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Playoff MVP Power Rankings 4.0: NBA Finals Edition

JUN 07 Finals - Cavaliers at Warriors - Game 2

Our Playoff MVP Power Rankings have taken a sudden turn for the worst in terms of competitiveness. Early on this postseason, we saw tremendous performances from Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, James Harden, Blake Griffin and Jimmy Butler, among others.

In these last three games, we’ve seen LeBron James eclipse all those players combined. He’s making the game of basketball into an art form and has close to single-handedly given the Cavaliers a 2-1 lead in the series.

Up until now, the Power Rankings have been an encapsulation of the entire postseason. However, due to the non-competitiveness of the playoffs in general, this one will be an All-Finals Edition.

So shout out to all the guys mentioned above, plus Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, Kawhi Leonard, Paul Pierce, John Wall, Al Horford and whoever else for all the great moments they’ve given us over the past two months. None of them–except for Curry–will get another mention here.

For the Finals edition, I’m narrowing it down to five guys–actually six, because I can’t help myself from making up my own rules and then immediately breaking them.

Can anyone guess who will come in at No. 1?

1. LeBron James3G 47.4M 41.0PPG 10.3REB 8.3AST 1.7STL 1.0BLK  40%/35%/75%

If I have to explain this one, I’m writing to the wrong crowd. He’s playing an insane number of minutes per game–obviously buoyed by the two overtime games, but still. He’s scoring 41 points a contest, a number that’s unsustainable but feels like LeBron’s floor for this series. All the while he’s still averaging more than 10 boards and eight assists.

This Power Rankings almost turned into a LeBron “Top 10” list. He’s the best player in the league and is playing the best basketball of his career. He hasn’t been efficient, as some critics love to point out, but that’s just fine for Cavs fans. LeBron transcends efficiency.

I don’t know how bad he’d have to play to drop out of the top spot on this list by the time it’s all over, but I don’t expect to see that side of him anytime soon.

2. Stephen Curry3G 42.9M 24.0PPG 5.3REB 6.3AST 1.7STL 0.3BLK 40%/32%/92%

Curry may be the  MVP, but he’s not the best player in the NBA. Even through his struggles, it’s easy to see how valuable he is. Curry’s biggest improvement this season was in his playmaking abilities. Under Steve Kerr, the Golden State offense took shape from a team that was used to waiting for open looks and gambling with high-risk passes to a proactive attack that tries to make teams choose between a numbers disadvantage or a good look from their star shooter.

Because of that, Curry has become more confident in moving the ball and putting defenders in high pressure situations, as if having to guard one of the greatest shooters in NBA history in his prime wasn’t enough pressure for the poor soul tasked with staying on his hip.

The Cavs have countered this by taking away the decision, trapping hard on Curry and betting that their three can slow down Golden State’s four when Curry gets the ball out ahead of the trap. To the current MVP’s credit, he’s making the smart passes and keeping the offense moving, but the team isn’t scoring efficiently in those chances. The decision has now been transferred from the Cavaliers’ defenders to Curry, who’s probably facing some pressure to keep the ball despite the trap and try a secondary or tertiary option within the play. With that, Curry’s turnovers have increased in this series, and his limitations as a pure point guard have become more pronounced now that the Cavs have decided they’re going to get the ball out of his hands and defend him like he’s a wing, which fits their strengths as a defense.

3. Matthew Dellavedova – 3G 30.1MPG 9.7PPG 3.7REB 2.7AST 1.0STL 0.0BLK 37%/25%/86%

There isn’t much I can say about Delly that hasn’t already been said. He has zero offensive game, his career PER is under 10, and while he plays tough and “gritty” defense, he doesn’t have the athleticism to stay with faster players like Curry or taller scorers like Harrison Barnes/Klay Thompson/Draymond Green/Andre Iguodala. Colin Cowherd of ESPN called him the worst player to ever get major minutes in the NBA Finals. It was harsh, but wasn’t crazy when he said it.

Despite that last paragraph, Delly scored 20 points in Game 3, showing off his clutch rating with a three-point play falling down and the rebound to seal the victory. He’s run the point for Cleveland well enough in Kyrie Irving’s absence that the offense is merely slow and not stagnant, which isn’t so bad considering the downgrade from what they could’ve had with their All-Star point guard, when healthy. Most importantly, regardless of physical limitations, he’s haunted Curry’s dreams while staying on the court for minutes he could never have imagined even a month ago.

Irving and Kevin Love aren’t around,  for better or worse, but even still the Cavs have J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov who are all probably better players, and until Kyrie went down, all were more recognizable and more responsible for the team’s success. But win or lose, unless J.R. goes on a rampage of hitting contested threes the rest of the way, the first player we’ll mention after LeBron on the Cavaliers will be Dellavedova.

T-4. Tristan Thompson – 3G 43.6MPG 4.7PPG 14.0REB 0.7AST 0.7STL 0.7BLK 33%/0%/50%

T-4. Timofey Mozgov – 3G 31.5M 13.0PPG 7.7REB 1.0AST 0.3STL 1.7BLK 54%/0%/65%

It’s nearly impossible for me to separate what these two bigs are giving the Cavaliers during the playoff run. The raw rebounding totals don’t even match up to the look of helplessness the Warriors all have watching a shot bounce off the rim and knowing they have no chance at corralling it for second-chance points.

When they play together, all the doom they cause to the spacing issues offensively is outweighed by how terrifying they are defensively. Mozgov has been the team’s rim protector since he came to Cleveland, but Thompson has improved greatly in that area since that trade as well. Together they create a no-man’s land in the paint, but even when the Warriors go small and force Mozgov to the bench, Thompson responds by picking up the slack playing with lineups that otherwise would be susceptible to easy shots.

Offensively, Thompson hasn’t been much, but Mozgov has been efficient. He’s been able to take advantage of the defensive attention of LeBron, even when his man never leaves to go help poor Iguodala or Barnes on the wing. Together, they’ve really made Green and Andrew Bogut look like schlumps, to the point that David Lee’s appearance in the fourth quarter of Game 3 was a breath of fresh air. If the Cavs can force Lee onto the court because of Thompson and Mozgov’s defense, that could open up the offense for LeBron even more, putting a minus defender on the floor in place of switching-machine Green and the rim protection of Bogut.

5. Klay Thompson – 3G 41.1M 23.0PPG 5.3REB 1.3AST 1.0STL 1.3BLK 43%/32%/91%

It’s Thompson, not Curry, who has actually done the most to sustain offense for the Warriors when they’ve gone dry in terms of the scoring opportunities they’re used to. By playing Curry so tightly, naturally Thompson has been given a little more breathing room on the wing.

While that hasn’t translated into a ton of open shots from distance, what it does is leave defenders scrambling to recover to take away the three. Thompson, in turn, gets a chance to put the ball on the floor and really pressure the defense. He still has limitations as a playmaker and interior scorer, but other than the Curry long-rage barrage in the fourth quarter of Game 3, it’s been the best way the team has been able to throw the Cavs off their game plan on defense.

Consistency is going to be key for Thompson, and he’ll have to do better with the open shots he’s afforded, but while Green and Barnes have been unable to take advantage of the extra space they’ve gotten, Thompson remains a triple-threat when he catches the ball on the wing.

Iguodala definitely has a case over his teammate on this list, maybe even a better one, and I’m afraid of the stat line LeBron would be putting up if he had a lesser defender on him, but Thompson gets the edge here because the Warriors need a little hope on offense at this point, and Klay could give them that.

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