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2017 NBA Playoffs Superstar Rankings | Week 1

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The regular season is over, which means no one is posting MVP leaderboards anymore. NBA fans and media members have started to focus more on what’s happening at the team level than the individual level.

That doesn’t mean we need to stop talking about who the NBA’s best players are, though.

So let’s rank the top 20 stars who are playing basketball in the 2016-17 NBA postseason. We’ll exclude any player who has not played in their team’s most recent game — sorry, Kevin Durant and Rudy Gobert, you weren’t eligible this week.

The rankings will take into account performance during the regular season, performance so far in the playoffs and just the general level of play we expect from them moving forward.

This will be a weekly list throughout the playoffs with all players on teams still alive, so be sure to check back next week for an update.

Just missed the cut (in order): Draymond Green, Isaiah Thomas, Damian Lillard, DeAndre Jordan, Kyle Lowry, Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward, Blake Griffin, Mike Conley

10. JOHN WALL, WASHINGTON WIZARDS

Regular season per-game stats: 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.4 blocks, 25.1 PER, 0.236 win shares per 48 minutes

Playoff per-game stats: 32.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 11.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks, 29.1 PER, 0.282 win shares per 48 minutes

I went back and forth between Wall and the Warriors’ Draymond Green for this spot. Both were deserving, but Optimus Dime carries a heavier load for the Wizards and has been even better than Green in the postseason so far (which is saying a lot).

With Wall playing this well, the Wizards should be favored to make the Eastern Conference Finals. If Washington meets a Cleveland squad still playing lazily on defense, Wall could lead his squad to an upset.

9. PAUL GEORGE, INDIANA PACERS

Regular season per-game stats: 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 20.2 PER, 0.127 win shares per 48 minutes

Playoff per-game stats: 30.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 25.2 PER, 0.175 win shares per 48 minutes

Forgive me for showing some recency bias here, but Paul George’s amazing play has just lasted a bit too long for me to ignore it. PG-13 is putting up 28.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game with a 64.2 true-shooting percentage over his last 23 contests.

Combine that with strong defense and an impressive end-of-season run he led Indiana on, and you have a guy who’s sneaking his way back into the top-10 debate.

One thing I don’t like with PG-13 is how he’s handled some grievances with his teammates in the Pacers’ two close losses to the Cavs. Instead of privately approaching his teammates about their issues (or even taking the blame himself), he’s now called out C.J. Miles, Lance Stephenson and Myles Turner for their play in postgame press conferences.

8. JIMMY BUTLER, CHICAGO BULLS

Regular season per-game stats: 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.4 blocks, 25.1 PER, 0.236 win shares per 48 minutes

Playoff per-game stats: 26.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.5 steals, 1.5 blocks, 22.0 PER, 0.189 win shares per 48 minutes

Butler has been pretty good in the postseason. For the Bulls of the regular season, Butler being just pretty good against playoff competition was a recipe for a blowout loss (unless the game was on TNT). Chicago relied on their superstar swingman so, so much.

However, drastically elevated play from Rajon Rondo, Robin Lopez and Bobby Portis in the first two games against Boston is changing Chicago’s entire postseason outlook.

I have no idea how sustainable this level of play from the supporting cast is, but Butler (and Bulls fans) should enjoy it while it lasts.

7. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, MILWAUKEE BUCKS

Regular season per-game stats: 22.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.9 blocks, 26.1 PER, 0.210 win shares per 48 minutes

Playoff per-game stats: 26.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 25.0 PER, 0.198 win shares per 48 minutes

Antetokounmpo is the Most Improved Player in the NBA this season. He’s going to run away with the award.

But recognizing how much he’s progressed and how much better he can get distracts us from where he is right now. Newsflash: the Greek Freak is freaking good.

He and LeBron James are probably the league’s best players in transition right now, and Giannis is developing several other LeBron-like skills, too. He’s got the more talented Raptors on their heels in their first-round series with his excellence on both sides of the ball.

6. CHRIS PAUL, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

Regular season per-game stats: 18.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 9.2 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.1 blocks, 26.2 PER, 0.262 win shares per 48 minutes

Playoff per-game stats: 23.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 10.5 assists, 3.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 31.8 PER, 0.338 win shares per 48 minutes

Paul is a polarizing point guard. Your view of him depends on where your personal player evaluation method falls on the spectrum between “RINGZZZ” and “advanced stats are gospel.” CP3 hasn’t ever made it out of the second round of the playoffs, but he’s probably the best statistical point guard in NBA history in both the regular season and postseason.

I think it’s fair to criticize him a bit for his playoff failures, but he’s also had some pretty unlucky circumstances. Plus, small, ball-dominant guards just don’t have a great track record of succeeding in the postseason as the best player on their team, for whatever reason.

There are still very few guys in the league I’d want leading my team than the ultra-perfectionistic Paul.

5. STEPHEN CURRY, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Regular season per-game stats: 25.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 24.7 PER, 0.229 win shares per 48 minutes

Playoff per-game stats: 24.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.5 steals, 1.0 blocks, 19.4 PER, 0.181 win shares per 48 minutes

Curry’s spot here is complicated. He was easily the best player in the league during the 2015-16 regular season, then looked like a shell of himself in the playoffs after a first-round knee injury. He started the 2016-17 campaign slowly by his standards, then came on after the All-Star break.

I think you could realistically put Curry anywhere from No. 2 to No. 8, based on how big of a factor his 2015-16 season is to you. No matter where you put him, though, he’s one of the best offensive players in the league and impacts a game when his shot is off by passing, creating space for others with his gravity and finishing at the rim.

He’s also not nearly as poor a defender as many people seem to think.

4. RUSSELL WESTBROOK, OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

Regular season per-game stats: 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 30.6 PER, 0.224 win shares per 48 minutes

Playoff per-game stats: 36.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 10.0 assists, 3.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 25.6 PER, -0.036 win shares per 48 minutes

Westbrook had a very complicated Game 2 on Wednesday — he was fantastic in the first three quarters in building the Thunder lead, but he jacked up too many shots in the fourth to let the game slip away.

He was very honest in his postgame interview after posting a line of 51 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists.

That’s the attitude you want to see from a team leader, even if his fourth-quarter decisions weren’t always the best. It’ll be interesting to see how the MVP candidate adjusts his game when the series shifts to Oklahoma City.

3. JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON ROCKETS

Regular season per-game stats: 29.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 11.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 27.3 PER, 0.245 win shares per 48 minutes

Playoff per-game stats: 36.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 33.4 PER, 0.345 win shares per 48 minutes

Stop using the Rockets-Thunder playoff series to justify your MVP pick (or to change it, for that matter). The regular season is over, all the official votes are in, and we won’t find out the winner for another two months.

That said, if you were to let the series influence your pick, Harden has been more valuable to his squad so far. He’s influenced a lot of possessions without dominating the ball too much, as teammates continue to feast on open three-pointers and dunks because of his gravity and passing ability.

2. KAWHI LEONARD, SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Regular season per-game stats: 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.7 blocks, 27.5 PER, 0.264 win shares per 48 minutes

Playoff per-game stats: 34.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 45.3 PER, 0.641 win shares per 48 minutes

Leonard’s advanced numbers in the playoffs so far are just absurd. Granted, he’s playing one of the worst teams in the postseason bracket without its primary wing defender, but Kawhi was nothing short of spectacular in Games 1 and 2 against Memphis. No one could check him on the offensive end, and he wreaked his usual havoc with excellent on- and off-ball defense.

As the competition ramps up later in the postseason, we’ll see if Kawhi continues to sizzle from the field and bait defenders into dumb shooting fouls. The last frontier for him to conquer is playmaking, and he’s gotten pretty good at that now, too.

1. LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Regular season per-game stats: 25.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks, 27.0 PER, 0.221 win shares per 48 minutes

Playoff per-game stats: 28.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 10.0 assists, 3.5 steals, 2.0 blocks, 28.7 PER, 0.195 win shares per 48 minutes

I can already tell you that LeBron is going to hold his spot here for the foreseeable future unless he starts dramatically underperforming or another guy in the top five pulls out a superhuman playoff run.

LeBron becomes a top-five defender in the league whenever the playoffs roll around, which helps set him apart from most of the other offensive mavens in the NBA. Now, he just needs to help spread that intensity to his teammates and revive a dormant Cavs defense.

One personal concern for James is his suddenly poor free-throw shooting. He’s just 108-of-172 (62.8 percent) from the charity stripe since March started, which could be a troubling trend in close games if it continues.

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