Been sitting on this post for awhile. After the first round and play in games. Here are the best 20 players in the playoffs (excluding play-in games).
First here are some honorable mentions
Donovan Mitchell (due to injury)
20. Ben Simmons
The 24 year old had a dip this past season in points. He did end the season well and much more active in the 76ers offense. The point forward averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds with 6.9 assists all while shooting 56% from the field. Simmons also, a defensive player of the year finalist. Simmons will have to develop some sort of perimeter threat to move into the NBA elites and for the 76ers to get over the hump in the east.
19. Julius Randle
I think everyone misjudged Julius Randle with his stint with the Lakers. Randle has absolutely revitalized the Knicks and exploded into a top 20 player in a season. Randle was named an all star this year, first time in his career and first time for a Knicks player since the Carmelo Anthony days (2017). Randle finished the season averaging 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 6.0 assists a game while shooting an impressive 41% from three point range. Randle should be a shoo-in for most improved player. The Knicks will go as far as Randle can carry them this post season.
18. Trae Young
Trae Young's scoring might not be as high as is second year season, but his game has gotten so much better. Young has been a lethal shooter since he stepped foot on the court for his first game as a rookie. But this year we have seen him mature into more of a playmaker instead of just a scorer. This is exactly why the Hawks are in the playoffs this year. Young is 22 years old and averaged 25.2 points and 9.4 assists, with shooting 34% from deep. Expect Young's scoring to go up during his first playoff run.
17. Paul George
Pandemic P... Paul George is still one of the best two way players in the NBA. He can guard 1-4 and also drop 25 points in the same night. I understand Paul George's struggles in the bubble last year and even the beginning of this season has him as a question mark for most. But I believe PG13 is still capable of being the best player on the court any given night, and could be the best sidekick in the league (outside of AD). George averaged 23.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists this past season. Clippers will need these types of number from him to dethrone the Lakers in the west.
16. Bradley Beal
Beal, second in points per game this season. Also, had to carry the anchor that Russell Westbrook is into the playoffs. Beal is an amazing offensive weapon and averaged 31.3 points a game this season, while shooting 49% from field and 35% from three. He also was efficient with his eFG being 53%. I would like to see Beal start to become the primary ball handler to expand his game more, averaging 4.0 assists a game is low for a guard of his caliber. Again, Beal is an amazing scorer but i have to see him improve his all around game before I could consider him a true number 1 on a championship contender.
15. Devin Booker
Booker, very similar analysis as Beal, is an offensive force. Booker is still only 24 and entering his best years. Outside of Steph and Harden, he's probably the only player who could drop 70 points in a game. Booker's scoring has taken a slight dip, but his all around game is coming together more and his efficiency rating (53.3%) is an all time high this season. Playing with Chris Paul is probably the best thing that could have for Booker's game. The Lakers do stand in Booker's way in the first round and i do not think the Suns will knock off the defending champs. But if Booker could be the assassin he was in the bubble along with Chris Paul being Chris Paul, it should be a fantastic series.
14. Jayson Tatum
The 23 year old is the leader of the Boston Celtics. He absolutely crushed in the play in game and always does well in the playoffs since he was 19. His game has gone to another level since Kyrie has left. He averaged 26.4 this year with shooting 39% from three. He is going to be an all star and one of the league elites for many years to come. Do not expect the Celtics to knock out the Nets without Jaylen Brown but they should steal 2 games from them.
13. Kyrie Irving
Kyrie... The veteran point guard is a beautiful mystery. With starting the season saying "we don't really have a coach" to taking multiple leaves throughout the season. Still, Kyrie is probably the best ball handler in the league, possibly ever. I like Kyrie in his return to the scorer role he had in Cleveland with Lebron. He is more comfortable as being looked at as just a scorer. James Harden is the primary play maker, which will give Kyrie to get monster nights like we have seen him do in past playoffs. Kyrie had 50-40-90 season, and averaged 27 points and 6 assists this season. Scary to think of him as a third option.
12. Jimmy Butler
Fam, is the second best two way player in the NBA, behind Kawhi (which could change this playoffs). Jimmy embodies the ultimate competitor and team player. Yes, since changing his shooting coach is jumper is borderline awful. But he still has made big shots time and time again as we saw throughout the the bubble last year. Butler averaged 21.5 points, 7.1 assists, and 2.1 steals a game this season. The Heat have embraced Butler's mentality and don't be surprised if they knock off the Bucks this year again.
11. Chris Paul
The 36 year old point guard is a walking playoff spot. Last year we saw the Thunder take the Rockets 7 games solely because of Chris Paul. This year we got to see him change the Suns culture and elevate Booker and Ayton. He brought a team, who missed the play in game last year, to the second seed in the brutal western conference. CP3 averaged 16.4 points a game, with 4.5 rebounds and 8.9 assists to go with it. He earned another all star appearance this year and shot 40% from three. CP3 has his work cut out for him with the Lakers in the first round. Should be a very very fun series that goes 6 or 7.
NBA Elites lie ahead
10. Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis is one the best bigs in the league. He can score in the post and from the perimeter. Everyone knows AD is a MVP caliber player. He can guard 2-5 and put up 30 in the same night. AD did miss a lot of time this year but he is still Anthony Davis. He averaged only 21.8 points a game, which is his lowest since his rookie year. He will be good for 25 and 10 this playoffs and i think he has a favorable matchup against an undersized and youthful Suns roster. My only critique with Davis is he falls in love with the jump shot and fade aways too much, just like Kevin Garnett would. AD needs to play with his back to the basket and dominate the paint for the injury riddled Lakers to make it out the west and repeat as champs.
9. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis is a freak athlete. The 2 time MVP and reigning DPOY averaged 28.1 points this year, while shooting 57% from the field, with 5.9 assists and 11 rebounds to go with it. Giannis is unstoppable in the fast break and if he is in the paint he's going to score. But Giannis is not a proven winner and cannot knock easy jumpers or free throws. This prevents him from being a threat in the clutch of playoff games. I personally believe this is eating at him and that he has a lot to prove this postseason. He has his work cut out for him with the Heat, who have two players that can guard him (Bam and Butler). I worry that if Giannis does not get a true elite guard, he will end up like Karl Malone, ridiculous numbers but no chip to solidify his legacy. Watch out for the Heat in this first round.
8. Joel Embiid
The 27 year old African center had a phenomenal season this year. If not for injuries, Embiid would probably be the MVP front runner. He had his best shooting season with 51% and averaged 28.5 points and 10.6 rebounds. Embiid also is one of the best rim protectors in the game and is developing an outside scoring arsenal. Embiid is often injured and his passion for the game has been questioned at times. I think he has a chance to be a MVP of the league though. If the 76ers want a chance of beating the NEts this playoff, it's going to have to be because Embiid is a man among boys and average early 2000s Shaq numbers. If they have another early exit, expect a trade of Simmons for a guard more suited for Embiid's game, dare I say Damian Lillard?
7. Kawhi Leonard
The Klaw is the best 2 way player in the NBA. He can guard 1-5 comfortably. Kawhi is a 2 time finals MVP winner and ended two incredible dynasties. Kawhi averaged 24.8, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.2 assists a game this year. All while shooting 51% from the field. With all of this being said, Kawhi needs to be the guy for the Clippers. Last year they played horribly in both playoff series, and if not for a Porzingis ejection, the Clippers could've gotten sent home in the first round last year. He needs to roll through Luka this year and also beat a wounded Lakers or go to the finals for him to restore his reputation. If the Clippers have an early exit this year, we might see Kawhi suiting up for a different team next year.... Knicks??
6. Nikola Jokic
Jokic is going to be the MVP this season. He is one of the best passers in the game right now and his basketball IQ is insane. His averages of 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists were unreal for a point center. He is only 25 and can still improve his game on the defensive side and a more consistent 3 pointer. He is a methodical player with great footwork. But he is not going to get the Nuggets out of the west without his running partner, Jamal Murray. The Nuggets will have a tough task with the Trail Blazers and the assassin that is Damian Lillard.
5. Damian Lillard
Dame Dolla is incredible. It is crazy it took so long for him to get the respect he has deserved for years. He is one of the best clutch players in the game right now. He has had so many legendary playoff performances and could be due another one this year. Somehow only a three time all star. He averaged 29 points this year with 39% 3 point shooting. Lillard will have to increase these numbers to get out the first round, unless McCollum continues to improve his game. If the Blazers have an early exit, don't be surprised if the team is blown up this summer.
4. Luka Doncic
Luka is probably the most fun player to watch in the NBA. He is an absolute stud. He is similiar to Jokic with IQ, methodical playmaking, and off the ball movement. Luka is a much better athlete and shooter than Jokic though. Doncic is only 22 but his game has no limitations on it. He averaged 27.7 with 8 rebounds and 8.6 assists, while shooting 35% from deep. He's going to be a top 5 players for years to come and could really make an argument if he knocks the Clippers out in the first round. I would like for the Mavs get another star for Luka though, Porzingis does not seem to be the answer.
3. James Harden
Harden has had an insane year. Going from the Rockets to the Nets, all while struggling with obesity! Harden is 31, and one of the best scorers of this generation. Durant and Kyrie handed Harden the reins as the primary playmaker and he hasn't let them down. He is averaging 24.6, 8.5 rebouns and almost 11 assists a game. Harden does have a lot questions regarding playoff performance but I think this is the year he silences that. It is championship or bust for the Nets
2. Kevin Durant
Durant was maybe the best player in the world before tearing his achilles two years ago. The 7 footer moves and has skills of a guard. He can play with his back to the basket or kill you from deep. He averaged 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 45% shooting from deep. KD will probably average 30-10-5 in the playoffs this year to make a statement and try to establish himself as the number 1 player in the world. On the other side, he is very frail and missed 37 games this year. I hope he is well rested for the playoffs because again I will say, it is championship or bust for the Nets.
1. Lebron James
Arguably the greatest player of all time. Lebron is 36 and is showing no signs of slowing down. He averaged 25 points a games, with 7.7 rebounds and 7.8 assists, with shooting 51% from the field. He is the only person that people will argue is better than Jordan, and there is a reason why. 17 time all star, 4 time MVP (could have many more), and 4 time Finals MVP. He is coming off an ankle injury, which seems serious. He will have to be as good as ever if he wants to make it out the west. He will also need AD to play like an MVP if they want to repeat this season.