If the regular season is a sign of things to come, it looks like we are in for multiple surprises in the playoffs. During the regular season, the San Antonio Spurs reprised its role as the team to beat in the west, Kevin Durant finally rose to the top of the league, and players like Gerald Green, Eric Bledsoe, Lance Stephenson and Taj Gibson became household names.
As the playoffs rolls around, superstars like Lebron James will need players off the bench to step up their game in order to achieve the ultimate goal, which is why I have compiled a list of bench players to watch out for in the playoffs.
3. Taj Gibson: No Derrick Rose, no Luol Deng, no need to worry Chicago fans, you’ve got Gibson. The fifth year man has been an absolute beast this season. The 6’9 forward played all 82 games, averaging 13 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. His hard work combined with Joakim Noah’s leadership played a pivotal role in securing the fourth seed for Tom Thibodeau’s team.
Gibson’s ability to improve is what separates him from the pack. Averaging just 8.5 points in the first month of the season, Gibson continued to develop as a scorer each month. In February, he averaged 16.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game and helped the Bulls to a 9-4 record that month. In three wins against playoff teams in February, Gibson was Chicago’s top scorer.
The powerful forward is a force underneath the basket. He rarely ever gives up on plays and his defensive prowess is impressive to say the least. Gibson would definitely be a major factor if Chicago were to pull off the impossible without its best player.
The kid out of Boston College was sensational during the regular season. The 24-year-old used the experience he gained from last season’s playoff to fill the starting point guard shoe while Westbrook was out.
With Jackson running point, Durant was lethal. Durant averaged well over 32 points and his shooting percentage improved. The frontrunner for MVP was efficient because of Jackson’s intelligence on the ball. The third year man was able to control a smooth flowing offense with his speed, world class ball-handling and vision to make the extra pass.
Jackson was also a lethal scorer, both as a starter and off the bench. He scored 20 plus points in eight games (three 20 plus games came in wins against the Spurs) and averaged a career high 13.1 points per game.
With Westbrook healthy, Jackson won’t have to go up against starting point guards, and he has an advantage both physically and mentally over most of the backups in the playoffs. If Jackson can replicate or improve on what he did in the regular season, his team could end up lifting the coveted trophy.
After his 15th regular season in the league, the 34-year-old looks like he might have found a home at Staples Center. He has settled well into Doc Rivers’ game plan and he’s become a lethal scorer off the bench. In 69 games, he averaged 18.6 points and 3.2 assists per game.
It’s almost impossible to guard the 6’5 guard one-on-one. He’s offensive repertoire is beyond amazing. He can handle the ball better than most point guards, he can pull up from range, drive into the lane for a jumper, blow past defenders for a dazzling layup and he can find the open man.
The Los Angeles Clippers already have Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, but since teams will be focused on them, Rivers needs a player he can count on. And Crawford looks like the most reliable option. With his skill set and experience, Crawford can be the X factor on a championship caliber team.