Our Finals matchup is set, and it’s time again to examine the best players of the playoff run so far. It has been two weeks since the second edition of the Playoff MVP Power Rankings. At that time, the Clippers were up on the Rockets and Blake Griffin was on top of the world. Things have certainly changed since then.
Based on how noncompetitive the last two weeks have been, it’s tough to round out a handful of players performing at an MVP-caliber level. Injuries have crippled some of the best players and teams, and some of the healthy guys finished the season with small performances that undercut the brilliance they’d displayed up until that point.
Here are the Playoff MVP Power Rankings 3.0, starting with the two superstars who haven’t missed a beat yet this postseason.
1. LeBron James – 14G 40.7M 27.6PPG 10.4REB 8.3AST 1.8STL 1.3BLK 43%/18%/76%
Kevin Love hasn’t played since Game 4 of the first round, and Kyrie Irving has been hobbled enough to miss two games and was limited when he was on the court. Yet, the Cavaliers are 12-2 through the Eastern Conference Playoffs, including a four-game demolition of the 60-win Hawks.
They’re doing that on the strength of LeBron’s play. His jumper hasn’t found its way to the bottom of the basket too often, but he has done just about everything else. Out of players who have played at least five games this postseason, LeBron ranks second in points, second in assists and seventh in rebounds.
Stephen Curry might have gotten the MVP trophy, but don’t forget LeBron is still the best player in the NBA.
2. Stephen Curry – 15G 38.1M 29.2PPG 4.9REB 6.4AST 1.9STL 0.1BLK 46%/44%/82%
Curry isn’t far behind LeBron. He’s following up an unbelievable regular season by dropping more than 29 points per game with some superb shooting.
To highlight that shooting, here are a few numbers to frame it, courtesy of Basketball-Reference. He’s connecting on 43.7 percent of his threes while taking north of 11 shots a game from deep. He has 73 makes this postseason with a round left to go, which is already an NBA record, passing Reggie Miller’s mark of 58 from 2000, which took him 22 games to achieve.
Curry is shooting an outrageous 66.7 percent on corner threes, which means that Curry rising up from the corner is currently a more efficient shot than a LeBron breakaway dunk. The NBA Finals will bring us a matchup of the two most different juggernauts in the league, and it’s going to be very entertaining to see the clash of styles for the two top players.
3. James Harden – 17G 37.4M 27.2PPG 5.7REB 7.5AST 1.6STL 0.4BLK 44%/38%/92%
Harden was fantastic during the playoffs, filling the box score and carrying the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals. Of course, his season ended on his worst performance, which hopefully won’t color the way he played the rest of the season. The Rockets were no match for the Warriors in general, and after going 0-4 against Golden State in the regular season, they managed to get one win on the board before being bounced in five games. Harden might have turned the ball over 13 times in Game 5, but the Rockets wouldn’t have even sniffed the Western Conference Finals without him. Hopefully the Based God forgives him and he can repeat his MVP-like performance next season.
4. Blake Griffin – 14G 39.8M 25.5PPG 12.7REB 6.1AST 1.0STL 1.0BLK 51%/14%/72%
5. Chris Paul – 12G 37.1M 22.1PPG 4.4REB 8.8AST 1.8STL 0.3BLK 50%/42%/94%
Like Harden, Griffin and Paul did their best work right before a collapse. The Clippers went up 3-1 against the Rockets and thought they were going to cruise into the Western Conference Finals. What followed was three excruciating losses to a Rockets team that looked dead in the water.
Neither Griffin nor Paul finished as strong as they started in the postseason, but it’s hard to blame them for the collapse. Yes, any team that boasts two players that good should be able to win one out of three against anybody, but the Clippers were doomed by a bad offseason. They relied on Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers far too often as their only productive players off the bench. The prize of the offseason, Spencer Hawes, barely saw the floor. When it came down to big moments, contributors like J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan came up extremely small, afraid to shoot the big shot and instead waiting for the stars to bail them out. Only Crawford was comfortable throwing the ball at the basket, and often that turned into an inefficient prayer that might have been hurting more than it helped.
6. Jimmy Butler – 12G 42.2M 22.9PPG 5.6REB 3.2AST 2.4STL 0.8BLK 44%/39%/82%
Butler is a max player, end of story. He’s the best player on the Bulls, whether Derrick Rose is healthy or not, and he just spent the last month proving it.
The Bulls weren’t able to extend him before the season, and the city of Chicago will riot if the team can’t re-sign Butler, which means offering him all the money they’re allowed. He’s the NBA’s Most Improved Player, and other teams will line up to pay him. He led everyone in the playoffs in minutes per game, while playing tenacious defense and remaining the first option on offense most of the time. The team played best when Butler was on, and I bet wherever Tom Thibodeau lands next, he tries his best to take Butler with him.
7. Draymond Green – 15G 37.5M 14.0PPG 10.8REB 5.3AST 1.7STL 1.2BLK 43%/26%/74%
Speaking of max players, Green certainly is making a statement that he should be one. His numbers won’t blow anyone away, even if nearly 11 rebounds per game is pretty incredible considering Green’s size. His impact on the game however, cannot be denied.
The Warriors are outscoring opponents by over 13 points per 100 possessions when Green is on the court in the playoffs, per NBA.com. He’s the linchpin of the defense, gives them the flexibility to defend all five positions and actually plays center in the extreme small-ball lineups. He isn’t shooting well, and if he finds his stroke, someone from on high will need to help the Cavs. But even when he doesn’t shoot well, he finds a way to be valuable on every possession, and he’ll have a chance to become a household name in these Finals.
8. Tim Duncan – 7G 35.7M 17.9PPG 11.1REB 3.3AST 1.3STL 2.4BLK 59%/0%/56%
Duncan and the Spurs only played in one round of the postseason, but they made it count. It was the most entertaining series of the postseason, and bereft of other good options, Duncan actually climbs on this list despite being on vacation for the last three weeks.
Maybe 2015 was his swan song, maybe he’ll be back next postseason looking for an extended run, but if that was the last basketball I see in my life from Timmy, I can’t in good conscience rank it behind what I saw from the rest of the NBA.
9. Dwight Howard – 17G 33.8M 16.4PPG 14.0REB 1.2AST 1.4STL 2.3BLK 58%/-/41%
Dwight had a renaissance coming back from injury this postseason. We aren’t ever going back to dominant Dwight where he just runs through teams with a bunch of shooters like he did during his peak in Orlando.
Still, 16 points and 14 rebounds per game is more than anyone can ask for from Howard. He protected the rim well and cleaned up the glass with the best of them. Josh Smith had some of the biggest non-Harden moments for the Rockets, but a healthy Howard is still the biggest key for the team to remain one of the NBA’s elite.
10. Matthew Dellavedova – 14G 21.9M, every minute spent aggravating opponents
Delly has quickly become a fan favorite in Cleveland. He got Taj Gibson and Al Horford ejected, which is more ejections than any other player in the playoffs has caused. He injured Kyle Korver. He drove Brad Stevens, Thibodeau and Mike Budenholzer crazy. He ticked off every opponent he faced.
So what if he only scores seven points per game and isn’t a legitimate threat offensively outside of wide open threes. He leads all postseason players in the amount of voodoo dolls opposing fans have carved out of soap because of him. I’d guess he has received more hate mail than anyone else, although those numbers aren’t provided by the NBA. Maybe he doesn’t have a realistic chance of winning Finals MVP, but if the Cavs beat a team with an injured Steph and Klay while Andrew Bogut and Green are wearing suits after their suspensions, he should at least get some votes.