The NBA hasn’t left us any breathing room after an all-time classic first round, with Round 2 tipping off last night.
You can find plenty of stories about the top playoff performers but the true studs are those who have taken their games up a notch when it mattered, while the duds are those guys that wilted under the increased pressure. By comparing regular season performance with playoff performance, we can measure this, and that is what I’ve done here using PER*, which combines points, assists, rebounds, blocks, steals, turnovers and shooting efficiency into one all-encompassing stat.
The Studs: We’ve seen their heroics all over SportsCenter these past two weeks, so it’s no surprise that Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge appear in the top six most improved playoff performers compared to their regular season output. Tiago Splitter has also played well and perhaps is finally recovering from LeBron’s block last Finals.
Although it’s scant consolation, it appears Taj Gibson and Dwight Howard can hold their heads up high on their end-of-season fishing trips. Taj found a whole new level against the Wizards, which has likely ended Carlos Boozer’s stay in Chi-city.
The Duds: Amazingly, there was a more disappointing playoff performer than Roy Hibbert – one Dirk Nowitzki. Sure, the Spurs doubled him for most of the series, but this was nothing new for Dirk – he himself would tell you he simply wasn’t good enough. It’s clear the Mavs couldn’t operate successfully with Dirk, 37 next month, as their best player – they needed another superstar to free him up.
Unfortunately, free agents Carmelo and LeBron are likely to stay put this off-season, and the Mavs don’t have too many tradable assets or high draft picks to play with. Mark Cuban may not yet agree, but it is pretty clear the Mavs won’t be competing for a title anytime soon.
Hibbert avoided the top spot due to his form slump beginning all the way back in February, which lowered his regular season PER. Yes, he has been terrible – but it’s not like we weren’t expecting any less by now. The bad news is, things keep getting worse. He put up zero and zero again last night against the impressive Wizards, whose Bradley Beal, by the way, was seven on the studs list.
Joakim Noah’s performance was also a disappointment as he came off an impressive DPOY-winning regular season. In Round 1, Noah looked a like different guy and couldn’t contain or score against the Wizards’ big men of Nene and Marcin Gortat. Had he ran out of gas after Derrick Rose’s injury and Deng’s departure? Probably. This didn’t heal the pain of an embarrassing 4-1 series loss, however, and Noah will be doing a lot of soul-searching this summer.
Mr. Scary: “Mr. Unreliable” aka Kevin Durant was the third most disappointing player compared to his regular season play. OKC still made it through to Round 2. On the other hand, Jamal Crawford played well above his norm, helping the Clippers advance past the Warriors. The Clippers have stolen home court advantage by comfortably winning Game 1, but if both players play closer to their normal levels for the remainder of this series, you have to favor the Thunder here.
Either way, as long as we see more BasedGod in the stands, I’ll be happy.
* – The stat is per minute, so I have only analyzed players who averaged at least 27 minutes per game in the regular season and/or playoffs to weed out bench guys who might have got hot in garbage time. It isn’t the be all and end all – it favors offense over defense, for example – but is a great starting point for comparing player performance. Hell, any stat that has Michael Jordan and LeBron James as numbers one and two all-time can’t be too far off the mark.