With upsets and injuries abound, the 2013 NBA playoffs have provided no shortage of surprises. Moreover, players that had been viewed by the basketball masses in a certain light have redefined their reputations.
The question is, which players have helped themselves the most?
Some players are inexperienced, but have proven to be polished beyond their years. Others may have been viewed in a negative light, for one reason or another, but have shown off more talent than they are given credit for.
The postseason is truly the time when stars are born.
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors
Previous Reputation: NCAA Letdown
New Reputation: NBA Rising Star
Coming out of high school, Harrison Barnes was the No. 1 overall recruit and attended the storied University of North Carolina. For the first and only time in NCAA history, Barnes was named a preseason All-American entering his freshman season.
Despite having a strong two-year college career, Barnes was labeled as something of a bust as he went from a potential No. 1 overall draft choice to the No. 7 selection in 2013.
During the 2013 NBA regular season, he did himself no favors by averaging 9.2 points and 4.1 rebounds in 25.4 minutes. Those are strong numbers for a rookie, but the notion that he would never become a star didn't seem all that far-fetched.
And then the postseason rolled around.
Barnes has been sensational, averaging 16.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Against the San Antonio Spurs, he's upped those numbers to 19.0 points and 8.0 rebounds.
More importantly, he's made history, much like he did before his UNC days.
Harrison Barnes is 1st player in NBA history to score 25 Pts in consecutive playoff games after never scoring 25 in any career game. (Elias)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 15, 2013
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a breakout performance.
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
Previous Reputation: Above-Average Point Guard
New Reputation: Top-Tier Point Guard
Mike Conley Jr. has long been one of the more respected point guards in the NBA, but his general reputation was that he was a good, but not great, player. His regular season statistics confirmed that notion, as he posted 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game.
The postseason has changed all of that.
Conley has been the Memphis Grizzlies' Chauncey Billups, coming up with a big shot whenever his team needs one. It also doesn't hurt that he is averaging 18.1 points, 7.3 assists and 1.6 steals, and that he out-dueled Chris Paul in Round 1 of the playoffs.
Suddenly, Conley's elite defense—per Synergy Sports (pay site), he allows 0.67 points per isolation play—is complemented by near All-Star offensive production.
According to Alvin Anol of ESPN.com, Conley finished with more points per isolation play than Chris Paul, LeBron James and Tony Parker during the regular season. During the postseason, Memphis has posted a point differential of plus-11.0 with Conley on the floor.
That number dips to minus-17.3 when Conley is on the bench—a 28.3 point differential.
You can talk all you want about reputations, but Conley has proven that he is one of the NBA's top point guards. Both defensively and offensively, he's been the catalyst to Memphis' postseason run.
If that's not enough, Conley is 11th in the NBA in clutch scoring since Rudy Gay was traded.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Previous Reputation: Borderline Superstar
New Reputation: Legitimate Superstar
The Golden State Warriors entered the 2012-13 NBA playoffs as an up-and-coming team with a sharpshooting point guard in Stephen Curry. Whenever they are eliminated, they will walk away with the knowledge that they have a legitimate superstar as their floor general.
Curry's proven that in every way possible.
Elias Says: Steph Curry is 3rd player in history to average 25 PPG, 8 APG in 1st 10 career playoff games es.pn/ZTW4yv— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 13, 2013
He led the Warriors to a first-round upset of the Denver Nuggets, averaging 24.3 points and 9.3 assists on 44.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc. In Game 2, he dropped 30 points and 13 assists on 13-of-23 shooting.
In the process, he led the Warriors to an upset of the Nuggets in Denver—the first time a team had achieved such a feat since Jan. 18.
Between hounding defense from San Antonio's wings and a questionable ankle, Curry has been slowed down against the San Antonio Spurs since scoring 44 points in Game 1. Even though he posted just nine points in Game 5, he dished out eight assists and gave it his all in a losing effort.
After the heroics we've seen Curry put forth thus far, there is no logical argument against his superstar status.
Nate Robinson, Chicago Bulls
Previous Reputation: End-of-Bench Player
New Reputation: Sixth Man
Entering the 2012-13 NBA regular season, Nate Robinson was brought on to be the Chicago Bulls' backup point guard behind an injured Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich.
With both players battling injuries, Robinson has done more than a serviceable job. Robinson nearly broke Michael Jordan's Bulls record by scoring 23 points in the fourth quarter of Chicago's improbable Game 4 comeback—a triple-overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets. He finished with 34 points on 14-of-23 shooting overall.
Outside of his 0-for-12 shooting performance in Game 5, Robinson has kept up that torrid pace, performing at the highest level of any player in the clutch this postseason.
Nate Robinson: leads NBA in PPG in 4th quarter this postseason (8.3)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 11, 2013
This is yet another case of reality overcoming perception.
Robinson had long been viewed as a player who had no place on a championship contender. Not only does he stand at a generous 5'9", but his shot selection has always been questioned.
The time for naysaying has ended—Lil' Nate plays with big heart and plays his best when the games matter most. Expect teams to take notice when free agency starts.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Previous Reputation: Ball-Stopper, Kevin Durant Hindrance
New Reputation: Vital to OKC's Title Dreams
The most common misconception about Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook is that he is detrimental to his team. Not only is Westbrook viewed as a ball-stopper with irresponsible shot selection, but he has been labeled as a player that cannot properly man the point guard position.
Since going down with a torn meniscus, however, Westbrook's impact has been made clear—the Thunder, despite huge games from Kevin Durant, are helpless without him.
Serge Ibaka has suffered the most from Westbrook's absence. The big man is shooting 39.3 percent from the field since Westbrook went down, down 18 percent from his regular-season average. Simply put, Ibaka is not finding himself nearly as open as he's accustomed to on the offensive end.
For what it's worth, Westbrook was the only player in the NBA to rank in the top 10 in points, assists and steals during the 2012-13 regular season. Last time I checked, that well-rounded production is exactly what makes not only a great player, but an elite point guard.
Westbrook's done more for his career by missing games than he has by playing.