The Conference Semifinals will come to an end on Sunday after the Oklahoma City Thunder host the Memphis Grizzlies in what should be an exciting Game 7. Given the fact that we are reaching the end of the second round, it’s as good an excuse as any to update our Playoffs MVP tracker.

Before we get to the tracker though, it’s important that we select our “Karl Malone What Are You Doing “ award winner. The phrase was made famous by Bill Walton in Game 5 of the 1997 Finals as Karl Malone failed to foul (he had five fouls) Michael 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.

Our winner is none other than Andrew Bynum. The Lakers center took a cheap shot at J.J. Barea (6’0, 175 lbs.) because he got tired of watching him get in the paint. Bynum hit the Mavs’ bench player with a vicious elbow as he was elevating towards the basket and knocked him down to the floor real hard, in what was already a 32-point blow out. Have a look at the video here. Andrew Bynum, what are you doing?

And now, what you all have been waiting for…

The Playoffs MVP tracker.

7. Kobe Bryant

23.2 3.6 3.2 1.7 0.3 3.1 43.3

Lakers 2010-11 playoff record: 4-6

His case: Although the Lakers were swept in the second round, there is still room for great optimism going into next season because the roster still features wonderful talents such as Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. But let’s not kid ourselves, as good as that core is, they are not a championship nucleus without one Kobe Bean Bryant.

The Lakers will probably make a few roster moves during the summer to help bolster the team and make them more formidable; which is scary to think about considering this core won back-to-back titles.

If there is one area of concern in Lakerland though, it’s Kobe’s statement to the media this week in which he said that he would continue to shoot the ball and that Pau Gasol would still be the second option on offense and that Bynum would have to fall in line with the pecking order.

Perhaps relieving Kobe of some of his scoring burden might prove wise during the course of the regular season in an effort to keep him fresh by the time the playoffs start. But then again, the Black Mamba does not seem to be on board with the idea.

6. Zach Randolph

22.7 10.9 2.5 1.1 0.8 2.2 45.0

Grizzlies 2010-11 playoff record: 7-5

His case: Some might feel that Randolph should be listed higher in this list and they would have a solid point. It’s not like there are other players left in the postseason that are putting up 20 and 10 on a nightly basis and that alone could catapult Z-Bo to the top of the list.

But the one thing that keeps the Grizzlies power forward this low is his consistency throughout the playoffs. Indeed, Z-Bo has had some terrific performances during these playoffs that have just left all of us scratching our heads and openly wondering if he is possibly the best power forward in the league. But then again, the Memphis star has had a couple of no shows by his standards:

  • 1st round, Game 2 (Vs. Spurs): 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals on 5-for14 shooting.
  • 1st round, Game 4 (Vs. Spurs): 11 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and three turnovers on 3-for-7 shooting.
  • Western Conference Semifinal, Game 2 (Vs. Thunder): 15 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two turnovers on 2-for-13 shooting.
  • Western Conference Semifinal, Game 5 (Vs. Thunder): nine points, seven rebounds, one steal and one turnover on 3-for-9 field goal shooting.

Randolph has played the power forward position marvelously, but playing four subpar games out of 11 tends to stand out.

5. Kevin Durant

28.6 7.1 2.5 1.0 0.9 1.9 45.6

Thunder 2010-11 playoff record: 7-4

His case: While a lot of the talk about the Thunder has centered around Russell Westbrook’s shot selection, it almost feels as though Durant’s performance during these playoffs have flown under the radar.

He has been by far the best and most consistent scorer during these playoffs and he has done this all the while remaining extremely efficient as evidenced by his field goal percentage and relatively low turnover numbers.

Durant’s worst scoring night of the playoffs came in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Grizzlies; a game in which he was limited to 11 points on 3-for-14 field goal shooting. As putrid as his shooting was in that game, it was his only dud in these playoffs.

One can only wonder how he will perform in Game 7 on Sunday against Memphis. Save for Game 6 against the Grizzlies, he has shot the ball well during these playoffs, and thus we can only expect that he will get an opportunity to put the ball up and win the series for his team.

His one obstacle might be his ability to handle the pressure associated with Game 7. Mind you, judging from his play in the World Championships last summer, the Thunder should be in good hands.

4. Derrick Rose

29.8 4.5 8.0 1.5 0.9 3.6 41.8

Bulls 2010-11 playoff record: 8-3

His case: The league MVP leads his team in scoring, assists, swagger, playmaking and confidence. Some might harp on his high shot volume as well as his field goal percentage, but the truth is that unless his teammates are hitting shots, it’s best to have the ball in his hands and ask him to manufacture offense for his team.

And really, can we argue with the results? The Bulls have lost three games so far in the playoffs and will host Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday. We can nitpick his game all we want, but the truth is he has gotten the job done when it’s mattered most and consequently the Bulls have advanced in every round so far.

3. Dirk Nowitzki

26.5 8.4 2.8 0.6 0.4 2.6 49.7

Mavericks 2010-11 playoff record: 8-2

His case: It’s been almost a week since the Mavericks swept the Los Angeles Lakers out of the playoffs and thus Dirk Diggler has almost been forgotten because they have been off for so long.

Laker fans might not like it (and might be wise to skip the rest of this section altogether) but Nowitzki’s play essentially was the catalyst for everything that Dallas did that gave the purple and gold fits on defense.

He attracted so much attention that his teammates regularly got uncontested shots that they eventually knocked down. And as good as the Mavs superstar was as a decoy, he was even better with the ball in his hands, as he put Laker defenders in his own personal torture box (much like Jigaw in the Saw movies) of offensive moves: one legged shots, fade away shots, post ups, drives to the basket, long range shots, midrange shots and getting himself to the free throw line.

Needless to say, Dirk has been an impressive performer so far in these playoffs; hence it would take some incredible performances to outrank him…

On to the top 2.

It seems we have a bit of a controversy going on here. We do not actually have a player in the #2 spot. Reason being? The two players left have played at a level that I’m not sure others have reached so far in this postseason on both sides of the court; consequently they both occupy the top spot.  The players in question…

1.. LeBron James

27.3 9.7 5.0 1.2 0.9 2.2 48.0

Dwyane Wade

26.6 7.8 4.8 1.8 1.3 2.9 49.1

Heat 2010-11 playoff record: 8-2

Their case: Some might feel that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James’ statistical output should easily determine which player has truly been the best during the postseason, but to just look at their stats would belittle their on court contributions.

Both have been asked to at times initiate the offense, get their teammates involved, create offense for others, create offense for themselves and put pressure on opposing defenses by drawing fouls. And yet, Wade and James have completed those tasks rather easily it would seem.

In addition to handling those responsibilities, they have protected the ball and shot it efficiently.

As impressive as this sounds that the Heat stars carried the offensive burden, they were also asked to be the team’s best defenders. Indeed, their collective prowess as individual and team defenders helped the Heat shut down opposing offenses.

Whether it was because they rotated properly on defense, jumped passing lanes, contested shots, cleaned up the boards, blocked shots or simply contained the ball handler, their defense helped set the tone for every series and also led to some frustrating possessions for opponents.

The biggest reason that these two players had to be presented together at the #1 spot (basically it’s a tie, I know some people hate that, but well, just read on…) is their play as one. Indeed, whenever the Heat required some scoring and/or energy early in the game, one of them supplied it.

In addition, when Miami needed to come out playing hard after halftime, the other would step in and give the team whatever effort necessary to either build on the lead or cut into a deficit. And when the game got close late, the responsibilities fell on their shoulders to figure out a way to close out the game. And the truth is, if it’s difficult for you to determine which player occupied which role during these playoffs; it’s completely normal, because Wade and James essentially took turns.

One could argue that these two are the best players in the league, but right now there is no debate: they are the two best and most productive players in the playoffs.

Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them in the comments section or you can contact me by email at [email protected]. You can also find me on Twitter with the handle name @ShyneIV.