. In the five games he’s seen action, he’s put up 7.2 points per game and upped his three-point percentage to 35.3 percent. At this stage in his career, he’s not going to be the explosive scorer he once was. But he can still hit a few shots here and there and be a difference maker at times off the bench. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see him win a game or two in the playoffs for Houston.
2. Shabazz Muhammad – Milwaukee Bucks
A once highly-touted prospect coming out of high school, Shabazz Muhammad’s career hasn’t quite followed the pre-NBA hype. He still is a productive rotation player, though. Although he had fallen out of Tom Thibodeau’s rotation this season, he’s not far removed from the key cog he was in Minnesota’s second unit the past couple of years.
The Milwaukee Bucks have found some scoring punch off the bench with Jabari Parker’s return, but they still need some additional firepower as they near the home stretch. Muhammad should provide that. He’s never been a strong defender, but the Bucks have enough long-armed defensive minded guys to help cover for him. All he’ll really be asked to do is provide a little extra scoring when needed.
3. Ersan Ilyasova – Philadelphia 76ers
Although Ersan Ilyasova has always been one of the better shooting big men in the league, he’s also never been afraid to play tough defense and be active around the rim. At age 30, the ten-year veteran was having a solid season in Atlanta. He started 40 games for the Hawks while putting up 10.9 points per game on 45.9 percent shooting, 35.9 percent from three-point range, and 5.5 rebounds.
He’s only played in two games so far for the Philadelphia 76ers, but in his second game with the team on Friday night, he showed exactly what he brings to the lineup. In a win over the Charlotte Hornets, Ilyasova led the bench with 18 points on 63.6 percent shooting, 50 percent from downtown, four rebounds and three assists. He’s a stretch big man who will help space the floor for both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
4. Corey Brewer – Oklahoma City Thunder
Another older veteran, Corey Brewer has seen his playing time steadily decrease the past few seasons with the Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers. He’s never been a player known for his offense; he’s a career 42.4 percent shooter and 28 percent from three-point range. What he brings to a team is more on the intangible side. He’s going to provide a lot of energy and hustle as well as strong play on the defensive side of the ball.
Ever since the Oklahoma City Thunder lost Andre Roberson for the rest of the season, they’ve been in need of a guy to come in and hound opposing players defensively. While not quite the defender Roberson is, Brewer does fit that bill. And every now and then he can chip in offensively if necessary. He had a season-high 21 points on Dec. 20 in a win over the Rockets. He’s shooting 45.3 percent on the year. He’s yet to suit up for the Thunder yet but when he does, he could be that spark plug in their second unit that starts runs.
5. Marco Belinelli – Philadelphia 76ers
A bit of a streaky scorer, Marco Belinelli is a veteran sharpshooter who can certainly win a playoff game or two for a team. He was averaging 11.8 points per game and shooting 37.2 percent from the three-point line for the Hawks.
He’s played in seven games for the 76ers so far and scored in double figures in five of those games. He’s up to 38.1 percent from beyond the arc. As a streak scorer, he can win games for teams almost as easily as he can shoot them out. He had been enjoying one of the best seasons of his career, though, and it looks as if his play has continued in Philadelphia. He’s got playoff experience and should also provide locker room intangibles to a very young Sixers team looking for a return to the postseason.
There are a few guys that were bought out but are currently unsigned. Since they were waived prior to the deadline, they are eligible to play in the playoffs should a team come calling. Guys like Derrick Rose and Tony Allen are still quite capable of contributing to a playoff team. It’s just a question of whether or not a team will give them another shot.
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