The NBA Playoffs provides a unique landscape. After 82 games are played, eight teams from each conference are pitted against each other in the NBA’s version of The Hunger Games. At the front of this battle are the stars of each respective team. Some are coming into the playoffs with high expectations, while some are just happy to be here. Let’s put it this way, the Wizards and Bobcats are happy just to be in the playoffs whereas teams like the Pacers and Thunder won’t be satisfied without holding a trophy.
No matter the team, there are stars that have much to prove in the playoffs. There are reputations on the line and these stars have the chance to change them. Take Chris Paul for instance, who is considered the greatest point guard in the league, but has only won two playoff series his whole career. This year, Paul has no excuses with his core teammates propelling their game to the next level. What will happen if Paul doesn’t take his team to the Western Conference Finals or NBA Finals? What about if Kevin Durant falls in the second round with a healthy Westbrook, will his perception change even after his historic season? Even players like John Wall and Kemba Walker have a lot to prove about their status as top point guards, even if their team doesn’t advance past the first round. One could even argue that teams as a whole have a lot to prove in the playoffs. Take the New York Knicks for example, who have crumbled upon their expectations and might barely sneak into the eight seed in the east.
Here are the 10 stars that have the most to prove in the 2014 NBA Playoffs.
*All stats from basketball-reference.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise noted*
*** *** ***
Washington, D.C., is living in the moment right now. With the Redskins nabbing DeSean Jackson from the free agent market and the Wizards making the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-2008 season, Washington is buzzing. Leading the Wizards into the playoffs is none other than John Wall, the face of the franchise. Before the season even began, Wall was adamant that he had to make the postseason (via The Washington Post): “I need to be in the playoffs. Leaving the season early every year is not fun, it’s no excitement, just going home and watching basketball.”
Wall is having his best season as a pro, averaging 19.8 points and 8.7 assists, including shooting a career-high 36 percent from deep. The Wizards don’t have many expectations in the playoffs, since this is their first appearance in four years, but John Wall has his plate full. Wall’s excellent season has him on the precipice of being mentioned with the great point guards in the NBA. The Wizards are 40-37 on the season, holding the sixth seed, and will have a date with Toronto or Chicago in the opening round. This presents a very winnable situation for the Wizards, but regardless, John Wall needs to perform.
Wall’s best season in the NBA led to his team’s first playoff appearance in four years–this is his time to emerge as a top five point guard. Last season, the NBA world saw Paul George’s stock explode after his playoff performance. Wall can do the same. Point guard’s such as Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo and Ricky Rubio are missing the playoffs due to injuries or record. While Wall’s performance this season might have him above those point guards already, the playoffs are his opportunity to jump in the conversation with the point god, Chris Paul. I mean, Paul George’s performance had many people mentioning him as the third-best player in the NBA, behind Durant and LeBron. It’s not crazy to believe that Wall could be thrown into the top NBA point guard conversation with a great playoff performance, especially against a top two or three defense in the first round with the Raptors and Bulls.
As the Wizards march into the playoffs, John Wall needs to escalate his play even more to be mentioned with the top point guards in the NBA.
Kevin Durant has been superhuman this season–wait, that doesn’t even describe how insane Durant has been this season. Remarkable, heroic, phenomenal, prodigious? Just combine all of those adjectives and that describes Durant’s play this season. The future NBA MVP is averaging 32.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists on 51 percent shooting from the field, 41 percent from deep and 87 percent from the line. He’s winning the NBA MVP this season, but Durant’s legacy will only be legendary if he takes his Thunder to the promised land.
Kevin Durant might miss his second straight consecutive season of a 50/40/90 season, but that’s old news. So is the fact that Durant is on pace to have the best individual scoring season since Kobe Bryant averaged 35.4 points and Allen Iverson averaged 33 points in 2005-2006. This season, Kevin Durant is on the mark to become a part of the 30/30 club. That is, averaging 30 points and a PER of 30 in a single season, which has only been done by players with the last names Jordan, Chamberlain, Wade, McGrady and Wade. Even the name LeBron James doesn’t appear on this list.
With a season so great that it can be mentioned with the names Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, the bar has never been higher for Kevin Durant. Anything short of an NBA championship will be a failure for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not many people will remember this amazing season if Durant bows out early in the playoffs. The worst thing Kevin Durant could do is take the Thunder to the NBA Finals and fall to LeBron James and the Miami Heat… again. Kevin Durant is a once-in-a-lifetime type of player, but the statistics will show that he frequently finished as the runner-up to the best basketball player in the world, LeBron James. Even at 25 years young, Kevin Durant has entered the stage of his NBA career where NBA championships are going to start to become the norm. With LeBron James having two rings on his fingers and en route to a third, the pressure has never been higher on Durant.
Kevin Durant has single-handedly carried the Thunder to greatness, but will need Russell Westbrook in the playoffs to succeed. Batman needed Robin and Durant needs Westbrook. A healthy Westbrook places the bar even higher for the Thunder–an early exit from the playoffs is unacceptable, no matter how tough the West is. Kevin Durant has proven that he might be the best scorer in the NBA and is capable of accomplishing stunning individual statistical feats. However, to truly begin cementing his NBA legacy, Kevin Durant needs to capture an NBA championship. This is the year, Durantula, go get it.