NBA Power Rankings: Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Other Playoff Teams' Closers

Dan Renfro@danrenfroCorrespondent IIIMarch 29, 2011

NBA Power Rankings: Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Other Playoff Teams' Closers

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 27:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks to drive on Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half during Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    In spring training, many baseball teams are looking for closers to ice games. At the same time, NBA playoff teams are looking for a star to close the game for them. Some are obvious, others are debatable.

    Either way, teams need to figure out who is taking their last shot.

    To qualify playoff teams, I counted the top 10 teams in each conference. From there, I chose a player from each team that I think should be taking the last shot for each team. Then, I ranked them based on whom I would want having the ball in his hands at the end of a game.

    Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think.

    **Note: These players are from the top 10 teams in each conference as of March 27, 2011.

20. Stephen Jackson, Charlotte Bobcats

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    ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 12:  Stephen Jackson #1 of the Charlotte Bobcats drives past Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on February 12, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading an
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Stephen Jackson has bounced around the league, and the Charlotte Bobcats have the luxury of having a very underrated player. While he is not a superstar, he is a quality player that especially shines on less talented teams. He can put the ball in the bucket, and he can be clutch when necessary.

    For his sake, I wish he were a role player on a title contender, but he's not. Until then, he is going to remain the man in Charlotte and hope to sneak into the playoffs and steal a playoff series or two.

19. Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76ers

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    PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 27: Andre Iguodala #9 of the Philadelphia 76ers in action during the game against the Miami Heat at the Wells Fargo Center on October 27, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
    Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

    Once the second-best A.I. on his team, Iguodala has transformed himself into a good player. He is athletic, he can get to the rim and he has a decent jumper.

    Again, he is another player who could help a championship contender, but he is stuck being a necessary scorer for a mediocre team. Still, at the end of a game, he has the ability to get a basket that his team needs.

18. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks

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    ATLANTA - MAY 2:  Guard Brandon Jennings #3 of the Milwaukee Bucks dribbles past center Zaza Pachulia #27 of the Atlanta Hawks during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks during the 2010 NBA
    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Jennings is one of the quickest guys on the list, and he is the only true point guard. He can get to the rim when he wants, and he usually makes the right decision, whether it's shooting or passing.

    For a player his age, he has a lot of maturity. More than likely, it has to do with his year in Europe. A lot of players can't handle the culture shock, but Jennings was able to overcome his struggles and become a successful NBA player.

    The Bucks are on the outside looking in, but if they make the playoffs, Jennings could hit a game-winner or two against the top seed.

17. Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers

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    PHOENIX - DECEMBER 03:  Danny Granger #33 of the Indiana Pacers drives the ball against Channing Frye #8 of the Phoenix Suns during the NBA game at US Airways Center on December 3, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and ag
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Danny Granger is a gamer. He scores, plays defense and leads a Pacers team that has the ability to beat any team in the league. This is the fourth straight year that he is averaging near 20 PPG, and he continues to improve.

    He can shoot from the outside (39 percent on threes), he can post up smaller defenders and he can get to the line and hit his free throws (83 percent from the stripe). Someone like this is incredibly tough to defend, and at the end of games, scorers like Granger become even more dynamic.

16. Raymond Felton, Denver Nuggets

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    DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 24:  Raymond Felton #20 of the Denver Nuggets controls the ball against the Boston Celtics during NBA action at the Pepsi Center on February 24, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Celtics 89-75. NOTE TO USER: User exp
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Felton joined the Knicks last summer, and he was directing Mike D'Antoni's offense as well as anyone not named Steve Nash can. Then, he was shipped out of New York for Carmelo Anthony.

    Still, he was not phased.

    He has led the Nuggets to an 11-4 record since the trade. Many people thought the Nuggets would take a turn for the worse, but Felton has not allowed it.

    He is clutch, and he knows what to do with the ball. While I may not want him taking the last shot, I want the ball in his hands. As a coach, I would trust him to make the right decision as the clock is winding down.

    With sharpshooters like J.R. Smith and Danilo Gallinari on the wings, Felton orchestrates a dangerous late-game trio.

15. Kevin Martin, Houston Rockets

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    OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Kevin Martin #12 of the Houston Rockets in action against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on December 20, 2010 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or u
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Quietly, Kevin Martin has become one of the league's best scorers. He has scored over 20 PPG in five of the last six seasons (19.8 in the other), and no one really talks about him.

    He has shot 45-38-86 for his whole career (FG percentage, three-point percentage, FT percentage). If someone rarely misses, it is tough to stop him.

    Kevin Martin is that tough to stop.

    The Rockets don't seem to be that good, but they have the ability to challenge any team in the West. If they are able to sneak into the playoffs, Martin has the scoring ability to will the Rockets over any team they might face.

    I don't necessarily think it will happen, but I would much rather have Kevin Martin on my team, especially at the end of games, than on the opposing team.

14. Mike Conley/Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies

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    PHOENIX - NOVEMBER 05:  Mike Conley #11 of the Memphis Grizzlies handles the ball during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on November 5, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    With Rudy Gay out, the Grizzlies need a new go-to guy. A popular choice may be O.J. Mayo, but I think he is much too inconsistent to trust at the end of games. The next option, Zach Randolph, is a post player, and it is usually too tough to feed the post late in the game.

    As a result, I would choose Mike Conley.

    Although he may not take the last shot, I think Memphis' best chance to get a late bucket would be a pick-and-roll with Conley and Randolph. It may not be in Randolph's comfort zone, but it allows the team to get the ball to him late in the game.

    If the Grizzlies are unable to get the ball to Randolph, Conley is quick enough to get to the rim; if not, he has the ability to pull up and hit an open jumper. Regardless, the Grizzlies are lucky to have a young and talented point guard to control the game, even if their go-to star is out for the rest of the year.

13. Jameer Nelson/Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic

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    BOSTON - MAY 24:  (L-R) Jameer Nelson #14 and Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic walk towards the bench against the Boston Celtics in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at TD Banknorth Garden on May 24, 2010 in Bos
    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Sticking with the big-man theme, the Orlando Magic's duo of Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard come in at lucky No. 13.

    Howard is a freak of nature. Even though I don't think he deserves the MVP (sorry, Stan Van Gundy), he has been phenomenal all season. He is the team's best player, and at the end of a game, he needs the ball.

    Unfortunately, it's tough to get the ball to a big man low in the post. Consequently, I want Jameer Nelson to have the ball.

    I do not, however, want a pick-and-roll run. I think the best option for the Magic would be for Nelson to run a pick-and-pop with someone else (perhaps Jason Richardson?) while Howard establishes post position.

    If not, a pick-and-roll between Nelson and Howard would not be a terrible idea (it usually isn't when you have the best center in a decade).

    Either way, at the end of games, the Magic need to find a way to get the ball to their big man, and Nelson gives them the best chance to do just that.

12. Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers

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    DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 15:  Guard Brandon Roy #7 of the Portland Trail Blazers dribbles the ball past DeShawn Stevenson #2 of the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center on December 15, 2010 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Injuries aside, Brandon Roy can flat-out play. If it weren't for his fragile knees, he may be considered one of the top five players in the league.

    Unfortunately, he has missed almost 100 games in his short, five-year career. His scoring average has bounced around between 13 and 23 points per game.

    Nevertheless, he is clutch.

    Right now, the Blazers have a winnable matchup with the Mavericks. The Mavs are more talented, but Portland is a gritty squad. If LaMarcus Aldridge carries the team through the game, Roy can be the closer the Blazers need, provided he stays healthy.

11. Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks

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    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 18:  Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks posts up against Carlos Arroyo #8 of the Miami Heat during a game at American Airlines Arena on January 18, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Hawks are an interesting team. After pushing the Celtics to the brink of elimination in the 2008 first round, they have not been able to overcome a mental block and advance deep into the playoffs. Their window may be closing, and if they want to surprise people, this year is as good as any.

    If they keep games close (especially at home), they can steal any game from any team. Joe Johnson is the main reason why.

    Joe Johnson is cold-blooded. When the game is on the line, he has the "it" factor that is necessary to hit a game-winner. Home or away, he can put a dagger in a team.

    When it comes to the playoffs, that is all that really matters.

10. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets

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    PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 30:  Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets handles the ball during the NBA game against  the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on January 30, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Suns defeated the Hornets 104-102. NOTE TO USER: User exp
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    OK, so he can't make an uncontested layup; I would still have him taking the final shot.

    The Hornets lost David West for the season, and I still believe they can win a playoff series or two. Maybe that's an overly ambitious hope, but Chris Paul has the ability to lead an inferior squad over any team. Late in a game, he has an uncanny ability to get open enough to get off the shot he wants.

    Also, if players play defense as great as Steve Nash does in this picture, I would take Chris Paul 1,000 times out of 1,000.

9. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

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    DALLAS, TX - MARCH 10:  Forward Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks at American Airlines Center on March 10, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is cons
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Despite his poor treatment of the Nuggets, Carmelo Anthony gave them seven solid years. He led them deep in the playoffs, and they were even on the brink of the Finals two years ago.

    Now, he's where he wants to be: The big stage. The Garden (or MSG for Celtics fans). Now, he needs to perform.

    He has proven to be clutch before, and he will continue to be clutch. Even though I don't think the Knicks are going deep in the playoffs, Anthony will be able to hit a clutch shot when called upon.

    Provided the Knicks play enough defense to stay competitive, Anthony could have a very eventful first playoff experience in New York.

8. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns

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    BOSTON, MA - MARCH 02:  Steve Nash #13 of the Phoenix Suns drives around Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics on March 2, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  The Celtics defeated the Suns 115-103. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges a
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Even though I took a little shot at his defense, Steve Nash's offensive arsenal is unbelievable. He can beat any defender in a variety of ways: shooting, driving, dishing, finishing, free throws or anything else you can think of.

    There's not much more you can ask for at the end of a game. If you know your player is going to find a way to score, you give it to him.

    Nash has that ability.

    It's sad to see the lack of talent around him, but Nash is content with his situation. The Suns are four games out of the playoffs, and they don't seem very poised for a run; however, if they make the playoffs, I wouldn't put any money against a closer like Steve Nash.

7. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs

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    SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 04:  Guard Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs takes a shot against LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat at AT&T Center on March 4, 2011 in San Antonio, Texas.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dow
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    One of the craftiest players in the NBA, Manu Ginobili finds ways to score. It may not always be conventional, but if the ball goes in the net, who cares?

    When he puts his head down, he can get to the basket at will, but he can always pull up with a dirty jumper that will leave everyone watching shaking their heads.

    Not to mention, he is a career 83-percent free-throw shooter (87 percent this season).

    At the end of a game, a team needs someone that is going to score no matter what, and Ginobili provides that for the Spurs. They have other viable options (Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, etc.), but Ginobili ought to be their first pick to take control late in games.

    As long as his injury doesn't hamper his play, Ginobili has the chance to lead the Spurs deep into the playoffs.

6. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

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    WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 26: Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks shoots a free throw against the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center on February 26, 2011 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by download
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    For much of his career, Nowitzki was not thought of as a closer. He was a phenomenal regular-season player and a great player for about 46 minutes. Then, he would lock up.

    That is no longer the case.

    In 2006, he put the team on his back and carried the Mavs to the Finals. If not for some questionable officiating, he might have been able to capture a title.

    Then, he rolled through the 2007 regular season before being upset by Golden State. After a few years of mulling these losses over, Nowitzki has the Mavs playing well again and looking to capture that elusive title.

    A player as talented and great as Nowitzki deserves a titleβ€”he just needs to get his team there. The Mavs have many tools of a championship team, and with Nowitzki, they have (arguably) the most important toolβ€”a cold-blooded closer.

5. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

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    MIAMI, FL - MARCH 27:  Guard Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat stretches against the Houston Rockets at American Airlines Arena on March 27, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Ph
    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Normally, I'm a proponent of giving the ball to your best player, but when your "second-best" player is Dwyane Wade, I think that he can handle the ball. Until LeBron James truly wants the ball, the Heat have no reason to give it to him.

    Give it to the guy who's been there before, not the guy who punked out. Give it to the guy with the ring, not the guy with a Finals sweep under his belt. Give it to the guy who actually wants to take control of the game, not the guy who is afraid of failure.

    I stand by the fact that LeBron James is a better and more talented player than Wade (only slightly), but at the end of the game, there is no reason to not give the ball to Wade.

4. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics

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    BOSTON, MA - MARCH 16:  Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics is congratulated by teammate Kevin Garnett #5 after Pierce drew the foul in the second half against the Indiana Pacers on March 16, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics d
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Although I would rather have Ray Allen taking an open shot, Paul Pierce is the guy the Celtics want with the ball. He can create for himself, he can hit shots regardless of his balance and he can find the open teammate when necessary.

    More importantly, "The Truth" wants the ball at the end of games.

    He is the longest-tenured Celtic, and he knows the pride that comes with wearing Boston green. He wants the spotlight. He wants his team looking to him when it counts, and he usually comes through.

    The Celtics have been slipping lately, but they are a strong, tested squad that can beat anybody. Also, if the game is on the line, Paul Pierce can be counted on to come through in the clutch.

3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 14: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder puts up a shot in front of Trevor Booker #35 of the Washington Wizards during the first half at the Verizon Center on March 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly a
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Kevin Durant knows how to score. A lot of people try to find holes in his game, but he works to cover those up.

    He wants to be the best. He wants to score, and he wants to help his team win basketball games. His team-first mentality is contagious, and he is a leader for one of the most exciting teams in the league.

    Although the Thunder fell short of upsetting the Lakers last year, it was a setback the team needed. The Thunder know how to compete with the best in the league, and they know they can beat them. With Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder have become a popular sleeper pick in the West.

    While I'm not making any predictions for the postseason, I would not want to pick against No. 35.

    He can score at will, and he wants the ball in his hands. When the game gets close, Durant seemingly takes over without effort.

    Expect to see his effortless dominance late in the playoffs.

2. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 25: Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Mike Conley #11 of the Memphis Grizzlies at the United Center on March 25, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Grizzlies 99-96. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowle
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    It's oddβ€”with March Madness going on, it's easy to remember Derrick Rose handing Kansas the 2008 national championship. Now, he's one of the best closers at the top level. (I guess the jury was still out three years ago, but not anymore).

    Derrick Rose is one of the most talented players in the NBA, and right now, he is playing the best basketball out of anybody.

    The unquestioned floor-leader for the Chicago Bulls has led his team to the top of the Eastern Conference. Despite injuries and different starting lineups, Rose has been able to lead a varying cast to win after win.

    Whenever the Bulls need a bucket, you can almost guarantee that Rose will get it for them. He has improved his three-point shot, but his quickness and finishing ability are why he needs the ball late in games.

    Regardless of what anybody says, Rose has been the best player in the NBA this season, and (as of now) he deserves the MVP Award. Nevertheless, I don't think that matters to such a humble leader like Rose.

    He wants his team to win, and he will do anything to let that happen. That's why he deserves the ball at the end of games, because he will find a way to win.

1. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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    DALLAS, TX - MARCH 12:  Guard Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on March 12, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consen
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Before you start getting mad because I didn't pick Ron Artest, hear me out. Kobe Bryant is pretty good.

    OK, he's really good. Really, really good. The man has five rings for a reason (and I don't think Artest is a major one).

    He's the best late-game assassin since M.J. No one player is more ready to hit the game-winner than Bryant.

    "The Black Mamba" has taken a lot of flack over the years, but he just keeps winning.

    Just when it looked like the regular season was boring him, the Lakers came out of the All-Star break at a blistering 15-1. Now, they have a chance of catching the Spurs and securing the top seed in the West.

    That's just what everyone else needsβ€”Bryant hitting winners at Staples Center. Perfect.

    A lot of people point to last year's Game 7 as a way to cut down Bryant, but nights like that happen. Superstars have off games, but they make up for it in other ways. He played defense, rebounded and led his team to that title.

    Say what you want about Bryant, but if he were on my team, he would be getting the last shot every single time.

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