This late in the season, NBA signings are mostly about Playoff-bound teams filling out rosters (a formality) for break-in-case-of-emergency or cellar-dwelling teams tank… I mean, scouting prospective talents for next season.

As such, you rarely see any movements of impact.

Last week we talked about the Toronto Raptors late-season acquisitions of Freddy Gillespie and Khem Birch, both of whom have made sizeable (pun intended) impacts.

Khem Birch has far surpassed expectations. Anything was better than Aron Baynes, but Kyle Lowry who dismissively quipped “[I’m] trying to get [Khem] paid,” the other day, and crew, have revealed offensive abilities far beyond anything Birch was doing in Orlando.

While on defence, he’s plaguing guards and bigs alike. Since joining the Raptors, Khem has a whopping +22 point differential per 100 possessions plunking him atop the NBA as the third most effective player in that short span of time.

Freddy G has had moments of stellar performances – like this block party against the Brooklyn Nets – and, others, where he looks lost, like the raw twenty-three-year-old rookie who has played a grand total of ten games that he is – I don’t want to talk about his point differential, please don’t make me talk about it, okay, it’s -51, but there’s still good in him, I swear!

Whatever. He just signed for two more years with the Raptors (!), and it’s well-damn-deserved.

How exciting is that? A dude brought in to fill a literal hole in the roster, only momentarily, is now getting paid for two whole years. HOLY SMOKES!

Which leads me to this article.

This year’s been bonkers for man-games lost. A compacted schedule, breaches in strict health and safety protocols, and COVID-19 infections have forced many a player to sit out. No team has been safe from the effects of this pandemic-seized season.

As such, it’s created anomalous roster scenarios and unlikely opportunities for fringe players.

Particularly, this late in the season, when rosters are more or less set, guys have suddenly been whisked away from training facilities and thrust into meaningful NBA minutes.

Here are four guys who are bringing legitimate impact to teams with Play[off]-In aspirations.

*Big, fat, shiny grain of salt: these statistics are very small sample sizes and may not prove long-run or in larger doses of playing time.

Oshae Brissett

Signed: April 10, 2021 - Ten Days
Resigned: April 21, 2021 - Three Years

Oshae Brissett – Toronto native and former Toronto Raptor no less – is a Small Forward by trade. That’s his listed position on Basketball Reference, at least; he’s only 6’7”, 210lbs too. He’s a three and D archetype to the max!

That’s why his success with the Indiana Pacers is all the more intriguing. The slipping and sliding Pacers lost all three “traditional” centres in the span of several weeks in April. Looking down the bench Brissett was nominated to play small-ball five. It was he or Jakarr Sampson, a known, non-shooting quantity. Off Brissett went.

Though the Pacers have held on to dear life since losing Myles Turner and Domatas Sabonis, the experiment has breathed life into Brissett’s career. In his 178 minutes with the Pacers, he is fifth in the league in point differential per 100 possessions.

On the offensive end, it’s had a deadly result. He’d make Mike D’Antoni blush. With opposing bigs finding land beyond the paint abhorrent, Brissett’s had free range to launch the three.

With screen and rolls and drive and kicks and the weak side, Oh My!, Brissett is as open as the sun-roof of a midlife-crisis coupe on a Spring day. He’s shot 45% on three attempts a game. He’s had moments of higher volume and similar accuracy in games; there’s no reason to think this is an anomaly or a ceiling to his shot selection.

The real threat from his game will come as he develops the ability to put the ball on the ground and finish. It’s just not his comfort zone yet. You can see the myriad of ways he can get to the hoop. Desperately closing bigs or just slow-footed ones, have no chance of impeding his first step. The failure is all self-imposed: Brissett’s not one for touch around the rim, yet.

Against Portland, his Spiderman-Spiderman-You-Me-Finger-Pointing Meme counterpart, Robert Covington, closed out, biting on Oshae’s pump-fake. He maneuvers through two other quasi-helping defenders to get a clear go at the rim. BOINK. The following two plays, he gets by Enes Kanter and Moses Brown and lofts up floaters. CLONK x2.

On defence, he’s obviously outsized, he’s likely not sustainable as a heavy starter minutes data plan; he’s more pay-per-minute, coming off the bench in smaller, contained chunks of time. A role he’ll likely find himself in with the eventual return of Turner and Sabonis.

At the same time, his smaller stature and athleticism makes Oshae an awesome helpside defender and ideal screen and roll partner.

You can see the multitude of ways he prowls. He’s either stalking victims in the long grass waiting to switch on to attackers, meeting them in open ground, or hovering like a bird of prey waiting for the right moments to feed. Isolate him one-on-one on back-to-the-basket possessions and he may be in trouble, but for guard-heavy action teams, he’s extremely effective switching and roaming with ease.

Indiana obviously sees future potential. Oshae is only twenty-two. With his athleticism, a seven-foot wingspan, and a consistent three-pointer, he has the foundation to evolve into something more than a plug-and-play, small-ball five.

Until then, he’s going to give many a centre a headache.

Dewayne Dedmon

Signed: April 8, 2021 - One Year (I know, technically not a 10-day)

I’ve never understood the career of Dewayne Dedmon, or at least, the way the league considers his services.

DD fits precisely the bill of what new basketball wants in a centre.

He’s big (7’0”). ✓
He rebounds (six/game for his career).✓
He shoots threes (33% over the last three seasons).✓

He’s not game-changing. Fine. And he’s been paid one-too-many-times beyond his value – good for him(!); fair value by Atlanta (two-year/$14 million); SUPER dumb of Sacramento (three-year/$40 million).

Most places have ended with DD being waived. Perhaps, that’s more to do with teams’ meta-situations – ATL, SAC, and DET, where he was last bought out, are in youth movements – than it is about his skillsets.

The Miami Heat have veered away from the two-big lineups. Last year’s success was about moving Bam Adebayo to the five, getting rid of bigot Meyers Leonard from the rotation, and having Kelly Olynyk come in as a back-up.

The Heat lacked depth at that position even before they traded Kelly away for Victor Oladipo. Newly-acquired Nemanja Bjelica was not going to give them the toughness they needed. Their gamble for LaMarcus Aldridge failed.

That left DD.

I thought for sure he’d be grabbed off waivers ASAP. Many a team – EARTH TO MASAI! – needed a DD-type to fill secondary-big minutes.

Since joining, at thirteen minutes a game, over the eight games he’s been with the Heat, Dedmon LEADS the league in point differential at a heart-stopping 28 points per 100 possessions. Miami is in the 100th percentile on offence and 93 percentile on defence with DD on the floor. They’re 5-3 since his arrival.

The sample size is small – one hundred minutes. Still, it’s a good sign for a team in desperate need of frontline flexibility. He’s their second unit big – filling the paint at both ends as a big body to throw at opposing bigs and to finish off plays – that they lacked. Precious Achiuwa is raw, young, and undersized.

Interesting enough, Dedmon’s contributions have not, yet, come from three, where he once distinguished himself. Thus far, it’s been garbage play: finishing dump passes and cleaning up boards, with the odd pick and pop.

It’s less his scoring that’s mattered, though; his defensive numbers the real shocker. He’s a career 0.7 defensive box score plus/minus; this year, so far, he’s at 1.9, which is good for about 60th in the league. Again, like all these guys, it’s sample size. Most of his limited time is against second units. But, as of now, he’s in the 94th percentile on points allowed per 100 possessions in the NBA.

He’s yet to play against a post-dominant big. The most talented have been Nikola Vučević (who he struggled with) and Jakob Pöltl. All the same, DD gives Miami that added girth and height no other Heat can provide. His ability to shoot also enables Bam to slide to the four spot when the Heat decide to go bully ball or to upsize should they run into Milwaukee, Philadelphia or – dare I say – the Lakers, again, in the Playoffs.

DeMarcus Cousins

Signed: April 5, 2021 - Ten Days
Resigned: April 16, 2021 - Ten More Days
Resigned: April 26, 2021 - Rest-of-Season Contract

We know. We know. We know.

We know what DeMarcus Cousins does, is, brings, doesn’t bring, etc.

That clarity is tragic.

The poor Bastard. His body’s given away anytime he’s had some glimmer of a resurgence. It’s not horse and cart with his NOTORIOUS attitude either. Rumour is he wasn’t going to go to Miami – re: Dedmon signing – because he wouldn’t be guaranteed constant action.

C’mon, DeMarcus, really?

As it happens, maybe that was the right call. Since landing with the Clippers who are waif-like thin at the centre position, he’s contributed, kinda.

In 182 possessions, so far, it’s not been pretty on offence. Partly because LAC starters are volcanic on the offensive end. When Cousins comes on, he’s landing ashore with the bench unit. Production is bound to fall off – minus-18 per 100 possessions is ghastly, though.

It’s actually been his defence, rather, that has filled the Clippers’ void. They’re three points worse with him off the floor. When he is on the floor their D is in the 98th percentile. Like Dedmon, prolonged minutes would likely prove disastrous with Cousins as the focal point. But when Western Conference playoff contendering bigs like Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokić, DeAndre Ayton, Jusuf Nurkić, Jonas Valančiūnas, and even, Andre Drummond and Marc Gasol come a’ knockin’, you best have some muscle at the door.

Cousins is the beefcake to provide it.

Mike James

Signed: April 26, 2021 - Ten Day

Who woulda thought that the boon the Brooklyn Nets needed would be, when it’s all said and done, from point guard.

Short-lived it may be, but here’s Mike James, newly added to the roster, finishing – AND CLOSING – games alongside Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.


You want to talk immediate impact?

It’s been three games.

When he’s on the floor: their points scored per 100 possession is in the 96th percentile and their points allowed are at the 100th percentile.

This is not garbage time, folks. This is real action.

In his first game, James waltzes onto the court like he’s in year ten of his NBA career and confidently hits these three shots:

Ok, man. No nerves for you. I get it.

Then, in his third game, and by far his best, he singlehandedly broke the Raptors’ will in the fourth quarter. He ended the game with eleven points and eight assists; starting the 4th he had zero points and two assists.

By the end, he looked more Fred VanVleet than Fred did.

The entire quarter James was everywhere: wheeling and dealing like a Blackjack dealer at a Gambler’s Anonymous meeting.

This was all in the 4th Q. He confidently rips passes twice across the court to find the right shot. Then he’s zipping past FVV and Malachi Flynn with ease, knowing that the wealth of Nets shooters are just waiting in the wings, and kicks accordingly.

James held his own defensively too. He’s, laterally, extremely quick and, at 6’1″, 190 lbs, has one of those short, compact frames like a Mini Cooper. You just know there’s power and explosion in that body. He was able to battle OG Anunoby on a few possessions in switches and held his own against the triumvirate of guards, Kyle Lowry, FVV, and Malachi Flynn.

That’s often where the detraction comes with late additions. They’re either one or the other: defensive stopper or one-dimensional scorer. With Mike James, there’s versatility and consistency at both ends.

He may not ever find the floor in the playoffs. But James Harden is nowhere near ready to return. Kyrie Irving is typically brittle and has already logged a huge amount of minutes this season.

A combustible, unrelenting, confident point guard like Mike James might be exactly what Brooklyn was needing all along.