Emerging stars of postseason

tom jones' two cents

You make your money in the regular season. You make your reputation in the postseason. • The great thing about the postseason in any sport is the emergence of new stars. You're always going to have your LeBron Jameses and Sidney Crosbys and Kobe Bryants. But it's the breakout performances that make the playoffs so fun. • Remember a couple of years ago when the Lightning's Sean Bergenheim became a scoring machine? Remember in 2011 when the Cardinals' David Freese seemingly came out of nowhere to win the World Series MVP? • This spring, the NBA and NHL playoffs are just a few weeks old and already we have new stars to follow. Here are a few who are building up rather nice postseason reputations and becoming household names.

Nate Robinson, Chicago Bulls

As radio host Dan Patrick says, it has taken Robinson an eight-year career to become an overnight sensation. Before now, he was best known for winning the NBA Slam Dunk competition even though he's only 5 feet 9. With Derrick Rose out with a knee injury, the Bulls have turned to Robinson for offense. Say this for him, he's exciting. He's one of those guys who drives his coach and the other coach crazy. He takes bad shots, makes ill-advised passes and plays recklessly. The Bulls suffer one injury after another and yet have managed to hang around these playoffs, in large part due to Robinson. The latest NBA commercial features the little guy with the phrase, "We are all watching Robinson."

Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Warriors coach Mark Jackson created quite a stir when he suggested his guards, Curry and Thompson, are the best shooting backcourt in NBA history. Don't scoff. He might be right. Jackson didn't say they are the best backcourt ever. That list starts with the Lakers' Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, the Knicks' Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe, the Pistons' Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, and the Lakers' Magic Johnson with Byron Scott. But there's no question that Curry and Thompson are deadly shooters, particularly Curry. He looks like he's 15 years old but can drop 40 on you every night.

Cory Conacher, Ottawa Senators

Ouch. Bet it hurts Lightning fans to see this. Funny, but when Conacher was traded to the Sens during the season for goalie Ben Bishop, many pointed to Conacher's small frame (5-8, 180) and wondered if he could withstand the rigors of this rough-and-tumble game. Well, check it out: The opening-round series between the Senators and Canadiens turned nasty after a cheap shot hit in Game 1. And Conacher could be found right in the middle of it all, picking up 25 minutes in penalties during the series. He also picked up three goals, including two in the series clincher.

Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

So it's not as if Noah is an unknown. He was a two-time NCAA champ at Florida and an All-Star this season. But his heart and hustle have taken his game and reputation to a new level this postseason. He is the single biggest reason why the Bulls were able to go into Brooklyn and take a winner-take-all Game 7 on the road, then go down to Miami and steal a game from the Heat. The Bulls are not going to beat the Heat, but Noah's guts and all-out play have made him, perhaps, the best leader right now in the NBA. Plus, you have to admire the way he has stood up for teammate Derrick Rose, whom many are criticizing for not playing because of a knee injury. Noah might not be one of the five most talented players in the league, but I bet if there were a draft right now, he would be one of the first five players taken.

Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies as a whole are the breakout team of these playoffs. They actually have a decent shot at getting to the NBA Finals. NBA fans are familiar with Marc Gasol, but most people know him simply as Pau's brother. Turns out, not only is he better than his big brother at this point, he's better than most NBA players these days. He is certainly among the most complete. In the first eight games this postseason, Gasol's game numbers were superb: 18.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 blocks.

Pascal Dupuis, Pittsburgh Penguins

Fun fact: In 2002, then-Lightning GM Jay Feaster traded the fourth overall pick in the draft to the Flyers for forward Ruslan Fedotenko, who became a legend in these parts for scoring both goals in the 2-1 victory over the Flames in Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final. But Feaster almost didn't make that deal. He nearly sent that draft pick to the Wild for Dupuis. Since then, Dupuis has put together a solid, if unspectacular, career with several teams. He has spent the past five full seasons with the Penguins as a secondary scorer, usually popping in about 17 to 20 goals a season. But in a six-game first-round playoff win over the Islanders, Dupuis helped the Penguins stave off a scare with five goals and two assists.

Bucs in the booth

Ronde Barber is about to join former Bucs Warren Sapp, Keyshawn Johnson, John Lynch, Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden as a broadcaster. No official records are kept, but I can't think of another organization that has this many former players and coaches working on national broadcasts. Meantime, former Bucs Shaun King and Derrick Brooks have done television work, and Ian Beckles and Booger McFarland each co-host local radio shows. Barber said he will announce soon which network he is going to, but the two networks in the rumor mill are NFL Network and Fox. If I had to guess, I'd say Fox, which is just less than 100 days out from launching Fox Sports 1, a cable outlet that is supposed to provide competition for ESPN.

No. 20 on No. 93

Ronde Barber was the last member left from the Bucs' great defenses of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now he is turning over the baton to Gerald McCoy, who is supposed to be the centerpiece of a defense that is starting to collect some excellent parts. "Gerald had a heck of a year last year," Barber said. Interestingly, McCoy still takes a lot of grief from the locals for not being all they think the defensive tackle should be. But Barber said McCoy's reputation outside of Tampa Bay is pretty good, and that is confirmed by former Bucs safety and current Fox broadcaster John Lynch. "Not many people gave (McCoy) credit," Barber said. "But when you talk to Lynch, because he's doing a lot of (Bucs) games, he talks to other coaches and he asks them, 'What is the player you know you have to stop?' Without fail they say, 'That 93 is heck to deal with.' "

Three things that popped into my head

1. Are umpires in Major League Baseball getting worse or has technology become so good that we just notice their mistakes more? I'd vote for umpires getting worse. In addition, they have a rather bizarre and unjustified arrogance-to-talent ratio.

2. Rays catcher Jose Molina is batting .167 with one homer and three RBIs. He has three errors and two passed balls, and he could have been charged with a couple of more of those. He has thrown out five of 25 runners trying to steal. And the worst part? He still is the best option the Rays have at the moment for catcher. You know, that's not his fault.

3. Happy 34th birthday to Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith, whom Ronde Barber called the best receiver he faced during his 16-year NFL career.

Emerging stars of postseason 05/11/13 [Last modified: Sunday, May 12, 2013 12:07am]

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