Metrics 101: Ranking Every Player in the 2018 NBA Finals
Spoiler alert: LeBron James is ranked No. 1.
But knowing that—and honestly, if you've watched 2.3 seconds of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2018 playoffs, you should've already known that—doesn't diminish the compelling questions these rankings will seek to answer.
How do the four All-Stars on the Golden State Warriors roster stack up as we head into the 2018 NBA Finals? Which members of James' supporting cast grade most favorably? Are any role players in need of more minutes?
To objectively determine these rankings, which will reveal the answers to those aforementioned inquiries, we turned to a modified version of the formula for player score used in previous articles.
For all 540 players who got on the court during the 2017-18 season, we pulled their scores in four different overarching metrics: NBA Math's total points added, Basketball Reference's win shares and player efficiency rating and minutes per game. The first two look at volume-efficiency combinations, while the third focuses on per-possession effectiveness and favors offensive production. The last element is a new addition, meant to reward those who receive more run and are thus more important to their teams. Volume and time on the court matter more than they might in other evaluations.
To standardize four metrics operating on drastically different scales, we found the Z-scores in each category and summed them to find a player's total score.
This process was then repeated for all 210 postseason contributors, and the two scores—one for each segment of the season—were averaged to find the total mark that functions as the baseline for this analysis. Perform well during both the regular season and playoffs, and you're golden.
Nos. 28-21: Jones, Osman, Clarkson, Young, Calderon, Zizic, McCaw, Livingston
28. Damian Jones, C, Golden State Warriors (Minus-3.63)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 1.7 points, 0.9 rebounds, 0.1 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.2 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: Minus-3.06
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 1.0 points, 0.8 rebounds, 0.0 assists, 0.0 steals, 0.0 blocks
Postseason Player Score: Minus-4.20
If Damian Jones gets on the floor for the Warriors, something has either gone very wrong or very right. The young big man shouldn't receive any run for the defending champions considering he played just 15 times for a total of 89 minutes during the regular season and only logged 11 minutes while Golden State worked past three Western Conference foes.
27. Cedi Osman, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers (Minus-2.54)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 3.9 points, 2.0 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals
Regular-Season Player Score: Minus-2.09
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 0.9 points, 0.5 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 steals
Postseason Player Score: Minus-2.99
Right now, the idea of Cedi Osman is better than the actual 6'8" forward. He profiles as a versatile contributor who can hold his own defensively, knock down spot-up jumpers and create the occasional bucket for himself, but that hasn't happened during his sparse run. If he wants to get on the floor, he can't keep slashing 30.8/16.7/25.0 for the Cavaliers.
26. Jordan Clarkson, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers (Minus-2.30)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 0.19
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 4.9 points, 1.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.1 blocks
Postseason Player Score: Minus-4.80
Jordan Clarkson was a useful secondary scorer for the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half of the season, capable of finishing plays around the basket despite tough defense. He found his three-point stroke after a midseason trade to Northeast Ohio, knocking down 40.7 percent of his treys for the Cavs. But his offensive game has disappeared in the playoffs, as he's shot just 30.9 percent from the field (thanks primarily to an inability to turn the corner or connect on mid-range jumpers) and 25.6 percent from beyond the arc.
25. Nick Young, SG, Golden State Warriors (Minus-2.18)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 7.3 points, 1.6 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: Minus-2.00
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 2.9 points, 0.6 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.0 blocks
Postseason Player Score: Minus-2.36
Nick Young can dial up the defense once in a blue moon (see: Game 6 against the Houston Rockets, for which he credited a dream of Dennis Rodman, because of course he does), but that's never going to serve as his calling card. He's a three-point shooter and little more, which is troubling when he could connect on only 37.7 percent of his deep looks during the regular season and 35.1 percent in the postseason's first three rounds.
24. Jose Calderon, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers (Minus-2.04)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 4.5 points, 1.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.5 steals
Regular-Season Player Score: Minus-1.13
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 2.0 points, 0.8 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals
Postseason Player Score: Minus-2.95
Though Jose Calderon shot well enough during the regular season to remain a marginally useful role player, that's changed in the playoffs. Not only is he continuing to serve as a defensive turnstile who can't prevent dribble penetration, but he's also struggling to record many more assists than turnovers and hasn't been able to connect on more than 23.5 percent of his threes. Breaking news: Creating space is often tougher during the postseason.
23. Ante Zizic, C, Cleveland Cavaliers (Minus-2.02)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 3.7 points, 1.9 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.4 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: Minus-0.53
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 1.4 points, 1.0 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.0 steals, 0.2 blocks
Postseason Player Score: Minus-3.51
An opportunistic big man who shot 73.1 percent from the field in the regular season, Ante Zizic saved his best performance for the 82nd game of the year: 20 points and seven rebounds with 7-of-9 shooting in a loss to the New York Knicks. But the 21-year-old is still too raw to be relied upon consistently, and he's instead sneaked into the playoff rotation infrequently, providing Cleveland with a quick boost of athleticism and physicality on the interior before reassuming his familiar spot on the bench.
22. Patrick McCaw, SG, Golden State Warriors (minus-1.94)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 4.0 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: Minus-2.32
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 1.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, 0.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.0 blocks
Postseason Player Score: Minus-1.55
Patrick McCaw was supposed to blossom into a two-way wing who could serve as the latest product of Golden State's three-and-D lineage. But the 22-year-old's shot disappeared in his sophomore campaign, and any momentum he was generating before the playoffs evaporated in a scary fall that injured his lumbar spine. The UNLV product made a seamless recovery and got on the floor against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals, but only because the Warriors' lack of wing depth was more evident than ever while Andre Iguodala dealt with an injury of his own.
21. Shaun Livingston, PG, Golden State Warriors (Minus-1.40)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 5.5 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.3 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: Minus-1.68
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 6.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.1 blocks
Postseason Player Score: Minus-1.13
Throughout Golden State's dynastic run the last four years, Shaun Livingston has functioned as a steadying presence off the pine, capable of dissuading smaller guards from attempting too many shots, carefully distributing the ball to his talented teammates without racking up turnovers and connecting on plenty of high-release mid-range jumpers. But the 32-year-old has looked a step slower in 2017-18, leading to some backsliding on the preventing end and an inability to create quite as much space for his patented pull-up jumpers and lanky finishes at the hoop.
Nos. 20-16: Hood, Smith, Cook, Bell, Pachulia
20. Rodney Hood, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers (Minus-1.38)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 14.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 0.35
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 4.9 points, 1.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.2 blocks
Postseason Player Score: Minus-3.12
Rodney Hood's regular-season score was heavily influenced by his time with the Utah Jazz, who presented a much better fit for his talents than a Cavaliers outfit already operating with primary ball-handlers. The former Duke Blue Devil is a far deadlier scorer off the bounce than when working in spot-up situations, but he's been unable to operate in that manner during a playoff run that's featured precious few James-less moments.
And when his shot isn't falling, he doesn't provide enough positive contributions to compel head coach Tyronn Lue into giving him any run. The result? Just 15.6 minutes per game in the playoffs while he averages 4.9 points on a 41.5/15.8/77.8 shooting.
19. JR Smith, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers (Minus-0.67)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 8.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.1 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: Minus-0.78
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 8.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks
Postseason Player Score: Minus-0.55
Every once in a while, JR Smith will get motivated on the defensive end and remind the world his athleticism can translate into point-preventing production. But those moments are few and far between, even with the Cavaliers' season occasionally teetering on the brink of destruction. Instead, he continues to function as a pure gunner.
Cleveland has to live with Smith's shooting habits because it so desperately needs his talent. He's more valuable to it than the numbers indicate because of his scorching spurts in which it doesn't matter if he's creating terrible shots off the bounce or lofting catch-and-shoot jumpers with only the tiniest windows of opportunity; sometimes the looks won't stop falling even when defenders are giving him zero airspace.
18. Quinn Cook, PG, Golden State Warriors (Minus-0.55)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 9.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.0 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: Minus-0.34
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 5.3 points, 1.5 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.1 blocks
Postseason Player Score: Minus-0.76
Don't make the mistake of writing off Quinn Cook because he missed a wide-open jumper that could've changed Game 5 against the Rockets. He earned his spot on the playoff roster because of his offensive acumen, though it's significantly tougher to work into a rhythm when playing more sporadic minutes.
The world saw what Cook could do during the stretch run of the regular season. In his last 14 appearances, the 25-year-old averaged 17.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game for the Dubs while shooting 52.2 percent from the field, 50.7 percent from downtown and 83.3 percent from the stripe. The dude can stroke the rock, and that's why he keeps getting minutes—just fewer of them as the rotation shrinks in tight, important contests.
17. Jordan Bell, PF, Golden State Warriors (Minus-0.05)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 4.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.0 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 1.02
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 1.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.5 blocks
Postseason Player Score: Minus-1.12
Jordan Bell is always going to provide plenty of highlights, whether of the putback dunk variety or when he's swatting shots with ferocity. The young big man is an athlete who pairs his spring-loaded legs with a preternatural understanding of the game and the skill necessary to make myriad plays.
He's just inconsistent, which makes it tougher for head coach Steve Kerr to rely on him for extended stretches. You can see the foundation of a solid starter down the road, but the Warriors still have to live with the sporadic warts, hence playing him in shorter spurts that maximize his athletic advantages and energy surpluses. That's still not bad when landing him only required trading cash considerations to the Chicago Bulls for the rights to the No. 38 pick of the 2017 NBA draft.
16. Zaza Pachulia, C, Golden State Warriors (0.22)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 5.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 0.48
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 1.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.0 blocks
Postseason Player Score: Minus-0.04
Nothing Zaza Pachulia does is particularly glamorous, and he's only been granted 20 minutes of run in the playoffs—total, not per game. He's an athletic liability, now incapable of moving his feet quickly enough to stay in front of small-ball contributors and limited to operating against other traditional centers.
But this veteran doesn't make mistakes. He takes only good looks, which allowed him to shoot a career-best 56.4 percent from the field during the regular season. He's a savvy passer who can hit cutters, and he never hesitates to set tough, physical (borderline illegal) screens that help free the Warriors' endless supply of shooters. Though matchups might dictate his usefulness, he can provide quality minutes when the right ones emerge.
Nos. 15-11: Green, McGee, Thompson, Looney, Hill
15. Jeff Green, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers (0.37)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 10.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.4 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 0.39
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 8.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.8 blocks
Postseason Player Score: 0.34
"His number was called, and he just answered," James said about Jeff Green after the Cavs' Game 7 victory over the Boston Celtics, per the New York Times' Harvey Araton. He was rightfully marveling after his oft-overlooked teammate went for 19 points, eight rebounds, an assist and a block with 7-of-14 shooting from the field.
Green, who presents an inspiring story—he finally made it to the NBA Finals six years removed from open-heart surgery to repair an aortic root aneurysm—isn't the most consistent player. He can fall into the trap of calling his own number far too frequently, remains lackadaisical on the defensive end and struggles to serve as a secondary distributor. But he has talent and gives Cleveland a substantial boost whenever it manifests itself as positive play.
14. JaVale McGee, C, Golden State Warriors (0.56)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 4.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.9 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 0.56
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 5.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.7 blocks
Postseason Player Score: 0.56
Of course one of the league's most inconsistent and unpredictable players submitted identical scores during the regular season and playoffs. If anyone is going to flip the narrative, why not JaVale McGee?
The 7-footer remains a baffling contributor who's always good for a boneheaded play or two, which forces Kerr to be careful about when he deploys him. But put McGee in against a smaller opposing center, and he can rain jump hooks, swat shots around the basket and thrive on the glass for limited durations. Per 36 minutes, McGee averaged a whopping 18.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steal and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 60.5 percent from the field through the first three rounds—as much a testament to the coaching staff's decision-making as his own skill level.
13. Tristan Thompson, C, Cleveland Cavaliers (0.62)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 5.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.3 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: Minus-0.40
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 6.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.3 blocks
Postseason Player Score: 1.64
In need of a spark against the Indiana Pacers during the opening round, Lue turned to Tristan Thompson, who had spent far more time on the pine than the court for the first five games of the series—even receiving three DNPs. The decision worked, as Thompson showed off every skill that's allowed him to function as a vital member of the Cavaliers in previous seasons.
He's a limited offensive player who doesn't showcase any shooting range, and his passing borders on nonexistent. But his defensive acumen—he deters shots around the hoop and features lateral quickness as a frequent switcher—and remarkable prowess on the offensive glass fill holes for Cleveland that would otherwise remain empty. Don't be fooled by his low point totals because that's never his primary source of influence.
12. Kevon Looney, PF, Golden State Warriors (1.01)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 4.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 0.10
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 4.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks
Postseason Player Score: 1.93
Perhaps the biggest issue with Kevon Looney's postseason breakout is that he might price himself out of Golden State's spending territory. By displaying restraint on the offensive end, capably switching on defense and showcasing the footwork to slow talented offensive adversaries, he's increased his value as a modern-age big who's entering restricted free agency after the Warriors prematurely turned down his option.
Golden State can't give him more than $2.2 million and will only be able to re-sign him if he prioritizes continuity and the championship pursuit over the larger payday that would surely await him elsewhere. Someone is bound to be swayed by the defensive potential he's shown throughout the playoffs, especially against the high-powered Rockets.
11. George Hill, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers (1.10)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 10.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 0.95
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 9.7 points, 2.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
Postseason Player Score: 1.26
After a half-season with the Sacramento Kings in which he struggled to find an ideal role, often standing passively on the perimeter and letting his younger teammates shoulder heavier burdens, George Hill was granted freedom with a midseason trade to the Cavs. But his disappointing season continued as his shot disappeared and he failed to exert himself on either end of the floor.
The playoffs, however, have allowed for some redemption. Not only has Hill functioned as a decent defender at the point of attack, but he's also shooting 49 percent from the field while minimizing his turnovers. He's been an incredible finisher around the hoop, and a regression to the mean from beyond the arc (he's shooting 25.7 percent on downtown looks) would make him an even more productive player for a Cleveland outfit that needs more support for James.
10. David West, PF, Golden State Warriors (1.27)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 6.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.0 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 1.51
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 3.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.5 blocks
Postseason Player Score: 1.02
David West hasn't spent much time on the court during the 2018 playoffs, logging only 10.5 minutes per game and failing to see any run during key contests against the Houston Rockets. But view that more as a matchup-dictated necessity than an indictment of the veteran's enduring skills, since this 37-year-old understands his game perfectly and can still aid the Dubs in multiple areas.
The power forward isn't as mobile as he was during his prime years, which limits him against small-ball outfits dedicated to lofting up innumerable triples. He's not going to take over as a scorer, and his involvement as a pick-and-pop threat is sparing at best.
And all that is fine because West still understands how he can make an impact.
First and foremost, he remains a physical defender who drains energy from his foes through sheer contact. If you're matched up against West, you better be prepared to fight for every inch of space, because he'll throw his chest into you and push you out toward the arc otherwise. And offensively, he's always looking for open teammates, whether operating on the short roll or in give-and-go action that requires him to squeeze the rock into tight spaces.
During these playoffs, West is averaging a staggering 6.9 assists per 36 minutes—the highest number he's recorded during any of his nine postseason runs or 15 regular seasons. If a foe loses sight of his mark for even a split second, the Dubs have the cutters necessary to capitalize on West's accurate feeds.
9. Kyle Korver, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers (1.59)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 9.2 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.4 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 0.79
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 9.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.4 blocks
Postseason Player Score: 2.39
Kyle Korver is so much more than a three-point marksman.
The distance shooting is unquestionably his primary asset, and not just because he can blend together volume and efficiency with the best of 'em. After connecting on his 5.2 regular-season attempts per game at a 43.6 percent clip, he's drained 44.9 percent of his deep hoists while taking 5.4 per game in the playoffs. Those are valuable because of the raw points he earns and the gravitational pull he exerts, requiring constant vigilance when he's roaming the half-court set in search of an open catch-and-fire attempt.
But again, that's not all he does. The three-point shooting is his primary method of registering numbers in any box score, but Korver is willing and able to provide positive impacts in other areas.
His defense has been overlooked for years, probably because he's not a legitimate stopper but instead relies on ceaseless exertion to disrupt plays, win 50-50 balls and maintain proper positioning that prevents his mark from even touching the rock. Plus, he has quick hands that can poke the ball away from unsuspecting handlers and record the occasional rejection.
Throw in some defensive boards earned in traffic and the willingness to swing the ball around the top of the key for an open jumper, and you have a far more complete player than many recognize. Korver is one of the NBA's deadliest shooters, but he's not "just" a shooter.
8. Kevin Love, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers (2.02)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 17.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 4.01
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks
Postseason Player Score: 0.04
Kevin Love needs to do more than get healthy. ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin reports that the power forward is still in the concussion protocol after his collision with Jayson Tatum during the Eastern Conference Finals and still has an unknown status for the first contest against the Golden State Warriors, but just getting back onto the floor isn't enough.
The All-Star has to remember that he's, well, an All-Star. Then he has to play like it.
During the regular season, Love averaged 17.6 points while shooting 45.8 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from downtown and 88.0 percent at the stripe. He was a deserving representative at the midseason festivities, capable of spacing out any defense with his perimeter acumen and still finding a way to impact the game on the glass.
But he's looked uncomfortable throughout the postseason, failing to find nylon and instead clanging looks off the rim. He's struggled to assert himself on the perimeter, tried to force the issue closer to the basket and has often let his offensive struggles carry over to the other end of the floor. Maybe that's just a natural byproduct of slashing 38.8/34.6/91.7 while recording more turnovers than assists.
Throughout the first 82 games, Love's player score of 4.01 ranked No. 49 among the 540 players who logged at least a single minute in 2017-18. But his 0.04 mark through the first three rounds of the playoffs is barely above average, forcing him to check in at No. 89 among the 210 postseason contributors and sandwiching him directly between Royce O'Neale and Dejounte Murray.
7. Andre Iguodala, SF, Golden State Warriors (2.08)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 6.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.6 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 0.87
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 7.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks
Postseason Player Score: 3.28
A left leg contusion limited Andre Iguodala against the Rockets and prevented him from suiting up during the comeback from a 3-2 deficit, but don't let the Warriors' success without the veteran swingman drop your opinion of him. He's still crucial to the team's success, serving as a steadying force within small-ball lineups and managing to contribute in myriad ways.
Without Iguodala on the floor, the Dubs have outscored opponents by an impressive 7.7 points per 100 possessions during the postseason. That number still elevates to a massive 13.6 when he's playing, giving him an on/off differential that lags behind only Draymond Green's among the team's rotation members. He might not be vital to the floor, but he certainly elevates the ceiling.
"We would have won the series in five if Iggy played," head coach Steve Kerr claimed after the conclusion of the Western Conference Finals, per Reuters. Maybe that's an exaggeration that also overlooks the loss of Chris Paul, but the Dubs were up 2-1 before Iguodala missed each of the last four contests. Stranger things have happened, and we know the upside his passing, perimeter spacing, defensive intensity and athleticism can provide.
Iguodala looked like he was firmly on the decline throughout the season's first 82 games. We can now safely assume he was just biding his time, waiting to exert his limited supply of energy until contests truly mattered. It's a veteran move that only works out on elite teams capable of sleepwalking their ways to successful seasons.
It worked until he was sidelined with a knee injury in the Western Conference Finals. We won't count that against him here.
6. Larry Nance Jr., PF, Cleveland Cavaliers (2.94)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 8.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.6 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 3.53
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 4.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.8 blocks
Postseason Player Score: 2.34
This might seem like lofty positioning for a role player, but Larry Nance Jr. plays a brand of basketball that minimizes mistakes and maximizes his scores in most advanced metrics. He rarely takes shots outside his comfort zone, and his relentless energy levels ensure that he makes a defensive impact both on the interior and the perimeter.
"I came in playing a lot, then faded into the background, and now I'm getting to play some more," he said after a Game 3 victory over the Boston Celtics, per Jerry Bembry of The Undefeated. "Everyone keeps telling me to stay professional, stay ready, stay in shape. It's good to hear that and nice to see it pay off in a win."
When Nance originally came to Northeast Ohio as part of the Cavaliers' complete midseason overhaul, he profiled as the perfect type of big man for James. A devastating roller who had soft hands, boundless reserves of athleticism and good instincts on his way to the hoop, he was sure to form a top-tier pick-and-roll tandem alongside one of the game's best passers.
But that hasn't been the immediate outcome. Instead, Nance has struggled to earn consistent minutes in Cleveland, relegated to mop-up duty in some games but making substantial impacts in short durations during others. Now it's a testament to the 25-year-old's professionalism that he's been able to remain effective while enduring the seesaw.
Nance's experience may be limited, but he's leading all qualified postseason contributors in true shooting percentage. Meanwhile, Jordan Bell and Draymond Green are the only men with at least 100 minutes logged to post higher defensive box plus/minuses.
5. Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors (3.34)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 20.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 2.55
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 20.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks
Postseason Player Score: 4.13
You know a series is jam-packed with talent—well, really, one team is jam-packed with talent—when Klay Thompson is dropped all the way down to No. 5 despite a brilliant postseason. Without his explosive scoring habits, the Warriors might be watching the NBA Finals from home despite the presences of three other All-Stars on a nightly basis.
Thompson hasn't just averaged 20.5 points for the Bay Area representatives. He's done so while shooting 46.2 percent from the field, 42.6 percent from downtown and 88.5 percent from the free-throw line—all adding up to a praiseworthy 57.3 true shooting percentage.
The 2-guard plays impeccable defense and routinely assumes the toughest perimeter assignments, but he's not much of a rebounding threat or distributor. Those are just his only true weaknesses, and they alone can't negate his prowess as a spot-up shooter who rarely needs to dribble in order to make a monumental impact on the proceedings.
Maybe Thompson would be even better if he left Golden State and had the chance to helm an offense without deferring to other stars. Perhaps he'd become a less effective shooter, held back by his own ball-handling limitations and the extra defensive attention inevitably thrown in his direction.
But we don't have to worry about that hypothetical. Thompson is a vital member of the Warriors, and it's evidence of his enduring excellence that he's remained both content and effective in this relatively under-the-radar role.
4. Draymond Green, PF, Golden State Warriors (6.70)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 4.97
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 11.1 points, 11.6 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.5 blocks
Postseason Player Score: 8.43
Draymond Green has been unleashed.
Though it's tough to imagine a player this passionate ever failing to operate at 100 percent during the regular season, he's still found a level throughout the postseason that makes for a stark difference between the two portions of the basketball calendar. Watch him direct his troops while covering multiple assignments on a singular possession with relentless fervor, and you won't be capable of doubting that he was occasionally sleepwalking before the start of the NBA's second season.
This version of Green is truly special.
He may still struggle in search of jump-shooting consistency, but he's the type of player who doesn't have to score in order to swing the proceedings. His habit for assuming tough defensive assignments and switching onto any position is that valuable. So too is his distributing for a Golden State offense that can sometimes develop too many isolation-heavy habits. And perhaps most valuable of all is his willingness to box out, regardless of whether he ends up pulling down the defensive rebounds.
Green doesn't submit sparkling lines with big figures in the scoring column. Through three rounds, he's only hit the 20-point threshold once, scoring exactly that amount in Game 2 against the New Orleans Pelicans. His contributions are more unique and understated because they don't show up in the box score, strange as it may be to use the word "understated" when describing such an animated and combative personality.
3. Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors (7.84)
- Stephen Curry, plus-9.3 per third quarter in 11 games
- Kevin Durant, plus-8.2 per third quarter in 17 games
- Draymond Green, plus-7.2 per third quarter in 17 games
- Cedi Osman, plus-7.0 per third quarter in one game
- Jordan Bell, plus-5.8 per third quarter in six games
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 26.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 9.12
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 24.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.7 blocks
Postseason Player Score: 6.57
Are Stephen Curry's third-quarter explosions one of the most inevitable occurrences in professional sports?
He's appeared in 11 relevant periods during the 2018 playoffs and is tallying 9.6 points per quarter—third to Russell Westbrook (10.5) and Anthony Davis (9.8). But efficiency pushes him well beyond the other third-quarter standouts, as he's dropping in 58.9 percent of his field-goal attempts, 57.6 percent of his triples and 95.5 percent of his free throws.
Couple that with quality passing, more focus after coming out of the locker room and a penchant for playing solid positional defense that somehow still gets overlooked in favor of harping on his one-on-one woes, and he has an impact no one else can match. Despite missing some time to injury, his typical plus/minus paces the NBA with room to spare in those third periods:
This isn't isolated to the playoffs, either.
During the regular season, Curry ranked No. 1 in third-quarter points per game (10.0) among those who made at least 40 appearances, working well past James Harden (8.2), Damian Lillard (8.2), Durant (7.8) and DeMar DeRozan (7.5). Throw in shooting efficiency, and Curry (73.4 true shooting percentage) easily outpaces Harden (61.3), Lillard (56.6), Durant (61.7) and DeRozan (55.2), again cementing his unequaled efficacy in this 12-minute period.
2. Kevin Durant, SF, Golden State Warriors (9.32)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 26.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.8 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 9.39
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 29.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.9 blocks
Postseason Player Score: 9.26
During the regular season, Kevin Durant's player score lagged behind the marks earned by nine players: James Harden, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Naz Mitrou-Long (hello, small sample size!), Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic. But maintaining excellence in the playoffs is a tougher task, which is why the scoring superstar checks in behind only James for the postseason despite a slightly lowered mark.
Whistles tighten in the playoffs, much to Harden's chagrin. Defenses get more focused, and rotations condense to allow for fewer liabilities on the floor at any one time. It just doesn't matter to Durant, who has consistently proved he's impervious to the effects of any singular matchup.
That's just reality for a 7-footer disguised as a guard, one who can jet past a defender for a thunderous dunk on one possession and then rise and fire over the outstretched arms of a big on the very next trip down the floor. When Durant gets cooking, the opposition can't do anything but sit back, watch and pray that he's going to cool off soon.
Of course, the former MVP hasn't been flawless this postseason. Far too frequently, he's decided to commandeer possessions, looking off open teammates even as he drives into heavy traffic—a reversion to the Oklahoma City Thunder days in which he often seemed to alternate takeover possessions with Westbrook.
But even when he's deviating from the ball-sharing system, he's talented enough that it almost doesn't matter. Few players have ever been capable of blending together scoring volume and efficiency quite like him, and fewer still have done so while playing well-rounded defense and still thriving as an on-and-off distributor.
1. LeBron James, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers (17.10)
Regular-Season Per-Game Stats: 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.9 blocks
Regular-Season Player Score: 15.14
Postseason Per-Game Stats: 34.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks
Postseason Player Score: 19.05
LeBron James is already the best (note: not greatest) player in NBA history, and he's arguably performing at his highest level yet while dragging a lackluster supporting cast past the pesky Indiana Pacers, disappointing Toronto Raptors and way-ahead-of-schedule Boston Celtics. Only one other man in the postseason annals has averaged at least 34 points, nine rebounds and eight assists (2016-17 Russell Westbrook during a five-game loss to the Rockets in the opening round); James is doing so while slashing 54.2/34.4/72.6, winning games and making countless big shots down the stretch of tight outings.
Sure, you can find flaws. He's turning the ball over frequently. He's taking possessions off on defense a bit too often.
But aren't those developments understandable for a 33-year-old megastar who didn't rest at all during the regular season, led the league in minutes per game and is logging a staggering 41.3 minutes per contest in the playoffs? Though his 4.1 turnovers during his typical appearance may seem unpalatable, his 13.0 turnover percentage is lower than it was in the last two postseasons and equals the regular-season mark posted throughout his Hall of Fame career.
Usually, the "who's the best player in the world?" conversation is at least worthy of debate. Right now, any answers that don't begin with "LeBron" and end with "James" are just flat-out wrong.
To drive that home: The gap between his postseason player score (19.05) and that of No. 2 Kevin Durant (9.26) is exactly as large as the chasm between Durant and No. 115 Jakob Poeltl (minus-0.53).