The 2018 NBA playoffs gave us perhaps one of the most exciting opening rounds in recent history. Almost every higher-seeded team seemed vulnerable enough to be upset by their lower-seeded opponents. And if Steph Curry remains out injured or doesn’t return fully healthy, then the chase for the championship is wide open. With such competitive games, players have were asked to step up even more, and the results were some amazing performances by the NBA’s best players.
Here, we rank the players who performed the best in the opening round. The statistic we will use to rank these players is Player Impact Estimate or PIE. While it is impossible to encapsulate a player’s ability or performance in one single statistic, PIE is one of the best single statistical evluation that is available right now. PIE measures a player’s overall statistical contribution against the total statistics in games they play in. According to the NBA: In its simplest terms, PIE shows what % of game events did that player or team achieve. The stats being analyzed are your traditional basketball statistics (PTS, REB, AST, TOV, etc..) A team that achieves more than 50% is likely to be a winning team. A player that achieves more than 10% is likely to be better than the average player. A high PIE % is highly correlated to winning.
According to their PIE, the best players of the first round were:
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, PIE: 18.3 (25.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.9 blocks)
The Milwaukee Bucks may have lost against the Boston Celtics in seven games, but the Greek Freak was clearly the best player of the entire series. Despite still not having a reliable outside shot, Antetokounmpo was virtually impossible to guard. He was tasked to basically do everything for the Bucks, and he responded to the call – he led the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals.
4. Victor Oladipo, PIE: 19.2 (22.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.4 blocks)
What a year it was for Victor Oladipo. In his first playoff series as a team’s go-to guy (and on a team that many expected to miss the playoffs), the first time all-star almost led the Indiana Pacers to a series win against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although they ultimately fell in seven games, Oladipo certainly earned the respect of the NBA community, including Lebron James himself.
3. Kevin Durant, PIE: 19.2 (28.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.8 blocks)
Although they struggled without Steph Curry towards the end of the regular season, Kevin Durant and the rest of the Golden State Warriors showed everybody that the playoffs are an entirely different animal. Despite not shooting particularly well from the three-point line, last year’s Finals MVP offensive and defensive versatility was on full display against the San Antonio Spurs.
Durant and Oladipo have the same PIE scores, but Durant is ranked higher because the Warriors won their series.
2. Anthony Davis, PIE: 19.2 (33.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 2.8 blocks)
Anthony Davis also has the same PIE score as Durant and Oladipo, but Davis is ranked higher because the Pelicans (surprisingly) swept the Portland Trailblazers.
To say that Anthony Davis carried the Pelicans past the Blazers would be unfair to Jrue Holiday, Nikola Mirotic, Playoff Rondo, and the rest of the team that all played out of their minds throughout the series. Nonetheless, The Brow was still the best player for the entire series, and both the eye-test and the numbers back it up. If Davis and the Pelicans play the way they did against the Blazers for the rest of the playoffs, then the league better watch out.
1. LeBron James, PIE: 26.7 (34.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.0 blocks)
Was there ever any doubt as to who would rank first in this list? At 33 years old and in his 15th season, LeBron James is still the best player in the world. Despite arguably having a worse overall team than the Indiana Pacers, The King proved to be the difference in the series. We can debate all day if his supporting cast has enough in them to help him get that fourth ring, but if we have learned anything from the first round match-up against the Pacers (or from his entire career, really), it is that it’s almost never a good idea to bet against LeBron James.