SPORTS
04/18/2013 01:22 pm ET

NBA Playoff X-Factors Led By Iman Shumpert And Larry Sanders

In the prolonged series that are the playoffs, it's the X-factor who can determine the fate of his team, precisely because one never knows how big they're going to produce. When Carmelo Anthony goes cold and the Knicks stop defending, who can they turn to? When Dwyane Wade gets into foul trouble, who can steal some minutes for Erik Spoelstra? This is the beauty of the X-factor, and come the playoffs, every team hopes it has one.

Miami Heat: Norris Cole

The second-year guard came up huge in last year's title run. Cole has struggled a bit this season but has been much better of late (11 points per game over the last 10 games) and can become a real spark, especially when Mario Chalmers struggles.

New York Knicks: Iman Shumpert

Mike Woodson's best perimeter defender and one of the best all-around in the NBA today. Shumpert can also stretch the floor (41 percent efficiency from three). If the Knicks are to make a real run, he needs to provide great minutes, particularly when J.R. Smith struggles.

Indiana Pacers: Gerald Green

Green doesn't defend like Shumpert, but his freakish athleticism can be a real difference-maker for a Pacers team that is missing Danny Granger.

Brooklyn Nets: Reggie Evans

Slasher MarShon Brooks is the sexier pick, but Evans' sensational prowess on the glass (over 11 rebounds per game) is crucial for the Nets at both ends of the floor.

Chicago Bulls: Jimmy Butler

What a gem Butler has turned out to be. The former 30th pick in the 2011 draft has become a premier perimeter defender and surprisingly effective scorer, who's shooting 47 percent on the year.

Atlanta Hawks: Ivan Johnson

Johnson is playing his best basketball of the season. He is a real presence for the Hawks when his motor is running, and has averaged 10 points per game over his last 10 games.

Boston Celtics: Jordan Crawford

Acquired from Washington before the deadline, Crawford can be a flammable scorer and is talented enough to get hot and stay hot for an entire series. He's especially useful because offseason acquisition Jason Terry has simply not worked out the way the Celtics had hoped.

Milwaukee Bucks: Larry Sanders

Sanders is an absolute beast who can change the tenor of a game. The third-year pro averages nearly 10 points, 10 rebounds and almost 3 blocks per game.

Email me at jordan.schultz@huffingtonpost.com or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report.

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