The Top 5 role players of the 2024 NBA Playoffs so far

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P.J. Washington, Dallas Mavericks.

If the 2024 NBA Playoffs have taught us anything, it’s that super teams are out, and that balanced teams are in. For those who aren’t aware, a balanced team isn’t one that is jam-packed with stars (like the Phoenix Suns). Rather, they usually have one or two stars and a cavalcade of dynamic role players (like the Minnesota Timberwolves).

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the five best role players of these playoffs thus far. But before we begin, let’s establish some quick ground rules. For the sake of this article, a “role player” is someone who has not made an All-Star team in any of the last three years. That means that, in this article, Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis are considered role players. However, we are removing Jamal Murray, Jalen Williams, Chet Holmgren, and Franz Wagner because they were borderline All-Stars this year and function as centerpieces for their respective teams. 

Also, while we will be taking into account past production from these players (as you will soon see), we will mainly be focusing on their performance in these playoffs. That means that we will biasing toward players who have stayed healthy and been able to win one or two series. 

Now, without further ado, here are our top five role players of the playoffs so far (with honorable mentions included at the end).

5. Josh Hart

Key Statistics: 13 Games, 42.2 MPG, 14.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 55.2% TS, -3.9 on-rating, -16.9 on-off, 3.2 BPM (Thinking Basketball version)

Fun fact: through two rounds, no player played more minutes (548) than Josh Hart. Even wilder, it will take Kyrie Irving (the leader in minutes played among teams still alive in the postseason) 68 minutes in the conference finals to surpass Hart’s minute total. Hart has endured enough nicks and bruises to kill an Ox. That feat alone gives Hart a place in the top 5. Factor that in with the fact that he was an integral part of the New York Knicks offensive rebounding scheme (81st percentile in offensive rebounding rate), consistently guarded players who were nearly a half foot taller than him (like Pascal Siakam and Tobias Harris), and hit nearly every big three his team needed him to (37.3% on 4.5 threes per game), you get a recipe for one of the best role players of the 2024 Playoffs. It’s worth noting that Hart’s on-off numbers are wonky because he hardly spends any time off the floor. However, he isn’t higher on this list because his offensive limitations (46th percentile in Offensive Estimated Plus-Minus in the regular season) make it so that teams can hide weaker defenders (like Tyrese Haliburton) on him without paying too hefty a tax. 

4. Aaron Gordon

Key Statistics: 12 Games, 37.1 MPG, 14.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 4.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 66% TS, -4.9 on-rating, -10.2 on-off, 4.8 BPM (Thinking Basketball version)

Aaron Gordon is the epitome of the non-shooting wing/forward archetype. He does this by being a master of everything else – ball handling, driving, interior play-finishing, and defensive versatility. Those skills were all on display during the Denver Nuggets’ two rounds of playoff action. In the first round, Gordon terrorized the Los Angeles Lakers for their tendency to sport smaller guards with his ability to create transition cross-matches and offensive rebounds. He finished that series second in the team in net rating (per In the second round, Gordon’s ability to handle the ball helped break the Minnesota Timberwolves’ fullcourt press.  He also put together a 27-point on 11-for-12 shooting night in Game 4 to help Denver even the series in Minnesota. For the playoffs, his overall on-court rating and on-off were in the negatives, but that’s what happens when you are in charge of all your team’s non-Nikola Jokic minutes (and when your team loses a series). Plus, being matched up against Rudy Gobert proved to be a tough obstacle for him at times (as it is for most of the league). These factors ultimately limited him to four on our countdown, but his excellent regular season and strong first round showing made adding him to this list a must. 

3. P.J. Washington

Key Statistics: 12 Games, 35.4 MPG, 14.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 57.6% TS, +8.3 on-rating, +13.0 on-off, 3.0 BPM (Thinking Basketball version)

P.J. Washington continues to stake his claim as one of the best acquisitions of the 2024 NBA Trade Deadline. After having his two-way complimentary skillset wasted on a bottom-feeding team for the first 4.5 years of his career, Washington is now leveraging those gadgets to help propel the Dallas Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals. He may only be 6’7, but his 7’2.5 wingspan makes him one of the best secondary rim protectors in the sport. In these playoffs, he’s defending 6.4 field goal attempts inside of six feet from the rim and holding opponents to a field goal percentage 9.2% below their usual average. As a team, the Mavericks are third in opponent rim accuracy (57.3%, per Cleaning the Glass) of all the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs. And unlike Hart, Washington has enough size and ball skill to punish teams for trying to hide subpar defenders on him – as evidenced by his superior true shooting and similar PPG on seven fewer minutes per game. Washington has also been one of the best corner 3-point shooters (44%) of the playoffs, which enables him to burn teams when they try to send extra help at Irving and Luka Doncic. The only reason he isn’t higher is because his 3-point percentage is up 8.7% from the regular season. That’s not a very sustainable increase, and if it goes down, it could hinder his overall on-court impact. 

2. Jaden McDaniels

Key Statistics: 11 Games, 33.5 MPG, 12.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 60.5% TS, +13.0 on-rating, +10.8 on-off, 3.9 BPM (Thinking Basketball version)

The Timberwolves don’t beat the world champion Nuggets if not for the Game 6 and 7 brilliance of Jaden McDaniels. In those two games, McDaniels averaged 22 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.5 SPG, and 1.5 BPG on 91.8% TS (that’s just crazy) and a +/- of 17.5. But even before his late series heroics, McDaniels was providing monster two-way impact. In the first two rounds, he held Jamal Murray and Devin Booker to a combined 12-for-37 from the floor (32.4%). And like Washington, McDaniels also provided some weakside rim protection – contesting 4.1 shots inside of six feet per game and holding opponents to 15.8% below their average. Offensively, he used his drive game to counter defenses’ propensity toward doubling Anthony Edwards (78th percentile true shooting on drives). Unlike Washington, McDaniels is a reliable 3-point shooter (career 35.4%) who is experiencing a little bit of a shooting slump this postseason. That means that the odds of his current performance continuing (or even improving if he catches fire from three) are much higher than Washington.

1. Derrick White

Key Statistics: 11 Games, 34.4 MPG, 17.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.3 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 63.4% TS, +9.8 on-rating, -7.2 on-off, 6.1 BPM (Thinking Basketball version)

Of all the players on this list, Derrick White was the closest to disqualifying himself by nearly becoming an All-Star this year (he partially has JJ Reddick’s campaigning to thank for that). And Reddick’s praise isn’t without merit. In these playoffs, White has been the Platonic ideal for a do-it-all role player for the Eastern Conference favorites – top betting sites have the Celtics at -1300 odds to win the Eastern Conference. White gives you the blend of perimeter defense and non-center rim protection that McDaniels does, but he does it without fouling nearly as often as McDaniels does. This postseason, McDaniels is averaging 5.1 fouls per 100 possessions, while White is only averaging 3 per 100. White is also a more reliable shooter than anyone else on our list. In the regular season, he was a 39.6% 3-point shooter and a 90.1% free throw shooter. That has translated to his playoff performance, as he’s hitting 43% of his 8.5 threes per game. Lastly, White has the highest Box Plus-Minus (Thinking Basketball database version) of any of the players we considered for this list. 

Honorable Mentions (NOT in any order): Myles Turner, OG Anunoby, Kelly Oubre Jr., Ivica Zubac, Evan Mobley, Donte DiVincenzo, Mike Conley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Derrick Jones Jr., Dereck Lively II, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Trey Murphy III.