NBA Playoffs 2013: Players Who Must Improve to Help Teams Advance Past 2nd Round

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistMay 7, 2013

The second round of the NBA Playoffs is underway, although a few players have seriously struggled in the first game of each series.

This time of year features many of the biggest superstars taking over games while attempting to carry their teams on their back. However, other important players are hurting their squads with their inability to live up to expectations.

Any of the eight teams remaining in the postseason has the ability to advance and make a run at the championship. This will not be possible though if their "big game" players do not step up in their efforts for the rest of their series.


Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

At the end of the regular season, there was no one in basketball hotter than Carmelo Anthony. His scoring average of 36.9 points in April helped him win the scoring title.

He even received the lone first-place NBA MVP vote to escape LeBron James for helping the Knicks get the No. 2 seed in the playoffs (via Michael Wallace of ESPN).

While Anthony continued his strong play in the first three games of the first round against the Boston Celtics, the last four appearances have been simply awful. During that time, he has only made 31.8 percent of his shots from the floor and is only 2-of-22 from behind the arc.

Not surprisingly, New York has posted only a 1-3 record in these contests.

Indiana plays very strong team defense and allowed only 90.7 points per game this year to rank second in the NBA. If Anthony is not scoring, the Knicks are in serious trouble.

The superstar needs to do a better job in the next few games of hitting his shots and getting more efficiency on the offensive end. Otherwise, this great season for New York and Anthony will be over earlier than expected.


Mike Conley Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

One of the more unheralded players in the first round of the NBA playoffs was Mike Conley Jr.

In his six games against the Los Angeles Clippers, Conley averaged 17.3 points and 8.3 assists.

Thanks mostly to the point guard's ability to distribute the ball, the Grizzlies' team that ranked 27th in the league in points was able to top 100 points in three games in a row to close out the series.

Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, however, he was much less sharp.

Conley only totaled three assists, which embarrassingly led Memphis. While frontcourt players Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph were still productive, the squad was much easier to defend without strong perimeter play.

With Russell Westbrook out of the series, Memphis should have a large advantage at the point guard position. If Conley is unable to take advantage of this, the rest of the squad has little chance to pull off the upset over the Thunder.


Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder were able to escape Game 1 over the Grizzlies with a victory, but Serge Ibaka will need to provide more production in future games for the Thunder to win this series.

While Oklahoma City does not often utilize a great deal of inside scoring, the forward had the best year of his career this season with 13.2 points per game, a jump of 4.1 points from last season.

This scoring was not there against Memphis as Ibaka only scored five points on 1-of-10 shooting. In fact, everyone besides Kevin Durant and Kevin Martin combined to go a mere 12-of-40 from the floor.

Without Westbrook, the Thunder will need more help on the offensive end. Ibaka needs to be at least a third option to help get enough points and take some pressure off of Durant.

Of course, the young player is really there for his defense. Unfortunately, that was not great either as Gasol and Randolph were able to combine for 38 points and 20 rebounds.

Ibaka needs to find a way to at least slow these players down in the frontcourt in order to give his side a chance to win the series.