Ranking the Top Performers from the 2013-14 NBA Postseason
Watching the best of the NBA's best is exhilarating.
Watching the best of the best at their best is even more of a thrill.
So, basically, the NBA playoffs are a godsend.
Most of the time, the postseason brings out the best in teams and their players. Not all the time—looking at you, James Harden—but most of the time.
Teams and players revel at this opportunity, the bright lights and the national stage. They abuse rims, bury jumpers and play defense. They play hard, grind out victories and chase championships.
Amid this throng of contenders and individual talent are a handful players who are outperforming their peers. It's our job to find them.
But in the interest of shaking things up, we're going to set parameters. Think of this as a quest for an All-NBA playoff team consisting of only 10 players. We'll take the best performers from each position—one center, five forwards and four guards—pit them against one another and rank them accordingly.
Our search and subsequent rankings will be based on both statistical and subjective analysis. Players will be judged by their numerical contributions and general impact. And remember, the regular season is over. It doesn't count. The NBA's top performer back then isn't necessarily the bellwether for dominance now.
Yet another attempt to make sense of this wonderfully wacky postseason begins now.
Impressive postseason performances come in volume, which precludes us from mentioning everyone of note. But here's a list of players who just missed our cut despite balling pretty hard these days.
20. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry hasn't been sensational, but while playing on a sore knee, he's been solid, most notably for finding ways to contribute even when his shot isn't falling.
19. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks: Paul Millsap just won't stop reminding us that he's on one of the NBA's most reasonable contracts.
18. John Wall, Washington Wizards: Credit John Wall for keeping the Chicago Bulls defense honest, even though he's been unable to shoot the ball at a high clip.
17. Trevor Ariza, Washington Wizards: Trevor Ariza should scare you for all the right reasons—unless you're the Bulls.
16. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul's postseason performance has been iffy by his own standards, but he's still putting up numbers. His three steals per game really stand out.
15. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: Part of me almost didn't put Stephen Curry here, yet he's done a good job of getting hot late in games while making plays for his teammates. The way the Los Angeles Clippers have run him off the three-point line—until Game 4—it's a wonder he's pouring in more than 20 points per night.
14. Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks: If the Pacers lose to the Atlanta Hawks, they'll look back wondering what they could have done differently when defending Jeff Teague. (Answer: almost everything.)
13. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs: Breaking: Tim Duncan still has it. All of it. He's averaging 18.5 points on 54.5 percent shooting. So, yeah, he still has it.
12. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs: Good ol' Manu Ginobili has been the San Antonio Spurs' best player against the Dallas Mavericks. This is not a drill.
11. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls: There's plenty to be said about the Bulls offense when Taj Gibson is averaging more than 19 points on 60-plus percent shooting and the team still can't score consistently. None of it's good.
10. Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
2014 Playoff Stats: 17.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 2.3 steals, 41.9 percent shooting, 19.8 player efficiency rating
One of these days, Mike Conley will stop flying under the radar.
The Memphis Grizzlies point man has been incredible through and through, which is especially impressive considering the laundry list of responsibilities he's overseeing at any given time.
To this point, he has spent ample time defending the explosive Russell Westbrook. His hounding defense is a big reason why Westbrook's shooting percentages are lower than usual. On the other end, Conley has also incurred the wrath of both Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha, who are particularly adept at stopping dribble penetration.
Conley has been mostly unaffected by their presence. He's not shooting particularly well, but he's getting into the paint and opening things up for his teammates.
More importantly, he's adequately balancing a rather lame Grizzlies offense. He's done a good job of ensuring they don't run high-low action between Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to the point of predictability, and he's been controlling the pace with ease, forcing the Oklahoma City Thunder to play Memphis' brand of basketball.
If he's able to maintain his current levels of production and pace-governing handles, we may have a series upset on our hands.
9. Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies
2014 Playoff Stats: 12.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.0 steals, 51.1 percent shooting, 18.7 PER
Although Tony Allen's impact doesn't always show up in the box score, the playoffs are proving to be the exception.
His range is still limited, but he's made the most of Oklahoma City's lackadaisical coverage. He's sliced through the Thunder defense with ease, attacked the rim aggressively and turned backdoor cuts into a frequent art form.
Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said this following Game 3, per NBA.com's Steve Aschburner:
People are going to see the highlight of Russell Westbrook hitting a three and getting fouled. But the guy [Allen] did 99 percent of everything on the floor and it was spectacular. That’s the guy that we all love with his passion, how hard he plays, and his IQ is off the charts. He was aggressive. He was decisive. He took some shots. He was open...those shots are going to fall for him.
And the rebounding. Oh, the rebounding. Look underneath the basket after any missed jumper, and you're liable to see Allen battling for position with Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Westbrook, Durant and whomever else on the Thunder is looking to snare their share of rebounds.
On more than one occasion, Allen has been seen outjumping anyone and everyone, corralling rebounds with the frequency of a center or power forward—not an undersized shooting guard.
But yeah, his defense. That's been great too. He's made a few questionable decisions—late-game gaffes on Westbrook, for instance—but no one on the floor is defending with more enthusiasm and unbridled commitment than Allen.
Very few of Durant's points are coming easy. Allen—who is a good five or six inches shorter than KD—has been fighting over screens and denying him position in inexplicable fashion.
There is no convoluted method to his madness. It's all about effort with Allen. And his effort, much like his overall performance, has been transcendent.
8. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
2014 Playoff Stats: 20.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 43.5 percent shooting, 50 percent three-point shooting, 20.5 PER
It took all of one game for Bradley Beal to turn his postseason jitters into absolute dominance.
After a rocky Game 1, he has routinely torched the typically impregnable Bulls defense. Not even Jimmy Butler has been able to stop him.
When Beal is not catching fire from downtown, he's hitting big shots down the stretch. Or finding open teammates. Or playing off Wall in such a way that it makes you believe the Washington Wizards will have the NBA's best backcourt next season.
Beal's performance on the defensive end has been littered with miscues and blown assignments. Mike Dunleavy turned him into jump-shooting-poster fodder late in Game 3. But there was Beal in Game 4, making adjustments, smothering Dunleavy and Butler and putting forth his best defensive effort of the postseason.
"I took it pretty personal the way [Dunleavy] had  points on us last game, and I guarded him the majority of the game," he said, per The Washington Post's Michael Lee. "I definitely took that matchup personally."
The entire postseason has become a personal vendetta for Beal and the Wizards. They've been consistently underestimated, and their "inexperience" has been grossly exaggerated.
Public perception has gradually shifted now. The Wizards are winning games with Beal as their offensive linchpin. He's here, he's fighting, he's scoring...and he's for real.
7. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
2014 Playoff Stats: 28.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.3 blocks, 39.6 percent shooting, 20.9 PER
We're giving Durant some leeway here because (1) he's Kevin Durant and (2) his postseason performance has still been pretty darn good.
Despite shooting at an unsightly clip by his own standards—take a bow, Mr. Tony Allen—Durant is still posting provocative point totals. He's finding ways to reach the foul line, and when his shot isn't falling, he's deferring like he always does.
Perhaps too much.
He is averaging fewer field-goal attempts per 36 minutes (19.4) during the playoffs than he did during the regular season (19.5). The Grizzlies have done a great job of keeping the ball out of his hands at different times, but when he doesn't have the rock, he needs to be more assertive when jostling for position.
In lieu of heavenly efficiency, Durant has done everything else. From blocking shots to forcing turnovers to rebounding, he's been valuable and productive in every aspect of the game.
More was expected of him on offense following his ridiculous regular-season campaign, but there's only so much he can do against Memphis' defense within an uninventive offense devoid of a consistent third scorer. And again, he's Kevin Durant. One has to imagine he'll get going eventually.
"I tell them all the time ‘If you only think you can impact the game scoring we’re not going to be successful," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after Game 4, via The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry. "You impact the game many, many different ways."
Durant has done just this, thriving enough in other areas and pinning his postseason exploits among the NBA's best.
6. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
2014 Playoff Stats: 27.0 points, 14.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 3.0 blocks, 53.4 percent shooting, 27.4 PER
Dwight Howard was always going to make an appearance. In need of one center, there isn't another big man who has performed as well as him.
But his strong stat lines haven't been enough to mask the Houston Rockets' problems. As Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding explains, they lack cohesion on both ends of the floor:
It goes so much deeper than that. Team building is a complicated process of heavy construction—and delays are common when things don't work right. Howard is having a strong series, but if he didn't lay the proper bricks during the season for his teammates to follow now, he has to take some blame.
Trailing the Portland Trail Blazers 3-1, the Rockets offense has been too easy to read. They're still scoring points; Howard is scoring tons of points. But what they're doing is overly patterned. First Howard, then Harden, then Howard, then Harden and so on.
Superman has once again been operating outside pick-and-rolls too often. He ranked third in the league during the regular season in points scored per possession (1.31) as the roll man, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). He also converted 74.3 percent of his shot attempts in those situations. Yet there the Rockets were in Game 4, posting Howard up and actively avoiding pick-and-rolls.
That needs to change.
To be clear, Howard has still been great. With Harden clanging shot after shot off the rim, Howard has stepped up on offense. Even his free-throw shooting has improved. He's hitting 63.8 percent of his attempts, which is a level above his usual I-can't-shoot-free-throws-to-save-my-life clip.
Defensively, he's been solid as well. There hasn't been much to like about Houston's team defense, but Howard has done a nice job of cleaning up some of Harden's messes and rotating over to protect the basket.
On his own, Howard has done enough. He's been enough. Most of his teammates—specifically Harden—just haven't matched his intensity.
5. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
2014 NBA Playoff Stats: 22.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.8 steals, 46.8 percent shooting, 26.9 PER
Believe it or not, it hasn't been all bad for the Indiana Pacers. They are facing elimination at the hands of the eighth-place Atlanta Hawks, preparing to go down in a haze of Roy Hibbert confusion and relative inability to score. But look on the bright side: Paul George is doing work.
If they fall to the Hawks, this won't be much of a consolation prize. The Pacers were supposed to contend for an NBA title. Losing in the first round would be demonstrative of how far this team has fallen and how overrated they were.
Credit must be given where it's due, though. Most of the time, watching the Pacers offense is more hazardous to your health than using furniture polish as aftershave. The only reason it's sometimes watchable is because of George.
No player on the Pacers has come close to rivaling his performance. He leads them in points, rebounds, steals and assists per game.
In the absence of a true point guard, he has shouldered playmaking responsibilities. In the face of Hibbert's oafishness, he's crashed the glass. Amid a sad and sorry stretch of basketball, George has tried to put the Pacers on his back, as Eye on Basketball's Royce Young wrote after Game 4:
So when the ball went up for Game 4, the Pacers' season was effectively on the line. With 7:31 left, after back-to-back 3s, they were down six. Some good offense, some big shots and with 2:11, they were down two. Paul George teed up a 3, and splash. Pacers on top, and seemingly back in business.
That 3 capped a 24-point night for George, but 18 came in the second half when his team had to have him. That's been one of the more frustrating issues in this Pacer slump, that George went from an MVP candidate to possibly completely off being mentioned on the ballot. His stardom has been established, but these are the moments would you cement yourself in the league. And with his team backed into a corner, desperately needing a spark, George provided.
Too bad for the Pacers it hasn't been enough.
One player cannot weather this storm for them—not even when that player has been performing as well as George.
4. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
2014 Playoff Stats: 26.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 60.9 percent shooting, 28.1 PER
Though his Los Angeles Clippers are currently suffering from a bad case of Donald Sterling, Griffin has been their most reliable player. His rebounds and assists are down, but he's also logging fewer minutes than he did during the regular season.
In other news, his offensive efficiency has been historically absurd. Only three other players in NBA history have appeared in four or more playoff games, averaged more than 17 shots and drilled at least 60 percent of said field-goal attempts—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Now that's how you do the postseason.
Indeed, his performance comes with an asterisk. The Clippers are tied 2-2 with the Golden State Warriors heading into Game 5. If they are eventually eliminated from contention, his offensive diligence will be for naught.
But if someone can help them rebound from their Game 4 loss in time to get back on track, it's Griffin. He's been money for this team all year, and he's really come on after foul trouble limited him to 19 minutes in Game 1.
More will be asked of him in the coming games as the Clippers fight to save their season, which is a scary thought for two reasons.
First, can you imagine head coach Doc Rivers asking him to do any more than he is now?
Second—and more importantly—what if he starts doing even more than he is now?
If you're the Warriors, you pray.
3. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
2014 Playoff Stats: 25.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 43.5 percent shooting, 48.3 percent three-point shooting, 22.1 PER
Damian Lillard has ice in his veins. Or really, really cold water. Or something else. Whatever makes one clutch and absolutely deadly from beyond the arc, he has it.
And the Blazers are happy he does.
Game 2 notwithstanding, Lillard has been awesome squared, plus two, times infinity. Even in Game 2, he came up big as a playmaker (11 assists) while giving Portland an additional presence on the glass (eight rebounds).
A good portion of his time has been spent watching LaMarcus Aldridge play like he's perfection personified, but Lillard has held more than his own through his first four playoff games. Though his defense remains a sore spot—paths into the paint tend to open up when he's not guarding on ball—he's done everything you could possibly imagine on the offensive end.
From hitting big shots to attacking the heart of Houston's (lackluster) defense to running the Rockets' point men to exhaustion, he's played superstar basketball.
"Our whole team, we look to each other," he said, per The Oregonian's Sean Meagher. "It's not about one or two people, it's about our group. Our strength is in our unity and it showed tonight."
There's some serious truth to that. The Blazers are a selfless bunch who clearly don't care who scores or shines. It's not about one or two people with them.
But it doesn't hurt that Lillard is one of two of their people who are setting the playoffs ablaze.
2. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
2014 Playoff Stats: 35.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 3.0 blocks, 52.9 percent shooting, 33.0 PER
What Aldridge has done thus far is insane.
Certain dimwits (me) predicted his Blazers would fall to the Rockets. A full season's worth of wear and tear on their overworked starting five surely meant exhaustion would catch up with them.
This just in: Aldridge hocks loogies in the face of exhaustion.
The 28-year-old superstar opened the postseason with consecutive 40-point games, torching the Rockets defense in every way imaginable. He now joins Kobe Bryant and James as the only active players with successive 40-point playoff games, per ESPN.
Even in Portland's lone loss—where he shot just 8-of-23 from the floor—Aldridge found ways to contribute. He played some killer defense and continued to wage war on the glass.
Still, it's his offense that has drawn the most attention. Since Game 1, the Rockets have done an adequate job of keeping Aldridge outside the paint, coaxing him into mid-range jumpers, a majority of which are contested.
But the power forward hasn't cared. He's shooting efficiently and scoring in volume anyway.
Stats can be misleading, but Aldridge has been every bit as dominant as his numbers imply.
1. LeBron James, Miami Heat
2014 Playoff Stats: 30.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.3 steals, 55.7 percent shooting, 33.2 PER
He who hugs Michael Jordan will play breathtaking basketball.
LeBron James has quietly turned the playoffs into his own statistical stomping ground. He did everything throughout the Miami Heat's clean sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats. Everything.
No player in NBA postseason history reached benchmarks of 30 points, eight rebounds, six assists and 2.3 steals through a minimum of four games before now. James once again stands alone.
There has been no stopping or slowing him to this point. Josh McRoberts staged an all-out assault on his neck. James and Bismack Biyombo banged knees in Game 4. He has taken a beating.
Lesser players would have crumbled, sought refuge on the bench or sang the blues at their locker accompanied by a harmonica, offering excuse after excuse as to why they struggled.
Not James. He grimaced through some pain but kept playing—39.3 minutes per game, in fact—and never struggled.
Life wasn't given to the Bobcats. James' all-world, mind-bending, completely mesmerizing postseason performance wouldn't allow it.
*All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and accurate as of Tuesday, April 29 unless otherwise noted.