2017 NBA Playoffs: Updated Postseason MVP Rankings
What would the NBA playoffs be without the made-up race for MVP honors?
It's flat-out unfair that there isn't an individual honor to supplement the NBA Finals MVP. Certain players spend two months, or more, standing out from the Average Joe, contributing at a level that, if maintained all year, would have put them in contention for the real Maurice Podoloff Trophy.
Let's say hello to those studs—some of them for the first time, but many of them for a second.
Rankings are based solely on what's happened since the regular season wrapped, with performances since the first edition of this ladder receiving chief consideration. The overall criteria here remains the same. Individual efforts matter a lot, but the impact on one's team is equally important.
Players can hail from teams that are on vacation; we're not monsters. At the same time, larger samples will be viewed more favorably—hence the absence of anyone who repped a squad that was bounced in the first round.
And now, onto the question you're all itching to answer: Can anyone dethrone, or come close to unseating, the one whose name rhymes with JeBron Lames?
7. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 25.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks
The urge to vault Isaiah Thomas higher, into the top five, is real. He almost always seems to come up with a big shot when the Boston Celtics need it and continues to post respectable shooting percentages in crunch time despite facing more physical defensive coverages.
But he's shooting just 40 percent from the field—albeit 48.4 percent from long range—since his 53-point explosion against the Washington Wizards. There are times when he's slumping so hard, the offense looks better without him.
Head coach Brad Stevens has tried to get him extra burn with bench-heavy lineups, in part to increase Boston's offensive reach, but also because it's still hard to hide him on defense. While Thomas has persevered and remains an offensive lifeline, recent inconsistency keeps him on the outskirts of the MVP bubble.
On the bright side: He's still here, unlike James Harden, who's own topsy-turviness flung him outside the top seven.
6. John Wall, Washington Wizards
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 27.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 10.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.2 blocks
John Wall was gassed by the end of the Wizards' Game 7 letdown against the Celtics, and for good reason: Head coach Scott Brooks never found lineups that could survive for long enough without him. The burden he carried this year easily outweighed his responsibilities from past postseasons.
Add in the 318 points Wall created off assists, and he represented nearly 48 percent of Washington's total offense. He phoned in plenty of defensive possessions—that, or the Wizards tried stashing him on immobile corner-stalkers to preserve his energy—and his shooting percentages fell off later in Round 2, but he still managed to sprint up and down the court at unimaginable speeds.
There isn't a Game 7 versus the Celtics without Wall's last-second heroics from beyond the arc in Game 6. He couldn't ferry the Wizards over the hump, but that failure says more about the lack of depth and cold streaks from the shooters around him.
5. Al Horford, Boston Celtics
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 16.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.9 blocks
Previous Ranking: 4
Remember when Al Horford was getting outplayed (but not really) by Robin Lopez in Round 1 and point-total junkies questioned/criticized/laughed at his $113 million contract? It feels like forever ago, even though just a couple weeks have passed. Time drags on when well-actually artists are searching, unsuccessfully, for a leg to stand on.
Horford has quelled most of the doubters. The ones continuing to bellow are running out of things to say and/or getting into incoherent screaming matches with brick walls, clouds, cardboard cutouts of Celtics president Danny Ainge and other various inanimate objects.
Thomas has at times carried Beantown's offense, and his 53-point detonation against the Wizards will be ingrained in postseason lore until the end of time. That he's played through the loss of his sister, missing teeth and general soreness (rightfully) props up his value. But Horford has been the more valuable player.
Including the 185 points he's generated off assists, he has accounted for 28.3 percent of the Celtics' offense. That trails Thomas (38.9 percent), but the gap is far smaller than the typical chasm separating a big man from his starting point guard.
Sprinkle in his defense, and Horford gets the edge. Opponents are shooting 46.1 percent against him at the rim, down from 51.0 during the regular season, and he's disrupting pick-and-rolls at every turn.
With the game on the line, Thomas is who the Celtics lean on most. Horford is who they go to for everything else. Passing, scoring, scorching-hot outside shooting, rim protection, defensive rotations—he's doing it all and excelling in almost every area that matters.
Postseason lifelines don't get much more impactful. Literally. Curry, Draymond Green, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard are the only players who have contributed more value to their team's playoff cause, according to TPA.
4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 28.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.4 blocks
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Stephen Curry left his chill in the regular season. He has no time for slumps or complacency. Even when the Golden State Warriors run their opponent off the floor, he hasn't taken his foot off the gas.
“I don’t think I’ve done anything differently,” Curry told The Vertical's Michael Lee.
Except, you know, turn in one of the most efficient postseason performances ever.
In the 120 instances a player has averaged at least 28 points per game through five or more playoff outings, no one has posted a higher true shooting percentage than Curry. This is also the first time his postseason true shooting percentage has eclipsed his regular-season mark.
Letting him fire off the catch remains a no-good, terrible, god-awful idea. The defense is better off counting the basket and asking for a two- or three-second head start while transitioning into its offense. The same goes for ultra-quick looks early in the shot clock. Curry has launched more threes than anyone with 18 to 22 seconds remaining on the ol' ticker and is downing them nearly 52 percent of the time.
The return of his fire-away-first, ask-for-forgiveness-later pull-up jumpers have rendered Golden State's offense unstoppable. He struggled at times with this in the regular season, canning 38.7 percent of these looks overall. He's now finding nylon on 45.7 percent of the same heaves, despite an uptick in volume.
If you're the San Antonio Spurs, or even a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers or Boston Celtics, the latest should have you feeling hopeless. Curry is averaging 33.0 points and 5.7 assists with a 57.4/48.6/90.9 shooting slash since Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
Forget slowing down. His legend should only grow from here—right along with his postseason body count.
3. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 2.0 steals, 2.3 blocks
Previous Ranking: 5
Two top-five candidates from one team typically feels like overkill. But the Warriors are undefeated through their 10 postseason contests and upending opponents by an average of 17 points per win.
They've earned the right to corner the MVP market.
Draymond Green specifically deserves top-three placement. He's at the center of everything Golden State does, his impact so profound it transcends the numbers.
Take any of their players off the court, and the Warriors are still outscoring rivals by more than 10 points per 100 possessions. Unless that player is Curry, in which case they become a net negative.
And yet, on so many nights, Green seems like the one player they can't lose. His defense across all positions makes the "Death Squad" and all its spinoffs—which have been underused thus far in Western Conference Finals—hubs for havoc. If he switches fewer than two or three times on a single possession, the other team isn't working hard enough.
On offense, meanwhile, no one in the league has done a better job filling all the gaps. (Horford comes pretty close.) Spending his career beside Curry and Klay Thompson has helped him adapt, and he's souped up his superhero camouflage with Kevin Durant in tow.
Sticking Green on the ball unlocks perhaps the most unguardable iteration of the Warriors. They'll have up to three All-Stars cutting and screening and waiting for kick-outs off drives to the basket, with Green making the initial decision.
No one on the team has averaged more assists per 100 possessions, and Green dropped a helping hand on at least 14.7 percent of all baskets made by Curry, Durant and Thompson. Combine this with his own screens and a 47.9 percent knockdown rate on threes, and he's encapsulating what it means to be master of all trades.
2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 27.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.5 blocks
Previous Ranking: 2
If there's a silver lining to Kawhi Leonard's latest ankle injury, it's that the "Kawhi Leonard shouldn't have been up for actual MVP consideration because San Antonio is too good without him" takes have earned a one-way ticket to Crap Logicville.
The Spurs didn't need this crash course in the economics of duh, but some did. Leonard has been everything to them during the playoffs—particularly on offense. They go from pumping in what would be a league-best 117.6 points per 100 possessions with him to a bottom-of-the-barrel 100.8 when he's out of the fold.
Not even Cleveland is this dependent on James. Almost no one else on this list, in fact, means as much to his team's offense:
|Player||Team ORTG With||Team ORTG Without||Difference|
San Antonio allowed Golden State to rattle off an 18-0 run immediately after Leonard left Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Then, in Game 2, with him nursing his ankle, the offense converted just 37 of its 100 shots—62 of which came with a hand in the shooter's face.
Leonard has progressed to the point where he bends defenses with his drives and blistering three-point stroke. The Spurs need him to not only gum up opposing offensive works, but to also manufacture cleaner looks for everyone else simply by being on the floor. Their series-clinching victory over the Houston Rockets was more fluke than not. Without Leonard, they struggle to deploy a half-functioning offense, and overall product, when it matters most.
That's his case in a nutshell. Incidentally, it also stands to be the Spurs' undoing.
1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 34.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 2.1 steals, 1.5 blocks
Previous Ranking: 1
Hey! It's that time of year again. You the know the one—when he watch the postseason schedule unfurl, with James' team once again stampeding its way through the Eastern Conference, wondering whether he should have garnered more real-life MVP love.
This annual lack of appreciation is always met with deflections and disclaimers. James has a postseason alter ego! He flips a switch! Play like this year-round, then we'll talk!
These interpretations are often copouts—built-in excuses that allow us, yours truly included, to revel in and exaggerate the moment. But they also impress a reminder upon us: There is no one in the world better or more valuable than James.
All these years later, he is the best version of himself when the stakes are highest, and there's no person or team equipped to slow him—not even when they know what's coming.
"When Cleveland sets up a high pick-and-roll for James, two defenders align themselves in a way that—they hope—keeps him from going to the basket with the ball," FiveThirtyEight's Chris Herring and Kyle Wagner wrote. "But James is often able to spot the slightest bit of daylight, ducking between the two defenders and beginning an unstoppable, downhill sprint toward the rim anyway."
Blockades await James in the paint, but 40.1 percent of his looks still come at the rim, on which he's shooting better than 75 percent. Daring him to fire away from deep has become a good way to lose. He's shooting a career-postseason-best 46.8 percent from downtown while jacking more long balls than ever. And this energy he expends on offense—which also includes creating more points off assists than any of his teammates—never seems to impact his defensive intensity or stamina.
Really, James' case can be diluted down to his playing time. The Cavaliers are terrified of what might happen without him. Their solution: Don't play without him. His 42.4 minutes per game lead all remaining players, and it's not remotely close. No one on Boston, Golden State or San Antonio is averaging even 36.
James, as always, remains the only one of his kind.