The NBA’s MVP awards are kind of flawed.
The regular season one is trendy, catering to up-and-coming players more than boring dominant ones (MJ, LeBron), and voters never really consider defense (which is why Kawhi Leonard won’t win the thing this year).
The Finals MVP is cool, but sometimes it isn’t awarded to the real MVP (LeBron in 2015) if he’s on the losing team. It also doesn’t recognize how a team got to the grand stage–you know, the two-month mini-season called the Playoffs in which the contenders go through the tedious work of manually eliminating pretenders from the bracket.
That’s why we’ve decided to come up with a Playoff MVP. An award that recognizes player performance throughout the spring. It might still not put enough thought into defense, and might still penalize LeBron for being so great that he can drink a beer while humiliating the Raptors, but at least it gives some shine to the guys who have balled out in the postseason so far.
Check out our rankings:
1. Isaiah Thomas
Years from now, kids will hear the name “Isaiah Thomas,” and think of Isaiah Thomas instead of Isiah Thomas. It’s hard to believe that another guy with the same name has ascended to this level of basketball immortality, yet here Not Zeke is.
Not only is he the second-best player in the Eastern Conference, he’s been the heart, soul, brain–even the gallbladder of these Celtics, willing them to a 2-0 lead over the Wizards despite facing double-digit deficits in both games.
Thomas went for a mind-boggling 53 points on 18-of-33 shooting (12-13 from the line) in Game 2, after scoring 33 and dishing out nine assists during a convincing Game 1 comeback. The C’s have won six straight after dropping the first two at home to the Bulls, and seem to be playing for Thomas, in honor of his sister and all that he’s going through right now.
Sure, his playoff competition hasn’t been as stiff as some others on this list, but that’ll change soon enough.
2. Kawhi Leonard
Gregg Popovich wasn’t shy when he was asked who The Claw reminds him of most–he actually said the words “Michael Jordan.” That’s God-like praise for any basketball player, but in Kawhi’s case, it might actually be deserved.
The Quiet Man went for a Jordan-like 34 points on a ridiculous 13-of-16 shooting in the Spurs’ Game 2 win over Houston. He knocked down almost every open shot, found space in nearly every situation against every defender the Rockets threw at him, and created space when he needed to.
Kawhi is averaging 30.3 points per game on nearly 60 percent shooting (!) thus far in the playoffs. He had people on Twitter comparing him to Kobe in the Spurs’ Game 4 loss to Memphis in the first round, when he just couldn’t miss a pull-up jump shot.
His year-by-year improvement in San Antonio (7.9 ppg as a rookie, 11.9, 12.8, 16.5, 21.5, 25.5 after that) has been utterly remarkable, and it really shows just how great the Spurs are at developing players. Kawhi came in with the physical ability and will to work to improve his game to this level, and San Antonio has simply shown him how to do it. It’s amazing.
People forget just how good this guy is. Because of his offensive capabilities and his impact on defense, he should be the real MVP–if not the postseason one.
3. LeBron James
When he’s not having a beer in the midst of his team’s flat-out disassemblement of the Raptors, LeBron has been boring-ly dominating the playoffs in an almost unwatchable way. I didn’t watch a second of Cleveland’s four-game sweep of the Pacers, mostly because I knew exactly what was going to happen and didn’t want to waste my time.
LeBron is (yawn) averaging 34.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 2.7 steals per game in the playoffs, and the Cavs are–yup, undefeated so far in the postseason. Wake us up in the Finals.
4. John Wall
Even though his team is down 2-0 to Boston, John Wall has done everything he possibly could to get his teammates over the hump.
At some point, somebody else has got to step up. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet. Bradley Beal was straight-up awful in Game 2 (4-for-15 shooting, 1-for-9 from 3), and no one else on the team is even in the top 50 in playoff scoring (Markieff Morris checks in at No. 56 with 11 ppg). He’s never going to get the respect he deserves if his teammates don’t help him out.
5. James Harden
He hasn’t shot the ball very well all postseason, but Harden’s influence on the Rockets’ success goes beyond whether or not he puts the ball in the bucket. He’s dishing out assists at a solid clip (8.4 per) and continues to orchestrate an offense that runs with the sudden heightened awareness pace of a lawnmower on speed ‘5’. (You’ve got to be shifty to operate that thing). He gets the nod over Steph Curry for the No.5 spot because of degree of difficulty.