The 2022 playoffs were filled with its share of blasts, but we still saw a fair amount of extraordinary performance. Luka Dončić led Dallas within three games of the Finals, Ja Morant gave the Warriors a run for their money and, with his back against the wall, Jimmy Butler gave birth to one of the most gritty playoff performances in recent memory. Numerous superstar efforts remained despite the absence of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard.
Larry O’Brien and Bill Russell’s trophies will be released in a couple of weeks. For now, let’s take a look at the rearview mirror, selecting the top 10 playoff MVP nominees ahead of the 2022 Finals.
10. Desmond Bane, Grizzly
We apologize to Jordan Poole, Jalen Brunson, Andrew Wiggins, James Harden (kidding!) And Robert Williams for their omissions. We’ll start with Bane at number 10, who may be the most promising player in Memphis outside of Morant. Bane earned All-Rookie honors last year before an impressive follow-up campaign, including a 43.6% score from three in 2021-22. Bane continued his strong play into the postseason. Morant’s fieldmate smashed Utah’s perimeter defense with 23.5 points per game in Round 1 and helped put a brief scare on Golden State a series later. Back issues limited Bane against the Warriors, limping a hampered list even further. Perhaps a healthy Memphis team could complete the upheaval in 2023.
9. Klay Thompson, Warriors
This may not be vintage Klay Thompson, but this version isn’t exactly too shabby. He shrugged off the rust from a 34-month post-season hiatus averaging 19.8 points per game versus 39.9% out of three, and entered the top finals after a 32-point night to send. the Mavericks packing up last week. Thompson remains grueling cover for opposing defenses as he whizzes across the screens, and there’s still some blast in his legs as he bursts into the can. The Thompson of another era was an underrated two-way ace, one who played a key defensive role in establishing the Golden State dynasty. He’s not quite that player anymore, but Steve Kerr and teammates will be happy to settle for arguably the greatest microwave scorer in league history.
8. Nikola Jokić, Nuggets
I am willing to reward a five-game champion here, given Jokić’s exit in a short streak against the Warriors. The two-time MVP is the only player in NBA history with an average of 30 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in a post-season (minimum four games), and his 37-point effort in Game 4 saved Denver from a sweep. The Nuggets were simply outclassed against the Warriors without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. We shouldn’t hold back Denver’s early exit against Jokić.
7. Jaylen Brown, Celtics
Brown is no second banana without his warts and his turnover struggles could raise their ugly head against Golden State. Yet sometimes the conversation surrounding Brown goes too far about what he can’t do rather than what he brings to the table. The Cal product has gone from a defensive specialist to a rigged 3-and-D piece over the past fifty years, punching the critical score alongside Jayson Tatum. Brown has 14 games of over 20 points in the playoffs. He is shooting a whopping 39.4% out of three, and could very well see a high role in the Finals if the Warriors try to trap Tatum. Brown has the ability to be an x factor at the end of the series. His performance could be a wake-up call for Boston in the finals.
6. Ja Morant, Grizzly
There is a plausible universe in which a healthy Morant and the Grizzlies have a shocking run to the 2022 Finals. The third-year phenomenon snatched a total of 115 points in his first three games against Golden State, including a 47-point masterclass in an upset race 2. Memphis has fought valiantly in their last three games without Morant, but they fell short of the Warriors’ machine. Fortunately for Morant, this is far from his last playoff chance. The maturity he has shown on such a grand stage portends a bright future in the 1920s and beyond.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
Antetokounmpo’s playoff dominance will largely be lost in memory, but he was the most terrifying player on the planet during the first two rounds of the playoffs. Antetokounmpo became the only player in league history to score 200 points, 100 rebounds and 50 assists in a single series, finishing a second-round battle with the Celtics with three 40-point goals and a couple of 20-rebound performances. Antetokounmpo’s playoff stats are reminiscent of Shaq’s peak. He’s getting better every year as a playmaker and a mid-range shooter, and maybe this is a different final match if Khris Middleton is healthy. Curry or Tatum is likely to hoist the Bill Russell Trophy by the end of the month. Antetokounmpo remains the best player in the world in 2022-23.
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4. Luka Doncic, Nonconformists
Dončić finishes his run just outside the top three in our runoff, even though he sports a pretty impressive statistical case. He scored three 40-point games and averaged 31.7 points per game best in the playoffs, and his decimation of Phoenix in Game 7 was reminiscent of LeBron James’ 48-point masterpiece to beat the Pistons in 2007. Out of control ahead of the Western Conference finals, and while it was a shaky shooting show for Dončić, we shouldn’t blame him for facing a reanimated dynasty with a weakened supporting cast. Dallas entered 2021-22 looking to take the next step. Having won two rounds of the playoffs, we should consider this season a success.
3. Jayson Tatum, Celtics
Tatum has 68 playoff games behind him entering the finals just three months after his 24th birthday, and the reps are cultivating impressive maturity. Tatum is confidently diagnosing defenses in his fifth postseason, finishing Sunday night’s win with six assists and just two turnovers. Tatum recognized Miami double teams more frequently as the series progressed, pinging the ball to crosscourt shooters before hell traps forced a series of turnovers. Such calm under pressure will be key against Draymond Green and the Warriors.
We’re burying the injury to some degree by highlighting Tatum’s passing abilities. His scoring ability remains his calling card, with a post-up game improvement creating perhaps the league’s scariest individual scorer. Tatum’s 46-point eruption in Milwaukee saved Boston’s season, though perhaps more impressive is the metronomic nature of Tatum’s nighttime performance. He has so far scored more than 25 points in 12 of 18 playoff games and has been efficient in all three closing games. Tatum is accumulating points on the free throw line and beyond the arc. It’s a nightmare for defenses both on an island and in pick-and-roll action. Butler told Tatum “it’s your time”After Race 7 on Sunday. I think he might be right.
2. Stephen Curry, Warriors
The narrative surrounding Curry’s lack of a Finals MVP trophy could end this year, and it’s frankly a bit ridiculous in the first place. Any doubts about Curry’s playoff chops continued to die out in 2022. The three-time champion hasn’t scored more than 35 points in a single post-season game, though his constant excellence deserves recognition. He has averaged 31 points per game in his last four games against Denver, and then averaged 7.4 assists against Dallas with 44% of three. He has a legitimate reason for top spot on this list and a stronger one if you subtract from his shooting fights against Memphis.
Curry may have passed its peak in historical volume and efficiency by three. But Curry’s 2022 version controls the game like he never has. He is pulling 57.1% on edge drives this postseason (a better score than Dončić, Antetokounmpo and Butler) and his postseason turnover rate is at the lowest level of his career. Curry moved into his thirties effortlessly. He is a brilliant playmaker and a historic shooter, one who is in total harmony with both his coach and teammates. Curry has curbed his recklessness in this latest iteration of the Golden State dynasty. He may very well have a fourth championship to show at the end of this month.
1. Jimmy Butler, Heat
Butler deserved the Larry Bird Trophy for the MVP of the Eastern Conference Finals, but he’ll still get a slightly less prestigious honor here. He performed in the tour-de-force playoffs just like he did in 2020, this time bringing a defeated team to the brink of the NBA Finals. Butler has lost 35-point performances six times, including his bursts of goals in Game 1, Game 6 and Game 7 against Boston. He is now approaching his 33-year season, with significant tread on his NBA tires (thanks, Thibs). But at this point, would anyone bet against Butler that he would bring Miami back to the conference finals in 2023?
The Miami star deserves first place regardless of the result of his final three seconds on Sunday night. And while I understand the urge to live with whatever attempt Butler wants in the final seconds, his decision to recover from three is hard to swallow under further scrutiny. Butler had 7 out of 24 out of three during this series and a horrible 23.3% this season. That number gets worse if we order by three above the break. Butler is a master at getting on the line, and while Al Horford is a nimble defender, it’s hard to see a situation where Butler doesn’t convert a layup, speak a foul or both.
Butler has morphed into one of the most memorable postseason of the last decade. He will have to live with his decision on Game 7 throughout the summer.
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