Commentary

Playoff X Factors: Eastern Conference

These out-of-the-spotlight players could play huge roles in their teams' success

Originally Published: April 14, 2011
By Chris Palmer | ESPN The Magazine
HansbroughAP Photo/Seth WenigIf the Pacers hope to knock off the Bulls, they'll need big-time play out of Tyler Hansbrough.

Tayshaun Prince didn't get much run his rookie year. His 3.3 points in 10.4 minutes per game failed to land him on most teams' scouting reports. In fact, he didn't even score in 19 of the 42 games he appeared in. It's no wonder the rest of the Eastern Conference didn't see him coming when the playoffs rolled around in 2003.

Along with stifling defense, Prince used his length and deft touch to average 9.4 points and 3.8 rebounds and spark the Detroit Pistons' comeback against the Orlando Magic after being down 3-1. He then helped dispatch the Philadelphia 76ers in six games in the second round, averaging 13 points and four rebounds to propel the Pistons to the first of five straight Eastern Conference finals. He had made an unexpected difference that teams weren't prepared for. He was the Pistons' X Factor.

Here are the players who could have similar impacts on their teams in the 2011 postseason:

EASTERN CONFERENCE | WEST

Tyler Hansbrough, PF, Indiana Pacers

Series: (1) Chicago Bulls vs. (8) Indiana Pacers
Numbers: 11 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 0.6 apg

The Scoop: After four relatively unspectacular months to open the season, Hansbrough went on a tear in March, averaging 22 points and 7.8 rebounds. He notched individual game totals of 30, 29 (twice), 26 and 24. Maybe that was an aberration that he can't maintain, but he's getting better at sticking the midrange J off of the pick-and-pop, and his hustle and enthusiasm go a long way toward making up for any disparity in talent he might have when going up against more heralded power forwards.

Why He's An X Factor: The frenetic Hansbrough loves contact above all else and isn't afraid to engage opposing bigs in a game of smash-up derby. In order to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Bulls, the Pacers need Hansbrough to be exceptionally physical against Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. Psycho T's got no problem with that.

How To Neutralize Him: Make him create his own shot, preferably 18 feet from the basket. Force him to put the ball on the floor in any situation. He's not a qualified enough scoring threat to use valuable seconds off the shot clock to get his own looks.

Chris Palmer

ESPN the Magazine