Updated NBA Playoff Superstar Rankings: How High Can Stephen Curry Rise?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistMay 2, 2013

Updated NBA Playoff Superstar Rankings: How High Can Stephen Curry Rise?

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    The NBA postseason is a time for breakout players to prove themselves against elite competition, and the NBA Playoff Superstar Rankings are going to reflect that. When guys like Stephen Curry capture the attention of the basketball world, they're given the respect they've earned.

    Curry's incredible shooting, passionate play and overall offensive brilliance has allowed him to jump up in the rankings, but is he the only guy rising up since last week's edition? Is anyone starting to plummet?

    Better yet, who will be the next player to assert himself as a dominant force in this league? 

    The NBA is where amazing happens, and the playoffs are where the even more amazing stuff starts to happen. 

    I can't wait to see what's next. 

     

    Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com and are current through Tuesday, April 30. Games from May 1 are discussed, but the stats are not included in the per-game averages. 

Injured and Non-Qualified Players

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    As a quick housekeeping note, injured players are not considered for the superstar power rankings. If a player is out for a prolonged period, he's automatically ineligible for the next 20 slides.

    Additionally, only players still taking part in the postseason action are eligible for this edition. As a result, the following players, all of whom were ranked in the last edition, were automatically knocked out: Pau Gasol (No. 16) and Dwight Howard (No. 10).

20. Paul Pierce (Previous Ranking: Unranked)

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: SF

    Age: 35

    Regular-Season Stats: 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 19.1 PER

    Postseason Stats: 21.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 13.8 PER

     

    Although Paul Pierce has struggled tremendously with his shot at times against the New York Knicks, he's been able to score early and often while remaining the central figure in the Boston Celtics offense. 

    Pierce's incredibly involved role on offense partly explains the gaudy turnover numbers The Truth has accumulated in the first round. He's been counted on to score and facilitate throughout the game because Avery Bradley isn't exactly an offensive threat. 

    The 35-year-old needs to up his performance if the Celtics are going to complete a monumental comeback against the Knicks, but he's already playing at a pretty high level. 

19. Jeff Green (Previous Ranking: Unranked)

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: SF/PF

    Age: 26

    Regular-Season Stats: 12.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks, 15.0 PER

    Postseason Stats: 20.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.0 blocks, 14.4 PER 

     

    The Boston Celtics might be a little worried about the present, given their deficit in the first-round series with the New York Knicks, but Jeff Green should be reassuring fans that there's hope for the future. 

    The 26-year-old forward has been entrusted with a lot of minutes and a large role in Doc Rivers' rotation, and he's responded admirably. Green's versatility enables him to contribute in many different ways on a nightly basis, and he's not so worried about scoring points that he neglects playing defense. 

    When he rises up for a thunderous slam, you just know it's about to spark the C's. 

18. Josh Smith (Previous Ranking: Unranked)

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Position: PF

    Age: 27

    Regular-Season Stats: 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks, 17.7 PER

    Postseason Stats: 18.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, 21.4 PER

     

    I would say that Josh Smith's game is boosted by the home crowd in Philips Arena, but that would be assuming there was actually enough of a crowd during Atlanta Hawks home games for that to be possible. Instead, let's just say that when he plays in Atlanta, Smith drives to the basket and is incredibly effective. 

    However, when he ventures out of those friendly confines, he morphs into a jump shooter. It's not a positive transformation. 

    For the most part, Smith has been a positive contributor for the Hawks. At the very least, his good has strongly outweighed his bad thus far. 

17. Deron Williams (Previous Ranking: No. 15)

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Position: PG

    Age: 28

    Regular-Season Stats: 18.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks, 20.3 PER

    Postseason Stats: 20.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.8 blocks, 20.1 PER

     

    Deron Williams has struggled with both turnovers and his shot, but he's still been quite the offensive playmaker for the Brooklyn Nets. Because of his potency from three-point land and knack for getting to the charity stripe, D-Will's 20.6 points per game didn't come with too many expenses. 

    With Kirk Hinrich out of the lineup, the big point guard has been able to take advantage of a much smaller Nate Robinson. It's a matchup that he should continue to exploit when the opportunity presents itself. 

    Williams must show a bit more caution with the ball, though, if the Nets are going to hold off the relentless Chicago Bulls. 

16. Ty Lawson (Previous Ranking: Unranked)

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: PG

    Age: 25

    Regular-Season Stats: 16.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 17.9 PER

    Postseason Stats: 22.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 8.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.0 blocks, 21.7 PER

     

    Ty Lawson's offensive play has kept the Denver Nuggets alive thus far, and they'll need the lightning-quick point guard to continue puncturing the Golden State Warriors' perimeter defense in order to keep dreams of the second round alive. 

    The big difference between regular-season Lawson and postseason Lawson has been the level of aggressiveness. Against the Dubs, Lawson has been constantly probing and using his quick bursts of speed to attack the basket.

    He's getting to the free-throw line with greater frequency and using kick-outs to great success. 

15. Zach Randolph (Previous Ranking: Unranked)

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: PF

    Age: 31

    Regular-Season Stats: 15.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, 17.9 PER

    Postseason Stats: 20.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks, 23.2 PER

     

    The Los Angeles Clippers are in trouble if they can't figure out a way to at least slow down Zach Randolph. Completely stopping Z-Bo seems to be a fruitless endeavor, but they must at least contain him. 

    Randolph has re-emerged as a physical presence in the paint, pulling down boards while throwing up the ball with reckless abandon. When he's received the rock with room to work around the basket, he's had an inordinate amount of success. 

    It'd been a while since we saw this version of Z-Bo. After a dominant start, he'd slipped rather dramatically during the middle portion of the 2012-13 campaign. Now it's like we're back in the beginning of the year all over again.

14. Andre Iguodala (Previous Ranking: No. 18)

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: SG/SF

    Age: 29

    Regular-Season Stats: 13.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, 15.2 PER

    Postseason Stats: 16.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.4 blocks, 19.0 PER

     

    When Andre Iguodala's offense is on, the other team better watch out. During four of the first five games in the Denver Nuggets' first-round series with the Golden State Warriors, Iggy has connected on at least half of his attempts from the field. 

    Considering he's averaging 16.8 points per game, that's not just the result of an awfully low number of shots. Iggy is actually picking and choosing his spots while actively creating them. 

    The seven turnovers in Game 4 prevent him from jumping up too high in the rankings, but it's becoming increasingly clear that you don't want to mess with Iguodala in the postseason. 

13. Tim Duncan (Previous Ranking: No. 12)

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: C

    Age: 37

    Regular-Season Stats: 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.7 blocks, 24.4 PER

    Postseason Stats: 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.0 blocks, 21.8 PER

     

    Last week I pointed out that Tim Duncan wasn't finding too much success shooting the ball against the Pau Gasol-Dwight Howard frontcourt. Well, the Big Fundamental quickly made me eat my words. 

    While I sat with my foot in my mouth, marveling at the superior play of the 37-year-old big man, Duncan quickly knocked down 12 of 16 shots from the field in Game 3. He was a major part of that blowout, just as he was a primary leader of each win in the sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers. 

    Alright, Duncan. 

    I challenge you to play point guard now. There has to be something you can't do. 

12. Marc Gasol (Previous Ranking: No. 14)

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: C

    Age: 28

    Regular-Season Stats: 14.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.7 blocks, 19.5 PER

    Postseason Stats: 18.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.2 steals, 1.8 blocks, 21.7 PER

     

    Marc Gasol has truly stepped up and played a bigger role in the Memphis Grizzlies offense, yet he's done so without sacrificing his trademark efficiency. 

    The big man's field-goal percentage might not stand out, but take a look at his turnover numbers. Throughout the series with the Los Angeles Clippers, Gasol has yet to turn the ball over more than twice in a single game, and he's averaging just 0.8 cough-ups per game in the postseason. 

    Things get even more impressive when you look at his usage rate and turnover percentage. While the former has risen 2.6 percent, the latter has decreased nine percent to a stellar 4.5.

11. Mike Conley (Previous Ranking: No. 11)

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: PG

    Age: 25

    Regular-Season Stats: 14.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.3 blocks, 18.3 PER

    Postseason Stats: 16.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.6 blocks, 20.9 PER

     

    Making it back-to-back players for the Memphis Grizzlies, Mike Conley checks in just outside the top 10. And amazingly enough, he's done so with his offense rather than his defense. 

    All things considered, the lefty floor general has actually struggled on the less glamorous end of the court. Then again, he's playing against Chris Paul for the majority of the game, so that's slightly excusable. 

    On offense, Conley has been a true star.

    Even without hitting on the majority of his shots, Conley has navigated pick-and-roll sets masterfully, dishing out dimes with a relative dearth of turnovers. Averaging 8.6 assists and 1.8 turnovers per game against CP3 is something to be proud of. 

10. Dwyane Wade (Previous Ranking: No. 6)

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SG

    Age: 31

    Regular-Season Stats: 21.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, 24.0 PER

    Postseason Stats: 13.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 3.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 19.2 PER

     

    Dwyane Wade is slipping in the rankings for two reasons. 

    First, it's tough to overcome the loss of a game when you're dealing with such a small sample size. Wade's absence in the series-closing Game 4 against the Milwaukee Bucks has to work against him a little bit. 

    Additionally, the dynamic 2-guard couldn't find his shot in Game 3. He finished 1-of-12 from the field, scoring only four points. Wade made sure that his game was serviceable by recording nine rebounds, 11 assists, two blocks and five steals, but that wasn't quite enough to overcome the shooting problems and six turnovers.

9. James Harden (Previous Ranking: No. 9)

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    Team: Houston Rockets

    Position: SG

    Age: 23

    Regular-Season Stats: 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 22.9 PER

    Postseason Stats: 25.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.8 blocks, 17.3 PER

     

    James Harden has scored a lot in the first-round battle between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, but it's hard to say that he's actually played intelligent basketball whenever he's been on the court. 

    For the most part, he has. However, the number of times that the bearded shooting guard has spurned pick-and-roll sets for isolation play is far too high. He's settled instead for taking the basketball to the rack any chance he gets.

    So far, his style has worked, although his field-goal percentage is below the seasonal mark. But it's hard to see the Rockets coming all the way back from their 3-0 series deficit without Harden cutting the hero-ball out of his game plan. 

8. Brook Lopez (Previous Ranking: No. 13)

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Position: C

    Age: 25

    Regular-Season Stats: 19.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 2.1 blocks, 24.7 PER

    Postseason Stats: 23.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals, 3.4 blocks, 27.2 PER

     

    When your turnaround fadeaway three-pointer to beat the shot clock drops, you know you're having a good day. When it's the first triple of your career, things just can't get better. 

    It's just been one of those series for Brook Lopez, who has yet to score less than 21 points in a postseason game. Seeing as this is the first playoff run in his young career, I think it's safe to say that the big stage isn't bothering him in the slightest. 

    An injured Joakim Noah hasn't been enough to slow down this seven-footer, and he's taken full advantage thus far. 

7. Paul George (Previous Ranking: No. 8)

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Position: SG/SF

    Age: 22

    Regular-Season Stats: 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.6 blocks, 16.8 PER

    Postseason Stats: 21.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.0 blocks, 22.0 PER

     

    When matched up against Josh Smith, Paul George has struggled to find his offense. He's had to settle for more of a facilitating role. While he's done that well, he hasn't been quite as successful. 

    Against the Atlanta Hawks' overmatched wing players, though, George has thrived and looked like a future league MVP. A constant triple-double threat, George's versatility and creativity make him incredibly dangerous in both transition and half-court sets. 

    Throughout the first-round series, George has established himself as the go-to option for the Indiana Pacers, and his defense hasn't suffered. That alone is impressive enough. 

6. Chris Paul (Previous Ranking: No. 4)

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: PG

    Age: 27

    Regular-Season Stats: 16.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 26.4 PER

    Postseason Stats: 21.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 27.4 PER

     

    At this point in the rankings, there's little margin for error. Any of the next five players could reasonably be switched around. 

    Chris Paul comes in at the bottom of this elite tier, though, because he's had quite a bit of difficulty slowing down Mike Conley. The lefty point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies has left CP3 in the dust surprisingly often, confusing him as to whether he'll roll around a screen or reject it altogether. 

    Paul's offense is still incredible, and there should be little doubt that he's the best point guard in the league. But in these power rankings, not even his one-man effort to keep the Los Angeles Clippers alive in Game 5 is enough to give him the boost over the next few guys.

5. Tony Parker (Previous Ranking: No. 7)

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: PG

    Age: 30

    Regular-Season Stats: 20.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 23.0 PER

    Postseason Stats: 22.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks, 28.7 PER

     

    As the first-round "series" with the Los Angeles Lakers progressed, Tony Parker slowly improved. 

    He shot only 38.1 percent from the field in Game 1, but that number rose to 45 in the subsequent one. A game later, in the 120-89 blowout, Parker drilled nine of his 14 looks from the field, good for 64.3 percent. 

    Then, to clinch the series, he went 9-of-16. Although his percentage declined from Game 3 to Game 4, Parker's turnovers also dropped from five to zero. 

    It's hard to place too much emphasis on the four-game stretch, though, because Parker consistently took advantage of a Lakers backcourt that could only be described as terrible. Soon enough we'll get to see what he can do against top-level competition. 

4. Carmelo Anthony (Previous Ranking: No. 3)

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Position: SF/PF

    Age: 28

    Regular-Season Stats: 28.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 24.8 PER

    Postseason Stats: 33.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.0 blocks, 21.5 PER

     

    Last week, I wrote the following about Carmelo Anthony

    Carmelo Anthony may have recorded only two total assists during the New York Knicks' first two playoff victories, but that hasn't exactly hindered the winning efforts. It would be different if Melo were shooting the ball inefficiently. 

    Through two games, though, the newest scoring champion has dropped a combined 70 points on 53 shots. He might misfire from the field occasionally, but his work from downtown and the charity stripe more than makes up for the bricks.

    If the Knicks were losing games, complaints about Melo's passing—or lack thereof—might be valid. The same would be true if he weren't scoring efficiently. 

    Well, it's different now, and the complaints are valid. 

    In the New York Knicks' last two games, both of which resulted in losses to the Boston Celtics, Melo has scored a combined 58 points on 59 shots from the field. He's been able to get to the charity stripe quite a bit, but he's going into chuck-it-up-no-matter-what mode too often. 

    And with only four assists during the two games, it's not like he's passing a lot either. 

    Melo is obviously still an ultra-elite basketball player, but being ultra-elite isn't enough to remain in the top three. 

3. Stephen Curry (Previous Ranking: No. 5)

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Position: PG/SG

    Age: 25

    Regular-Season Stats: 22.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 21.3 PER

    Postseason Stats: 24.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 9.6 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.2 blocks, 25.5 PER

     

    If Stephen Curry had exploded in Game 5, carrying the Golden State Warriors to a series victory while a mile above sea level, I would have been forced to strongly consider displacing the two men who have held down the top spots for so long. 

    Alas, Curry went 7-of-19 in the loss, finishing with 15 points, four rebounds, eight assists and a block. It was a solid game, but nowhere near the otherworldly level we've been witnessing him reach every time he takes the court. 

    Here's a Curry stat that might surprise you, given all the focus we've placed on his shooting prowess. Thus far, the Dubs point guard is actually leading all postseason players in assists per game. 

    I'm not sure it's possible to overstate just how stellar this 25-year-old has been on offense. You're welcome to try. 

2. Kevin Durant (Previous Ranking: No. 2)

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: SF

    Age: 24

    Regular-Season Stats: 28.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks, 28.3 PER

    Postseason Stats: 33.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks, 29.0 PER

     

    For as long as the Oklahoma City Thunder stay alive in the brutal Western Conference, it will be interesting to see how Kevin Durant progresses without Russell Westbrook in the lineup. 

    At first, Durant decided that he needed to take all the shots. He went 13-of-30 from the field in a Game 3 victory, dropping 41 points to go along with his 14 rebounds and four assists.

    But since then, Durant has become more of a point-forward than ever. He's looked to actively facilitate, although he's still shown no hesitation to attack the basket whenever possible. 

    Durant is now the unquestioned No. 1 option in OKC, and he'll have to truly carry the load without Westbrook.

1. LeBron James (Previous Ranking: No. 1)

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SF/PF

    Age: 28

    Regular-Season Stats: 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.9 blocks, 31.6 PER

    Postseason Stats: 24.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 27.4 PER

     

    Let me make this perfectly clear: LeBron James is not just in this spot by default. 

    Throughout the sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks, James continued to perform at an MVP level. He played remarkable defense, showing off his cerebral skills every night by recognizing matchups and playing extra help defense when those opportunities presented themselves. 

    He also dominated offensively when he needed to, although his per-game averages aren't as impressive as normal because he didn't need to be on the court as often. 

    LeBron currently leads the postseason in field-goal percentage, dropping in his shots at a sparkling 62.7 percent clip. He also paces everyone in both effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage. 

    Turnovers have been a problem for the 28-year-old, but that's the only possible knock on his game through the first round.