The first round of the playoffs was truly entertaining and gave way to some spectacular performances by players that have since been eliminated. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and Brandon Roy all gave us some great moments but were sent home by better opponents.
Paul and Howard made the initial Playoffs MVP Tracker list (and by made the list, they were at various times in the top spot) but their teams getting sent packing made it as such that they now have to be eliminated from the list altogether. So how does it look now? A little different. Our list is now down to six players, but before we get there, we have an award to give out…
The “Karl Malone What Are You Doing” award. In the event that you are unfamiliar with the origin of the name of the award, Bill Walton said those exact words in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals when Malone (who had five fouls) refused to foul Jordan with the shot clock turned off and the Bulls clinging to a one point lead late in the fourth quarter. Click here and race to the 3:35 mark and enjoy the sequence.
The winner this time around is none other than Ron Artest. In Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals, with the game already decided, J. J. Barea was dribbling out the clock in the backcourt when Ron Ron had a Mike Tyson moment and simply decided to clock, clothesline or grab the Maverick guard’s face. Watch the video here and you can decide for yourself what Artest was doing or trying to do. I say he was hoping to make an appearance in a future Queensbridge rap video with that hit just looping from start to end.
Congratulations to Ron for winning the award; sadly his suspension will prevent him from giving us an acceptance speech. And now onto our MVP tracker; ranked in reverse order.
6. Kobe Bryant
Lakers 2010-11 playoff record: 4-4
- Five-time NBA champion
- 2007-08 NBA League MVP
- Two-time NBA Finals MVP (2008-09 & 2009-2010)
- Four-time NBA All-Star Game MVP (2001-02, 2006-07, 2008-09 & 2010-11)
- Two-time scoring champion (2005-06 & 2006-07)
- 13 NBA All-Star appearances
His case: Kobe Bryant is no longer the athlete he once was, and his ankle troubles might be bothering him more than we know. And yet, he is still one of the best players in the NBA and he has played as such during the postseason.
As good as he is at attacking terrific defenders, Bryant now makes a more concerted effort to attack mismatches. Indeed, whenever he gets matched up with inferior defenders, he immediately gets himself on the low block or in the pinch post where he goes to work and scores on defenders. His scoring gifts still make him a dangerous playmaker because he is not always exclusively looking to score.
His field goal shooting has taken a slight dip during the postseason (which is to be expected), but the Los Angeles Lakers might need Kobe to find the fountain of youth soon if they wish to continue playing until June.
5. Derrick Rose
Bulls 2010-11 playoff record: 5-2
- 2008-09 Rookie of the Year
- 2010-11 NBA League MVP
- Two NBA All-Star selections
His case: Derrick Rose has been the best player on the best team in the league (going by regular season record) this year. Many want to cite the Bulls inability to blow teams out as failure on Rose’s part; but the truth is that the team is terrific defensively but quite ordinary on offense. Consequently, all of their games will for the most part be decided late, and that’s where Rose shines brightest.
Some might point to Rose’s field goal percentage as well as his turnovers as an area of concern but the Bulls star biggest stat so far in the postseason revolves around the number five. As in five wins. His performance down the stretch of games is the reason why Chicago consistently has been able to close games out against the Pacers in the first round and against the Hawks in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
4. Kevin Durant
Thunder 2010-11 playoff record: 5-2
- 2007-08 NBA Rookie of the Year
- Two NBA All-Star selections
- Two-time NBA scoring champion (2009-10 & 2010-11)
His case: Kevin Durant’s play during these playoffs has just been amazing to say the least. In six playoffs games so far, he has scored over 40 points twice and broken the 30-point barrier twice. In addition, he has done this while shooting the ball efficiently.
One could argue that if not for Russell Westbrook’s desire to play John Beckwith’s part (character portrayed by Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers), Durant could be averaging north of 35 points per game in the playoffs currently.
Keep in mind, it’s not just about scoring, but also timely scoring. Whenever teams have made runs against the Thunder and Oklahoma City needed baskets to put an end to them, they turned to KD and he delivered.
After struggling throughout the regular season to make himself available to get the ball in scoring position, Durant is now smarter and more aggressive when he sets up to catch the ball and gets ready to go out and score. The result is late game scoring as well as drawing fouls. He might just be the best scoring machine in these year’s playoffs.
3. Dwyane Wade
Heat 2010-11 playoff record: 6-1
- 2005-06 NBA Finals MVP
- 2009-10 NBA All-Star Game MVP
- Seven NBA All-Star selections
- 2008-09 NBA scoring champion
His case: I hate to strictly go on numbers, but Wade’s production has been so astounding in these playoffs that they are hard to ignore:
1st Round, Game 3: 32 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, one steal and two blocks.
1st Round, Game 5: 26 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block.
Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 1: 38 points, one rebound, five assists, three steals and two blocks.
Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 2: 28 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one steal.
Those are some terrific numbers, but the most important thing about them is the context in which they were scored. Indeed, Wade had his best game of the playoffs in the Heat’s first postseason road test, knowing that a big performance would make up for the lack of contributions of role players.
His second best game came in a decisive Game 5 that clinched the series victory for the Heat. Wade played brilliantly once again as he showed off his wide array of skills and essentially put his foot on the 76ers collective throats.
His next two best games came in the Conference Semifinals against a Celtics team that many have picked to go back to NBA Finals. The player formerly known as Flash has been a bad man, especially when the pressure has been turned up in these playoffs. He has been the best shooting guard of the postseason and as crazy as it sounds, he might have a few more other performances that just amaze all of us.
2. LeBron James
Heat 2010-11 playoff record: 6-1
- 2003-04 Rookie of the Year
- Two-time NBA All-Star Game MVP (2005-06 & 2007-08)
- Two-time NBA League MVP (2008-09 & 2009-10)
- Seven NBA All-Star selections
- 2007-08 NBA scoring champion
His case: It is extremely tough to pick between Wade and James in these playoffs. Both have been sensational and steered the Heat to a 6-1 playoff record. Also, they have managed to get the job done, all the while entertaining us with some breathtaking highlights. So why does LeBron get the slight edge over Wade? Two reasons: consistency and efficiency.
James has a usage rate (number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes) of 29.7 while Wade’s is at 29.1. For all intents and purposes, LeBron and Wade use almost the same amount of possessions in each game, and yet the Heat’s small forward manages to score more, shoot more efficiently from the field and turn the ball over less. Couple that with the fact that James has essentially been playing five positions at both ends off the floor since the playoffs started and it’s awfully tough to overlook his postseason performance.
1. Dirk Nowitzki
Mavericks 2010-11 playoff record: 6-2
- 2006-07 NBA League MVP
- 10 NBA All-Star selections
His case: If I asked you to pick Dirk’s signature play so far in these playoffs, many might talk about his post up against the Blazers in which he scored and got fouled late in the ball game while others might point to his shot over Gasol in Game 2 at the top of the key that he converted and got fouled. But those plays fail to do justice to Nowtizki’s body of work in this year’s playoffs.
The one play that best captures Dirk was a simple post up on the right side of the floor in Game 2 against the Lakers. Dirk took the ball in the post with Artest bodying him up and trying to be physical with him. Dirk’s reaction? He simply turned, gave Artest a subtle right shoulder to the chest to get him to back off and then fired up a jump shot that splashed in. The message? “I got this”. The Mavericks star would not be intimidated, pushed around or bullied. Against one of the best and craziest defenders the league has ever seen, Dirk Nowitzki got the exact shot he wanted to take.
It’s not a glamorous play by any means, but the sequence told us that Dirk means business, that he is willing to put the Mavs on his back and be the guy against the defending champions.
His scoring has been impressive and his field goal shooting has been solid; but more than anything, the reason he occupies the top spot here is because he is doing to the Lakers what no one has done to them since June 2008…
Owning them. Get set for Game 3 tonight.