As 2022 playoff basketball rages on, it’s difficult to keep tabs on all of the happenings. Without multiple games played every night, it’s easy to miss the little things if you can’t catch every contest.
Because of that, I want to stop and take a breather in the madness that is playoff hoops and shine some light on some unsung heroes of the big dance. While superstars get most of the credit for playoff success, it’s impossible to win when it matters without role players contributing consistently.
I’ve selected eight guys who have stood out to me so far. Let’s dig in.
The Celtics might have the best defensive roster in the association, which is evident in the way they play. They slowed down Kevin Durant for an entire series, and in game two against Milwaukee they held Giannis to one of the worst halves of basketball he’s played in his NBA career. While Jayson Tatum and Al Horford get a lot of love for locking those guys down, Grant Williams has done a fantastic job guarding so far in the ‘offs, specifically on the Greek Freak. During game two Giannis shot 4-10 when Williams was the nearest defender. He uses his immovable frame to prevent the two-time MVP from getting anything easy at his usual spots.
He’s been an offensive contributor too, knocking down 45% of his 40 deep-range attempts across eight games. Seeing him become such an important piece for a contending roster is impressive considering Celtics fans wanted him out of the league last season.
From the play-in to the four games versus Boston, Bruce Brown had an incredible postseason run. He was easily Brooklyn’s third-best player, doing anything and everything he could to try to will the struggling Nets to a W. He posted averages of 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists while connecting on 42.9% of his treys and acting as arguably Brooklyn’s top defender.
Bruce is entering unrestricted free agency this summer, and he will receive some sizable offers. His do-it-all game makes him a flawless fit next to superstars like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and Brooklyn should make it a priority to resign him.
When the Bucks acquired Grayson Allen from Memphis in exchange for Sam Merrill and a couple second-round picks, it was a steal. Now it’s progressed to full-on highway robbery.
Grayson played some solid ball in the regular season, providing reliable shooting off Giannis drive-and-kicks. He netted 45.8% of his triples created by a Giannis pass, an elite percentage.
That marksmanship has carried over into the postseason, where Grayson is now up to 47.4% from beyond the arc (58.3% in the series vs Chicago). However, what I’ve been most impressed with during the playoffs from him is the effort. He’s playing harder on D, he’s been active on the glass, and he’s taking it to the rack more often. His regular season 2P% of 53.3% has ballooned to 62.5%.
Grayson’s more multidimensional performance has made him a valuable piece for the reigning champs even when his shots aren’t falling.
All-Bench-Mob Second Teamer Gabe Vincent has stepped up his play when it matters for the Miami Heat. His shooting is down, but what’s made him a vital member of Miami’s rotation is his pesky defense.
Moonlighting as a starter during Kyle Lowry’s absence, Gabe was able to fill the irritant role Lowry left vacant.
It’s been a lot of fun watching Gabe (as well as Herb Jones, Jose Alvarado, Gary Payton II, and other Bench Mob ballers) play big minutes in the postseason and play well.
In a series featuring two teams overflowing with young talent, Jaden McDaniels displayed what Minnesota fans have seen all year on a national stage. He’s a super versatile defender who uses a combination of lateral quickness, height, and Inspector Gadget arms to cover every position and reject shots. He swatted 1.8 attempts per game in the Memphis series.
A highly regarded prospect coming out of high school, McDaniels was seen more as an offensive player. While defense has been his calling card so far in the league, he put up a couple big scoring performances against the Grizz including a 24-point outing in the elimination game in which he was 5-6 from three and 8-9 overall from the field. He drained exactly half of his long-range tries across the whole series, showing off his smooth and consistent jumper.
McDaniels is a guy who I expect big things from in the 2022-23 season, especially if he can build off the flashes of driving and mid-range creation he’s shown in order to become a more balanced scorer.
When Steven Adams got played off the court against Minnesota, Brandon Clarke slid into a bigger role and was incredible. The best way to describe his game is tenacious. He corralled 23 offensive boards in six games against the Wolves, attacking the glass every play. He snagged nine o-boards in game five, an insane total.
Beyond the rebounding, Clarke is a reliable pick-and-roll partner for Ja Morant and displays beautiful touch on floaters which is unusual for a big man.
Because Jaren Jackson Jr. spent lots of time sidelined with foul trouble and Steven Adams fell out of the rotation, the Grizzlies needed someone else to step up and Clarke delivered.
Larry Nance Jr.
Larry Nance Jr. joined the young and hungry Pelicans at the trade deadline, and after missing time due to injury he played in nine regular season contests before the playoffs.
In the postseason, Nance Jr. was a key contributor in pushing the one-seeded Suns to six ultra-competitive games.
Just like Clarke, he attacks the offensive glass every chance he gets.
He provides athletic finishing and mobility as a small-ball five when Valanciunas isn’t effective.
Nance was one of my preseason favorites for Sixth Man of the Year, and while that didn’t work out this year I could see him making a run at it in 2023 providing bounce and energy for a Pelicans roster poised to make a big jump as a group.
To say Dorian Finney-Smith has been fantastic in the playoffs would be an understatement. He has played some tremendous ball on both ends of the court.
He’s one of the better on-ball defenders the forward position has to offer, someone who can be relied on to make life tough for opposing stars like Devin Booker.
What’s made him especially valuable in the ‘offs is how well he has shot the ball. He’s absolutely shooting the skin off the pill. His 24-point, 8 3PM performance in game four was the second highest point total in a playoff game without making a two-point field goal. The only guy ahead of him is his teammate Maxi Kleber (who’s also been awesome)
Finney-Smith is a guy who I consider to be one of the more underrated role players in the association. He fits the 3&D archetype to a tee and would be a seamless fit on all 29 other teams (please Jon Horst find a way to get him).
So, those are eight role players who are showing out in the postseason while flying under the radar. Did I forget anyone? Who are some other players that have stood out to you? Let me know! Thanks for reading, and see you next time!
(P.S. huge shoutout to Wesley Matthews, his defense on DeRozan, LaVine, and Tatum has been sensational and I love watching it.)