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Making their mark in the NBA Playoffs

There have been players to stand out in the postseason who were not expected to and may have carved out new careers—or at least contracts—for themselves, writes Sam Smith.
Marco Belinelli, the backup shooting guard for much of the season, came on to finish the series against the Nets with a pair of 20-plus scoring games and with Kirk Hinrich out has proven also the team’s best distributor while handling ball control duties.
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

The NBA Playoffs are a time for the great ones to produce those great moments and memories, like the Michael Jordan shots, the Magic Johnson saves, the Larry Bird steals. But the playoffs also are about discovering those about whom you weren’t quite sure and may not have even known.

Like Gerald Henderson’s steal to save the series for Boston against the Lakers in 1984 and Cedric Maxell in that same series Game 7. There was Sean Elliott’s Memorial Day Miracle game-winning shot in 1999, Kenny Smith in the 1995 Finals Game 1 shocker, Sleepy Floyd with 51 points in the 1987 semifinals, Mario Elie’s Kiss of Death to the Suns bench in his Game 7 winner in 1995, Gar Heard in the 1976 Finals, John Paxson in Game 5 in the 1991 Finals and Robert Horry too many times to count.

Perhaps other than Nate Robinson at the end of regulation in Game 4 that led to the Bulls triple overtime win, there may not have been as much historic.

But there have been players to stand out who were not expected to and may have carved out new careers—or at least contracts—for themselves.

Nate Robinson: He started the season on an unguaranteed minimum and it wasn’t even clear by January if the team would keep him. But Robinson finished the season the Bulls third leading scorer and was virtually tied with Carlos Boozer in leading the team in scoring against the Nets.

Marco Belinelli: The backup shooting guard for much of the season came on to finish the series against the Nets with a pair of 20-plus scoring games and with Kirk Hinrich out has proven also the team’s best distributor while handling ball control duties.

Jarrett Jack: The Warriors third guard this season who came in to close games in small sets averaged 18.8 points and seven assists while shooting 52.6 percent and was perhaps the X-factor on the Warriors being able to defeat the Nuggets in the biggest first round upset.

Patrick Beverley: The native Chicagoan who had kicked around the minor leagues and overseas stepped in with Jeremy Lin hurt and averaged 11.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in helping make it a tough first round series the Rockets eventually lost to the Thunder. Beverley was involved in that Russell Westbrook injury, but less than being dirty showed he’s a Marshall High School kid who plays until the whistle without stopping.

Matt Barnes: Not that we didn’t know him, and the Clippers did lose to the Grizzlies. But he closed the series with a 30-point 10-rebound game, which isn’t bad for a guy playing on a minimum. He averaged 11.8 points and shot almost 55 percent and 41 percent on threes and displays a strong competitive streak, if occasionally untamed.

Chandler Parsons: He was good, though surprising to many as a second round pick. But he played like this much of the season, averaging 15.5 per game. But he increased that to 18.2 in the playoffs, 16th best, and more took notice. Now if the Rockets try another mega deal like for Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, Parsons’ presence will matter.

Mike Conley: He was a starting point guard for a playoff team, so hardly unknown. But averaging 17.3 points and 8.3 assists in the upset of the Clippers and even having to be a closer on a team without one, Conley has begun to elevate himself in the upper rung of point guards and is the latest most underrated.

NBA news & notes

-- It’s unclear what Phil Jackson’s role means in Detroit, but one potential coaching name that hasn’t been mentioned should be: Isiah Thomas. There’s perhaps no greater name in Detroit basketball, and at one time Thomas was supposed to take over the role Joe Dumars eventually got until an internal issue developed. The franchise has been ailing in recent years, especially in the stands, and perhaps it’s time to bring back a legend. And it would hardly be charity. Thomas coached the Pacers three seasons after they broke up their 2000 Finals team and improved every season. He was fired after going 48-34 as Larry Bird took over and wanted his own coach. There were ill-fated years with the Knicks, but who hasn’t had them? Thomas has a strong record with young talent having drafted Damon Stoudemire and Tracy McGrady in Toronto and then Nate Robinson and David Lee in New York. Pacers youngsters like Jermaine O’Neal developed under Thomas, and O’Neal was threatening to demand a trade because Thomas was fired. Thomas also helped develop Al Harrington and had strong support in New York from the likes of Jamal Crawford and Robinson. “I can’t believe he’s not coaching,” said Robinson. “He was great. Great with the young players. He should be back.”

-- That first round loss to the Bulls obviously had a greater effect on Deron Williams than imagined as an apparently hallucinating Williams said after coach P.J. Carlesimo was fired that, “When I played for coach (Jerry) Sloan, I think he had that effect (on game), just the way he coaches and the way he talked to us every day and the way he prepared us for games kind of rubbed off. I would love to play for Coach Sloan again.” Of course, Williams pouted and pointed fingers so much even Sloan had enough and resigned. Though as Phil Jackson always says as he came back to coach Kobe, “You never say never in the NBA." Jackson, by the way, will be targeted in the wake of Carlesimo’s dismissal, said GM Billy King. Jackson won’t coach, so the Nets likely are out. The Raptors supposedly have been a strong suitor while Jackson is doing consulting work with the Pistons and in the future the NBA policy will be for only teams not interested in Jackson to be mentioned and assume everyone else wants to hire him.

-- So now we know for sure why they wanted that Nike tape of Jordan Crawford dunking on LeBron secret. Not because he dunked on him but because Crawford is such an embarrassment. It's how you look like a strong scorer and the Wizards don’t want you. His boorish behavior and vulgar comments toward Carmelo Anthony about his wife when Boston finally won a game were an embarrassment and figures to shorten his NBA career. … There’s going to be some very tough and unpopular decisions about players coming up, which is another element of the new collective bargaining agreement. Buy out Kobe! Many were shocked. But the feeling in the NBA is the Celtics with Kevin Garnett under contract longer will buy out Paul Pierce. It didn’t help Avery Bradley’s value for deals the way he couldn’t perform until late in the elimination game and looked overwhelmed by the setting. So much for all that early season waiting for his return ... Nice run for Carmelo Anthony shooting 34.8 percent going into Game 2 against Indiana. Not that the Knicks can’t win, but one element of being in New York is being told, as it’s been breathlessly reported in the New York media for weeks, that Heat/Knicks is an inevitability. Then Amar’e Stoudemire is supposed to return for Game 3. The notion now is he’ll play David West, who gave Anthony trouble. But then the Knicks return to their weakest defensive lineup with Tyson Chandler hardly looking healthy. The Knicks with that massive luxury tax are going to regret giving amnesty to Chauncey Billups with Stoudemire still there at $21.7 million next season. Tougher to get rid of him than it was Donnie Walsh. ... With all the concern about acting out, I once recall Mark Jackson as a player showing up with a broom to a closeout game when his Knicks did sweep. He wasn’t wearing black, though.

-- Shooting, shooting, my kingdom for shooting. Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick are expected to be in demand this summer as teams, like Denver, search for perimeter shooting. And not that the Grizzlies cannot win their series, but imagine if they still had perimeter shooting to keep the inside open for Zach Randolph. O.J. Mayo? He’s available. ... By the way, the once troubled Randolph has become a community pillar in Memphis, twice winning the NBA's Kia Community Assist award, which recognizes community, philanthropic and charitable work, and one of the league’s elite post players in a vanishing art. ... I know Kendrick Perkins will play more in this series against the Grizzlies, though he was benched reasonably so against the faster Rockets. But it’s tough to see the Thunder not amnesty him. It’s always easier to go back. But the obvious call for the Thunder, which only they knew since none of us believed they wouldn’t resign James Harden, was to trade Russell Westbrook for Rajon Rondo, who had a much more manageable contract and could have been retained. Boston was very willing, and now you see Kevin Durant playing as he should be dominating the scoring and not having to watch Westbrook out of control dashes. ... This was likely the end of Grant Hill’s NBA playing career with the Clippers loss. Given his college career with a pair of championships and long NBA career with multiple All-Star appearances, Hill is a sure first ballot Hall of Famer and will be sought by the TV networks for broadcasting as well as teams for management. ... George Karl probably will win coach of the year this week, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be fired. In the anything-can-happen world of the NBA, one prominent Denver columnist said Karl should resign to do the right thing after the first round loss to Golden State and a poll in the Denver Post had a majority saying he should be fired or they weren’t sure as it was eagerly pointed out the eventual Hall of Fame coach’s regular season record is 1,131-756, a winning percentage of .599. His postseason record is 80-105, a winning percentage of .432. Two weeks ago he was one of the most popular sports figures in the city. Yes, but that was two weeks ago. Karl got a vote of confidence from ownership. ... Dwight Howard. Just so you know he’s still out there and you are supposed to care.

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