Over half of the first-round series in this year’s NBA playoffs are already over, while every other matchup features at least one team that is just a single win away from joining Cleveland, Atlanta, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Golden State in the Conference Semifinals.
That’s more than enough for us to have a sense of which players have been the best of the postseason so far. Despite a slow start, there have been some pretty big moments in the first round and more competitive series than we thought there were going to be after Games 1 and 2.
Here’s a look at the NBA playoffs’ best players through the first round:
The All-Playoffs First Team (Round 1)
Guard: Paul George, Indiana Pacers – Even though his team is down 3-2 heading into a must-win Game 6 on Friday night, George arguably has been the league’s postseason MVP through five games. He’s pouring in a league-leading 28.8 points per game (up 5.7 points from his regular-season average) while also hauling in rebounds (six per game) and dishing out assists (4.6 per game) with gusto and helping to hold two All-Star Raptors guards to series shooting percentages that just barely scratch 30 percent. His team has been inconsistent in closing out games all season, but Indiana’s woes are the furthest thing from George’s fault.
Guard: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder – Mark Cuban doesn’t think Russell Westbrook is a superstar, and Kevin Durant thinks that Mark Cuban is an idiot. Cuban’s not an idiot, of course, but Westbrook is currently one of the top three or four players in the entire NBA and continued to prove it in a huge first-round series against Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks. In that series, Westbrook averaged a first-round-leading 11.2 assists per game to go along with 26 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 1.6 SPG, all of which combine for one of the most elite stat lines of the playoffs so far. He’s been electric, angry and effective, which means the San Antonio Spurs aren’t going to have it easy against OKC in the second round.
Frontcourt: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder – Westbrook’s MVP teammate hasn’t been any less devastating, scoring 26 PPG of his own in that first-round series against Dallas. His 6.4 RPG and 3.2 APG also placed him among the league leaders and absolutely among the leaders at his position. Durant and Westbrook put on a clinic in the first round, emerging as two of the league’s top-five postseason scorers up to this point.
Frontcourt: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers – It’s been easy to forget about The King in the first round, especially considering how quickly and quietly his Cavs dispatched the upstart Detroit Pistons. However, he’s been just as good as he always is in the postseason – scoring 22.8 PPG, hauling in nine RPG, swiping away 1.75 steals and dishing out 6.8 APG, all of which place him among the top 11 players in the league in each category. Interestingly, those 22.8 PPG are a career playoff low, but that hasn’t made him any less effective. There’s a reason things have been so wide open for Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving so far, and James is most of it.
Frontcourt: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs – Watching Leonard and Durant go head-to-head in the second round is going to be one of the more entertaining one-on-one matchups of the entire postseason, not only because of Durant’s offensive prowess but because of Leonard’s award-winning defense. Those skills were on display in San Antonio’s first-round sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies, with Leonard averaging 2.75 SPG (most in the league) and 2.75 BPG (fourth in the league) and generally doing all of the amazing defensive things he does that don’t show up in the stat book. The fact that he still had the energy to lead the team with 21.5 PPG speaks volumes as to just how good this young man has been so far in the playoffs.
All-Playoffs Second Team (Round 1)
Guard: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers – While Irving is a pain in the rear end to guard at any point in the season, he’s been especially good in the postseason, scoring 27.5 PPG (second among all players) and knocking down an impressive 47.1 percent of his three-pointers in the first-round sweep of the Pistons. Hitting that high a percentage of shots is doubly impressive when one considers that he’s hitting four of them per game, second only to J.R. Smith in that category. We all know that when Irving’s confidence is high, he’s a tough guy to slow down, so if he carries this momentum into the next series and beyond, the Cavaliers are going to be exactly as dangerous as we always thought they’d be.
Guard: James Harden, Houston Rockets – So far the only player mentioned here to have been eliminated from the postseason, Harden has been too good individually to be ignored – even though his Rockets were eliminated by the Stephen Curry-less Golden State Warriors in just five games. At the moment, Harden ranks third in the league in postseason points per game with 26.6 and assists per game with 7.6, as well third among guards in rebounds with 5.2 per game. His game-winner in Game 3 gives him a boost as well, which is a fair tie-breaker when other guards like Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and Portland’s Damian Lillard could have taken this spot, instead.
Frontcourt: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors – Without Stephen Curry for essentially the entire first round, the talented and deep Warriors still managed to handle the Rockets in just five games, in large part because Green held down the fort so respectably. He didn’t score a ton (his 13.2 PPG actually is lower than last year’s playoff scoring average of 13.7 PPG), but he still offered up elite defense and rebounding (his 9.6 RPG were seventh-most of anyone in the first-round), while dishing out 6.6 dimes per game and shooting almost 40 percent from deep. Plus, this is the year when the Warriors are represented in some fashion for every award possible, even hypothetical ones like these that don’t even come with a trophy.
Frontcourt: Mason Plumlee, Portland Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have been the poster kiddos for Portland’s incredible first-round surge, but Plumlee has been playing some of the best basketball of his young career in a role that has seen him emerge as one of the league’s elite postseason big men. Plumlee is third among all players in rebounds with 13 per game through the first five contests, but it’s his unfathomable six assists per game – a huge percent increase over his regular season assist output – that really earns him recognition here. Those silly assist numbers put him ahead of Goran Dragic, Tony Parker, Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas this postseason and that, added to a respectable 7.8 points per game and those massive rebound numbers, makes him one of the playoffs’ best big men so far.
Frontcourt: DeAndre Jordan, L.A. Clippers – It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that Jordan is leading the postseason in blocks (3.2 BPG) and rebounds (15.6 RPG) because those are the types of things that he always does. But both of those numbers are actually higher than his regular season totals of 13.8 RPG and 2.3 BPG, so while his scoring and field goal percentage has dropped in the playoffs, he’s still putting up the elite numbers in other ways. With Blake Griffin out, they should stay that way for as long as the Clippers remain in the playoffs.
Also receiving votes: Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics; Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers; Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors; Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets; Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers; Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks; Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers.
While it’s perfectly reasonable to expect most of these players to keep up the good work in round two, it’s all but a certainty that at least a few of them will not make it to the Conference Semis. At that point, these teams will have to change, but for now these have been the league’s elite in the first round, with very little opportunity remaining to skew things too dramatically.
#28 – Jacob Evans – Golden State Warriors
With the 28th overall pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Junior Jacob Evans.
Evans represents a solid pick for nearly any NBA team. Evans fits in the mold of a potential 3-and-D role player. Evans improved in his time at Cincinnati, culminating in his junior year, where he scored 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Evans spent three seasons at Cincinnati and rounded himself into a versatile two-way player who can bring a lot of value at the NBA level.
Evans is a very cognitive player, especially on the defensive end. He has a better grasp of his limitations than most players at this stage of their respective careers and is able to maximize his individual defensive ability within a team concept. Evans generally makes the right rotations, double-teams at the right times and funnels his opponents to where his teammates are when he cannot contain the ball-handler on his own. With the right coaching, he could become a valuable defensive wing in an NBA rotation sooner than some anticipate.
Additionally, Evans is more than just a shooter. He led his team in assists last season and has some skill as a playmaker. Evans will be more of a shooter and finisher in the NBA, but the ability to make the right pass, swing the ball when he isn’t open and take the ball off the dribble when necessary make him an intriguing prospect. This is especially true when you consider how valuable a player like Khris Middleton has become over the years, adding layers to his 3-and-D skill set each season.
The Warriors aren’t in need of an influx of talent but are happy to add Evans regardless.
#27 – Robert Williams III – Boston Celtics
With the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics have selected Robert Williams III.
With the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics have selected Robert Williams III.
Although there were early week rumors that the Celtics might try to trade up, they’ve ultimately elected to find a difference-maker at the end of the first round instead. For a team that nearly reached the NBA Finals despite debilitating injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, Boston’s roster didn’t need a wholesale change on draft night. But at No. 27, they’ll be more than happy to leave with the mysterious-but-talented Williams.
Last year, Williams was viewed as a potential first-rounder before he returned to Texas A&M for his sophomore year. In 2017-18, Williams averaged 10.4 points and 9.2 rebounds on 63.2 percent from the field, fueling the Aggies to a 22-13 record. During this current pre-draft process, Williams looked poised to become a mid-first-round selection once again — but his stock faded as the big night got closer. In fact, Williams even decided to watch the draft with his family, even though he was a green room invitee.
His stock has undoubtedly dropped as of late, but this may end up being the steal of the draft — naturally, he dropped right into general manager Danny Ainge’s lap. Williams, 6-foot-10, is a freak athlete that’ll bring a new look to an already fearsome defensive unit in Boston. At A&M, Williams won back-to-back SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors and averaged 2.5 blocks per game. Of course, he’ll get the opportunity to learn from the hard-nosed Al Horford, a five-time All-Star and the defensive linchpin for Boston — a win-win situation for all.
Williams, 20, joins an extremely young core in Boston that also includes Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, among others.
#26 – Landry Shamet – Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers select Landry Shamet with the 26th overall pick.
With the 26th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select guard Landry Shamet of Wichita State.
Shamet, if he is able to fulfill his potential, should provide the Sixers with some much-needed shooting, as their rotation was noticeably starved for another deadeye sniper.
A career 43.7 percent three-point shooter, Shamet sank 44.2 percent of his shots from downtown last season, and he did so while firing nearly six attempts from deep a game. Sliding Shamet at the guard position alongside franchise point guard Ben Simmons allows for another weapon at Simmons’ disposal.
Standing at 6-foot-5 and 21 years old, Shamet has the size to play either guard spot in the NBA (especially given Philadelphia’s lengthy and versatile lineup). Along with his shooting ability, Shamet also led the American Athletic Conference with 166 assists last season. With Markelle Fultz still a question mark for Philadelphia, Shamet provides a secondary ball-handler and playmaker, whether in the starting lineup or in the reserve unit.
The first round of the 2018 NBA Draft was a whirlwind for the Sixers, and they ultimately land two guards of very separate varieties: an upside-laden athlete in Zhaire Smith, and a skillful “veteran” rookie whose skillset is established.