May 11, 2009
It's a well-vetted fact that, by merely approximating your regular-season averages during the playoffs, you're essentially bringing you're A-game when the situation calls for it most. A lot of casual onlookers don't know this, but because of the improved competition, the slower games, and the increased familiarity that comes from playing a team seven times in two weeks (or less), just coming close to your regular-season averages means you're usually out-pacing the rest of the postseason performers.
So keep that in mind when it comes to celebrating or denigrating a player's postseason accomplishments. And, with that in mind, let's look at five of the most improved playoff performers of 2009, among the active lot.
1. LeBron James(notes) — Cleveland Cavaliers: It might not be the biggest surprise, but it doesn't mean James hasn't taken his game to a ridiculous level in this postseason. Going up against well-heeled defenders like Tayshaun Prince(notes), Joe Johnson(notes) and Maurice Evans(notes) hasn't stopped James from averaging an astounding 33.7 points on 55 percent shooting, with 10 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and just 1.4 turnovers a contest in 38 minutes. 2.1 steals a contest, and five blocks in seven Cleveland wins. Nuts.
2. Chauncey Billups(notes) — Denver Nuggets: Billups has fallen off in his last couple of playoff runs, so his hot start is quite heartening. His scoring has gone up about three points from his regular-season average in just one more minute of action, while his turnovers have dropped even if the face of such ballhawks as Chris Paul(notes) and Jason Kidd(notes).
3. Rajon Rondo(notes) — Boston Celtics: Putting him back of Billups might surprise, but one has to consider that Rondo's per-minute stats haven't taken nearly the jump that Billups' have. Yes, his averages have improved, but he's also playing nine minutes per game more than he was in what was a pretty underrated regular season. That's not denying that 18.5 points, 10.5 assists, 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals (with only 2.6 turnovers) isn't fantastic. It is. But in terms of pure improvement, he ranks third.
4. Carmelo Anthony(notes) — Denver Nuggets: Another Nugget, no wonder this team has won seven of eight games by an average of about 19 points per game. After enduring what was almost a season-long shooting slump, Anthony has seen his assists and scoring rise in the postseason (along with his minutes) while turning the ball over only 2.1 times per game. 2.8 combined blocks/steals, after averaging 1.5 combined in the regular season.
5. Glen Davis(notes) — Boston Celtics: It might not be as big a jump as you'd assume. Though Davis has played with huge heart in this postseason, his Eddy Curry(notes)-like six rebounds in 37 minutes per game mean he comes far, far down the list. He's made a leap, make no mistake, but an extra two rebounds in spite of an extra 17 minutes per game? Be happy with fifth.
Also see: Top five NBA playoff fall-offs