Twenty-two teams were invited to the NBA's season restart in Orlando, setting the stage for one of the most intense stretch runs in NBA history. The six invited teams sitting outside of the playoff picture now have the chance to make it in with the new play-in structure while those stuck in the middle have a chance to improve their seeding.
This is especially true in the Western Conference, which has 13 of the 22 teams playing in Orlando. So who will make the difference when the season restarts? These five players may not be starters, but they'll be key pieces in their teams' late push.
5. Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr. could be the player that pushes the Denver Nuggets from contender to champion. Porter Jr. was heralded as the top player in the 2018 draft, but fell to the Nuggets with at No. 14 due to a lingering back injury. In 2019, Porter Jr. looked rusty, but showed the flashes of the brilliance that scouts saw in him. If he can maintain consistency when basketball returns, he could be a difference maker off the bench for Denver.
4. Justice Winslow
Former Miami Heat small forward Justice Winslow is the biggest wild-card in the Western Conference. Winslow only played 11 games this season due to a lingering back injury. The young versatile stud was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies at the deadline, and could be a huge part of their push to secure the No. 8 seed. The Grizz are 15th in the league in defensive net rating currently, and the addition of Winslow off the bench could get them into the playoffs.
3. Maxi Kleber
Maxi Kleber is the Dallas Mavericks unsung hero. Since Dwight Powell went down with a season-ending Achilles injury in January, Kleber has become one of Luka Doncic's best pick-and-roll partners. In 2019, Kleber put up career highs in points (9.4 PPG), rebounds (5.4 RPG), blocks (1.2 BPG), and 3-point percentage (37.4%). Kleber can shoot, defend power multiple positions, and finish at the rim. The German is and all-around talent and will be key off of Dallas' bench.
2. JJ Redick
The New Orleans Pelicans will need veteran leadership if they want to make a run in Orlando. Someone will have to hit clutch shots and break scoring droughts, and there's no one better to turn to than J.J. Redick. The sharpshooter is averaging 14.1 points per game on 45.2% from three in his 14th season in the league.
1. Dennis Schroder
The Oklahoma City Thunder have almost no guard depth beyond Dennis Schroder. Thankfully, he's produced plenty and has been the perfect complement to starters Shai-Gilegous Alexander and Chris Paul. His 19 points per game are third on the Thunder, and without him OKC would have to lean on off-ball players like Terrance Ferguson to create shots when their starters are off the court. Schroder will be huge in leading the Thunder into the postseason amid their surprisingly successful campaign.