NBA Playoffs 2013: Ranking the MVPs of the Postseason
The NBA playoffs are where players earn their stripes.
It's a time when superstars can cement their legacies and the league's up-and-coming young guns can prove that they're worthy of praise and attention.
From Nate Robinson's late-game heroics to LeBron James' usual greatness, valuable performances have come in all shapes and sizes in the first round of the postseason. But who commands the top 10 of these rankings, the usual suspects or the newer guys?
Note: All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.
Honorable Mention: Nate Robinson
Chalk this up as the strangest postseason development to date.
The diminutive Nate Robinson has found himself the center of attention in a surprisingly compelling first-round series between the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets.
In Games 4 and 5, Robinson led the Bulls in scoring, dropping 34 and 20 points, respectively.
Known for gunning with irrational confidence, Robinson's emergence has been a welcome one for the Bulls. They've been in desperate need of a guard capable of creating his own shot off the dribble.
He may not be Derrick Rose, but Robinson is acquitting himself nicely, averaging 17.8 points per game on 54.4 percent shooting. Those numbers trump his previous playoff career highs of 4.2 points and 37.5 percent shooting from 2010 with the Celtics.
Honorable Mention: Tim Duncan
The San Antonio Spurs' first-round sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers was as exciting as Tim Duncan's game is flashy.
However, that shouldn't diminish the impact Duncan had for the Spurs, as he showed Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard what it means to step up in the postseason.
In a series in which the Spurs' average margin of victory was nearly 19 points (18.75, to be exact), Duncan steadied the Spurs with 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
A more impressive feat, though, was that Duncan managed to play 32.3 minutes per game in the first round, the second-highest mark on the team.
Put simply, you couldn't ask for more out of a 37-year-old than what Duncan provided in Round 1.
Honorable Mention: Ty Lawson
In a series where Stephen Curry has lit up the Denver Nuggets repeatedly, Ty Lawson has been largely overlooked.
While the speedy point guard has taken a backseat to his backcourt counterpart, Lawson has played the role of facilitator and primary scorer brilliantly for the Nuggets.
Heading into Game 6, Lawson has averaged 22.2 points, 8.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
With an increase in usage (up to 25.3 percent from 22.3 percent during the regular season), Lawson has also seen his assist percentage hit a career-high mark of 37.8 percent.
Although many will claim the Nuggets don't possess a classic superstar, Lawson has dispelled that notion with his play in Round 1.
Honorable Mention: Marc Gasol
If you want to know how valuable Marc Gasol is to the Memphis Grizzlies, take a look at these on/off-court splits, courtesy of NBA.com.
In five games, Gasol has been on the court for 194 minutes. Over those 194 minutes, the Grizzlies have produced 108.3 points per 100 possessions, while allowing just 99.3 points per 100 possessions.
Conversely, when Gasol sits, the Grizzlies score just 103.1 points per 100 possessions and give up 122.
When Gasol is on the bench, the Grizzlies are a minus-18.8 in terms of net rating.
With Zach Randolph dominating in the post, Gasol has used his mid-range jumper and elite court vision to become a matchup nightmare for DeAndre Jordan.
10. James Harden
James Harden qualifies primarily because he was able to keep the Houston Rockets alive with a monster performance in Game 5.
Prior to breaking out for 31 points (10-of-16 from the field, 7-of-9 from three) in Game 5, Harden struggled, shooting 36.4 percent from the field and 16 percent from beyond the arc.
Although he sits behind only Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant among postseason scoring leaders, his lack of consistency and efficiency (much like Anthony) has been troubling.
Harden was renowned for his efficiency during the regular season (PER of 22.9), but through four games, he had posted an efficiency rating of just 17.3.
Despite all of that, Harden has the Rockets alive in a series many presumed would be a sweep.
The Rockets head back to Houston for Game 6 with loads of confidence and their star on a scoring tear. They couldn't ask for much else.
9. Brook Lopez
The formula for a Brooklyn Nets victory starts with Brook Lopez establishing himself as an offensive presence—early and often.
Through five games, Lopez has wreaked havoc on a hobbled Joakim Noah, averaging 23.6 points per game on 49.4 percent shooting.
Lopez has stood tall from a defensive standpoint as well, averaging 3.4 blocks per game, a mark that ranks first among all players in the postseason.
Ripping off two more wins to steal the series from the Chicago Bulls isn't impossible, but there's no doubting it's an improbable feat that can only be accomplished if Lopez sustains his elite production over the next two games.
8. Carmelo Anthony
If you're wondering why Carmelo Anthony finds himself ranked outside the top five, just look at his performances in Games 4 and 5.
In the New York Knicks' 97-90 overtime loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 4, Anthony led all scorers with 36 points. That sounds nice, but it actually might have been his worst performance of the postseason to date.
It took Anthony 35 shots to accrue those 36 points. He also doled out two assists and seven turnovers, which was nearly half of his team's output for the game.
Then, in Game 5, Anthony went ice cold, shooting 33.3 percent (8-of-24) from the field en route to a 22-point output.
For the series, Anthony is shooting 39.4 percent from the field. Scoring title or not, that's unacceptable in the postseason. Melo's volume-scoring ways are a joy to watch when he's hitting with regularity, but so far, the postseason has not been an exercise in efficiency.
7. Paul George
Paul George is a jack-of-all-trades. His triple-double in Game 1 proved just that.
He may not be the most fearsome offensive weapon, but his reliability on both ends of the floor has made him one of the league's most dominant two-way threats in just his third season.
Entering Game 5, George averaged 21.8 points, 10 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.3 steals and one block per game.
However, through four games, George shot just 39.3 percent from the field.
Then Game 5 happened. George turned in a quality performance that included 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting (and 10 rebounds) in a 106-83 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks.
If the Indiana Pacers hope to be the first team to win on the road in this series, George will need to turn in an equally efficient performance in Game 6.
6. Chris Paul
Through five games, Paul has averaged 21.8 points (on 50 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent shooting from three), six assists and two steals.
Against a defense as stingy as that of the Grizzlies, those are some mighty fine numbers.
Paul's been efficient as well, posting a PER of 27.6 while recording a career-best offensive rating (points produced per 100 possessions) of 127 to this point.
Paul's playoff career high of 35 points in Game 5 proved that he's capable of stepping up to the plate in big moments.
Ultimately, though, it will be up to his teammates to help crack the Grizzlies' defensive code and stave off elimination in Game 6.
5. Zach Randolph
After a slow start to the Memphis Grizzlies' opening-round series with the Los Angeles Clippers, Zach Randolph has been on an absolute tear.
Randolph scored just 26 points combined in Games 1 and 2, and it should come as no surprise that both of those games resulted in losses for the Grizzlies.
In the three games since (all wins), Randolph has posted point totals of 27, 24 and 25.
Not only has Randolph been a scoring machine for the Grizzlies down low, but he's been a relentless presence on the glass as well, as evidenced by his staggering offensive rebounding percentage of 13.6.
Averaging 20.4 points (55.3 percent shooting) and 8.6 rebounds per game, Randolph has made the paint a dreaded area for a Clipper team that's at a sizable disadvantage in the frontcourt.
4. Andre Iguodala
Andre Iguodala may not be known as a shooter, but his shot has fallen consistently throughout the Denver Nuggets' first-round series with the Golden State Warriors.
Not only has Iguodala averaged 16.8 points per game (3.8 points better than his regular-season average), but he's also shot 53.4 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from three.
For a guy who's a career 46 percent shooter from the field and 32.9 percent shooter from beyond the arc, Iguodala's postseason production comes as a major surprise. While the Warriors' zone defense may aid Iguodala's cause, there's no denying he's elevated his game in the postseason.
Scoring isn't the end of the story for the versatile wing.
In addition to averaging 16.8 points through five games, Iguodala has posted 7.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game.
Aside from LeBron James, there's no player who's had as profound an impact on both ends of the floor as Iguodala.
3. Kevin Durant
With Russell Westbrook out for the remainder of the playoffs, the burden of carrying the Oklahoma City Thunder offense lies squarely on the shoulders of Kevin Durant.
Since losing Westbrook, Durant has come up large on the offensive end, scoring 41 and 38 points in Games 3 and 4, respectively.
Entering Game 5, Durant averaged 33 points per game on 48.8 percent shooting. Considering the volume of shots Durant has been forced to hoist in Westbrook's absence, the efficiency he's flashed has been rather encouraging.
While two consecutive losses have the Thunder reeling, Durant has remained steady. In scoring 36 points on 47.8 percent shooting in Game 5, Durant proved that he's not the problem.
Without Westbrook, the real issue will be finding sources of consistent offensive production outside of Durant in the games to come.
2. Stephen Curry
Despite a subpar 7-of-19 outing in Game 5, Stephen Curry's play has propelled the Golden State Warriors to the brink of a first-round upset.
Through five games, Curry's not just scoring 24.8 points per game on 47.4 percent shooting (42.2 percent from three), but he leads all players in assists with 9.6 per game.
The icing on the cake is that Curry has yet to miss a free throw in 15 attempts to the line.
If Curry can bounce back in Game 6 with a performance reminiscent of Game 4 (31 points, 10-of-16 from the field, 6-of-11 from three), his rise into the realm of superstardom will be complete.
With David Lee sidelined, Curry's breakout series couldn't have come at a better time.
1. LeBron James
Thus far, the NBA playoffs have been LeBron James' personal playground.
James toyed with the Milwaukee Bucks to the tune of 24.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game.
He also shot 62.7 percent from the field over the course of the Miami Heat's four-game sweep of the Eastern Conference's eighth seed.
Perhaps more impressive is that James is currently on pace to post the best postseason defensive rating of his career.
Over the course of the first round, James allowed 95 points per 100 possessions. If he can sustain that sort of ridiculous defensive efficiency over the course of the playoffs, the mark would top his previous career best of 99 points allowed per 100 possessions.
Despite posting seemingly routine stats night after night, there's no doubt that James' performances thus far have paved the way for an historic individual playoff run.
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