NBA Playoffs: 5 Western Conference Superstars Who Need to Win It All in 2012
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The 2012 NBA Playoffs will begin in a few weeks, and players from all teams are ready to make their mark on NBA history.
One lucky team will become an NBA champion, and those players will cement their legacies forever. On the losing side, players from the other 15 teams will go home pondering what could have been.
In this two-part series, I will examine 10 NBA superstars who need to take home the hardware in the 2012 Finals. This article will focus on five players from the Western Conference, while the Eastern Conference has been analyzed in a previous article.
History is on the line; which player will seize the moment and earn a place among the all-time greats?
5. Kevin Durant
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I remember watching Durant for the first time during his lone season as a Texas Longhorn. It was a Big 12 matchup that was a close back-and-forth game, and the only thing keeping Texas alive was Durant’s unbelievable long-range shooting. Shot after shot, dagger after dagger, the shots just kept pouring in.
Then in the final minute, Durant hit an NBA-range 3-pointer from the wing, right in the defender’s face, whose arm was outstretched, yet it made no difference. Durant had just won the game, and you could tell that he loved taking and making that shot. In fact, it was more than just a great shot; it was cold-blooded and cruel, but in the best way possible.
From that point on, it was apparent that Durant just had “it”, and this has certainly turned out to be the case. After winning the 2008 NBA Rookie of the Year award, he has taken the accelerated course on the path to NBA superstardom and is currently chasing LeBron James in the race for 2012 Most Valuable Player. Durant has led the Thunder near the top of the Western Conference, and he is poised to lead his teammates to their first NBA Finals series.
Winning the championship this season is certainly not a necessity for Durant this season, as the Thunder are poised to be contenders in the Western Conference for years to come. However, taking home the 2012 NBA Championship would quickly ascend Durant’s current status from NBA superstar to the face of the entire league.
He would also rid himself of the “one-dimensional scorer” label that some critics have inaccurately placed on him. In fact, his greatest legacy would be the one that LeBron James chose to give up: lead a small market team to an NBA championship.
4. Chris Paul
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Basketball’s best all-around point guard has finally landed on a true championship contender, as Chris Paul has reinvigorated the Los Angeles Clippers franchise and led them back to the playoffs.
As dismal as the Clippers have been for decades, they have now emerged as one of the league’s most promising young teams. Blake Griffin has quickly become the poster child of the NBA; DeAndre Jordan has emerged as a premier shot-blocker and alley-oop extraordinaire, but it is “CP3” who guides the ship and makes them a true championship-caliber team.
Or does he? While Paul has long been heralded as the greatest point guard in the league, he has never come close to even sniffing a Finals appearance, let alone a championship. Granted, his previous Hornets teams were never on par talent-wise with the power teams in the Western Conference.
In Paul’s six seasons with the team, New Orleans only reached the playoffs three times, and only the 2007-08 team advanced beyond the first round. However, the league has not criticized "CP3" for his lack of playoff success because of the caliber team that he was playing with.
That has all changed with his move to Los Angeles. Paul has no more excuses for not performing better in the playoffs. This Clippers team gives him the superstar teammates and big-market exposure that he never had in New Orleans. Now is the time to prove to the rest of the league that he can lead a team to a championship.
If he wants to solidify his claim as the best point guard of this generation, he has to seize this opportunity and take the Clippers to the NBA Finals.
3. Dirk Nowitzki
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The leader of the defending champs completely reinvented his NBA legacy after his historic 2011 championship run. By defeating the Miami Heat and winning his first NBA title, Nowitzki quieted all of his critics and cemented himself as one of the greatest power forwards of all-time.
His playoff numbers were off the charts, averaging 27.7 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game, while putting on a shooting clinic by connecting on 48.5 percent of his shots, 46.0 percent of his three-point attempts and 94.1 percent from the free throw line. Beyond the statistics, Dirk hit an unbelievable amount of clutch and game-winning shots, guiding Dallas to their franchise’s first championship.
That incredible run has not translated into this season, in which the Mavericks are currently slotted as the sixth or seventh seed in the playoffs. Dirk’s scoring output (21.6 points per game) is the third-lowest of his career, and his shooting percentage (.456) is the lowest it has been since his rookie season.
Even though this season has not gone according to plan, Nowitzki still has time to turn things around in the playoffs and enhance his legacy in a big way. If Dirk can rally this veteran squad and lead them to a championship run yet again, he will solidify himself as one of the 25 greatest players to ever play, as well as one of the best playoff performers.
In fact, he could really make a case to go down as one of the two or three greatest power forwards to ever play. With two NBA championships, two Finals MVP awards and a NBA MVP award, Dirk would have a compelling case over the likes of Karl Malone and Charles Barkley, neither of whom ever won a championship. He would also have more titles than Kevin Garnett, and would have more individual awards than Celtic legend Kevin McHale.
Before any of this debate can take place, Dirk does have to win this second championship. If he can do so, then his NBA legacy will be that of an all-time legend.
2. Tim Duncan
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“The Big Fundamental” has faded in recent years as old age has caught up to him, but his Spurs team is leading the Western Conference and are poised to make a big push in the playoffs. This is hardly a new development for Tim Duncan, who has led San Antonio to four championships and 13 seasons of 50-plus wins.
He is widely regarded as the greatest power forward to ever play in the NBA and one of the ten greatest players in league history. Now playing in his 15th season, Father Time has caught up to Duncan and his statistics have slipped in the process. However, he still has a lot to play for in terms of his NBA legacy and can achieve some landmark achievements by winning the 2012 NBA Finals.
He would move one title ahead of modern contemporary Shaquille O’Neal, two ahead of Larry Bird, and three ahead of Wilt Chamberlain and Hakeem Olajuwon, all of whom are his contemporaries on the list of greatest NBA players in history.
Also, if Duncan can take the reins and win the Finals MVP award, it would be the fourth time that he would have done so in his career. This would be extremely significant, as he would move solely into second place all-time in Finals MVP awards, only falling short of Michael Jordan’s six.
Think about that for a moment. Tim Duncan would have performed bigger on the game’s biggest stage than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Isiah Thomas, and any other legend in NBA history besides Jordan. That would not a bad way to close out one of the greatest careers we have ever witnessed.
1. Kobe Bryant
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Earlier this season, Kobe surpassed former teammate Shaquille O’Neal as the NBA’s fifth all-time leading scorer. When asked after the game what it meant to pass up Shaq, he said, "I just want No. 6, man. I'm not asking for too much, man. Just give me a sixth ring, (dang) it.”
Obviously, Bryant’s sole focus is to achieve what he has been chasing his entire career: matching Michael Jordan’s ring count with six NBA championships. Kobe has always compared himself to the greatest player of all-time and uses him as a measuring stick for his own career. While it is not likely that Kobe goes down as a greater player than MJ, he can at least make it an argument and winning a sixth title would certainly put him in the same conversation.
Taking home his sixth title would also move him ahead of Magic Johnson as the Lakers' all-time leader in franchise championships. It would be a huge honor for Bryant and would further entrench his legacy as one of the ten greatest NBA players of all-time.
If he takes home the Finals MVP award, which would be the third time for him to win it, he would tie Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal and Johnson in that category. He would also creep one closer to Jordan, although he would still have three to go to match His Airness’ NBA record of six Finals MVP awards. Either way, there are still plenty of records to achieve in the final years of Kobe Bryant’s career, starting with winning ring number six.
Check out the 5 Eastern Conference Superstars Who Need to Win It All in 2012
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If you want to check out the companion piece to this article, then click here to read about the five Eastern Conference superstars who need to win it all in 2012.