The next step for Stoudemire

Congratulations to the San Antonio Spurs, who closed out the Phoenix Suns Wednesday night to advance to the NBA Finals for the third time in seven years. But before we close the book on the Suns' magical season, we have to recognize the awesome talent of Amare Stoudemire.

The 22-year-old man-child finished his season with an absolutely incredible conference finals series. Despite Phoenix's defeat, Stoudemire was unstoppable. He scored at least 30 points and shot at least 50 percent from the field in all five games, culminating in Wednesday's 42-point, 16-rebound explosion.

So dominant was Stoudemire that in the second half of Game 5, Phoenix's offensive strategy was to get him the ball and get out of the way. The Suns isolated him one-on-one against Tim Duncan – an eight-time All-Defensive Team selection – and Duncan couldn't stop him, with Stoudemire's 17 fourth-quarter points keeping Phoenix in the game.

In the five games, Stoudemire accomplished two impressive firsts. By averaging 37.0 points for the series, he broke Allen Iverson's record for the highest scoring average by a player whose team lost a best-of-seven series in five games or less, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He also had the highest scoring average ever for a player in his first conference final, a record previously held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Stoudemire's output for the playoffs as a whole are nothing to sneeze at, either. He averaged 29.9 points, 10.7 boards and shot 53.9 percent during the Suns' playoff run. In fact, he had the highest PER (Player Efficiency Rating, my measure of per-minute productivity) of any playoff performer to make it past the first round, narrowly surpassing the Spurs' Duncan and Manu Ginobili for the honor.

Offensively, Stoudemire is like a hybrid of Shaquille O'Neal and a young Karl Malone. Like Shaq, Stoudemire is an incredible finisher with remarkable athleticism for a man of his size. When he goes up for a dunk, opponents just get out of the way because they have no chance of blocking it. But he's also similar to the slender, athletic Malone who entered the league two decades ago. Like the Mailman, Stoudemire runs the floor at every opportunity, dominates with superior quickness and repeatedly cashes in on feeds from a great point guard.