If you are looking for a team to back in the playoffs, a popular choice would be Memphis, with the Grizzlies sporting two former Buckeyes on their roster. As a testament to just how tough the Western Conference is, Memphis won 50 games buy still was only able to grab the seventh seed in the Western Conference. While Memphis might look like a longshot to down Oklahoma City in the first round, the other two Buckeyes in the playoffs figure to be involved in the playoffs for quite some time. Evan Turner's Indiana Pacers and Greg Oden's Miami Heat finished as the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, and many are expecting those two teams to clash in the Eastern Conference Finals. With 75% of the Buckeyes in the NBA involved in the playoffs, it was quite a productive season for Ohio State alumni.
Mike Conley - PG - Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies kicked it into high gear and won their final five games of the regular season to clinch a playoff berth and move up to the seventh seed in the Western Conference behind the leadership of Mike Conley. Memphis will now try and find a way to send Oklahoma City packing in the postseason for the second year in a row.
Conley started off their last week of the season by winning a key game against Miami last Wednesday 107-102. In 41 minutes Conley went 10-18 from the field to put in 26 points and dished out six assists. In four of the five games to close the season Conley shot 50% or better from the field, with the only game where he didn't coming against the lowly 76ers where he went 0-3 in 23 minutes in the 117-95 victory.
Monday night the Grizzlies went into Phoenix needing a win to clinch a playoff spot and eliminate Phoenix. Conley was up to the task, shooting 9-12 to account for 24 points and eight dines in the 97-91 win. The Grizzlies couldn't rest easy in their regular season finale on Wednesday though when they hosted Dallas, with the winner getting the seventh seed and avoiding a first round meeting with San Antonio. Memphis has a chance to seal the game up 93-90 with 20 seconds to go, but Conley committed a charge and Dallas took the game to overtime. Conley made up for the mistake by hitting two free throws with 1.1 to go in overtime to seal a 106-105 win.
The 2013-14 season saw Conley records his best season in terms of scoring, averaging 17.2 points per game in 73 games after going for 14.6 points per game last year. The rest of Conley's season stat line stayed consistent, averaging 6.0 assists per game, 45% shooting from the field, and 36.1% from three, all of which were very similar to last year's numbers. The Grizzlies will lead that and probably more from Conley in the first round against Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the rest of the Thunder.
Kosta Koufos - F/C - Memphis Grizzlies
Along with Mike Conley, Kosta Koufos will join the fight to try and help Memphis take down Oklahoma City in the playoffs. While Koufos' role won't be quite as massive as Conley's, he'll still be counted on to come off the bench and give Memphis some solid front court minutes.
While Koufos started during the absence of Marc Gasol, his playing time has decreased since the return of the Spaniard. April saw Koufos only average 10.1 minutes per game, which was a low for him on the season. The best game of the last week came against Philadelphia, where Koufos played 13 minutes, scored six points, blocked two shots, and grabbed two boards.
After starting 81 games and averaging 22.4 minutes per game last year with Denver, this year saw Koufos only start 22 of the 80 games he played, and average 16.9 minutes per game. Because of the decrease in playing time, Koufos' scoring feel from 8.0 points per game last year to 6.4 points per game this year. Also Koufos' rebounding numbers fell from 6.9 rebounds per game last year to 5.2 this year, but still respectable considering he averaged a little less than a quarter and a half of playing time a game.
With the presence of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins in the front court, Memphis will need all hands on deck. It wouldn't be surprising to see Koufos get some run, especially if Marc Gasol gets into foul trouble. No matter the result, Koufos was a big part in the early season for Memphis, and without him filling in for Gasol, the Grizzlies wouldn't have hit 50 wins.
Evan Turner - G/F - Indiana Pacers
Evan Turner had a couple of his best games as a Pacer last year, but that's not saying much since he struggled mightily since being acquired from Philadelphia at the trade deadline. When Indiana sat their regular starters last week against Milwaukee, Turner was called on for heavy minutes and responded in the 104-102 win. Turner finished the game with 41 minutes and shot 9-18 from the field on his way to 23 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists.
The next two games saw Turner settle back into his normal role as Indiana lost to Miami but beat Oklahoma City. In the season finale against Orlando, Turner again got heavy minutes with the Pacers having clinched everything the could've heading into the playoffs. Turner played 34 minutes and finished with 14 points, eight boards, and six dimes.
It was a tale of two seasons for Turner and you can see that just be looking at his splits with the 76ers and then with the Pacers. With Philadelphia, Turner started 54 games and averaged 34.9 minutes per game. As one of the better talents with Philadelphia, Turner scored 17.4 points per game and added 6.0 rebounds per game and 3.7 assists per game. When he come over to Indiana, "The Villain" only started two of the 27 games he was a part of, notching 21.1 minutes per game, 7.1 points per game, 3.2 rebounds per game, and 2.4 assists per game.
While Turner may have saw his minutes cut, he will be playing in the playoffs, which he wouldn't have even come close to doing if he was still in Philadelphia. Indiana is the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, topping Miami by two games for that spot. The Pacers open up what they hope will be a lengthy playoff run against Atlanta in the first round. Hopefully the two games of heavy minutes in the last week of the season give Turner some confidence and build some momentum for a productive playoff run. While he'll be coming off the bench, the versatility could be a key factor for Indiana as they try and better last year's run to the Eastern Conference Final.
Jared Sullinger - F/C - Boston Celtics
Jared Sullinger looked like he was going to have a strong finish to what was a rebuilding season for Boston, but injury problems reared their ugly head in the last three games for the second year pro. Sullinger started off the final week of the 2013-14 season by playing 37 minutes, scoring 15 points, and grabbing 11 rebounds in a 105-97 loss to Atlanta last Wednesday.
The final game that Sullinger would see playing time in was a 106-103 win against Charlotte on Friday. In that tilt, Sullinger scored 20 points on 8-13 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds. The last three games saw Sullinger scratched due to ankle issues, but he wasn't missing much with Boston already eliminated from playoff contention.
After last year's rookie season was shortened due to injury, Sullinger stayed healthy for a lot longer this year, starting 44 of the 74 games he played in after playing in only 45 games last season. Sullinger saw his minutes increase from 19.8 last season to 27.6 minutes per game this year. The increase in playing time helped to stuff the stat sheet this year, raising his points per game from 6.0 PPG in his rookie campaign to 13.3 this year. Also his rebounding numbers went from 5.9 RPG to 8.1 this year with his expanded role. If Sullinger continues to improve his game he'll go from what many thought as a risky choice in the draft to a very solid NBA player.
Byron Mullens - F/C - Philadelphia 76ers
What started off as a very quiet season for Mullens as he spent most of the season riding the bench with the Clippers, at least saw him get a little more floor time with the tanking 76ers. In spotty action with Los Angeles, Mullens played 6.2 minutes per game in 27 games, which saw him average 2.5 points per game before he was shipped to Philadelphia at the trade deadline.
After being dealt to Philly, Mullens saw his minutes more than double to 13.7 per game over the 18 games he was active for. In those games Mullens was able to increase his scoring to 6.8 PPG, but was still a far cry from the 10.6 PPG he averaged in nearly 27 minutes per game with Charlotte last year. Mullens did close the season on a high note in his final game on Saturday against Charlotte, where he scored 13 points and pulled down seven rebounds in 20 minutes the loss.
While Mullens won't be a part of the Clippers playoff roster, the move to Philadelphia might have been a blessing even though he was a part of a lot of losses during his time with the team. The increased playing time might have shown some teams enough to think of bringing in Mullens over the offseason. Hope Mullens can catch on with a NBA team and continue his time in the league.
Greg Oden - C - Miami Heat
Both the early and late parts of the season were quiet for the injury-riddled Greg Oden, but the good news is that he will have a chance to contribute as the Heat look to bring a third straight NBA title back to Miami. The Heat errored on the side of caution in their use of Oden and it'll be interesting to see how much they utilize him in the postseason. Miami just missed out on the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, but they'll need his defense with Al Jefferson trying to make some noise with Charlotte in the first round of the playoffs.
Oden did see a little playing time in the regular season finale after missing the previous 11 games. In 14 minutes on the court, Oden grabbed five rebounds to go along with two points. In his return to the court after four years away due to knee problems, Oden started six games of the 23 he played in and saw 9.2 minutes per game. During that time Oden averaged 2.9 PPG, 2.3 rebounds per game, and 0.6 blocks per game. With defenses tightening up in the playoffs, Oden's presence near the bucket could be a key asset to helping the Heat defending their title. No matter how far the Heat advance, it is just good to see the former number one draft pick back on the court and contributing.