3 Under-the-radar difference makers who will have a huge impact in NBA playoffs

Keon Ellis (left) and D'Angelo Russell (right)
Keon Ellis (left) and D'Angelo Russell (right) / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages
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3. Keon Ellis

Keon Ellis has emerged not only as a starter for the Kings, but as one of the most impactful players in the entire NBA. The Kings are 10-3 in games Ellis has started this season, and with late, potentially season-ending injuries to both Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk, Ellis has vaulted into the Kings' starting lineup for a postseason push in Sacramento.

With injuries to both Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk, in addition to Keon Ellis eventually seeing increasing playing time, he paired with De'Aaron Fox to be one of the best defensive backcourts in the entire NBA in the month of March. Furthermore, Ellis held opponents to the lowest opponent field goal percentage when defending, as of March 19 (34.2% shooting since the All-Star break).

Keon Ellis' breakout came against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 18, when he became the first guard in NBA history to record five blocks and seven rebounds in a game off the bench. In addition, from that point on, his role only ascended, as he became the defensive anchor for a Kings defense that typically ranks in the middle of the pack (at best) in nearly all defensive metrics.

Ellis has played an instrumental role in recreating the Kings' identity for the rest of the season, where they will be without shot creation (Monk) and shooting (Huerter). With both players out, Ellis has a chance to emerge as one of the best, young, and promising two-way wings in the NBA. The Kings will have to play defense to advance in the playoffs in 2024, and luckily Ellis has unlocked their potential.