Commentary

Playoff X Factors: Western 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
SpursNoah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesGeorge Hill could be the key to whether the Spurs have success this postseason.

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:

WESTERN CONFERENCE | EAST

George Hill, G, San Antonio Spurs

Numbers: 11.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.5 apg
Series: (1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Memphis Grizzlies

The Scoop: Hill is a highly intelligent combo guard who is becoming progressively more comfortable creating opportunities for others in the pick-and-roll and by driving to the rim, thanks to his excellent ability to quickly change directions. He fits in seamlessly with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (sometimes both) and is at his best pulling up or catching and shooting his fundamentally perfect jump shot from the wing or short corner. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has become so pleased with his development at point that he's even running the second team by himself.

Why He's An X Factor: Hill is excellent at picking his spots and quickly releasing his shot, and has been the beneficiary of Ginobili's drive-and-kicks and the Spurs' excellent ball reversal all season. With tremendous attention being paid to Manu and Parker, Hill often draws a lesser defender and has a knack for going on mini scoring tears. Bonus: The Spurs are 9-3 when Hill scores 18 or more.

How To Neutralize Him: Force him left, where he's considerably less effective. Throw a bigger, stronger defender at him because they can give him fits. Make him become a playmaker, as it's the area of his game that has been slowest to develop (he's averaging a scant 0.6 assists per game in 14 career playoff games).

Chris Palmer

ESPN the Magazine