West: 3 playoff players to watch

Editor’s Note: Yesterday, we gave you 3 Eastern Conference players worth keeping an eye on in the stretch run and postseason. Today, we give you the logical sequel.

Player No. 1: Klay Thompson

Thompson’s marksmanship suits the Warriors’ style of play so well. Sure, he’s far from an elite defender, even far from an average one, but when he’s on, Golden State’s tough to beat. A 16.7-points-per-game guy this year, Thompson’s dropped 20 or more in 22 games this season, in which Golden State’s 15-7.

Golden State’s an intriguing 1st-round out, if only for the fear their shooters, namely Stephen Curry and Thompson, will catch fire. Mark Jackson’s team is tops in the NBA in 3-point percentage, at 39.7%, and Curry, 439, and Thompson, 430, are 2nd and 3rd in the league, respectively, in 3-point attempts; Curry, 198, and Thompson, 170, are 1st and 3rd, respectively, in makes.

In games this year when Thompson converts at least 4 3-pointers, the Warriors are 14-5, with wins over Indiana, Miami, Los Angeles (Clippers) and New York. Thompson plays close to 36 minutes a night for the sole purpose of spacing the floor for Curry and David Lee, and if Golden State has any hopes of making a series with a San Antonio, Oklahoma City or Los Angeles, though still unlikely, Thompson needs to get hot.

Player No. 2: Thomas Robinson

When Houston (essentially) dealt Patrick Patterson to Sacramento for Robinson, the No. 5 overall draft selection 9 months ago, pundits argued Houston was taking an immediate step back in favor of long-term gain. Patterson, the undersized, 6’9″ power forward who could smoothly stretch Houston’s up-tempo attack to the corners — he’s a 37.4% 3-point shooter on the season — was a perfect fit to run alongside James Harden, Jeremy Lin & Co.

Enter Thomas Robinson, who’s still working himself into Houston’s rotation, averaging 14 minutes a game in 6 appearances since the trade. Robinson was not seeing much more time in Sacramento, where some young players are cast to the end of Keith Smart’s bench (exhibit A: Jimmer Fredette), but, per 36 minutes, was still averaging double-double figures, 11 points and 10.6 rebounds.

The looks will only get easier with the attention Harden, one of the league’s most effective drivers, commands; Robinson’s field goal percentage, albeit in a sample size of only 6 games, has climbed more than 14 points, to 56.3, in Houston (over Sacramento). And the Rockets are going to rely more on Robinson as he further entrenches himself in the system, since, at the deadline, the team flipped another power forward, Marcus Morris, to Phoenix, leaving Greg Smith and Donatas Motiejunas as the only other contributor bigs.

Player No. 3: Austin Daye

Acquired as a secondary piece in the Rudy Gay deal, Daye is already one of Memphis’ most potent 3-point threats. He’s one of 2 Grizzlies to shoot at least 40% from 3, Quincy Pondexter the other, and he’s already chucking up 2.1 attempts from distance per game, in 10.8 minutes, so it’s pretty clear what head coach Lionel Hollins is asking of him.

Memphis, the league’s worst 3-point shooting team at only 4.7 makes per game, also shipped Wayne Ellington, previously their top 3-baller, to Cleveland in a cap-saving move in January. (Memphis also attempts the fewest 3’s, at 13.7 per 48 minutes, again just ahead of Chicago.)

Daye’s putting up some of the most efficient numbers of his career in his brief time thus far in Memphis; per 36 minutes, he’s averaging a career-high 17.1 points. The Grizzlies very much rely on their frontcourt-heavy, defense-first starting 5, with combo guard Jerryd Bayless, 7.2 points per game, providing the main (yet limited) punch off the bench.

As the playoffs wear on, though, Memphis is going to need shots, and Daye’s unique size, a 6’11” stretch 4 who’s more natural playing the 3, and athleticism could pose problems for defenses. He’s scored double-digit points 3 times since Feb. 8, and the Grizzlies are 3-0 in games he makes at least 2 3-balls. (Oh, and Daye, a restricted free agent this summer due a fairly steep $4.2 million qualifying offer, has the added incentive of playing for his NBA career.)

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


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