Friday, May 6, 2011
Playoff Player Rankings III
Every Wednesday I’ll compile a list of the top eight playoff performers from eighth to first. When the Finals are decided I’ll pick my MVP for the postseason; an award I absolutely think should exist in addition to Finals MVP.
So I was two days late, sue me. I hate when real life gets in the way.
487. Shaquille O’Neal: You earn the 487th spot when you injure yourself running up the court.
8. Derrick Rose: After a monster two games to lead off the Indiana series Rose’s shooting percentage has plummeted to a meek 38 percent. As Jeff Fogle notes in his excellent piece for Hoopdata, Rose, since his ankle sprain in the first quarter of game four, has simply not been getting to the foul line. Since getting to the stripe 49 (!) times in the first three games of round one Rose has managed only 17 attempts since (four games). Considering Rose is the driving force of everything the Bulls do, it’s no wonder they’ve struggled in the postseason. But despite all that Rose is still scoring 27 points a game and has handed out double-digit times three times in the playoffs.
And you watched his MVP speech, right?
7. Serge Ibaka: We know he’s athletic in the same scary way that Shawn Kemp was, but did you see the defense he played on Zach Randolph the other night? Instead of giving Randolph space to get his face-up jumper off with ease, Ibaka bodied him and forced Randolph to either put the ball on the floor or work a lot harder to get his shot off. If Ibaka continues to stymie Z-Bo we can safely name Serge Ibaka the MVP of round two.
6. Rajon Rondo: I’ve been watching Rondo since he came into the league, and I’ve yet to figure him out. When he’s doing his thing he’s sneaking into the paint for rebounds he shouldn’t have been able to reach, he’s driving to the basket and either finishing or dishing out to a shooter, he’s stealing balls and bothering the other point guard. When Rondo is on point he has complete control of the flow and tempo of the game. He’s the conductor while his teammates are merely the instruments that realize his masterpiece.
We’ve seen Beethoven Rondo in the first 25 or so games of the season, and against the Knicks. He made an encore performance against the Spurs, but that’s it. After two months of disengaged and sleep-walking Rondo we delightfully imagined the Rondo that averaged a triple-double against the Bulls in the 2009 postseason would show up for his curtain call. He sure did against the Knicks and Tony Douglas, but not yet against Mike Bibby and the Heat. His stat line may have looked pretty in game two, but he most definitely did not control the game. That honor belongs to LeBron James. Boston has two advantages in round two: Kevin Garnett over Chris Bosh and Rajon Rondo over Mike Bibby. Garnett has looked like a small child while the corpse of Mike Bibby is barely being out-played by Rondo.
I’m giving Rajon the benefit of the doubt because of his brilliant first round, but if he doesn’t start to run his team more like Richter and less like my Middle School band director then Boston’s cooked.
I’m out of bad music analogies, I swear.
5. Zach Randolph: So Memphis ran through the Spurs like a hot knife through butter and…and…and Zach Randolph was undeniably the best player on the floor. Up until a game two stinker Randolph was the best player on the floor against the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s unclear if OKC figured out how to defend the Grizz or they just had a bad game, but Z-Bo being the best player on the floor for seven of eight playoff games is nothing short of miraculous. Let’s remember that Randolph has a longgggggg laundry list of misconduct. It includes: Stealing a pair of pants and getting in legal trouble for battery—all while in high school. He was cited for underage drinking in 2002 and was caught lying to police in 2004 after his brother shot three people in a nightclub. He’s flipped the middle finger to booing fans at games and he once through his headband at a referee. He broke a teammate’s eye-socket after he punched him in the face. He once asked for time off after a death in the family and spent the night at a Portland strip-club while his teammates were playing a game across town. And that’s only half of it—Henry Abbot of TrueHoop has the rest. But you get the idea; it’s pretty crazy that Zach Randolph is the best player on a really solid playoff team.
There’s something totally endearing about this team of cast-offs, under-achievers, and overpaid slackers—and a Memphis title, no matter how improbable, is definitely possible. I’m worried the Thunder will pack the paint and force Memphis to make outside shots, but that requires someone to hold off Randolph’s thunderous, loping drives.
4. Chris Paul: I’ve heard some folks say that based on what J.J Barea is doing to the Lakers; we may need to reevaluate how impressive Paul’s series actually was. I disagree; the Lakers were simply not engaged in their game two thumping at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks. Your guess is as good as mine as to why Los Angeles wasn’t putting forth the effort in a very important playoff game, but J.J Barea’s largest obstacle last night wasn’t Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol, but the air molecules in front of him. Let’s not forget Paul was playing with the likes of Aaron Gray, Emeka Okafor, and Trevor Ariza.
3. LeWade Dwyane-James: Mostly because they’re taking equal slices from the Boston Celtics evisceration pie, but also because the thought of a science experiment combining LeBron James and Dwyane Wade into one basketball player makes me giggle uncontrollably. I also wanted to save room on the list for other guys doing exceptional things on the basketball court, so if this bothers you I dare you to watch this multiple times in a row. DO IT.
But really, how can you say one is playing better than the other? In game one it was Wade vanquishing his “Celtics curse” and going off for 38 points and making Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett look like overmatched children. If you didn’t try to imitate Wade’s viscous euro-step in your driveway for at least 30 minutes you’re lying. And in game two is was LeBron scoring 36 (24 in the second half) and drilling two three-pointers mid-way through the third quarter that stifled Boston’s inevitable run.
2. Dirk Nowitzki: I implore you read this great little piece about Dirk’s step-back jumper because it encapsulates so perfectly how freaking impossible it should be and how damn easy he makes it look. I think that in ten years we’ll be talking about Dirk’s 15-foot step back jumper in the same revered tone reserved for Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s “sky-hook” or Hakeem’s dream shake. It’s definitely in the pantheon of most feared shots ever.
1. Kevin Durant: The man is scoring 32 points a game on twenty attempts. I’ll repeat that: the man is scoring 32 points a game on twenty attempts. And that’s with Russell Westbrook channeling his inner teen-wolf and firing up wild-haymakers despite his paltry 36 percent shooting mark from 16-23 feet and his 33 percent shooting from behind the arc for the season. And did you see Durant’s 41 point masterpiece to close out the Nuggets in game five—in which he scored 16 points in the last five minutes? That’s the kind of demonstrative, take-no-prisoners, get-the-f***-out-of-my-way Durant we’ve all been waiting for.
Posted by Richard Owens at 3:37 PM