X factors for playoff contenders

Five unsung players who could impact their teams' playoff fortunes

Originally Published: April 13, 2012
By Chris Palmer | ESPN the Magazine
BledsoeNoah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesEric Bledsoe's athleticism could pose mismatch problems for Clippers opponents in the playoffs.

Come playoff time, teams need every advantage they can get. Often that help comes in the form of a player who for some reason has been overlooked. These guys aren't expected to put a team on their back but rather contribute a very specific skill, or often take advantage of a favorable matchup. Whether sidelined due to injury or simply toiling in the shadow of a "Big Three" combination, here are five unsung players who could be X factors in the playoffs.

Eric Bledsoe, PG

Key contribution: Perimeter defense, energy

With apologies to Blake Griffin, Bledsoe is the Clippers' best athlete when considering speed, leaping ability and strength. He's also the Clippers' best perimeter defender. Bledsoe is as aggressive a point-of-attack perimeter defender as you'll find in the West, often bullying ballhandlers with his upper-body strength and controlling their paths with frustratingly quick lateral movement.

His deceptively long arms make it difficult to get shots off -- he can even contest fadeaways -- and make passing around him difficult. His fearlessness when it comes to picking up his man at half court disrupts the opposition's offense and baits opposing PGs into one-on-one duels.


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Chris Palmer

ESPN the Magazine