It’s time to make an adjustment.
That line of thought is what keeps teams alive in the race toward the NBA title, and we’re going to utilize the same tactic in this space moving forward. Rather than Hidden Gems dropping every Friday, Playoff X-Factors will now run throughout the postseason.
Carmelo Anthony, Oklahoma City Thunder
It might feel odd to call Melo an x-factor, but that’s what he’s become on a top-heavy Thunder team that hasn’t been able to rely on his offensive production. After a regular season in which Anthony saw his numbers decline across the board, particularly in the scoring department, the Thunder hasn’t been able to stay mellow when Anthony shoots the ball. Through two games vs. Utah, Melo has scored 32 points on 31 shots, made just four of 16 3-point attempts and is barely getting to the free throw line (4.0 FTA per game) despite heavy minutes. If Oklahoma City can get improved efficiency from Anthony, they’ll get a more engaged player as a result.
Terry Rozier, Boston Celtics
Rozier might be a popular trade target this summer, and Danny Ainge might just be willing to listen. Here’s why: Ainge always listens, but more importantly, Boston’s lead man is always thinking about the move after the move and how to keep success sustainable. In Rozier’s case, he stands to be a restricted free agent following the 2018-19 campaign, and that’s the same summer where Al Horford figures to exercise his $30M option while Kyrie Irving is likely to decline his $21M decision and ask for a much larger commitment instead.
Through two wins vs. Milwaukee in the Celtics opening-round series, Rozier has averaged 23.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.0 steal, and 3.5 triples on 15-of-32 (46.9%) shooting. The best part? Rozier hasn’t turned the ball over a single time, is shooting 90% from the foul line, and is locked into all of the minutes he can handle until Marcus Smart returns. So long as Boston is ballin’, Rozier figures to be a prominent member of the mix.
Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz
It feels like forever ago when Favors was the assumed future franchise building block for Utah, but his dominant 20-point, 16-rebound Game 2 performance again got the conversation going about how good the veteran can be.
Utah is getting a transcendent effort from rookie Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio is playing well, and Rudy Gobert is doing his thing, and against a team that features Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and the previously referenced Anthony, the Jazz could really utilize some additional contributions at both ends of the floor. It’d be foolish to expect Favors to repeat this showing in the next outing, but maintaining a better consistency in his performance will be key to Utah moving on.
Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors
Ibaka has come up to play vs. Washington and his contributions at both ends of the floor have been felt with a plus-32 net rating and averages of 16.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, and 2.0 3-pointers on 12-of-22 (54.5%) shooting. Prior criticism of Ibaka had stemmed from the juxtaposition between his annual salary and the consistency in his performance, but nobody will be referencing Ibaka’s paycheck so long as he continues to make the same type of impact.
Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers
Especially in a series vs. LeBron James, Stephenson might be the ultimate x-factor.
In two games in Cleveland, Stephenson averaged 11.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.0 turnovers on 50% (10-of-20) from the field. Perhaps being back in Indiana will lead him to more productive minutes on the floor, but his disruption within a game is flatly undeniable. If the Pacers are going to keep the Cavs at bay, the club is going to need someone on that bench to stand and deliver to support what Victor Oladipo is doing, especially when VO is not on the court.