For the first edition, I’ve balanced the players’ regular season play against their relatively meaningless first-round playoff series play. I don’t owe any player a blurb outside the top-10, and the list cuts off completely at 20—below that, I don’t think you’re fit to be playing in a conference semi-finals. Obviously, this is subjective, but get at me with your outrage and arguments for players you feel should move up or down.
1. Russell Westbrook
Kawhi Leonard may have had a better first round than Westbrook, and may have led his team to a more thorough dismantling of their opponent, but he didn’t murk anyone in a post-game conference while wearing a poncho.
2. Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi is not boring. He’s an active monster on defense that jumps off the screen. And despite his mild mannered reputation (or even because of it), he could give just as ruthless a deadpan interview as Westbrook if he wanted. You know he’s been sitting on a hushed-but-vicious clapback regarding Kevin Durant’s “system player” take, ready to pull it out in unexpected thug fashion after stealing Durant’s cookies in a key moment. Leonard plays with no mercy and has blossomed on offense (35.7 PER against Memphis); he’ll be a problem for the Thunder to figure out on both ends of the floor.
3. Kevin Durant
Durant is up this high entirely on the strength of his regular season and entertaining transition from Not Nice to Petty AF persona. The Thunder walked all over the Mavericks despite his worst stretch of the season, the rare case where they didn’t need him to go supernova to rack up wins. More bad games when it matters—as every single San Antonio contest will—and Durant’s ranking will start to plummet.
4. LaMarcus Aldridge
Advanced metrics don’t prop up Aldridge as an elite player (they never have), but he’s an interior anchor that played no small role in transforming the Spurs into their best ever regular season version of themselves.
5. Steven Adams
Adams’ versatility on defense is essential to the Thunder’s success in this series, and he’s already set up the dastardly brute vs. hardened gentleman matchup between him and Tim Duncan.
6. Serge Ibaka
Aside from a stinker in the close-out game in Dallas, Ibaka looked rejuvenated both as a shooter and a defender all series.
7. Enes Kanter
The inverse of KD, Kanter is here mainly on the strength of his playoff performance to date.
8. Tim Duncan
It was hard to vault individual Spurs very high on this list, since they all contributed so evenly and relatively unremarkably in the team-wide feast against Memphis in the opening round. Duncan is the old, actually boring half of the best defensive battery in the league, but being the most sound paint defender doesn’t get as much attention as does smothering perimeter foes (Leonard’s job).
9. Danny Green
Green’s season-long three-point shooting slump didn’t carry into the first round, and he’s a consistent force on defense regardless of whether his shot is falling. How well Green can matchup with Westbrook in the halfcourt and transition is another Key to the Series™.
10. Manu Ginobili
Playoff Manu hasn’t been quite the force in recent years as he was earlier in his career, but he absolutely still has the gumption and wiliness to break the Thunder’s back in a pivotal moment.
11. David West
12. Boris Diaw
13. Patty Mills
Mills may wind up with more minutes than Tony Parker for the series. As the highest volume three-point shooter for a San Antonio team taking the least percentage of their shots from beyond the arc, the style of the series could hinge a bit on his play. Both teams are likely to stay big, and if Mills is bottled up, we could have a slugfest on our hands.
14. Andre Roberson
15. Dion Waiters
One decent series does not a Waiters season erase, but I’m intrigued. Waiters will have opportunities to hold his own against the Spurs’ backcourt; can he do it?
16. Tony Parker
This series might not be pretty for Parker.
17. Boban Marjanovic
18. Kyle Anderson
19. Anthony Morrow
Play this man! Good sign for Morrow: he jumped ahead of Kyle Singler in the rotation against Dallas, playing with both the starters and the small ball units in the Thunder’s desperate-for-offense game 2. Bad sign: he was a virtual DNP the last three games, and Singler is still breathing.
20. Cameron Payne
While Billy Donavan has stubbornly stayed with the KD/Randy Foye backup ball-handling lineups, he hasn’t had to coach from behind in the playoffs and certainly hasn’t ever settled on a permanent rotation. So if you really want Payne to see more action, I guess root for the Thunder to struggle?
Honorable mentions: Jonathan Simmons (could be a sparkplug if the Spurs get down and Popovich throws him out before garbage time), Matt Bonner (garbage time king), Josh Huestis (garbage time prince), and Nick Collison (surprisingly decent in surprisingly high minutes in round 1).
Dishonorable mentions: Singler (don’t for a second think he won’t get some more burn), Foye, Kevin Martin (still amazingly bad on defense), Nazr Mohammed, and Andre Miller (think Professor Miller and Nazr will be hanging out on a porch together on their off days?).