Durant vs. LeBron: Ranking the 10 Best Players in the NBA Conference Finals
With both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals underway, Bleacher Report ranks the 10 best players competing.
The ranking took into account a player’s total career body of work in combination with how good they currently are and how well they have been performing during the 2012 playoffs.
There will be some who agree, some who disagree, but for the most part this list holds the 10 best players currently still playing in May/June.
Just Missed the Cut: Manu Ginobili and Chris Bosh
I know, I know, how can Manu Ginobili not be on this list. Don’t get me wrong, Ginobili is still a stud. Dude played an integral role in three Spurs championships.
He at times, is the heart and soul of the San Antonio Spurs. But over the last couple of years, he has really slowed down and been plagued by injuries.
He averaged only 12.9 PPG this year, the lowest output since the '03-'04 season (his second in the league) and played in only half of the games, and yet, despite this, the Spurs STILL had the top record in the West. Despite an All-Star caliber performance in Game 1, he still only is averaging 12.9 for this postseason.
I almost put Chris Bosh on this list, but I couldn’t find it in me to add an injured guy, even though he did put up a respectable 18 and nine this season. But if the Heat hope to win it all, they will need a healthy Bosh back on the court.
10. Kevin Garnett
Garnett squeezed into my top 10 based on one thing: intangibles. Garnett is such a presence on the court and adds a level of toughness that most teams could only wish for.
I know his numbers have been on a steady decline since his first season in Boston, but the man’s been balling out this postseason, looking like the KG of old.
He’s been the Celtics most reliable scorer and defender this postseason, putting up 20 and 11, along with 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals.
A shoe in for the Hall of Fame, Garnett is showing that he still has a couple more years as an impact player in the League.
9. James Harden
I have to admit, I wasn’t high on Harden coming out of Arizona State or as the No. 3 overall pick. This season he showed me that he was worth the high pick.
The 2012 Sixth Man of the Year came up huge for the Thunder all season in the clutch, and more importantly in the first and second rounds of the 2012 playoffs.
Here’s a stat that might surprise you: He led the league in free-throw makes in the fourth quarter this season. That’s right; more than Kobe, more than D-Wade, more than LeBron and yup, more than Durant.
He’s gotten better each year he has been in the L, and his playoff averages off the bench of 18 and five, as well as 88 percent from the stripe have been key in the Thunders' playoff run. More often than not, when Harden plays well, the Thunder win.
As the third scoring option on the team, you can bet that on any other team his numbers would be inflated. Much to contrary belief, he may be more important to the Thunders' Finals hope than either Durant or Westbrook.
8. Tim Duncan
At 36, Mr. Fundamental still has it. I know his numbers over the last two years have been his worst, but this guy isn’t made for the regular season. Since he entered the league back in 1998, he and the Spurs have NEVER missed the postseason. NEVER!
That’s 14 straight years of playoffs for those of you who aren’t math majors. And by the way, his career postseason numbers are 23 and 12 on 50 percent shooting.
Not many guys can say they have been the centerpiece for their franchise for 14 seasons. In fact, I don’t think anyone can. He’s a four-time NBA Champion, three-time Finals MVP, two-time MVP and has been the leader of arguably the best NBA franchise over the last decade and a half.
Did I mention he just became second all-time in postseason blocks?—trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who he will surely pass in the Thunder series.
7. Paul Pierce
I used to not be able to stand watching Paul Pierce. I mean, how could this doughy looking guy with zero athletic ability score at will and put a guy or two on a poster from time to time. But over the years, I have learned to love and respect The Truth’s game.
First off, he is one of the best players in the league at getting to the line. You can argue that he’s a flopper, but the guy knows how to maneuver and use his body to his advantage. He is what you think of as having an “old-man game.”
Secondly, the guy is one of the most clutch in the game. He’s not afraid to take and miss the big shot, but more often than not, he makes it. He has been quiet the last few games of the playoffs, but he’s still averaging 19, seven and four for the postseason.
Garnett has been the best offensive player for the Celtics this postseason, but if the Celtics have any chance of beating the Heat, Pierce is going to have to find his scoring touch and put a couple of big games together.
6. Tony Parker
Tim Duncan has always been the Spurs centerpiece, but Tony Parker has officially taken the torch from Duncan as the Spurs' best player.
Parker had a career year, averaging 18 and eight on 48 percent shooting. In fact, many argue that Parker should have made First Team All-NBA this season over Chris Paul.
With Ginobili aging, it was often that Parker stepped up and took over late in games this season. He is arguably the best point guard at scoring and creating coming off screens in the entire NBA.
If the Spurs do win it all, like many are expecting, you can bet that Parker will be adding a second Finals MVP award to his resume, something that few NBA Legends can boast (Bryant, Duncan, O’Neal, Jordan, Olajuwan, Johnson, Bird and Abdul-Jabbar).
5. Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook is taking some serious heat for his poor decision making in Game 2, and rightfully so. Sometimes the Thunder’s offense really looks stagnant when Westbrook bounces around the perimeter.
But most of the time, it’s unstoppable, and largely in part to the UCLA product’s spectacular speed and athleticism.
It’s scary to think how good he can be, considering how much potential he has. He is one of the league’s best in transition and when he has his mid-range game going, he’s practically unstoppable.
He averaged nearly 24, six and five this past season and made Second Team All-NBA, all as a side-kick to Durant.
4. Rajon Rondo
44 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists, three steals, 67 percent shooting, 53 minutes. That was Rondo’s historic stat line in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. That’s right, Rondo played the entirety of Game 2, plus overtime.
I feel like Rondo goes under-appreciated sometimes. When the Boston “Big Three” first came together, Rondo was just in his third season.
No one remembers, but a lot of the talk was about whether or not Rondo could lead and gain the respect of the future Hall of Famers. He did that, and then some, orchestrating the Celtics to their first title in over 20 years.
Rondo has slowly become the Celtics' best player, all while averaging just 11 points per game for his career.
Despite his low scoring average, Rondo still has the ability to take over games, whether it's his ability to create for his teammates, securing a clutch rebound (he’s only listed at 6’1") or snagging a big-time steal.
He is tied for fourth all-time in playoff triple-doubles with nine, just one behind fellow Celtic, Larry Legend. It is blasphemy that he has only made one All-NBA team (2012).
While his biggest criticism has always been his unreliable jump shot, maybe his scoring outburst in Game 2 will lead to Rondo developing greater confidence in his shot.
3. Kevin Durant
Coming in at third on the list, is the three-time scoring champion, the Durantula. In his five seasons in the league, he has never averaged less than 20 per game.
Not too many guys can say that. In addition, he has shown good improvement both as a rebounder and as a defender each year.
His unique size and skill set make him a one-of-a-kind player in this league, and at just 23, you have to believe he is going to get better. A LOT better. It’s only a matter of time before Durant wins his first MVP.
If he can lead the Thunder and come back from an 0-2 hole against the Spurs, it would do wonders for his legacy. I almost put him at No. 2, but had to give it to the guy with a ring…
2. Dwyane Wade
Just when you think he might have lost a step or two, D-Wade comes right back with some big time performances in the postseason.
LeBron’s had a few big games of his own, but it has been D-Wade (per usual) who has been hitting clutch baskets when the Heat really need them.
Wade’s playoff averages of 26, six and five are of Hall of Fame status, and it his him, not LeBron who give the Heat a much needed dose of toughness.
At 30 years old, Wades numbers are slowly starting to decline, but no one can deny the fact that he is still one of the NBA’s most clutch players and arguably the best at taking contact and finishing at the rim.
1. LeBron James
LeBron James will undoubtedly go down as one of the NBA’s all-time greats. The question is, will he supplant Karl Malone as the best player never to win an NBA championship?
He’s the closest thing to Magic that we will ever see in terms of his all-around basketball ability (primarily size and court vision), but is a far better scorer than Magic ever was.
In his nine years in the league, he has missed just 33 games. That’s about four per season, which is nothing by NBA standards, and that’s not even considering all of his playoff runs.
For his career, he holds averages of 27, seven and seven on 48 percent shooting. In his ninth season at just 27 years old, he is already currently 47th all time in scoring. With at least a good six years left in his career, he will surely finish in the top 10, if not higher.
Up to this point, LeBron has seemingly crumbled under the bright lights of the NBA postseason, but if he can win a ring this season, he will immediately prove his critics wrong and undeniably hold the crown as the NBA’s best player.