The 2023 NBA playoffs are nearing the Finals. The Denver Nuggets completed the sweep over the Los Angeles Lakers last night, and the Miami Heat are likely soon to be joining them. There have been some incredible games so far, so let’s look back on the best of the best. Here are the top 10 players in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
10. Russell Westbrook
This might come as a surprise to many as the LA Clippers were bounced in the first round by the Phoenix Suns, but Russell Westbrook put on some heroic performances to keep the Clippers in the series after losing Kawhi Leonard. The Clippers were already short-handed with Paul George being ruled out for the series before Leonard went down following Game 2. Westbrook came out with back-to-back 30-point performances while handling the difficult task of trying to keep Kevin Durant at bay.
Westbrook’s high motor and relentless attack even on poor shooting nights kept the Clippers in games that had no business being close. He also sealed a hard-fought victory in Game 1 on the glass against a much bigger Deandre Ayton. He left it all out on the court, and for the first time in almost two years, it looked like the old Russ.
9. LeBron James
LeBron James was swept out of the playoffs Monday night despite a 40-point, near triple-double in a two-point loss to Denver. James still has been filling up the stat sheet for the Los Angeles Lakers this postseason, but he hasn’t shown the ability to completely take over a game like he has in years past.
In the series vs. the Warriors, he needed great games from role players like Lonnie Walker and often deferred to his teammates in big moments. He shot a career postseason low from the 3-point line and at times was dropped to the point of being a facilitator, looking for Austin Reaves or Anthony Davis. He is still one of the best players to ever play the game, but this was not LeBron’s best postseason showing by a long shot. Time will also tell if it was his last.
8. Jayson Tatum
Jayson Tatum has risen to the status of a borderline top-five player in the NBA in the past two seasons. However, this postseason has been a tale of two players on a game-by-game basis. His 50+ point performance in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals was a legendary performance. His Game 6 was equally as bad–until the final few minutes. He was lucky to have been bailed out by his Boston Celtics teammates in that one, but that has not been the story in the series vs. the Heat. Tatum has been great for stretches–posting 30 point halves–but has disappeared at times as well. He is still an elite player in this league, but he needs to have more consistent star-like games to move higher on this list.
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7. Jalen Brunson
The New York Knicks made one of the best moves in the league this year when they acquired Jalen Brunson from the Dallas Mavericks. Brunson quickly showed that his strong play in last year’s postseason was no fluke. He led the Knicks in advancing past the Cleveland Cavaliers, who many had picked to win the Eastern Conference after trading for Donovan Mitchell. Brunson not only out-played Mitchell but everyone else on the court as well.
The Knicks ultimately fell in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Miami Heat. Brunson, however, was not to blame. He put up 37 points per game, including a 41-point performance in the final three games of the series. It just was not enough to overcome Jimmy Butler and company. While the Knicks have to decide if Julius Randle will be a part of the team’s long-term future, Brunson will certainly be a building block of the future.
6. Kevin Durant
In watching the games this postseason, Kevin Durant did not look to be his old self. He was going on crazy cold streaks and missing shots we have become used to him making over the last decade and a half. The numbers, however, tell a different story. He finished the playoffs averaging 29 PPG. Durant came up big in the Phoenix Suns‘ two wins over Denver. Those wins also look better given that the Lakers couldn’t even get one win against the Nuggets.
His co-star, Devin Booker, leaned on him heavily to escape double teams, run fast breaks, and cover what was often the other team’s best player. Durant seemed uncomfortable, but it’s easy to look at the supporting cast outside of Booker and realize why he was not getting to his spots like we have become accustomed to. The Slim Reaper is still one of the best players in the world. He will be back for vengeance with his new team next season.
5. Jamal Murray
Jamal Murray has been the Robin to Nikola Jokic’s Batman this postseason for the Denver Nuggets. But that should not discredit what he has been able to do. Murray went nuclear in Games 2 and 3 vs. the Lakers, scoring 37 points in back-to-back games. He has shown up in some of the biggest moments, taking the pressure off of the two-time MVP. He has been the key to the pace and spacing that has allowed the Western Conference champs to dominate throughout the playoffs and has dramatically improved his defense by picking up star guards night in and night out.
The pick-and-roll with him and Jokic has been un-guardable and almost single-handedly took out the Suns, who have been Denver’s only real test to date. Murray has quickly reminded us that his insane performances in the bubble playoffs of 2020 were not a fluke and that when healthy, he is one of the best point guards in the league.
4. Stephen Curry
While it may seem that the Golden State Warriors dynasty as we know is over, Steph Curry is not done terrorizing the league. He put up a 50-point performance in Game 7 vs. the Sacramento Kings in the first round and added a 30-point triple-double vs. the Lakers. He averaged 30.5 PPG before falling in Game 6 vs. the Lakers. If the rest of what we know as the Warriors dynasty had shown up, they could be fighting for another NBA title. The fall off of Jordan Poole really hurt the Warriors and led to Curry having to play over 40 minutes a night. Steph is still the most dangerous shooter in the league and showed it on the biggest stage once again. The Warriors may be moving on from Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, but expect Steph and a re-tooled roster to be back and competing for a title next year.
3. Devin Booker
Devin Booker was a man possessed during the playoffs. He was putting up numbers that have not been replicated since Michael Jordan in the early ’90s. Booker had three 40-point games and shot nearly 80% between Games 3 and 4 of the Nuggets series. What was so incredible is that he was equally as great on the defensive end as the Suns’ best player on both ends of the floor. He finished the postseason with a ridiculous 33.7 PPG with 5 rebounds and 7 assists per contest, acting as the point guard with Chris Paul missing time.
His Game 6 performance was very disappointing and reminiscent of Game 7 vs. Dallas last year. Regardless, that one game should not discount what he was able to do during the playoffs. Booker is quickly entering the discussion of one of the top-five players in today’s game.
2. Jimmy Butler
Putting Jimmy Butler at No. 2 is almost gut wrenching with how incredible he has been during this playoff run, but the man at the top has earned it. Plus, Butler has a chance to end up at the top of the list when it’s all said and done in mid-June. The Miami Heat are one game away from the NBA finals and are vying to be the first 8-seed to ever win a title. It seems that everyone keeps waiting for the magic to run out in each round, but it just won’t stop. Miami handled top-seeded Milwaukee in five, the Knicks in six, and are looking to knock out the Celtics in short order. All that is thanks to “Playoff Jimmy.”
Butler has done nearly everything right–including hitting 3s, which he barely even attempted in the regular season. He closed out the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo with a 42-point performance and was putting up 25 per game vs. the Knicks. He gets to the rim, finds his teammates, and is constantly crashing the boards. He’s averaging just under 30 points for the postseason–even after a 16 point performance in Game 3. Butler has proven all of the NBA world wrong, Now, he has the chance to cement himself as one of the best playoff performers ever. Butler and the rest of the Heat are looking to show that their run to the Finals in the bubble of 2020 was no fluke along with gaining revenge on losing to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals last year as the 1-seed.
Top Player in the NBA Playoffs: 1. Nikola Jokic
This should come to no surprise, especially after Nikola Jokic’s closeout performance in LA on Monday night. The Joker seems as if he can do no wrong. He’s hitting insane circus shots for 3, knocking down floater after floater, and consistently making the right pass. He just passed Wilt Chamberlain for the most triple-doubles in a single playoff with his eighth in Game 4 against the Lakers. He is currently averaging a triple-double with 30 PPG, 13 RPG, and 10 APG, which are completely insane numbers.
Jokic has talked about how his back-to-back MVP’s mean very little to him. He said his only goal is to bring a championship to Denver. This is the Nuggets first trip to the NBA Finals in franchise history, and this team is heavily favored to win it all. Jokic has even shot 47% from 3 to add to all the different ways that he has been decimating teams this postseason. A player as talented as he is offensively paired with what may be the best vision in the league will be a tall task to take down in the Finals. This has easily been the best supporting cast of his career. It’s allowed him to maximize his skillset. We simply need to appreciate the greatness that we are watching from the Joker.
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