Just a few months ago, Enes Kanter was toiling for a New York Knicks team that was heading nowhere.
Now, he’s a significant contributor for a Portland Trail Blazers team heading to the Western Conference semifinals.
Kanter is one of several players starring in their supporting roles and helped put their respective teams in the second round of the NBA playoffs. Others have helped put their teams on the brink of advancing.
The Knicks waived Kanter after the trade deadline in February and Portland swooped in to pick him up. The 6-foot-11 center stepped in as a starter for the Trail Blazers after Jusuf Nurkic suffered a leg injury. The Blazers’ playoff hopes looked bleak after Nurkic went down, but Kanter has taken full advantage of his new situation. Kanter averaged 13.2 points and 10.2 rebounds in the Trail Blazers’ 4-1 series win against Oklahoma City.
“I would like to appreciate the teams that didn’t pick me,” Kanter said after Portland’s clinching Game 5 win on Thursday night. “I tried to sign with lots of teams and they weren’t interested. Two days ago, I was looking in the mirror and thought, ‘I should be blessed. I was blessed.'”
Toronto’s Pascal Siakam is another player who has performed well in the postseason.
He is a leading candidate for the NBA’s most improved player award and in the Raptors first-round series against the Magic, Siakam averaged 22.6 points and 8.4 rebounds.
Denver’s Torrey Craig stepped into the starting lineup in Game 4 of the Nuggets’ series against San Antonio. He averaged roughly six points in the regular season but had 18 points and eight rebounds in Denver’s 117-103 win. His presence allowed Denver to shift Gary Harris over to guard San Antonio’s Derrick White, with good results. White scored just eight points in Game 4 after averaging 23 points the first three games.
“There’s always somebody that steps up in the playoffs,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. Craig has “stepped up. That’s just the way it is. You look for people to step up who aren’t your major players. Every winning team, there’s always somebody that seems to do that and somebody that you might not expect or somebody that hasn’t been playing well. You never really know.
“Every team needs other people to step up.”
Some other players who have shined in their roles during the postseason:
ANDREW BOGUT and KEVON LOONEY, GOLDEN STATE
Golden State’s center position has remained strong since DeMarcus Cousins’ left quadriceps injury during the series against the Los Angeles Clippers. Bogut rejoined the Warriors in March and now has stepped in as a starter. The 34-year-old has averaged 11 rebounds in the past three games.
“He looks amazing,” Golden State forward Draymond Green said. “It’s been incredible to have him back, especially with DeMarcus going down.”
Looney has averaged 9.3 points and 4.5 rebounds on 79 percent shooting from the field in just 18 minutes per game. He scored 19 points in Game 2.
P.J. TUCKER, HOUSTON
The 33-year-old forward is averaging 13 points and 6.5 rebounds in Houston’s series against Utah, up from his regular-season numbers of 7.3 points and 5.8 rebounds. He has made 46 percent of his 3-pointers in the series while providing his usual gritty defense.
BOBAN MARJANOVIC, PHILADELPHIA
The 7-foot-3 center has stepped up with Joel Embiid battling an injured left knee. He averaged 7.3 points and 4.6 rebounds during the regular season, but those numbers jumped to 10.8 points and 6.2 rebounds against Brooklyn in just 15 minutes per contest.
MIKE SCOTT, PHILADELPHIA
Scott’s numbers won’t show his full impact. His corner three with 18.6 seconds left in Game 4 against Brooklyn put the 76ers up by two and helped the 76ers claim a critical victory. He didn’t shoot well in the series, but he stepped up when Brooklyn had a chance to even the series. The 76ers clinched the series three days later.
BROOK LOPEZ, MILWAUKEE
The veteran center has supported the team’s young stars by averaging 12 points and 5.3 rebounds and leading all players with 3.5 blocks per game.
“He’s been great all year,” Bucks guard Khris Middleton said. “I didn’t know how good he is at blocking shots until this year. He lets us be a lot more aggressive on defense, because if someone gets by us, he’s going to be waiting.”