The NBA is full of stars, and fans typically direct their attention to those stars and not to the role players who make it all come together. Although you can’t win championships without the big names, you can’t win championships without the glue guys who complete the team.
Let’s start with Xavier Tillman. As the Grizzlies take on the Utah Jazz in the first round, I firmly believe that Memphis will compete with Utah. It will most definitely transpire to be the offensive side of the ball that holds them back during this matchup. I can’t emphasize the power and strength of the Grizzlies bench. Many other analysts and fans have been centering their conversations centered around Desmond Bane, De’Anthony Melton, etc. It’s time to shine a light on Xavier Tillman. The Grizzlies have taken gambles on young players taken in the second round that have turned into solid players such as De’Anthony Melton, Dillon Brooks, etc. The bottom line is, the Grizzlies and Zach Kleiman can spot talent and get it to Memphis. Tillman’s stats aren’t exactly eye-popping, but he is not a stat guy, he is a pure effort type of player. During the Grizzlies win versus Golden State on May 16th, Tillman showed off that in addition to causing turnovers (3 steals and a block), he can also stretch the floor, as he hit two threes, one of which was to keep the Grizzlies afloat as the shot clock was expiring. I don’t expect this to continue or to be a consistent showing of his shooting. His shooting form and past shooting tell me different. Tillman has shot 73.1% from the restricted area this season, as he continues to seek shots in the paint. As I said previously, Tillman is a very feisty defender, and with his size of 6’8, he can guard multiple positions with precision.
Next up, from the Denver Nuggets, Monte Morris. This season, fans have been quick to point to Facundo Campazzo as the Nuggets’ key role player, but if Morris gets off his minutes restriction, he will most definitely be the essential bench player for the Nuggets. As of now, Campazzo is starting and Morris is coming off the bench with the second unit, which is smart. With their primary scorers in the midst of the first group, Campazzo is in the mix for facilitating purposes while Morris is paired with the second unit because of his scoring. In his 47 games played this season, he’s shot 77% from the restricted area, despite registering at 6’2. He shoots the three-ball at 38.1% yet is efficient from the mid-range as well, shooting 54.3% from 10-16 feet. Morris is a smart basketball player, as he limits the number of turnovers amidst creating for his teammates.
Next up, from the Portland Trailblazers, Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is a reliable and consistent scorer and should be a larger part of the Blazer offense. Melo’s mid-range game is impeccable and his three-point shooting has been exceptional this season. I’d love to see Portland incorporate more Melo post-ups along with getting him more shots. As Anthony comes off the bench for the Trailblazers, without Lillard on the court, he shoots 45% from three, and his usage rate increases from 20.4% to 25.9%-per CBS Sports. I certainly hope that Carmelo Anthony will be granted more touches throughout the first round extended (if the Blazers beat the Nuggets) because this guy can truly create a good shot out of seemingly nothing.
From the Phoenix Suns, Jae Crowder. Crowder will be a vital piece of this title-contending team. Whether that’s guarding the other team’s best player (point guard through power forward) or knocking down threes on the offensive end, Crowder’s meaning to this team is inexplainable. Crowder, although the numbers don’t show it, is very knowledgeable and knows where and when to pass the basketball. His offensive and defensive IQ will propel this Phoenix Suns team in many ways as they look to defeat the Lakers in the first round.
From the Los Angeles Clippers, someone you might have honestly forgotten about, Rajon Rondo. We all know ‘Playoff Rondo’, so instead of explaining it, I’ll illustrate how the Clippers can utilize him and how he can help. Let’s just say this, the Clippers didn’t trade for Rondo with the regular season in mind. When Rondo has played this season, the Clippers have had a plus 4.9 net rating, and while Rondo and Kawhi Leonard are both on the court, that increases to plus 20.7. With the many shooters that Los Angeles possesses (#1 in three-point percentage, 41.1%), Rondo takes the role of a floor general, something that Patrick Beverley and Reggie Jackson could never achieve.
From the Dallas Mavericks, Jalen Brunson. Brunson, in my opinion and the opinions of other NBA analysts, should’ve earned more respect for 6MOY. Brunson has shot 52.3% from the field this season including an excellent percentage from inside the restricted area and 40.5% on threes. Brunson handles the offense when Doncic is taking a rest and he does quite the job. He is a very strong and physical guard, and he has the IQ to know how to run the offense. While Doncic was on the bench and Brunson was on the court, the Mavs were a plus 3.9 net rating. When they were both on the court, they were plus 6.8-per CBS Sports.
Next up, an unlikely candidate in Daniel Gafford who plays for the Washington Wizards. I’d understand if you weren’t aware of what Gafford is doing this season, but it’s time you’re informed. Gafford is a bunny on both the offensive and defensive end of the ball. The 6’10 center is labeled as a defensive anchor in the paint, but he’s proved that he’s more than that. Gafford has only taken 2 shots outside of the paint this season, and he’s shot 79.5% from inside the restricted area. He is a tremendous lob threat for both Westbrook and Ish Smith, in fact, the Wizards are a plus 11.6 with Westbrook and Gafford on the floor. Gafford is very efficient. Per 36 minutes, he averages 20.6 PPG, 11.3 RPG, and 3.6 BPG.
I would’ve said this before his amazing performance in game one versus the Nets, but from the Boston Celtics, Robert Williams. Like Gafford, Williams is a downright bunny both on offense and defense and his stats don’t show his true meaning to this team. In game one’s loss to the Nets, he scored 11 points, 9 rebounds (5 OREB), and 9 blocks with only 2 fouls. Among those 9 blocks was a block on James Harden and a block on Bruce Brown where Brown got Williams up into the air, proceeded to go up with it, and still got blocked although Williams was on the ground when he started to go up. Williams’ ability to get off the ground in a hurry is truly impeccable and this serves as a convenience for him on the offensive side as well, allowing him to get up quick for lobs and offensive rebounds. Williams’ strength also allows him to finish in the paint with efficiency, as he shoots 80.1% from inside the restricted area.
Next up, from the Milwaukee Bucks, Bobby Portis. Portis has been overlooked his entire career even though he’s a very solid player. Upon working with professional shooting coach Chris Matthews, a.k.a. Lethal Shooter, Portis has improved his three-point shooting from 35.8% to 47.1%. Portis has a magnificent mid-range game, whether it’s a pull-up, a turnaround, or anything else, Portis can do it efficiently. Per 36 minutes, Portis averages 19.8 PPG and 12.2 RPG. He’s been exactly what the Bucks needed, a scoring and rebounding punch off the bench, and give kudos to Jon Horst and the Bucks’ front office for getting this type of talent into Milwaukee.
It’s a real shame that I took so long to write this article because Alec Burks has already gone off for 27. Believe it or not, I was a fan of Alec Burks before today. I saw what he did in Golden State last year and the beginning of this year with the Knicks before his first injury. I drafted him in my 18-person fantasy league and reaped the benefits from his scoring when he was healthy. Burks knows the game very well, and he works his opponents with his pump fakes and decisive, high IQ passes. Throughout the rest of the series, I am very excited to see what Burks will do given he is fully healthy going forth.