Ranking the Biggest Surprise Stars of the 2013 NBA Playoffs

Michael PinaFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2013

Ranking the Biggest Surprise Stars of the 2013 NBA Playoffs

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    The NBA playoffs are a perfect setting for the unexpected.

    Players who aren't household names and spent the entire regular season shaded behind their teams' superstar(s) are able to make a big enough impact on a big enough stage to really get noticed.

    Each one has elevated his game to another level through the opening two rounds, either helping his team advance past the first and/or thriving in the second.

    The seven players are ranked by the degree to which they've surprised us.

7. Jarrett Jack

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    Defenses never quite figured out how to contain Jarrett Jack in these playoffs. He either got to the rim when he wanted or pulled up for mid-range jumpers over small guards whenever his team needed a basket.

    Jack had only been to the playoffs once before this season, as Chris Paul's backup in 2011 with the New Orleans Hornets, but he played like a veteran who heads to the postseason regularly.

    His PER jumped to 17.7—almost two points higher than his regular-season output—and as of May 18, only six players had scored more than Jack's 206 total points (all those ahead of him are starters). 

    He averaged 17.6 points per game on an incredible 50.6 percent shooting from the floor. As he heads into unrestricted free agency this summer, Jack will be a wanted man by any team that thinks they can afford him.

6. Nate Robinson

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    Before this season, Nate Robinson had made the playoffs twice in his eight-year career.

    In 2010 with the Boston Celtics, he averaged 7.5 minutes per game, averaging 4.2 points on 37.5 percent shooting. The following season he was in Oklahoma City, appearing in only three playoff games and scoring just eight points.

    Given his track record, expectations were low heading into the playoffs this year. But in 12 games, Robinson averaged 16.3 points and 4.4 assists while shooting 33.8 percent from behind the three-point line. 

    He was inconsistent stepping into a heightened role, but Robinson came up huge, particularly in a brilliant 34-point explosion against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 4. He then dropped 27 points against the Miami Heat, handing the defending champions their only loss of the playoffs so far. 

    Robinson may have played his last game with the Bulls (he's an unrestricted free agent who could be looking for a pay raise they can't afford), but he definitely made his mark in Chicago. 

5. Iman Shumpert

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    His offensive numbers haven't been anything to write home about (8.5 points per game on 38.9 percent shooting from the floor), especially after a 2-of-10 shooting performance in Game 5 against the Indiana Pacers.

    Still, Iman Shumpert has made everything count with his fantastic display of athleticism and a complete understanding of his constantly expanding role. Where Shumpert has most shined has been on the defensive end of the floor.

    In the first round, he eviscerated 10-time All-Star Paul Pierce with suffocating ball pressure, forcing turnovers and creating transition opportunities for New York's offense. It eventually proved too much for the weakened Celtics.

    He was nearly flawless in the first round, knocking down timely three-pointers while also unveiling a mid-range game that Boston's defense simply wasn't prepared to handle.

    Shumpert exceeded all expectations in these playoffs, and his surprising play is a huge reason why New York won its first playoff series in over a decade.

4. Harrison Barnes

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    As far as traditional NBA playoff narrative go, 20-year-old rookies aren't supposed to take over important playoff games, especially when facing future Hall of Famers. But that's exactly what Harrison Barnes did against the San Antonio Spurs.

    He was so dominant, in fact, that his coach chose to exploit a mismatch on Tony Parker instead of featuring his star, Stephen Curry.

    Filling in for David Lee at power forward in small lineups throughout the first two rounds, Barnes stepped up to the plate ready to perform. He averaged 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds with a 13 minute-per-game increase from the regular season.

    If this is what Barnes is capable of in his first year, imagine what he'll be in his prime.

3. Jimmy Butler

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    Before being eliminated during a five-game series against the Miami Heat, Jimmy Butler started 12 playoff games, averaging 13.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in over 40 minutes per contest. He shot 40.5 percent from behind the three-point line and 81.8 percent from the free-throw line.

    It was his first experience in the playoffs in just his second year as an NBA player.

    Butler was tasked with covering Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. He more than held his own, staying in front, playing physical and only averaging 2.2 fouls per game.

    After making his name known during Chicago's incredibly gutsy playoff run—logging a full 48 minutes in three straight games, including a Game 7 road win and giving the unbeatable Heat their first loss of the playoffs—Butler should be Chicago's starting shooting guard alongside Derrick Rose for years to come.

2. Kawhi Leonard

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    Facing the scorching Golden State Warriors in the second round, Kawhi Leonard may have been San Antonio's most important player.

    After allowing a 34-point, 14-rebound explosion from Klay Thompson in Game 2, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich decided if his team was going to lose the series, Thompson definitely wouldn't be the player taking them down.

    Leonard was placed on Thompson for the rest of the series—while also spending time on Stephen Curry and Harrison Barnes—and he completely shut him down. In Game 3, Thompson scored 17 points but needed 20 shots to get there.

    In Game 5, Leonard didn't allow Thompson to even attempt a three-pointer let alone make one, holding him to four points. It was a four-game stretch where Leonard had Thompson's number, and he completely removed him from the series: Thompson didn't attempt a free throw after Game 1.

    With the ball, Leonard has sported an 18.4 PER—up two points from his regular-season output—and averaged 13.7 points and 8.4 rebounds. His ability to stay engaged without having his number called is truly impressive, especially when you realize he's only 21 years old.

1. Mike Conley

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    First he stared Chris Paul in the eyes and refused to blink, then Mike Conley took the basketball world by storm.

    His complete control of Memphis' offense has pushed the Grizzlies further than they've ever been before. Compared to how he fared during last year's playoffs, Conley has increased his scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks average while decreasing his turnovers.

    He posted a 26-point, 10-rebound, nine-assist performance in a Game 2 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder and a 24-point, five-assist, four-steal, one-turnover effort in a crucial Game 4 overtime victory from that same series.

    Conley has proven to be either elite or damn near close at his position, and slowing him down from here on out should be as difficult as containing Memphis' loaded frontcourt.