Through the first round of the NBA playoffs, which 30 players stood out above the rest?
30. Kendrick Perkins / Big Baby Davis
Baby’s interior scoring and surprisingly clutch mid-range jumper plus Perk’s defense and rebounding were equally valuable to the Celts in overcoming the absence of KG and Leon Powe. Perkins averaged 13.3 points, 11.6 boards and 3.0 blocks against Chicago, while Davis put up 18.1 points and 6.7 boards. Baby is a free agent this summer; he might have just earned himself a starting job with another team.
29. Josh Smith
Pretend J-Smoove had made that between-the-legs dunk in Game Five; he gets another piece of YouTube immortality and yet another soul-crushing dunk on Miami. Smith (16.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.6 spg, 1.9 bpg) set the tone in Game One with his highlight crams, and each one he pulled off thereafter seemed to make a statement.
28. Andre Miller
He loses points for his post-elimination wreckless talk and then skipping Philly’s last team meeting of the season, but during the Orlando series Miller averaged 21.2 points, 6.3 boards and 5.3 assists.
27. John Salmons
Strictly a scorer and kind of a gunner, but Salmons did his job and kept Chicago in my second-favorite NBA playoff series ever (Sonics/Jazz ’96 conference finals gets the crown) with clutch shots and a 35-point show in the triple-OT Game Six. He’s gotta have about 62 “What’s it like?” and “I miss important games” texts in his phone from Kevin Martin.
26. Luis Scola
When the Blazers were successful in limiting Yao, Scola (16.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg) picked them apart with jumpers. And I swear his hair grew a substantial amount with every big game. “Samson” is the X-factor in the L.A./Houston series.
25. Mike Bibby
Held it together while Joe Johnson couldn’t find his shot, Josh Smith was trying to fight everybody, and Al Horford and Marvin Williams were in and out with injuries. Bibby averaged 14.9 points, hit 53% (16-30) from beyond the arc, and got away with punching Mario Chalmers and trying to kick the rookie in the nuts.
24. Yao Ming
Numbers weren’t great (15.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 1.2 bpg), but he dominated the Rockets’ Game One blowout, and forced the Portland defense to dedicate most of its attention on him, opening the door for others to step up.
23. Chris Paul
You know you’re good when you can still slap up 16.6 points, 10.4 assists and 1.6 steals while wearing one Jordan sneaker and one bowling shoe.
22. Tim Duncan
Playing 2-on-5 alongside Tony Parker, Duncan was solid (19.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg), but never had that vintage 35-15-8-5 line he would have put up in the same scenario a couple years ago.
21. Carlos Boozer
In Utah’s only win, Booz took over with 23 points and 22 boards, and for the series averaged 20.6 points and 13.2 boards. Good impression to leave if he’s opting out and testing the free-agent market.
20. Joe Johnson
Didn’t really get going until Game Seven, when he canned six threes (27 pts), some of them from J.J. Redick-at-Duke range. Jury’s still out on whether Joe is a legit franchise player.
19. Dirk Nowitzki
It took him a few games to figure out Gregg Popovich’s defensive scheme, but once he did, Dirk got the ball rolling in the Game Three blowout with some early buckets, then scored 31 points in the series-clinching Game Five.
18. Andre Iguodala
Game Six was his moment to shine, when Iguodala (21.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 6.7 apg) was supposed to step up and earn that alpha dog paycheck. The 20-point, 6-dime, 3-steal line was nice, but there’s no way he should have let his team not only lose the game, but get embarrassed on their home floor.
17. Deron Williams
In one of his worst games of the Lakers/Jazz series, Deron still hit the game-winner. Overall he put up 20.2 points and 10.8 assists in the series, scoring 35 in Game Two and dropping 17 dimes in Game One.
16. Ron Artest
At this point you just have to take the bad shot selection for what it is. What no one talks about, though, is Artest (15.7 ppg) tying with PG Aaron Brooks for the team lead in assists (4.3 apg) in the Houston/Portland series. Ron-Ron also owns both the best post-game interview of the playoffs so far and the most controversial interview.
15. Paul Pierce
Missed free throws (Game One) and turnovers (Game Six) in big spots caused Pierce to drop a few spots, but he saved Boston in Game Five with the game-winner, and was still good for 23.1 points and 6.9 rebounds.
14. Lamar Odom
It’s automatic now: When Andrew Bynum sits, L.O. becomes a rebounding machine. After Phil Jackson benched Bynum for the last three games of Lakers/Jazz, Odom stepped into the starting lineup and averaged 19 points and 14.6 boards.
13. Josh Howard
Did you see how the entire Mavs team ran over to Howard when he turned his ankle in Game 1 against Denver? When was the last time you saw that team react like that for any one person? Even when Dirk was getting mafia-slapped by David West last year, none of his teammates did anything. Dallas knows how important Howard is; he dropped 25 points in the series-opening win at San Antonio, and had 28 in Game Four.
12. Tony Parker
It’s not his fault only one of his teammates showed up. Parker averaged 28.6 points on 54% shooting against the Mavs, and sadly, was a few boards shy of being San Antonio’s second-leading rebounder behind Duncan. TP’s 38-point, 8-dime, 72%-shooting effort in Game 2 was perhaps the best individual performance of all the non-Boston/Chicago series.
11. Carmelo Anthony
Would’ve ranked higher, but I think Bryant Stith could score 25 a night on Peja Stojakovic at this point.
10. Brandon Roy
Scoring 26.7 points on 45% from the field and 87% from the line is one thing. Doing it when you’ve got Ron Artest and Shane Battier taking turns renting space in your shirt is another. The Blazers couldn’t have asked for a better postseason debut from their franchise player, and he’ll only be better next year because of this year’s experience.
9. Ben Gordon
I don’t get where all the venom toward BG came from after Game Seven. Yeah, Gordon (24.3 ppg) took some ill-advised shots, but he’d been taking ill-advised shots the entire series; the only difference was in Games 1-6, he was making them. (And he still scored 33 points in Game Seven.)
8. Rajon Rondo
Over the last couple weeks, Rondo (19.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 11.6 apg, 2.7 spg) hit the switch and turned into Jason Kidd 1.5, only without the second pair of eyes in the back of his head. And he only turned the ball over 15 times in about 315 minutes.
7. Derrick Rose
Rondo had better numbers and his team won the series, but Rose was more impressive to me because, (1) He’s a rookie. He’s not supposed to drop 36 points and 11 dimes on the defending champs in their gym in his postseason debut. He’s not supposed to improve his regular-season numbers and average 19.7 points, 6.3 boards and 6.4 assists in a high-tension seven-game classic. And (2) whereas Rondo still had the protection of Pierce and Ray Allen — the equivalent of having Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols hitting behind you in the order — Rose was the focal point of Boston’s defensive game-plans.
6. Chauncey Billups
He did the impossible, putting a chill on the “OMG, Chris Paul = best PG EVER!!” steam-fest. Chauncey’s 22.6 ppg and 7.4 apg numbers didn’t even tell the whole story. He elicited everything from “fresh fish” prison jokes to Takeru Kobayashi analogies. Just a dominating performance.
5. Dwyane Wade
Fitting that D-Wade would start having back problems after lugging around an entire roster that overachieved all season. Flash put up 29.1 points, five rebounds and 5.3 assists in seven games against Atlanta, dropping 41 in an elimination Game Six and 33 in a crucial Game Two. In Miami’s three wins, Wade knocked down 50% of his threes.
4. Dwight Howard
After The Centaur tortured the Sixers to the tune of 24 points, 15.8 boards and 2.8 blocks per, with a 24/24 and a 36/11 stat line thrown in, they were so confused when he wasn’t around for Game Six that they crapped the bed in what should have been a gift-wrapped W. It was like post-traumatic stress.
3. Ray Allen
Take his terrible Game 1 (loss) and subpar Game 5 (win) out of the mix, and Ray was nothing but brilliant: 30 ppg on 50% shooting from the field and 52% from three, and countless clutch threes and free throws in the fourth quarters and overtimes. Not even Orlando wants to get in a long-distance shootout with Ray hitting like this.
2. Kobe Bryant
The one time he struggled (5-24 FG in Game 3), the Lakers lost. The one time he faced something resembling a must-win, he dropped 34 points through two and a half quarters and finished with 38 in a rout. Kobe averaged 27.4 points, five boards, 5.6 dimes and 2.4 steals against Utah, and it feels like he’s just warming up.
1. LeBron James
Man amongst old men. The MVP put down 32 points (50.7% FG), 11.3 boards and 7.5 assists on the Pistons in a four-game scrimmage that looked like one of Team USA’s FIBA qualifying runs. The Cavs’ average margin of victory in the sweep was 15.5 points, and ‘Bron led a defense that held Detroit to 78 points a night. In the two most definitive statement games, the series opener and the clincher, he was good for 37 points per.