Apr 15, 2011, 4:56 PM EDT
It’s not all about Kobe and LeBron and KG.
Part of the beauty of the playoffs is the little guys (not used literally in the NBA) who don’t get the national media spotlight but often enough suddenly show up and blow people’s doors off. People that couldn’t have picked Tony Allen out of a one-man lineup suddenly love him like a long-lost uncle.
Here are 10 players who are all-too-often overlooked but could swing a playoff series.
Gerald Wallace, Portland Trail Blazers. The forward was in the All-Star game in 2010, but playing for a bad Bobcats team then being traded to Portland seemed to take him out of the spotlight. However, he has played maybe the best ball of his career since the trade, averaging 15.8 points per game. He could key a Trail Blazers first round upset of the Mavericks. Wallace is a versatile player, can defend and is an offensive force, plus can rebound. He’s tough, he gets under your skin (he did with Ron Artest recently). He’s going to get a lot of time on Dirk Nowtizki and if he can keep the German in check Portland has a chance. .
Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia. If the 76ers are going to push the Heat, it’s because Young will be having a great series. He is a hard working defender who slashes to the rim. He has given the Sixers 12 points and 5 rebounds a game off the bench, and big production from the Philly bench will be key for that team against the top-heavy Heat.
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies. He is a hard-nosed, old school defender who got a lot of playoff experience in Boston. Now, Memphis needs him to shut down Manu Ginobili (well, when Ginobili gets back from his injury). He was shooting 60 percent the last 6 games of the season, and if they get offense out of him their chances of pushing the Spurs goes way up. The Grizzlies need the perimeter production.
James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s always has been important to the Thunder, but since the Jeff Green/Kendrick Perkins trade he has stepped up his game, averaging 15.8 per game since the All-Star break. A fun player to watch, he just always seems to make the right play. He will be key in the second round and beyond.
Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets. He is key to any chance the Nuggets have against the Thunder. The quick point guard averaged nearly 16 points per game on 57 percent shooting against the Thunder this season. He needs to break down the Thunder defense, and if he can get a couple fouls on Kendrick Perkins that would help.
Ronny Turiaf, New York Knicks. New York’s chances of knocking off Boston will hinge on getting some stops — the Knicks have some guys who can put up points, but can they keep Boston from scoring? Turiaf will be key here, he was their best defensive center with the four starters after the trade. They need him to protect the rim and rebound.
Ryan Anderson, Orlando Magic. He’s a big man with a sweet stroke, hitting 39.3 percent from beyond the arc this season, 41.1 percent in his last 10 games. A real stretch four. He will create matchup problems and if he can wear out guys like Al Horford of Atlanta his team will be a lot better for it.
Jason Collins, Atlanta Hawks. It’s this simple — if he can hold Dwight Howard in check this series, doing so in man-on-man coverage without a lot of help, the Hawks have a chance. During the regular season he was able to single cover Howard and that allowed the other Hawks defenders to stay home on the Magic’s many shooters. He is key to the Hawks chances.
Carl Landry, New Orleans Hornets. He has stepped up big for the Hornets since David West went down injured — in the team’s last 10 games he has been the leading scorer at 14.9 points per game on 51.8 shooting. He will be matched up with Pau Gasol and for the Hornets to have a chance of beating the Lakers he’s got to win that battle.
George Hill, San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs count on their bench guys to come in, play the system, defend and knock down shots. Hill does it beautifully. He shot 37.7 percent from three and gave the Spurs 12 points a game, getting big minutes (28 a game). The Spurs bench has been their undoing (well, part of it) in recent seasons and Hill will be key to changing that this time around.