May 02, 2014

2014 NBA Playoffs: Playoff MVP's

In typical postseason fashion, some players have beckoned to the call of greatness and other's have been swept away by the immense pressure and demanding excellence that comes with playoff basketball. Which players production has us fans ranting and raving? The Basketball Society is here to highlight the MVP's of the playoffs so far.

Honorable Mention:

Paul George (F, Indiana Pacers):

Although the Pacers have failed to resemble the title contender many branded them as at the beginning of the season, they are still in an unexpected position to claim victory in their first round series with the Atlanta Hawks.
I say unexpected, because nobody anticipated this series going the distance, as Atlanta's offensive scheme has parked disgruntled big man Roy Hibbert on the bench for the majority of the series. Indiana has struggled in this one, including getting walloped twice on their home floor. Although they have played poorly at times, their main cog Paul George has been extremely reliable in this series.

George has shown flashes of dominance on both ends of the floor, and although it's no foreign matter for him to be a commanding figure on the defensive end, the success he's been having offensively is encouraging for Indy.

Paul has been engaged defensively, doing the majority of the defensive anchoring, which usually falls squarely on the shoulders of Roy Hibbert. As mentioned before, Hibbert's abysmal play and ATL's offensive system has minimized his impact, so George has been forced to step up.

This hasn't been much of a challenge for Paul, as he's rebounding, attempting to put the Hawks perimeter attack to a screeching halt, and fighting through screens to cause pandemonium for Atlanta.

George is averaging 22.8 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 4.8 APG and is shooting 45% from the floor and 46% from three. He has upped all of his statistics from the regular season, and is top ten among all players in the postseason in scoring, rebounding, and three point field goal percentage. PG is also tied with Dwight Howard for playoff double-double's at 5. Although Indiana has endured a severe struggle, the 24 year old Paul George has been playing exceptional basketball.

Hopefully for Indiana, he can register a solid performance Saturday against the Hawks as them and the  Pacers will duel in what is sure to be a dramatic game seven.

Nene (PF, Washington Wizards):

The Washington Wizards marched onto the second round of the playoffs after thrashing the offensively anemic Chicago Bulls in five games. The basketball world watched amazed as John Wall, Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza picked apart the seemingly indestructible Bulls defense with crisp passes, good reads and poised play.

The unheralded component of Washington's surprising domination of Chicago was Nene's play. Although his numbers aren't eye popping, (17.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.3 APG and 54% shooting,) Nene's play when pitted against defensive player of the year Joakim Noah was extremely promising.

The offense often ran through Nene, who's catches at the high post usually resulted in something great for the Wizards. Nene was hitting his jumper, steamrolling to the rim and making great reads to open up opportunities for others. Also, for a team who's best players never allotted one minute in a playoff game prior to this year, his experience and toughness was an important aspect in getting the youngsters (Wall and Beal,) ready.

Nene shredded through Chicago's highly respected defense, leaving Noah and the other members of the ball club frustrated. These frustrations became even more apparent in game three, as Nene and Bulls guard Jimmy Butler got in an altercation that resulted in the ejection of Nene and him being suspended for game four.

Nene's value to this team has been apparent all year, as they clung to the hope that better basketball would be played when he returned from injury. Now that he's back, healthy and engaged, Washington may prove to be a formidable foe for any eastern conference team.

Manu Ginobili (G, San Antonio Spurs):

Manu Ginobili had an abysmal 2013 NBA Finals. He averaged 11.6 PPG, 4.3 APG, 2.1 RPG and shot 43% from the floor and 25% behind the arc. He constantly made mistakes, as the ball handling duties landed right into his hands when Tony Parker went to the bench for a rest.

Silly turnovers, questionable decisions and injuries prevented Ginobili from making the positive impact that he's accustomed to making for San Antonio

So far in the 2014 postseason, Ginobili has been exceptional, providing the Spurs with that powerful and potent punch that San Antonio so desperately needs at times. Although Dallas isn't the most intimidating of teams defensively (9th in opponents points allowed this postseason at 98.4, tied for 1st in opponents field goal percentage at 47%,) Ginobili has still been puncturing Dallas' D, showing the flashes of brilliance that eluded him all of last year's playoffs.

Manu is averaging 19.6 PPG (which leads the team,) on 46% shooting (41% from behind the arc,) 4.0 RPG, 4.4 APG and 1.8 SPG. These are all up from the regular season, as are his minutes (29 per game compared to 22.8 in the regular season.) He's showing us the vintage Manu Ginobili that wows with big time plays and a craftiness that seems to be so unique to Manu.

What's most impressive to me is that Manu is 6th in PER this postseason (I'm excluding DeJuan Blair who statistically is first, because he's only playing 9.3 MPG.) His time on the floor has been efficient and effective, which was not a commonality in last year's postseason campaign.

With star point guard Tony Parker nursing an ankle injury, Ginobili's value to the team increases even more, as the veteran Spurs hope to reclaim their position as the league's champion. With the talent and coaching the Spurs have, this thought isn't too far fetched. With Manu providing a spark like this, the reality of another team defeating the Spurs in a seven game series becomes grim.

Now for the actual rankings...

3. LeBron James (F, Miami Heat):

What would this list be without the league's best player? LeBron James registered a rather quiet 30 PPG, 6.0 APG, 8.0 RPG and 2.3 SPG in the Heat's first round sweep of the Bobcats. Although majority of the basketball world established a new respect for the Charlotte, LeBron and company were simply reestablishing themselves.

As the end of the regular season drew closer, a lot of hoopla livened up about Miami possibly faltering and falling to the Brooklyn Nets or Indiana Pacers in the postseason. A dominant series has all the naysayers hushed temporarily, as LBJ relaxes at home patiently waiting for the second round to begin.

Charlotte was no match for Miami, as big man Al Jefferson was fostering a foot injury that limited him completely. The Cats had no legitimate perimeter scoring option with the exception of Kemba Walker, and their lack of experience didn't help either.
Miami remained clam, cool and collected all series, and it's easy to see why. With a player like LeBron James at the helm, even the most challenging moments can be transformed into a major triumph. James is leading the Heat in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals and is second in FG% behind Chris Andersen.

In addition to leading his team in every major statistical category, he is 1st in scoring among all playoff participants, 1st in field goal percentage among players shooting over fifteen times a game and is 9th in assists. He is also first in PER (again, excluding DeJuan Blair.)

James has been anchoring the Heat all year long, that trend will surely continue as we march deeper into the playoffs. This is very intriguing, because us fans get to see what the best player in the world has up his sleeves to ensure his team a shot at claiming a third straight championship.

2. Dwight Howard (C, Houston Rockets): 

When things go awry in Houston, Dwight Howard is usually the one to blame. Some salivate at the chance to exclaim things like "Coward" or "soft" right in Howard's direction. The slander at times is ridiculous, mostly led by legendary big man Shaquille O'Neal, who isn't shy about pointing out Howard's ineffectiveness on the offensive end.

Instead of preparing to disregard Dwight, fans should take a different approach and learn to appreciate his dominance. Yes I said it, dominance! Where has superstar James Harden been this series? Taking horrible shots, making poor decisions and having his notoriously bad defense in full force. Harden is averaging the same amount of points in this series as he did in the regular season (25.4) but is shooting ten percentage points lower from the floor, and eleven percentage points lower from downtown.

Howard on the other hand understands the ante has been upped majorly. In this series, Dwight is averaging 26.0 PPG, 14.2 RPG and 3.0 BPG. With the exception of field goal percentage (shooting 54% in the series) Howard has seen a rise his numbers from the regular season, including field goal attempts per game (17.6 this series, 11.3 in the postseason.)

He's exerting maximum energy, which could visibly been seen at the conclusion of game five when Howard was simply exhausted in his post game interview with TNT.

DH12 is leading Houston in points, rebounds, blocks and is second in field goal percentage behind newcomer Troy Daniels. For Portland, it's possible that a Dwight Howard eccentric offense is a little less frightening than a James Harden one, but with numbers like these, Howard is striking major fear in the Blazers.

Dwight is leading a ball club who happens to be the youngest out of all participating teams this postseason, and for those that claim Howard is "silly" or "immature," just look at the impact he's having on this series.

He's anchoring the defense which has always been his specialty, but due to Harden's struggles anchoring the offense as well. Most would assume that anchoring an offense is not in Howard's nature, but he's proving that he's extremely capable of doing so.

How much of the offensive load is Howard shouldering? He's taking the second most shots on the team behind Harden's 23.6 per game. After Howard and Parsons 17.6 attempts per game, nobody is attempting more than 11.

Out of all the players on the Rockets shooting more than 8 times per game, only one is shooting better than 45%: Dwight Howard.

He's 4th this postseason in scoring, 2nd in rebounds, 3rd in field goal percentage among players shooting more than 15 times a game, is tied for 3rd in blocks, and is tied for 1st in double-double's with Paul George. To top all of this off, he's 3rd in PER (again, excluding DeJuan Blair.)

Dwight has been fantastic this postseason, again cementing his status as the league's best center. How long he remains the alpha dog at this position remains to be seen, but highly regarded threats Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah simply don't compare.

Noah is at home pondering what else he can sprinkle into his game to stave off early elimination next year, and majority of fans are calling for the benching of Roy Hibbert immediately. Hibbert's the first all-star to have back to back scoreless playoff games since the 60's, how could that ever compare to Howard's production?

To compare, Noah averaged 10.4 PPG, 12.8 RPG, and 4.6 APG this postseason in route to being bounced by the Wizards 4-1.

Hibbert is averaging 4.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG and is shooting 30% from the floor. How does that warrant praise as the league's top center?

Am I in no way attempting to undermine the accomplishments of Joakim and Roy, as they are fantastic talents and contribute to their teams in fantastic fashion, but rather fully illustrate Howard's dominance.

Of course, if Houston loses majority of fans will poke fun at Howard for departing Los Angeles just to endure another first round heartbreak, but maybe some will be able to appreciate his excellent play in this series.

It's somewhat fair to place a pinch of blame on Howard if they lose the series, because his acquisition was suppose to place them over the top, but it would be silly to discard his numbers in this series just for pure enjoyment. He's been great, and will have to continue to be if Houston hopes to make more noise this postseason.

1. LaMarcus Aldridge (F, Portland Trailblazers)

Aldridge's consecutive 40 point games in game one and two contribute heavily to this ranking, but he's been solid all around in the Blazers first round matchup with the Houston Rockets.

In the opening contest of the series, Aldridge splurged onto the playoff scene in a forceful fashion, posting a 46 point, 18 rebound stat line en-route to a surprising Blazers win. How would he follow up this mesmerizing performance? Aldridge again ushered in a stint of dominance by posting 43 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks as the Blazers claimed victory and a 2-0 series lead.

LaMarcus is a huge reason why Portland maintains a 3-2 series lead, and has the fantastic opportunity to close the series out tonight in Portland. His 29.8 PPG average makes him the 2nd highest scorer this postseason, and his 10.8 RPG makes him the 4th highest rebounder.

He's leading PDX in rebounding, scoring, blocks and is 2nd on the squad in field goal percentage behind Robin Lopez.

His scoring numbers are up from the regular season campaign, which saw LaMarcus average 23.2 PPG, on 45% shooting.

He's butting heads with Dwight Howard, and attacking fearless and aggressively. His bravery in the paint has turned into utter dominance, as he's launching shots over the freakishly athletic Howard and connecting with great accuracy.

LaMarcus is shooting 50% from the field, promising to be efficient when he touches the ball. His effective has LMA been? He's 2nd in PER this postseason (for the last time excluding DeJuan Blair,) and is leading an elite Portland offense.

Everyone in Portland's starting 5 with the exception of center Robin Lopez possesses the ability to shoot the ball and pass exceptionally well.

This puts immense pressure on Houston's defense to minimize mistakes, or get burnt from every nook and cranny of the court. LaMarcus has pierced the defense with a flurry of midrange jumpers, but also some attacks of the paint.

This mixed bag makes it hard for Houston to hone in on the former Texas Longhorn, explaining why they elected to start Omer Asik and combat Portland with a "twin towers" look. This notion, paired with Howard's incredible effort in game five stalled what Portland hopes to be in the inevitable: Houston's departure from the postseason.

In game five, Aldridge played poorly, only pouring in 8 points on 3-12 shooting and 8 rebounds. Knowing LaMarcus, expect him to bounce back fiercely, especially being backed by the bonkers Portland crowd.

What's also been extremely impressive in this series is Aldridge's strength on the defensive end. He's averaging 3.2 blocks per game, which is 2nd highest in the postseason. Being paired with the defensive minded Robin Lopez has done wonders for LaMarcus, who is becoming more dependable on that end of the floor.

LaMarcus has been fantastic, and for the Blazers excellence to be sustained, he will have to lengthen the string of dominance he's reeled out in this series.

Who do YOU believe is the MVP of the playoffs so far? Hit me with thoughts and opinions on Twitter (@wcboyer24) and continue to support The Basketball Society. 

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