2011 NBA Playoffs: The 5 Most Valuable Players in the Postseason so Far

Grant NoJoContributor IIIJune 2, 2011

2011 NBA Playoffs: The 5 Most Valuable Players in the Postseason so Far

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    LeBron James is having his best post-season of his career
    LeBron James is having his best post-season of his careerPool/Getty Images

    This year's playoffs have seen new storylines emerge, as the traditional powers have all been knocked out on their way to the finals.

    The defending NBA Champs, the Lakers, and the defending Eastern Conference Champs, the Celtics, have been gone fishin' for weeks.

    The top-seeded Spurs and Bulls are both watching the finals from their couches at home.

    Two teams remain. The Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat, each lead by arguably the best player in postseason thus far. 

    The question is, who has put together the most valuable performance in the postseason so far?

    Here's a quick look at the most valuable players in the 2011 NBA Playoffs.  

5: Kevin Durant—Thunder

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    Kevin Durant and the Thunder lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals
    Kevin Durant and the Thunder lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference FinalsRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    Kevin Durant had a superb postseason. Leading the Thunder to their first ever Western Conference Finals, Durant's numbers were simply remarkable.

    During the first round of the Playoffs, the Thunder found themselves playing the newly revamped Denver Nuggets.

    Durant and the Thunder sent the Nuggets back to the drawing board in five quick games. Durant was unstoppable, scoring 32 ppg on 47 percent shooting from the field. In addition, Durant put up those numbers while only commiting 1.4 turnovers a game. Impressive. 

    In the second round of the Playoffs, the Thunder came across a hard-nosed surprise—the Memphis Grizzlies. This series went to seven games, and the Thunder needed everything Durant could give them.

    Averaging 26 points, nine rebounds, and four assists per game during the series, Durant put on a show in game seven, where he scored 39 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and notched three blocks.

    In the Western Conference Finals, OKC faced the hot Dallas Mavericks and were dismantled in five games. Despite Russell Westbrooks's best efforts to throw the game away during crunch time, Durant managed to go blow-for-blow with Dirk Nowitzki.

    Durant put up 28 points, nine rebounds, and four assists per game in this series, and was the Thunder's only chance at beating the Mavericks.  

4: Derrick Rose—Bulls

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    Derrick Rose and the Bulls were knocked out in the ECFs by the Miami Heat
    Derrick Rose and the Bulls were knocked out in the ECFs by the Miami HeatJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    This year's NBA MVP put the Bulls on his back, attempting to lead them to their first Finals appearance since the Jordan days. 

    Up until the Eastern Conference Finals, where LeBron James totally shut Rose down, the former Memphis Tiger virtually did everything for his team.

    In the first round of the Playoffs, Rose faced a stingy defensive team in the Indiana Pacers. Rose managed to score 27.6 points per game, while averaging over six assists and four rebounds in almost 39 minutes a game.

    Despite his poor shooting (37% from the field, 21% beyond the arc), Rose was the entire offense for the Bulls, and the Pacer's ran their defensive game-plan around him. 

    In this five game series for the Bulls, Rose was also a force on the defensive end, notching over one block a game, 2.6 steals a game, and doing a fine job guarding pacers point guard Darren Collison. 

    In the second round of the playoffs, Rose continued to carry the offensive workload for the Bulls.

    While being guarded by the much taller Josh Smith of the Hawks, Rose scored a hair below 30 points per game.

    Pair this with and improved 45% shooting from the field, 10 assists and four rebounds per game, the reigning MVP clearly had another great series.

    In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat, Rose saw his numbers drop across the board. His points per game went down to 23, and he could do nothing against LeBron James and the Miami Heat defense. The Heat were simply too much for the Bulls to handle. Then again, if the young Rose hit that game-tying free throw in game five, who knows what could have happened? 

    Although Rose had quite an inefficient post-season judging solely from box scores, people tend to forget some crucial facts.

    Rose's usage percentage by the Bulls was a whopping 40% for the playoffs. That is incredibly high.

    Rose struggled with and played through a couple of ankle injuries during the Playoffs.

    Rose also had no help from the rest of his team. He did everything himself against defenses that were geared only to stop him. If his teammates had been able to relieve some of that pressure, his shooting numbers certainly would have gone up. 

3: Zach Randolph—Grizzlies

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    Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies lost to the Thunder in 7 games during the Western Conference Semi-Finals
    Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies lost to the Thunder in 7 games during the Western Conference Semi-FinalsRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    Zach Randolph will earn just over 66 million dollars over the next four years of the contract extension that he signed with the Memphis Grizzlies during the postseason. 

    Randolph, an often overlooked NBA superstar, truly found a name for himself as he quickly became the face of the Memphis Grizzlies franchise during the playoffs. 

    After purposely losing games to position themselves against the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs, Randolph began to do work from the opening tip. 

    Leading the eighth seed in the West, Randolph was an unstoppable force on the court. 

    Z-Bo averaged 22 points, 11 rebounds, and only two turnovers per game in his 13 games this postseason. 

    He was a force down low, drew double teams, and could simply not be stopped when it came to crunch time. 

    Although the Grizzlies experienced a painful defeat in their decisive game seven against the Thunder, without Z-Bo Memphis wouldn't have even been on the basketball map in this year's playoffs. 

2: LeBron James—Heat

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    LeBron James and the Heat have a 1-0 lead in the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks
    LeBron James and the Heat have a 1-0 lead in the NBA Finals against the Dallas MavericksMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    His numbers are ridiculous. He has truly elevated his game to another level (which seemed impossible).

    LeBron James is having the best postseason of his life. I guess the decision to take his talents to South Beach was a good one after all.  

    His numbers are outstanding. LBJ is averaging 27 points, 7.5 rebounds, and seven assists per game, and doing it all on 51% shooting from the field. 

    In the clutch, LeBron's numbers all go up across the board, including his usage rate, which is an unbelievable 40.7% when the game is on the line.

    The Miami Heat have been a great closing team this playoffs, and it's mainly due to LeBron James' performances on both ends of the floor.

    Forget his ridiculous numbers on the offensive end, James has been a force on the other side of the ball as well.

    When matched up against the NBA's reigning MVP in Derrick Rose, LeBron held Rose to just over 6% shooting from the field. That is unheard of defense.

    LeBron has proven he is the best player in the world right now, mainly because of his defensive displays in tight games.

    But, is he the most valuable player in the playoffs right now?

1: Dirk Nowitzki—Mavericks

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    Dirk Nowitzki has been the best player this Playoffs, but has some work to do down 0-1 to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals
    Dirk Nowitzki has been the best player this Playoffs, but has some work to do down 0-1 to the Miami Heat in the NBA FinalsRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    No. Meet Dirk Nowitzki.

    Without Dirk, the Mavericks wouldn't have even made the Playoffs, let alone the NBA Finals.  

    Dirk Nowitzki has elevated his game, like James, to a level that no one thought was possible. 

    As Rick Barry noted during the Western Conference Finals Trophy presentation, "a special admiration and respect [is due] to Dirk Nowitzki, who has raised his game to another level."

    During the Mavericks's surprising postseason run, Dirk has averaged 28 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, and is shooting an unprecedented 51% from the field, 51% from beyond the arc, and 93% from the line. 

    Dirk is doing things we have never seen before, and may never see again. 

    His one-footed, one-legged, turnaround, fade away, high release, ridiculous jump-shot is the most unstoppable shot since Kareem's sky hook. 

    He is incredibly efficient, he is breaking records, and he simply unstoppable.

    Let's look at his 48 point outburst against the OKC Thunder as an example of his postseason greatness. 

    According to CSNPhilly.com, "Nowitzki’s 48 points are the most in NBA history on 15 or fewer shots—playoffs or otherwise" and "Nowitzki needed 11 fewer field goal attempts than anybody in NBA history to score 48 points in a playoff game. The previous fewest shots by a player scoring 48 or more points in the postseason was 26 by...Nowitzki in a 50-point game against Phoenix in 2006."

    Basically, no one in NBA history has ever stepped on this ground before, and now Dirk Nowitzki has done it twice.

    Additionally, Dirk broke records on the free throw line during that game and the WCF as "24 free throws without a miss are the most ever in a regular season or playoff game." Dirk also hit 13 in a row during a quarter, as well as 39 in a row over two games. Dirk missed only two free throws that series, going 60-62, shooting 97%, and breaking another NBA record. 

    Dirk is also one of four players that has scored 48 points or more during a playoff game after turning 32, the others being Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Ray Allen.

    Dirk is doing unbelievable things right now.  

    Let's not forget that Dirk has been playing this way for years. Nowitzki is one of four players to average 28 points and 10 rebounds per game in their playoff careers (the others are Karl Malone, Moses Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). What he is doing today is simply remarkable, my words cannot do him justice—and neither can stats. 

    The box score, although impressive, does not show everything Dirk does on the court. The box scores can't show the degree of difficulty of the shots he's making. The box score has no statistic that measures his will to win. The box score can't show the way he takes over games and leads the Mavericks to comeback after comeback.

    Dirk Nowitzki deserves to be recognized as the most valuable player in this years' NBA playoffs.

    Yes, LeBron is playing out of his mind right now...but when I see two defenders run at Dwyane Wade (see: Miami's Eastern Conference Finals series against Chicago) during crunch time, I just can't give him the nod over the Big German.  

    Dirk Nowitzki is doing legendary things in legendary times. See for yourself, and give Dirk Nowitzki the respect he's earned in these playoffs. 

    Nowitness greatness as the Mavs try to climb out of a 1-0 hole as they face the Miami Heat tonight on ABC at 9PM EST.