The NBA postseason brings with it an escalated level of intensity and physicality that most players can't fathom, let alone match in their first go-around. For the players that can adapt and elevate their performance levels, a newfound notoriety follows them, as well as respect, and (quite often), added leverage in future contract negotiation.
This is the NBA's biggest stage audition, where legacies are made (or tarnished), where everyone is watching. However, one of the things that I look forward to the most is seeing guys playing in their first playoff experience and flourishing.
Here are four players who caught my attention with auspicious playoff debuts in 2013:
Regular Season: 22.9 PPG, 6.9 APG, 45.1 FG% 45.3 3P%
Playoffs: 24.5 PPG, 11.0 ASG, 46.5 FG%, 40.0 3P%
It should come as a shock to no one that Curry leads this list, as he's been sensational thus far, and has catapulted himself legitimately into the stratosphere of stardom: he's not only incredibly productive, but he makes his teammates better and he helps his teams win. About a month ago, I wrote about Curry being one of the most indispensable guards in the NBA, and features an incredible stat: in his career, the Warriors are 20-8 in games in which Curry has 10+ assists. Since that article, Curry's posted 10-plus assists six more times, and the Warriors have gone 5-1, including Tuesday's Game 2 victory at Denver, who boasted a 38-3 home record this season.
Curry's quick release and ability to make a variety of difficult shots (off one leg, off wrong leg, etc) make him an extremely tough cover in one-on-one situations, which necessitates help defense, opening up a world of passing opportunities for him. That's what makes him special: his willingness to move the ball to open teammates despite the fact that he can confidently know that he's got a good chance of making a "bad" shot. In fact, when I was with the Phoenix Suns and I scouted Curry at Davidson, I posed the question: if you could shoot like that, would you ever pass the ball?
The Game 2 demolition all started with Curry getting loose with his shot, sending the Nuggets into scramble mode, which lit Golden State's supporting cast's fuse. I still have Denver winning in six games, but we'll remember 2013 as the year Curry finally "got it." Hopefully, his most recent ankle injury will not derail that.