We are into the meat of Round 2, and it has been two weeks since we looked at the first version of the Playoff MVP Power Rankings. No one has been able to clinch a spot in the conference finals just yet, with all four series heading towards a Game 6 either Thursday or Friday.
Last time, I established three rules, two of which I definitely broke and the third I only probably broke. To refresh: 1) don’t take the regular season into consideration at all, 2) cut the list off at 10 players, and 3) no ties.
With eight teams already eliminated, another caveat is being introduced. There are now a few players on vacation that have made significant contributions to the 2015 postseason. Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan made the last edition, and this time there was only room for Duncan. If the Spurs had won, Leonard might have made the top 10 as well. Of course, if Leonard had made a better case for himself to stay in the top 10 in Games 6 and 7, the Spurs might have won.
Here are the Playoff MVP Power Rankings 2.0, despite injuries and inconsistency, ranked to the best of my abilities.
1. Blake Griffin – 12G 39.3M 25.2PPG 13.3REB 6.5AST 1.0STL 1.0BLK 50%/0%/74%
There’s going to be some blowback putting Griffin at the top of this list. Nobody likes Blake. When I say nobody, I mean nobody. He gets punked by opponents more than any NBA player not named Dwight Howard. The refs don’t like him, non-Clippers fans don’t like him, I don’t like him and I’m not sure if Chris Paul likes him. Griffin is the NBA’s version of Creed and Nickelback, and I’m not telling anyone not to hate him.
That being said, he has been on a rampage through 12 games in this postseason. He’s scoring and rebounding at career-best rates, while maintaining a field goal percentage of better than 50 percent. I already displayed how he’s creating shots for teammates at a historic rate for a big man. I wasn’t alone in noticing how well he played in the first round either, even with Paul getting all of the attention for his heroic Game 7.
Paul puts Griffin over the edge here. When he got hurt in Game 7 against the Spurs, Griffin kept the team afloat, notching a triple-double and keeping the game close so Paul had the opportunity to hit the winning shot. In Game 1 against the Rockets with Paul on the bench, he had another triple-double en route to victory without the team’s best player. Whether or not you like his back catalog, I bet it’s hard to stop yourself from humming along to Griffin right now.
2. LeBron James – 9G 41.8M 27.8PPG 10.3REB 7.6AST 2.1STL 1.6BLK 44%/16%/79%
Hear me out, because it hurt me enough to put Griffin and James 1-2 on this list. I know James’s jumper is basically broken at this point, and he has been settling for that jumper too often and struggling to get to the rim at times. I know he’s turning the ball over at a ridiculously high rate, except for last game of course. I understand that this LeBron doesn’t really resemble the guy who made four straight Finals with the Heat.
What he’s doing is playing close to 42 minutes a night, working hard on defense and chasing down every rebound he can. With Kevin Love out and Kyrie Irving struggling with injury, he has become the team’s best low-post player and taken extra possessions as the primary ball handler. The shooting percentages aren’t inspiring, and the shot selections are even worse at times, but LeBron is carrying the team and fighting off injuries of his own.
What puts LeBron over the edge despite below average shooting and the turnover rate are two plays that turned the series from a 2-1 deficit to a 3-2 series lead. In Game 4, he called off David Blatt’s final play to hit a buzzer-beater for the win, and he had the tremendous block of Derrick Rose‘s layup to help seal a victory in Game 5.
3. Stephen Curry – 9G 38.7M 27.8PPG 5.0REB 6.4AST 2.0STL 0.1BLK 44%/38%/82%
Before I try my best to defend the decision to drop Curry down from No. 1 to No. 3, let’s get Kevin Durant to come out here and let Steph know that he’s the real MVP.
Curry was deserving of the No. 1 spot two weeks ago, and he’s deserving of the real MVP trophy. He gets bumped here slightly because of how the Warriors struggled in Games 2 and 3 when he wasn’t able to get open for good looks from deep. He hasn’t played bad, and his numbers have only dipped slightly from the first round, but those few rough games hurt him here even after he bounced back in Games 4 and 5. LeBron and Blake have had more magic moments, so let’s just say they got bumped up rather than Curry got bumped down.
4. Jimmy Butler – 11G 42.1M 23.2PPG 5.6REB 3.4AST 2.5STL 0.8BLK 45%/39%/81%
Rose has emerged as the team’s primary option on offense again in this series, and at times it looks like he’s trying to win for himself. That has caused Butler to take a slight step back, both on the court and on this list. However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a case to be right at the top here.
To quote a wise man, “I know James’s jumper is basically broken at this point, and he has been settling for that jumper too often and struggling to get to the rim at times. I know he’s turning the ball over at a ridiculously high rate, except for last game of course. I understand that this LeBron doesn’t really resemble the guy who made four straight Finals with the Heat.”
That was my reasoning for denigrating LeBron. Part of the reason he stayed at No. 2 here despite those criticisms is because of Butler. He has been a menace on defense, and all of his energy has basically gone to making life miserable for LeBron. That doesn’t mean he has stopped LeBron, who has been able to find a way in this series, but Butler has done as good a job as you can do.
5. Chris Paul – 10G 35.9M 20.8PPG 4.1REB 8.4AST 1.8STL 0.3BLK 51%/44%/94%
Missing two games with the hamstring injury keeps Paul out of the top four. He’s second among all players who have played at least five games this postseason in PER, behind only his teammate, who finds himself atop this list.
Paul has the heroics in Round 1, and the Clippers have been the most dominant team in Round 1 despite only having a 3-2 series lead after getting beat up in Game 5 against the Rockets. Paul’s shooting splits are off the charts, and he’s proving that he’s still the best two-way point guard in the league. It hurts him that he missed two games and that Griffin has been so good they were able to win one of those games without him, but no one is forgetting how good Paul has been this postseason.
6. James Harden – 10G 36.4M 26.6PPG 4.9REB 8.5AST 1.1STL 0.3BLK 46%/38%/95%
The numbers are great for Harden and he’s keeping up in the box score, but Harden hasn’t been able to impose his will on the Clippers, who look like a much better team through five games. I’d be lying to you if my opinion of him is currently colored by the fact that Matt Barnes insulted his mother and then the Rockets got demolished the next game, which happens to have been played on Mother’s Day.
Harden made a great case to be the league MVP this season, but he needs to play at that level if the Rockets want a chance to extend this series to a seventh game, not to mention come all the way back and win it.
7. Al Horford – 11G 33.3M 15.8PPG 10.2REB 4.1AST 1.1STL 1.7BLK 48%/25%/86%
Horford is the highest addition to this list, and it was about time a Hawk separated himself from the pack enough to make a mark. I’m not the one to subscribe to the idea that the Hawks are a jump-shooting team with no stars that’s going to fold in the playoffs, but those people have a decent chance of being proven right the way the Hawks have played through 11 games thus far.
The shooting has come and gone, and they don’t really know who to go to when they need a big play. Dennis Schroder had some big moments in Game 5, which is good because he would have been crucified for how bad he was if he didn’t make up for it in crunch time. Horford was the guy, though. He had 23 points and 11 rebounds in that game, to go along with five authoritative blocks that swung energy towards the entire Hawks team.
With all of that, it was the tremendous rebound and game-winning basket that gives him hero status for Atlanta. It was a superstar moment, and one the Hawks sorely needed.
8. John Wall – 6G 38.0M 17.0PPG 4.5REB 11.7ST 1.3STL 1.5 BLK 40%/19%/84%
It’s pretty tough to keep Wall here after missing three games in the conference semifinals, but the Wizards really need Wall in the lineup to create shots for everyone. Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are helpful pieces, but the entire team struggles in Randy Wittman’s offense without Wall setting the pace.
Especially playing against a very good team that lacks star power, the best way for the Wizards to separate themselves is by getting star-quality production from Wall. This may be a decision that’s more wishful thinking than it’s earned, and maybe this spot would have been better saved for Rose, but I think the Bulls rely on him far less than the Wizards do on Wall. Facing elimination on Friday, it’s time to see if Wall can make a case to stay on this list.
9. Tim Duncan – 7G 35.7M 17.9PPG 11.1REB 3.3AST 1.3STL 2.4BLK 59%/0%/56%
Timmy was really good in Game 6 and fantastic in Game 7 of Round 1. He was millimeters from blocking Paul’s game-winning shot. He picked up the slack when Leonard, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili disappeared during those last two games.
Duncan stands alone as the first-round performer who deserves mention here despite not making it to the second round. For coming up short in the only opening series that provided any excitement (and with Howard and DeAndre Jordan not doing quite enough to knock him off this perch), Duncan played his seven games this postseason like he was vying for a playoff MVP.
10. Paul Pierce – 9G 30.4M 15.8PPG 4.1REB 1.0AST 0.6STL 0.7BLK 51%/54%/83%
A number of players could have been placed here at the end of the list. Rose probably makes the most sense, putting up decent numbers and retaining alpha-dog status in big moments, including his buzzer beater in Game 3. Jordan has been terrific defensively, cleaning the glass and making easy buckets, but shooting 42 percent on a ridiculously high volume of free throws isn’t helping his case. Howard isn’t shooting much better from the line and isn’t finding basketball as easy against a tough Clippers team as he did against the Mavericks.
I thought I should go with another option here in Pierce. His numbers don’t jump off the page (except for those shooting splits, which are pretty ridiculous), and by PER he’s barely above average. Still, old man Pierce is cementing his reputation as The Truth, nailing big shots and bringing all of the swag Washington so desperately needs. He had the buzzer-beater to win Game 3, and he had what was almost the game-winning shot Wednesday night as well, if it weren’t for Horford’s putback. Sometimes, the attitude just means more than the production, and sometimes clutch plays mean more than the aggregate usefulness.
Without Pierce, not only would I think the Wizards wouldn’t have a chance in this series, but I think the Wizards wouldn’t think they had a chance either. Pierce may not be more valuable than a guy like DeAndre on the court, in terms of all the things he can do, but he’s more valuable in the locker room. Sometimes that matters.
Leonard, Howard, Irving