NBA Playoffs 2013: Ranking the 10 Best Performances

Joshua Axelrod@jaxel222Correspondent IMay 1, 2013

NBA Playoffs 2013: Ranking the 10 Best Performances

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    The stars of the 2013 NBA playoffs have started to separate themselves from the pack in a big way.

    The superstars—the LeBron Jameses and Kevin Durants of the world—are having the postseasons that are expected of players of their caliber. No surprises there.

    But a few of the league’s quasi-stars have been making cases to cement their elite statuses. Not all of their teams are doing so hot, but it is certainly not for lack of effort on their part.

    All of the playoffs' top performers have been lifting their teams through their individual play and leadership. None of these guys have been ejected from a game this postseason (looking at you, Dwight Howard).

    Some players having noteworthy postseasons just barely missed the cut here. So sorry to guys like Chris Paul and Carlos Boozer. You guys are playing lights out, but these guys are balling out of their minds.

10.) Paul Pierce

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    The series between the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks has mostly been the Carmelo Anthony show so far. His prolific scoring has overshadowed a quiet, yet surprisingly solid postseason performance from Pierce.

    The Celtics may be in a 3-1 hole, but Pierce is doing everything in his power to keep his team alive. The 35-year-old is picking up the slack for the injured Rajon Rondo.

    Through four games, Pierce is averaging 21.3 points per game, 6.0 assists and 5.8 rebounds. Not bad for a guy who some people assumed was getting too old to be a big factor in the playoffs.

    Boston probably will not last past Game 5. If they want to have a chance to beat the Knicks, they are going to need a healthy dose of the truth.

9.) Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol

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    This is probably cheating, but these guys need to be treated as one player. They are the reason the Memphis Grizzlies are currently up 3-2 in their series against the Los Angeles Clippers.

    The Grizzlies have one of the few backcourts in the league that can deal with the one-two punch of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. In fact, Randolph and Gasol have been bullying Griffin and Jordan on the block all series long.

    Randolph is averaging 20.4 points per game and 8.6 rebounds. He is the imposing interior presence that keeps Griffin at bay. His sweet mid-range jumper has been effective so far as well.

    Gasol is proving he is officially the best Gasol in the NBA. His 18.8 points per game, 7.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists are reminiscent of his brother’s heyday.

    If the Grizzlies upset thee Clippers, it will be because of Memphis’ dynamic duo.

8.) Deron Williams

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    Now this is more like it from Deron Williams. NBA fans have been waiting for him to return to form ever since he got to Brooklyn. Wish granted.

    Williams is putting up the numbers of an elite point guard again, with an average of 20.6 points per game and 8.2 assists in five games.

    It is too bad his team is one of the most inconsistent units in the league. They are currently a game away from being eliminated by the Chicago Bulls despite the efforts of Williams and fellow Brooklyn stars Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez.

    Williams has been trying to reinsert himself into the best point guards in the NBA conversation ever since his short fall from grace. If he wants to be taken seriously, he needs to lift his team past the Bulls with his play and leadership.

7.) Paul George

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    It has been a while since the Indiana Pacers had a legitimate star. Danny Granger tried to fill that roll, but he was never successful in making the Pacers a true playoff threat. Paul George is changing that perception with his playoff performance.

    He is averaging a double-double through four games with 21.8 points per game and 10.0 rebounds. George has emerged as a versatile scorer who can carry his team’s offensive load.

    Exhibit A: Game 1 against the Atlanta Hawks, where George recorded a triple-double with 23 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds. When George is on, the Pacers become one of the toughest teams in the NBA.

    The Pacers are in a little bit of a funk right now offensively, though George is still putting up big numbers. He needs to continue making his teammates better through his impressive play to secure this series for the Pacers.

6.) Tony Parker

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    Tony Parker is the heart and soul of the San Antonio Spurs. The offense runs through him and his ability to get wherever he wants on the court at will.

    He led the sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round with his 22.3 points per game and 6.5 assists. Parker basically spent the entire series dribbling circles around hapless Lakers guards.

    The nice thing about Parker is he can be whatever the Spurs need him to be. If Manu Ginobili or Tim Duncan is hot, he can be a facilitator. If he needs to pick up the offensive burden, he is more than capable of doing just that.

    With Russell Westbrook sidelined for the rest of the playoffs, the Western Conference is the Spurs’ to lose. Parker has enough playoff experience and general basketball smarts to make sure the Spurs make it out of the West this year. 

5.) Stephen Curry

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    This is the story of the playoffs right now. Everyone knew Curry was one of the best shooters in basketball, but no one realized he had developed into such a well-rounded point guard.

    He is shooting lights out from beyond the arc, with a three-point shooting percentage of .474. The Denver Nuggets seem to be powerless to stop him from scoring at will.

    Curry is obviously scoring well, averaging 24.8 points per game. What is surprising is how much he has been getting his teammates involved with his 9.6 assists per game. It seems like Curry is trying to prove that he can be an elite passer too.

    The Warriors have lived and died by Curry's play. In their three wins against the Nuggets, Curry had 30, 29 and 31 points. He did not break 20 points in the Warriors' two losses.

    Even during off games like the Warriors’ 100-107 loss last night, Curry still managed to rack up eight assists while he was shooting poorly.

    If the Warriors beat the Nuggets, they will be a real threat to the Thunder and Spurs in the west. They can thank Curry for putting the team on his back.

4.) James Harden

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    No one expects the Houston Rockets to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder. The fact they are still alive is purely due to James Harden’s elite level of play.

    Anyone who thought that Harden would not succeed without Durant or Westbrook at his side looks pretty silly right now.

    The beard can slash and shoot with the best of them. Through four games, Harden is averaging 25.3 points per game, 6.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

    Going up against his old team would be sweeter if the Rockets had anything resembling a chance of beating them. At least Harden gets to put on a show for the Thunder to remind them what they could have had.

3.) Carmelo Anthony

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    If Anthony was scoring with anything resembling efficiency or was averaging more than 1.0 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game, he might be higher on this list.

    As it stands, he is averaging 33.0 points per games by shooting .407 from the field and .348 from behind the arc. Those numbers are pretty ridiculous, but not out of the ordinary for one of the best pure scorers in basketball.

    Anthony is obviously the engine that keeps the Knicks’ offense purring at a steady clip. It is just too bad that all he does is score while taking a billion shots.

    Still, if the Knicks want to take down the Miami Heat in the east, they will need Anthony to keep scoring at this level. It will be fascinating to see if anyone can slow his roll.

2.) LeBron James

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    Take James’s placement on this ranking with a grain of salt. His numbers are not as incredible as Durant’s right now, but James is still the best player in basketball.

    The difference is Durant has to be both himself and Westbrook on the floor right now. Sure, Dwyane Wade’s knee kept him out of Game 4 against the Milwaukee Bucks. But they still won the game and swept the series behind a casual 30-point James effort.

    James’ numbers do not do his overall play justice. His 24.5 points per game, 7.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists would be amazing if it was anyone but him.

    The King of South Beach has not had to put up a huge stat line thus far in the postseason because of how well his teammates have been playing and, frankly, the lack of challenge the Bucks provided.

    The thing that makes James special is that he never forces anything, as evidenced by his .627 shooting percentage from the field in the playoffs. Anthony wishes he could score at his current rate while still maintaining a James level of efficiency.

    The Heat will probably will not have a particularly difficult road to the NBA Finals. They can thank their perennial MVP for making it look so easy.

1.) Kevin Durant

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    Durant is playing for two right now. That is why his playoff performance thus far has been the most consistently draw-dropping.

    Durant is scoring like Anthony but rounding out his game like James. His statistics say it all: 33.0 points per game, 8.0 rebounds and 5.8 assists.

    That includes a 41 and a 38-point effort against the Houston Rockets after Westbrook’s knee surgery. Basically, it just does not get better than Durant right now in the 2013 playoffs.

    The Thunder are going to run into problems down the line against the rest of the west’s good teams, none of who are suffering from any significant injuries at the moment.

    Luckily, they have their not-so-secret-weapon in Durant to carry the team as far as he can. His body might give out if he keeps trying to play like two stars, but no one can question his effort or will to win.