Los Angeles Lakers

NBA Playoffs 2011: Kobe Bryant and the 15 Toughest Players Still Alive

Andy BaileyFeatured ColumnistMay 3, 2011

NBA Playoffs 2011: Kobe Bryant and the 15 Toughest Players Still Alive

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 28:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts during play against the New Orleans Hornets in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 28, 2011 at New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, L
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Toughness is one of the rare intangibles in basketball that is difficult to define in words, and yet most fans know toughness when they see it.

    It's a quality that is important to have on your team, especially during the playoffs.

    And the kind of toughness I'm talking about is more than just a physical attribute.  Mental toughness is even more important.

    This list will count down the 15 toughest players left in the playoffs in terms of a combination of both physical and mental toughness.

15: Zaza Pachulia

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    ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 28:  Zaza Pachulia #27 of the Atlanta Hawks reacts after a basket against the Orlando Magic due to a turnover he forced during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on April 28, 2011
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Zaza Pachulia is on the list mostly for physical toughness.  

    He hasn't gotten many minutes the last few years, but his no nonsense, physical defense causes problems for even the league's best centers—just ask Dwight Howard.

14: Kevin Garnett

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    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24:  Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics reacts against the New York Knicks in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 24, 2011 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Celtics
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    In my opinion, Kevin Garnett may be as much of a "fake tough guy" as Chris Bosh, but there's no doubt that scores of NBA fans look at KG and his "intense" attitude as the heart and soul of the Celtics.

    Whether or not his antics or game can be seen as "tough" is up for debate, but as a leader of one of the toughest teams in the league, he belongs on the list.

13: Marc Gasol

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    OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 01:  Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies reacts against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 1, 2011 at Oklahoma City Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  NOTE
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Marc Gasol had a fantastic second year in the NBA, but he saw his numbers dip a bit this year.  

    But in the playoffs, when toughness matters most, Gasol has significantly stepped up his game. His physicality on defense and in the rebounding game has been a crucial part of Memphis's five victories.

    In seven playoff games, Gasol is averaging 15 points and 12.4 rebounds per game.

12: Tony Allen

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    MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 29:  Tony Allen #9 of the Memphis Grizzlies celebrates during the Grizzlies 99-91 win over the San Antonio Spurs  in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on April 29, 2011 in Memphis,
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Every successful team needs a little bit of crazy.  Tony Allen's brand of crazy helps him to be one of the toughest perimeter defenders in the league.

    If the Grizzlies keep this Cinderella run alive (and if Russell Westbrook keeps shooting more than Kevin Durant, they might), Tony Allen is going to cause major headaches for Kobe Bryant or any other wing he might face in the Western Conference Finals.

11: Nick Collison

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    OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 17: Nick Collison #4 of the Oklahoma City Thunder fights for a rebound against Kenyon Martin #4 and Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 17, 2011 at
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    On a team that is fairly soft from top to bottom, Nick Collison provides some real toughness inside for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    It takes a mentally tough player to accept the kind of role Collison has.  He was a superstar in college but willingly became the "garbage guy" in the pros.

    Then, it takes a physically tough player to endure the kind of punishment Collison takes inside while defending opposing bigs who are often significantly bigger and stronger than he is. 

10: Josh Smith

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    ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 28:  Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks reacts after a dunk against the Orlando Magic during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on April 28, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USE
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Josh Smith is a physical, athletic forward who can defend two or three different positions.

    The verdict is still out on the mental toughness of every member of the Hawks.  But we should learn a lot to that end over the course of this Hawks/Bulls series.

    If players like Al Horford and Joe Johnson allow themselves to be ignited by the typically tough play of Pachulia and Smith, the Hawks have an outside shot against the Bulls.

9: Joakim Noah

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    CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 26: Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls smiles at family in the stands near the end of a win over the Indiana Pacers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on April 26, 2011
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Much like Kevin Garnett with the Celtics, Joakim Noah can be seen as the "heart and soul" of this team despite not being a major offensive weapon.

    Noah plays tough on both ends of the floor, all game long.  He plays every defensive possession as if the game depends on it and attacks the glass as aggressively as anyone in the league.

8: Tyson Chandler

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    DALLAS, TX - APRIL 16:  Tyson Chandler #6 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2011 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.  N
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    It has become terribly cliche to say that Tyson Chandler has brought toughness to the Mavericks. But in this case, the cliche is true.

    I would argue that Chandler over Erick Dampier was the single biggest offseason upgrade of the past year (even more than LeBron James over Dorrell Wright).

    Where Dallas once had a bump on a log in the middle of the paint, they now have an aggressive defender, rebounder and finisher inside.

    Chandler's intense style and fiery demeanor has rubbed off on a few teammates and helped break the Mavs recent first-round curse. 

7: Andrew Bynum

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 20:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers makes a move on Aaron Gray #34 of the New Orleans Hornets in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 20, 2011 at Staples Center in Los Angel
    Harry How/Getty Images

    Yes, I know Andrew Bynum is injury-prone.  But you have to give the big man credit for playing through as much pain as he has the last couple years.

    You also can't deny the difference between the Lakers with Bynum and the Lakers without him.  His toughness inside makes things a lot harder for basket-attacking opponents.

    He's been very solid in the playoffs this year, averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds per game.

6: Ron Artest

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 28:  Ron Artest #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts during play against the New Orleans Hornets in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 28, 2011 at New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Lo
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    If this list was based on physical toughness alone, Artest would easily make the top three. However, while he's much more stable than he used to be, there are still some question marks.

    He's nowhere near the perimeter defender he used to be, but his tough brand of defense still frustrates players like Paul Pierce to no end.

5: Zach Randolph

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    OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 01:  (L-R) Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies is fouled by Kendrick Perkins #5 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 1, 2011 at Oklahoma City Arena in
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Zach Randolph has been one of the most underrated players in the league over the last few years. After leading the Grizzlies to a six-game upset of the Spurs and stealing Game 1 from the Thunder, people are taking notice of Randolph.

    Talent is a huge part of his game, but his toughness is essential as well.  That attribute helped him finish third in the league in rebounding and second in offensive rebounding this past season.

    Plus, he's demonstrated plenty of mental toughness this postseason by already hitting several big shots.

4: Rajon Rondo

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    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics brings the ball up court against the New York Knicks in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 24, 2011 at Madison Square Garden in New York Ci
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    A big sign of toughness is the way a player performs in the postseason.  Rondo has put up solid regular season numbers the last couple years, but he steps up his game significantly in the playoffs.

    His averages for points, rebounds and assists are all much better in the postseason than they are in the regular season.

    His tough style has been a big part of Boston's success since they assembled "The Big Three."  

3: Derrick Rose

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    CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 26: Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls smiles as he walks off of the court as fans cheer during a time-out against the Indiana Pacers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at the United Center
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Derrick Rose's mental toughness is particularly impressive when you consider his age and experience.  At just 22 years old and in his third season, Rose has already displayed the kind of "killer instinct" required to win a championship.

    As much as anyone in the league, Rose possesses a "can't lose" attitude.

    Then there's the physical side of his toughness.  He's 6'3" and under 200 lbs but fearlessly attacks the rim and all defenders in his path in a way that's hard to describe.

2: Dwyane Wade

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    MIAMI, FL - MAY 01:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat looks on during Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2011 NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at American Airlines Arena on May 1, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User express
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Dwyane Wade is the only player on the Heat who meets the requirements for this list.  That's what worries me about Miami's chances to win a title.  

    Of course, one tough guy is better than none, and in terms of physical and mental toughness, it doesn't get much better than Wade.

    He has no fear when he attacks the basket, he's played through plenty of pain, has the killer instinct and already has an NBA title on his resume.  His toughness is central to all of that.

1: Kobe Bryant

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 26:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks at his hand from the bench in the third quarter while taking on the New Orleans Hornets in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 26,
    Harry How/Getty Images

    There may not be a player in the league with more mental toughness than Kobe Bryant.

    Over the last two-and-a-half years, no one has demonstrated the "will to win," "killer instinct," etc as much as Kobe has.

    He's given his team more big shots and big performances in big moments than any other player in the NBA has done for their teams.

    He's had to deal with a hatred from opposing fans that no other player (with the possible exception of LeBron) can possibly understand.

    He has to deal with every team's best or most frustrating perimeter defender, is punished by big men when he goes inside and gets fewer "superstar calls" than any other superstar.

    Even with all that, Kobe continues to show his mental toughness by rising above and winning.

    Don't forget the fact that he's played through several nagging injuries over the last few years. Physical toughness?  Yeah, he's got that too.

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