Ranking Biggest Surprise Stars of the 2014 NBA Playoffs

Bryant Knox@@BryantKnoxFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2014

Ranking Biggest Surprise Stars of the 2014 NBA Playoffs

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    Bradley Beal has exceeded expectations during the 2014 NBA playoffs.
    Bradley Beal has exceeded expectations during the 2014 NBA playoffs.Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

    The NBA is a star-driven league, and entering the 2014 playoffs, it was clear that guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul would dominate headlines.

    The experienced stars are expected to perform at a top-notch level; however, they're not the only ones who have ultimately stepped up their games.

    When looking at who has surprised us thus far, consider one key factor: How well has an individual played compared to his pre-playoff expectations? Some players have come out of absolute thin air, while others have simply proven doubters wrong.

Honorable Mention: Troy Daniels

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Postseason Stats: 7.8 PPG, 52.9 FG%, 53.3 3PT%

     

    When it comes to Troy Daniels, we'll use the word "star" loosely. His numbers don't scream stardom by any means, but we'd be remiss not to mention his shocking impact during key stints of Round 1.

    Despite having played just five games in his NBA career, Daniels stepped into Game 3 against the Portland Trail Blazers and knocked down what we can only assume was the biggest shot of his life. He hit a three-pointer with 11.9 seconds to go—a bucket that preceded a 121-116 overtime victory.

    One good shot is noteworthy, but an even better performance was yet to come. Game 4 saw the rookie score 17 points (4-of-5 from downtown) in 21 minutes, and while the Rockets lost the contest, he made clutch plays down the stretch that proved Game 2 wasn't just a fluke.

    Daniels' performance has already been forgotten by casual fans, which is why he remains at the bottom of this list. His heroics, however, as brief as they may have been, deserve credit.

    Fans in Houston hope it's a sign of things to come, and if it is, this won't be the last time we talk about the former VCU Ram.

5. Monta Ellis

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Postseason Stats: 20.4 PPG, 2.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 35.3 3PT%

     

    For those who watch the Dallas Mavericks on a regular basis, Monta Ellis' emergence as a consistent player isn't shocking. The problem is, the team went largely under the radar all year, giving people cause for surprise when Ellis stepped up in the playoffs.

    Ignoring the first and last games of Round 1, Ellis played efficient basketball. He torched his opponents for 29 points twice in the series, and adding to the shock is that it was against the always reliable San Antonio Spurs.

    Unfortunately, we can't truly ignore those two outliers. A bad game to start the series and a bad game to close can't just be brushed aside, which is why Ellis isn't higher on this list.

    Luckily for him, he's found his place on the Mavericks, meaning fans should expect to see great play moving forward.

4. Taj Gibson

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Postseason Stats: 18.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 56.1 FG%

     

    Taj Gibson played 28.7 minutes per game in the regular season. In the playoffs, that number received a minimal boost to 30.8. 

    For those counting, that's two extra minutes per contest. What Gibson did in those two extra minutes is phenomenal.

     MPGPPGRPGBPG FG%PER
    Regular Season28.713.06.81.447.916.0
    Playoffs30.818.26.22.456.126.4

    Unfortunately for Gibson, as is the case for many of the role players and semi-stars on this list, a breakout performance couldn't propel his team to victory. The Bulls won just a single game against the Washington Wizards, which is why he finds himself outside of the top three in this category.

3. Tony Allen

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Postseason Stats: 12.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 48.6 FG%

     

    Whenever Tony Allen is opposite Kevin Durant, the former Oklahoma State Cowboy has one job.

    Stop the Slim Reaper. 

    Durant made it clear during the regular season that he doesn't like the nickname "Slim Reaper." Unfortunately for the superstar, you can't always get what you want, and that includes a night off when Allen is on the prowl.

    In a brutal seven-game series, Allen forced Durant into numerous nights of poor shooting. That alone is worthy of a shout-out, but boosting his own offensive and rebounding numbers made him a story early in the postseason. 

    Another name you could throw in here is Mike Conley. The Grizzlies point guard gave Russell Westbrook fits in Round 1, creating the same narrative at point guard that followed Allen and Durant.

    The catch is, Westbrook has been known to play inefficiently for spurts throughout his career, giving Allen the nod for doing the improbable: slowing down Durant (for a while, at least).

2. Damian Lillard

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Postseason Stats: 23.5 PPG, 6.2 APG, 5.4 RPG, 39.4 3PT%

     

    Damian Lillard is an All-Star floor general in a point guard-centric league. So why has his play been surprising? 

    He entered the postseason with zero playoff experience. 

    Lillard came into the NBA with a chip on his shoulder, and despite his immediate success, he hasn't lost that edge. When the postseason began, people wondered whether or not he'd handle the pressure of the Rip City revival—not to mention the pressure of Patrick Beverley on the perimeter.

    Suffice it to say, Lillard has once again exceeded expectations. We all remember Lillard's shot with 0.9 seconds—and the mic drop that followed—and when B/R's Jared Zwerling asked him about his composed nature in clutch situations, he had the perfect response:

    I've seen a lot worse than missing a game-winning shot or turning the ball over at the end of a game. I've had a lot worse experience in my life growing up in Oakland—(drugs, being around gangs and getting robbed at gunpoint)—so I don't fear that I can fail at making a shot.

    Lillard has struggled to contain Tony Parker in Round 2, but his averages are improved from the regular season almost entirely across the board. The pressure has yet to hit him, and at 23 years old, who's to tell him it ever will?

1. Bradley Beal

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Postseason Stats: 19.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 42.9 3P%

     

    Bradley Beal's start to the postseason didn't go as planned. In Game 1 of the conference quarterfinals—his first career playoff game—he shot just 3-of-11 from the field and scored 13 points in 42 minutes.

    Luckily for Beal and the Washington Wizards, he's put that performance behind him and shown the world how good he can be.

    Not only has Beal gotten it done on the stat sheet, he's stepped up when it counts. He's played well in fourth quarters, and just as importantly, he's jelled wonderfully with John Wall.

    As The Washington Post's Mike Wise put it:

    Monday night the words "kid" and "Beal" were officially retired from cohabiting the same sentence.

    A kid does not become the first NBA player in more than a decade to finish with 25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals in a playoff game. A kid doesn't become the first person in league annals to have three playoff games with at least 25 points before their 21st birthday.

    This second-year stud is a kid no more, and his Wizards are giving their all in their postseason return as a result.

     

    All statistics are current as of May 13. Advanced statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.