Real MVP candidates rise and shine in the playoffs

David Friedman Columnist

By David Friedman, David Friedman is a Roar Expert

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    Anthony Davis finally has support at the New Orleans Pelicans. (Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons)

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    Strictly speaking, playoff performance has nothing to do with winning the regular season MVP. However, an important aspect of being a legitimate MVP candidate is having the ability to lift a mediocre team into playoff contention and elevate a good team into championship contention.

    The consensus MVP candidates this season are LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. Westbrook singlehandedly carried the Oklahoma City Thunder into playoff contention after 2014 MVP Kevin Durant suffered a season-ending foot injury. However, Davis’ New Orleans Pelicans claimed the final Western Conference playoff spot by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker.

    Davis averaged 24.4 ppg (fourth in the league), 10.2 rpg (eighth in the league) and 2.9 bpg (first in the league for the second consecutive year) this season. He also ranked seventh in the league in field goal percentage (.535).

    Davis’ 45-37 Pelicans faced an impossible task in the first round versus the 67-15 Golden State Warriors but he elevated his game during the Warriors’ four game sweep, averaging 31.5 ppg, 11.0 rpg and 3.0 bpg while shooting .540 from the field.

    While Davis played valiantly in defeat, Curry was the MVP of the series, averaging 33.8 ppg, 7.3 apg and 5.3 rpg while shooting .453 from the field (including .417 from three point range). Curry poured in 39 points in Golden State’s 109-98 series clinching win.

    During the season, Curry averaged 23.8 ppg (sixth in the league), 7.7 apg (sixth in the league) and 2.0 spg (fourth in the league). He led the league in free throw percentage (.914) and finished third in three point field goal percentage (.443) while leading the league in three pointers made (286, a new record) and attempted (646).

    Harden ranked second in the league in scoring (27.4 ppg), sixth in the league in steals (1.9 spg) and ninth in the league in assists (7.0 apg). He led the league in free throws made (715, the 12th highest total in NBA/ABA history).

    Harden’s Houston Rockets captured the second seed in the Western Conference despite only having the fifth best point differential (3.4 ppg, only 1.2 ppg better than the ninth seeded Thunder).

    Harden has not been a great playoff performer, shooting less than .400 from the field in three of his six postseason appearances (including a pair of first round losses in his first two seasons with Houston). He started out the same way in this year’s playoffs, shooting 9-28 (.321) from the field in Houston’s first two games versus the Dallas Mavericks.

    Dwight Howard has been Houston’s best playoff performer thus far, averaging 17.3 ppg, 14.3 rpg and 3.0 bpg while shooting .588 from the field. Howard once again looks like the dominant force who carried the Orlando Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals.

    In the first game versus Dallas, Houston jumped out to a 19-8 lead in the first six minutes with Howard dominating the paint. He played limited minutes the rest of the way and Dallas outscored Houston when Howard was out of the game.

    Howard put on a show in game two, with 28 points and 12 rebounds. He dominated the fourth quarter, converting six alley-oop dunks.

    The Mavericks adjusted their defence in Game 3 to limit Howard but this created opportunities for Harden, who responded with a playoff career-high 42 points on 15-24 field goal shooting. The Mavericks outscored the Rockets by one point when Harden was in the game but the Rockets outscored the Mavericks by 16 points when Howard was in the game.

    It will be interesting to watch Howard and Harden perform in the second round (no NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, so it is safe to count out the Mavericks at this point).

    Four-time MVP James ranked third in scoring (25.3 ppg), third in steals (1.9 spg) and seventh in assists (7.4 apg) while leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the second best record in the Eastern Conference.

    He averaged 27.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 6.0 apg and 2.0 spg as the Cavaliers took a 3-0 lead versus the Boston Celtics. James has had some bizarre postseason performances (most notably in 2010 versus the Celtics and in the 2011 Finals versus the Dallas Mavericks) but there is no question that he can be the best player on a championship team. His playoff resume includes two championships, two Finals MVPs and a 28.0 ppg scoring average that ranks fifth all-time.

    David Friedman
    David Friedman

    David Friedman has covered the NBA for more than a decade, and in doing so, has interviewed nearly two dozen members of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List. You can find his work at 20SecondTimeout.

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    The Crowd Says (9)

    • April 27th 2015 @ 2:32pm
      Greg taz said | April 27th 2015 @ 2:32pm | ! Report

      Harden struggled again today. This is against probably the worst defensive team in the playoffs. Will be interesting to see him vs spurs, clips or gsw.

    • April 27th 2015 @ 5:46pm
      pete bloor said | April 27th 2015 @ 5:46pm | ! Report

      Harden had a true shooting percentage of. 659 prior to today. And given his 9-9 from the line will probably be the same today.

      Credible basketball analysts stopped using Fg percentage whilst Pluto was still a planet.

      • April 27th 2015 @ 8:10pm
        Greg Taz said | April 27th 2015 @ 8:10pm | ! Report

        Sure ft% is important but hey he is a shooting guard. Shots from the floor tell a bigger story. His efficiency doesn’t stand up next to currys who is the league leader in ft. The real test is if either of them stand up in the next rounds of the playoffs.

        • April 27th 2015 @ 11:27pm
          express34texas said | April 27th 2015 @ 11:27pm | ! Report

          While Curry leads .558 to .522 in efg%, Harden leads in TS% .653 to .614. And Curry is averaging more TOs at 4.0 to 3.3.

          Harden’s averaging 29, 4, 8 with a .653 TS%, and a .463 FG%. Even in his first 2 games where he shot a lower FG%, he still played very well. Really seems like this article is going out of its way to denigrate Harden, even though he actually is playing very well, especially only mentioning his 1st 2 games and not his entire series like the others. Harden runs HOU’s offense, and their offense has been amazing, everything goes through him. Howard has played well, but almost all of his production is a result of mostly Harden but also the rest of his teammates setting him up for easy shots. He also still can’t get make a FT to save his life. HOU is averaging 117ppg, and 109 was their lowest output. Not to mention Curry and James both had much easier 1st round opps. Davis just got swept, and helped his team meltdown in game 3. Pumping him up, especially at the expense of Harden, seems odd at best.

          • April 28th 2015 @ 7:59pm
            Greg Taz said | April 28th 2015 @ 7:59pm | ! Report

            I am guessing you are a rockets fan? The pels right now are better than mavs. AD makes that much of a difference and he guarded curry quite a bit in that series but curry found a way to score and win. Mavs have one of the worst perimeter defences around. The series has been a scoring spree. harden will get truly tested in the semis and conf finals.

            • April 29th 2015 @ 4:12pm
              pete bloor said | April 29th 2015 @ 4:12pm | ! Report

              I’m just a fan of intelligent analysis ergo you stuff sucks

            • April 30th 2015 @ 12:18am
              express34texas said | April 30th 2015 @ 12:18am | ! Report

              Nope, not a fan of Harden nor HOU. Curry played great, but so did Harden. Aminu a much better defender than Gordon or Evans or whoever guarded Curry. Plus, Harden had Chandler to deal with. Maybe he’ll struggle in the next round(s), but he played great in against Mavs. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous. He averaged 28, 4, 8, while shooting well from everywhere. Plus, he’s leading the NBA in TS% in the playoffs. Almost everything runs through him on offense, his team’s offense was phenomenal, even if it was against subpar defense. His team has lost 3 guys to injury, and they still dominated a very good Mavs team.

          • Columnist

            April 30th 2015 @ 12:49pm
            David Friedman said | April 30th 2015 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

            Express34texas:

            In the article, I mentioned game three and Harden’s playoff career-high 42 points on 15-24 field goal shooting. The article is up to date for all games played in the various series at the time I finished writing the article.

            I don’t understand what is wrong with pointing out that the Rockets built their lead early in game one with Howard dominating and that the teams essentially traded baskets the rest of the way, with Howard not being in the game for most of that time, nor do I understand what is wrong with pointing out that the Rockets sealed the deal in game two with Howard dominating in the fourth quarter (and Harden sitting on the bench while Smith tossed lob after lob to Howard).

            Even in game three when Harden played very well individually, the Rockets were actually outscored when Harden was in the game but they outscored the Mavericks by 16 when Howard played.

            The NBA leaders in true shooting percentage since 2008 include Amare Stoudemire, Nene (twice), Tyson Chandler (three times) and Kyle Korver (the past two seasons). Are any of those guys franchise players? Are any of those guys even close to being the best all-around offensive player in the league? Korver is a three point specialist, while the other guys mainly scored in the paint off of feeds from other players. Prime Stoudemire is the only one from that group who could really create his own shot.

            True shooting percentage is a useful stat in context but it is not some be all, end all guide to basketball analysis.

            Harden shot less than .350 from the field in the first two games of the series but the Rockets won largely because of Howard’s dominance at both ends of the court. I seriously doubt that a team can win a championship with its top scorer shooting less than .350 from the field, regardless of how high his true shooting percentage is. Harden’s FG% picked up in the next three games (with two of those three games happening after I wrote this article) and if Howard continues to dominate then Harden and the rest of the Rockets will benefit.

        • April 29th 2015 @ 4:11pm
          pete bloor said | April 29th 2015 @ 4:11pm | ! Report

          Greg thanks for the flawed execution of a bad straw man argument it shows you share the same credible platform as the author .

          If you beleive Fg percentage is more relevant than true shooting percentage for efficiency then there is that can be done for you.

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