Preface – This is a subjective list of who has impressed me the most in the first round of these playoffs. It’s highly context sensitive and is not a list of who the best players are. Also it was a fun excuse to dive into the playoff numbers we’ve got so far.
1) Kevin Durant – KD leads all players in points per game, minutes per game, Win Share, and PER in the playoffs, has become the Thunder’s primary playmaker in Russell Westbrook’s absence, and has been unconscionably clutch (if there’s such a thing as clutch) as usual. His demeanor in the face of Russell’s injury has been impressive. He still looks like a player who intends to win a championship. He’s also maintaining a 60 True Shooting % despite losing his three point touch which speaks to the diversity of his scoring skill-set.
2) Stephen Curry – Here’s another player who lost an All-Star teammate in the first round and came out determined not to let that loss define the playoffs. Curry has embraced his role as primary distributer and is leading all players in assist rate in the playoffs. He’s also second in Win Shares, and he’s shooting an otherworldly .57 eFG% with a usage over 25%. Factor in the leadership that helped carry a 6th seed to a victory over a 3rd seed including a win in Denver – where the Nuggets have been dominant all season – and Steph has proven himself a real star in the first round of these playoffs.
3) LeBron James – He leads all players in Win Share per minute, shot an insane 63% from the field for the series against the Bucks, and spearheaded a wholesale slaughter in the Heat’s sweep with limited help from co-stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He averaged 25, 8, and 7 in 36 minutes per game and basically took over whenever he felt the need. It’s almost boring how consistently great he is.
4) Joakim Noah – Sometimes circumstances override statistical accomplishments. Playing on a bad wheel with three potential starters sidelined for the games 6 and 7, Joakim came through in a big way. In game 7 with no point guards to speak of and no back up center, Noah put up 24 points on 70% shooting with 14 rebounds (7 offensive) and 6 blocks. That’s the kind of line you’d want from a franchise center in a big game. Joakim’s defense on Brook Lopez was a key to the Bulls winning the series and had a huge impact in three ways: not having to trap or double from the wings, Noah’s comfort guarding Brook in the paint and away from the basket which most centers can’t match, and his ability to Kevin Garnett a pick and roll into oblivion (Yeah, I just used KG as a verb).
5) Chris Paul – If the Clipper’s had advanced, I probably would have ranked Paul ahead of James and maybe ahead of Curry too. For the first round, CP3 was 2nd in PER, 2nd in Win Share (tied w/ Curry), averaged 23 points per game on 63 TS%, had his customary 4/1 assist to turnover ratio (though his assists were down), and basically led his team as far as he could take them with 2nd best player Blake Griffin hobbled. Bill Simmons of Grantland sites some friction between Paul and Blake as a possible stumbling block for this team now and in the future, and they need to get that figured out because this team is going exactly as far as its two stars are willing and able to travel together.
6) Tony Parker – Tim Duncan was great for San Antonio, but I’m giving credit for the sweep to Parker first because it was his pick and roll action that completely discombobulated the Lakers’ so-called “defense” if it can so be called. Tony was 3rd in PER for the first round and averaged 22 points and 6.5 assists in just 31 minutes per game. LA had no answer at all. Given that the Spurs won in an easy sweep, I should probably have Parker ahead of Paul, but CP3’s efficiency is much better with his great shooting and low turnovers, and the production is almost identical. I think it’s safe to say that if their roles were reversed, the results would be similar.
7) Grizzlies Bigs – Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph may be the best center / forward combo since Duncan and David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal and anyone. Marc’s beautiful, lumbering all-around game is the key to the Grizz on offense and defense, and Zach’s ability to pound the glass and score against tight defense helps to alleviate the lack of slashing and shooting on the team. For the series they were 9th and 10th in PER, and Marc was 5th overall in Win Share. They combined to average 38 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocks per game, and they thoroughly outplayed their opposites throughout.
8) Paul George – It’s tough to pick one Pacer out of the bunch. Roy Hibbert had a great series at both ends, and he anchors the defense. George Hill runs the offense, and his defense on the point is a key to keeping everyone else out of foul trouble. David West is often their go-to player when a big bucket is needed, and his toughness and rebounding are huge factors in the team’s success. I select Paul George because his athleticism and versatility give the Pacers an X-Factor that they haven’t had in years. Not withstanding his 2-10 with no free throws abomination in the closeout game 6, Paul’s slashing and shooting expanded the more predictable interior / pick and roll offense that has bogged the Pacers down the past few years into an offense with explosive potential. George is 4th in overall Win Share in these playoffs.
9) Carmelo Anthony – Melo was atrociously inefficient in the series against the Celtics, but this Boston team has a history of doing that to star scorers whether it’s Kobe, LeBron, or Wade. The important thing is that unlike co-scoring load handler JR Smith, Anthony never let the Celtics grinding defense break his composure. He kept using possessions and using possessions until it paid off with 7 4th quarter points in a closeout game. Points are a premium against a dedicated defense like Boston’s and Melo got them even if it took a lot of work and had a low success rate. Carmelo provided 29 of New York’s 88 points per game in the series, and every tough shot he took was one that Shumpert and Kidd didn’t have to take.
10) Kevin Garnett – Humor me here. As I’m trying to pick a player from a losing team and going over Brook Lopez and Deron Williams from the Nets, Andre Igudala and Ty Lawson from the Nuggets, and James Harden from the Rockets, it occurs to me that KG was the only reason Boston was even in that series. His defensive prowess elevates everyone on that side of the floor. This is not debatable. The stats back it up, and he shows it year after year. The game 4 win was all about his big shots at the end. He led all players in round 1 in rebounds per game, defensive rating, and defensive win share. If the Celtics had gotten even an average series out of Paul Pierce they may have scored the upset thanks to Garnett’s mettle on the other end of the
Tags: 2013 NBA Playoffs, Andre Igudala, bill simmons, Blake Griffin, Brook Lopez, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, David Robinson, David West, Deron Williams, Dwyane Wade, George Hill, James Harden, Joakim Noah, JR Smith, Kevin Durant, kevin garnett, lebron james, Marc Gasol, Paul George, Paul Pierce, Player Rankings, round one, roy hibbert, Russell Westbrook, Shaquille O'Neal, Stephen Curry, tim duncan, Tony Parker, Ty Lawson, win shares, Zach Randolph