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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1. D'Angelo Russell

Arguably the most important supporting player for any team this season as the playoffs approach quickly, D'Angelo Russell was once a question mark for the Lakers heading into the season. Russell, who was nearly sent to the Atlanta Hawks in a package for Dejounte Murray at the trade deadline, went from inconsistent play and defensive liability to the Lakers' most important player once injuries occurred throughout the roster, stepping up when his team needed him most and proving his value.

The former number two overall pick by the Lakers in 2015, Russell's first stint was a rocky one in Los Angeles, only lasting two seasons before getting traded to the Brooklyn Nets. From there, Russell's career arch was one on the trajectory of ascending, young, All-Star and potential All-NBA player.

Russell moved around, splitting a season between Golden State and Minnesota in 2019–20, which was arguably the best season of his career, before spending the next three years in Minnesota. Last season, the Lakers re-acquired him, and he finished his 17 games in 2022–23, averaging 17 points per game and 6 assists per game, in addition to a career-high 48% shooting from the field.

At the time, the 41% Russell shot from three was a career-best number. That is, until this season, as Russell has shot a new career-best mark of 42% from three this season thus far, averaging 18 points per game and 6 assists per game in 32 minutes per contest.

The Lakers have been decimated by injuries this year, forcing them to experiment with different lineups and rotations, which included sending Russell to the bench for a short period of time before more injuries took place, vaulting Russell back into the starting lineup when his production started to reach new heights, helping the Lakers win some big games and eventually get above .500 after a sluggish start to the season. Russell's late-season resurgence has been the Lakers saving grace.

Overall, all three of the mentioned players have made huge contributions to their teams when asked of them throughout the season, also stepping up in the wake of injuries. If these three players can continue those contributions into the playoffs, each one of their teams has a great chance at advancing deeper into the playoffs for a chance at the Larry O'Brien trophy.