Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Roundtable: What Non-Superstar Can A Playoff Team Not Lose To Injury?

Without Kirk Hinrich, Deron Williams could destroy the Bulls. (Kathy Willens/

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among a group of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

This week's question: With the Lakers stockpiling injuries and after seeing Golden State's David Lee suffer a torn hip flexor that will keep him out for the rest of the playoffs, we ask what non-superstar can one of the remaining playoff teams not afford to lose?

This may be cheating since he was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team, but although he is having a breakout year and translated regular season effort into playoff success, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers isn't a superstar. The Pacers' current culture of gritty team ball is not likely to breed one of those, so barring a transcendent postseason performance or a gigantic 2013-14 season, George is likely to remain at the forefront of a small market, overlook-us-at-your-own-risk franchise. That is fine, but what wouldn't be OK for the Pacers is if George fell to injury.

The third-year shooting guard-cum-small forward has played more minutes than any other Pacer this season (second-place David West trails him by nearly 200) and collected 6.3 Defensive Win Shares — the best individual number in a notoriously stingy defense. Adding to that statistic are George's team-high steal percentage (2.6) and his pounding of the defensive glass (he grabs 19.0 percent of defensive rebounds while on the floor, trailing only Jeff Pendergraph [22.2] and Miles Plumlee [19.9] for the season).

As for offense, George led the Pacers in per-game scoring during the regular season (17.4 points) and has only increased his output in the playoffs (25 ppg). He's no slouch at involving his teammates, either. Check any handful of Pacers highlights from this season and you're sure to see George playing one integral role or another. Indiana losing him could tip the series' scales in favor of the Atlanta Hawks, personae non gratae of the playoffs' second round.

I'm going a little obscure here, but bare with me. There's a guy who is far from a superstar, but has been crucially important for his team, and that is Kirk Hinrich of the Chicago Bulls.

Hinrich has been filling in as the starting point guard for the injured Derrick Rose, and losing a second point guard would cripple the Bulls at that position. Sure, Nate Robinson is still there on the bench to do a noble job, but he can't play 48 minutes every night. The final point guard on the roster is Marquis Teague, who has only played in one postseason game this year, game three, and didn't record a stat.

Hinrich's performance on the court has also made the biggest difference in this team's success. In the Bulls' game one loss, Hinrich only scored two points while the player he defended, Deron Williams, went off for 22 points and seven assists. In the next two Bulls wins, Hinrich has scored 13 and 12 points respectively on 41 percent shooting. But his biggest asset has been on the defensive side. In game two, Hinrich played tremendous defense on Williams, containing him to eight points on 1-9 shooting. He followed up that defensive clinic with Williams scoring 18 points, but needing 14 shots to do so. The Bulls have guys who can score. What they've needed is someone to get 10 points per game, play strong defense and not turn the ball over (Hinrich only has four turnovers in three games).

Hinrich has done all the little things that go unnoticed in box scores but are vital to a team's success, and the Bulls would be at a loss without him and Rose in the starting lineup.

Sixth Man of the Year winner, J.R. Smith. After the All-Star break, Smith is averaging 21 points per game, with 46 percent shooting and 38 percent efficiency from 3-point range.

His ability to score and create his own shot helps to free Carmelo Anthony and the rest of his teammates. The loss of Smith would force the Knicks to look for 20-plus points from someone else on their bench

Smith had always been someone that can either shoot you into a game, or shoot you out of it, but he seems to have turned a corner lately toward smarter and more efficient play. If he can keep his head on straight, he remains a dangerous player to have coming off your bench.

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