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The Mandatory NBA Finals Power Rankings

It's time to whip out the measuring stick for an increasingly fascinating series

You may have noticed that Mark Lisanti’s weekly Mad Men Power Rankings never posted after Sunday’s season finale. Our readers felt confused, outraged and even a little abandoned. Did Lisanti get fired? Did he quit? Did a disappointing final episode infuriate him to the point that Lisanti said, “Matthew Weiner can go screw himself, I’m not handing anything in”? Did he have so much trouble calculating Don Draper’s fingerbang level after the last scene that his carefully groomed beard exploded?

As it turned out, Lisanti got married last weekend and left for his honeymoon, leaving behind a gaping Power Rankings hole on Grantland. Before you bitch about Lisanti taking the week off, know this: I wrote a column during my honeymoon (in 2003) and my wife is still bitter about it. She brings it up at least twice a week. We couldn’t let that happen to Lisanti. At the same time, we couldn’t let Grantland’s potentially historic streak of “52 straight weeks running a column with the word ‘power rankings’ in it” just slip away. We were four away from DiMaggio! That’s why I broke out a “2012 NBA Finals Power Rankings” two games into an increasingly fascinating series.

1. Kevin Durant

Fact: Two hours before Game 2, Durant finished warming up, then wandered into the stands and signed autographs for 20 minutes. I’m starting to wonder if he’s being CGI’ed by Pixar.

Fact: Durant scored 68 points combined in Games 1 and 2. Only Iverson (71), Jordan (69) and Wilt (had a 69 with … wait, what list is this again?) scored more in their first two Finals games.

Fact: Durant dropped 17 fourth-quarter points in Game 1 and 16 in Game 2. According to Elias, he’s the first player to score 14-plus in consecutive fourth quarters in the Finals since the ABA and NBA merged. When did the ABA and NBA merge? Exactly. It’s been a long time. Thirty-six years if you really wanted to know.

Fact: Any Durant junkie1 knows he’s just scratching the surface in this series. He played well in Game 1 — efficient, in control, got better when it mattered — but you wouldn’t say he went bonkers or anything. He stunk (for him) in Game 2, picking up a couple of dumb fouls and nearly fouling out twice down the stretch before getting saved by the little-known NBA rule, “We don’t foul out future Hall of Famers on borderline calls in big playoff games … unless they’re named ‘Paul Pierce.'” There’s a monster Durant game coming. Probably in Game 4, maybe even in Game 3. Just know that it’s coming. Unfortunately …

2. Tony Brothers

You may have noticed that Durant got fouled by LeBron James on the biggest play of Game 2 — a little baseline drive/jumper in the last 10 seconds that LeBron foiled by grabbing Durant’s left arm — only Brothers wasn’t close enough to make the call. Oh wait, he was five feet away and looking right at it? My bad. You know what happened next — Durant missed the bunny, Miami got the rebound after clobbering Russell Westbrook in the head (the refs missed that, too), then LeBron iced the game with two freebies. Even though Miami deserved its Game 2 victory, I detested that no-call for a variety of reasons, including …

• We were robbed of Durant making two pressure free throws to tie the game (a game that Oklahoma City had no business being in, by the way).

• We were robbed of Miami’s final game-winning play, which undoubtedly would have been LeBron settling for an off-balance 25-footer over driving to the basket, followed by Twitter venomously exploding for about six minutes.

• We were robbed of the most precious of commodities: an NBA Finals overtime.

• That no-call just about guaranteed a seven-game series, which means Game 7 will happen on Tuesday, June 26 … just two days before the 2012 NBA draft. Two days???? That’s not nearly enough time for me to prepare enough sarcastic Andre Drummond material, watch YouTube clips, break down Chad Ford’s Mock Draft 19.0 or talk myself into the Celtics taking a flier at No. 21 or No. 22 on The Guy Who’s Afraid To Fly! THIS IS BULLSHIT! How could this happen? Why didn’t the NBA push the draft to Sunday night? They didn’t see this coming? The NFL spends six weeks hyping its draft — the NBA couldn’t carve out four days?

(Fine, fine … the previous paragraph wasn’t totally honest. I’ve already talked myself into The Guy Who’s Afraid To Fly. He’s the rich man’s Boris Diaw! I’m all in! We could just play him 55 games a year — all home games and any East Coast game that he can get to by train. In the playoffs, we’ll just roofie him before every road trip. This will be fine. Give me The Guy Who’s Afraid To Fly!)

3. Shane Battier

His splits for his first Miami season along with Pat Riley’s internal dialogue …

Pre All-Star Game (34 games): 22.3 MPG, 4.5 PPG, 38.9% FG, 36% 3FG

(Riley: “Well, a lot of guys start out slow on new teams. We still signed the right guy.”)

Post All-Star Game (32 games): 23.9 MPG, 5.1 PPG, 38.5% FG, 32% 3FG

(Riley: “Shit, did anyone scout Battier before we signed him? Were we looking at his 2007 game tapes?”)

Round 1 vs. Knicks (5 games): 27.6 MPG, 6.0 PPG, 34.6% FG, 32% 3FG

(Riley: “How healthy is James Jones? Can he play 30 minutes a night?”)

Round 2 vs. Pacers (6 games): 29.3 MPG, 3.8 PPG, 21.2% FG, 27% 3FG

(Riley: “Well, at least we’re saving money on the fork that Battier and Mike Miller are passing back and forth to stick in their backs during games.”)

Round 3 vs. Celtics (7 games): 38.0 MPG, 7.1 PPG, 36% FG, 35% 3FG

(Riley: “That guy is kinda sorta starting to vaguely look like Shane Battier!”)

Round 4 vs OKC (2 games): 42.0 MPG, 17.0 PPG, 71% FG, 69% 3FG

(Riley: “If you remember, I was the one who wanted Shane Battier! I knew he’d come around!”)

Anyway, I don’t see Battier making 70 percent of his 3s for the entire Finals. That’s my expert opinion. (I’m glad I’m here.) But I don’t think those first two games were a total fluke, either — there’s a really good chance that Battier needs extended minutes to immerse himself into the nuances of a game. The longer he’s out there, the more comfortable he feels draining open 3s, taking annoying charges, doling out sneaky screens, shielding a shooter’s eyes, tripping them as they’re coming down from a jumper and everything else that makes Battier one of the ultimate “You love him if he’s playing on your team and hate him if he’s playing for someone else” role players. If you wagered on Battier at 15,000,000-to-1 to win the 2012 Finals MVP, you have to feel fantastic right now.

4. LeBron James

The averages for LeBron’s last 10 playoff games (dating back to Game 6’s clincher against Indiana): 45.4 minutes, 32.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 51.3 percent shooting, 3.1 turnovers. Oh, and he submitted one of the single greatest modern playoff performances ever (Game 6, Boston, while facing just about as much pressure as any basketball player has ever faced in a single game, no less); came through down the stretch of the decisive Game 7; and in last night’s semi-must-win-game, he notched typical LeBron numbers (32-8-5), outplayed Durant and got him into foul trouble, made that dagger banker with 85 seconds to play (ridiculous angle, by the way), settled for a game-clinching 3 with 14 seconds left (and missed it — no surprise since he’s missed 40 of 53 3s dating back to the Indiana series), got away with a sneaky-smart foul on Durant on the game’s biggest play, then drained both free throws with the crowd screaming so loudly that (a) one of my contact lenses almost fell out, (b) I couldn’t hear my friend Chen even though he was two feet away from me and (c) Jimmy Goldstein actually moved.

Will LeBron get credit for these things today? I spent the morning writing this column and didn’t have time to watch the talking head shows or surf the Internet, so I don’t know … although I’m sure there’s at least one visible “LeBron almost blew Game 2 with his heroball 3-point miss!” post lurking out there. I can only tell you this: LBJ was the best player on the floor last night. After watching three of his last four games in person, I can safely report the following things:

• You’re only allowed to compare him to Durant if the debate is “Who’s a better offensive player?” If you’re comparing the entirety of their games, it’s no contest.

• He’ll never be perfect for us, but nobody is, right? We’re in the era of Picking Nits. You know what LeBron’s smartest career move is right now? Win the 2012 title and immediately retire from basketball to play football for the Browns. Oh, you can’t stop picking me apart? You’re going to blow everything I do out of proportion? You’re not going to appreciate me at all? Watch this … I’m going away. [Extending middle fingers.] MJ showed how it’s done. He took his ball and went home. If LeBron followed suit and added a “Good luck in the Olympics without me,” we’d be more pissed off than OKC fans were at the referees last night. Eventually, we’d miss him and want him back. And yes, LeBron would never do this. I know. But you have to admit … it would be pretty savvy. Especially the Browns part.

• I wrote this in our Shootaround Finals preview and I’ll write it again: If the greatest player of his generation loses his first three Finals, it’s a historical fluke. Not saying it can’t happen … just saying, again, it would be a historical fluke. Everyone who poured dirt on Miami after Game 1 and tried to figure out how Oklahoma City could keep Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka AND Harden for their new dynasty needs to gulp a big sip of Settledown juice. That reminds me …

5. Dwyane Wade

After about the 27th straight hour of the media blaming Dwyane Wade for Tuesday’s Miami loss, wondering if he was finished and goading him into those There’s no question I’m not the same guy I was when I was 24 answers, it became pretty clear that Wade would play significantly better in Game 2.2 If you were making a Pride Power Rankings of NBA players, Wade and Kobe would be 1-2 in some order, then there would be a massive dropoff to no. 3 (maybe Chris Paul?), and then you’d keep going for about 400 more players until you got to Vince Carter. Alpha dogs are wired a certain way — they think they’re the best in any situation, whether it’s a basketball game, a poker table, a nightclub, or even an NBA labor meeting. In the past 20 years, only four players could complain about a blown call, walk over to the offending official, debate the blown call with one of those sarcastic “you know you messed up, right?” looks on their faces, then walk by the official and give him a totally condescending slap on his behind. Those four players: Jordan, Iverson, Kobe and Wade. That’s the list. And yes, you might remember Wade doing exactly that to Danny Crawford during Game 2.

Alpha dogs are alpha dogs for a reason. If you recall Wade was the one pulling the strings for The Decision, as well as the one NBA player who legitimately went after David Stern in a bargaining session (taking offense when Stern pointed at him). Someone involved in the NBA lockout talks told me that, during another meeting, Wade was sitting at the big table as LeBron sat meekly behind him like a little kid. That’s just Dwyane. You knew he would take 36 hours of “This is LeBron’s team now” and “Dwyane isn’t the guy he was” rhetoric personally. I showed up for Game 2 three hours early to watch everyone warm up — I know, I’m a weirdo — and there was Wade practicing his moves and working himself into a sweat. He ended up playing an outstanding first half and a quality game overall (tainted only by two big turnovers late). At the very least, he ended any speculation that Wade is playing with a bum knee (just a balky one).

The truth? He’s 30 years old; he’s a little banged up; he has to pick his spots a little more carefully; he can’t fly around with that reckless 2006 abandon any more (like Westbrook now); and I’m not even sure he can impose his athletic will like he did during Games 2, 3 and 4 of last year’s Dallas series, just a superlative performance on both ends by Wade (replete with a ton of swagger) that was wasted when everyone else on Miami wore down. He doesn’t seem like he’s having quite as much fun anymore — either because his body is breaking down, he doesn’t like being LeBron’s sidekick, or both. There’s been a joylessness to his game during the playoffs; he seems more ornery than ever, and from a leadership standpoint, he doesn’t seem like as much of a floor general anymore. But he’s still Dwyane Wade. You knew he was showing up last night. We’ll see about these next five games. (Repeat: five.)

6. Derek Fisher

Maybe it’s just because I hate the Lakers so much — fine, it’s definitely because I hate the Lakers so much — but nothing makes me happier than any good Fisher moment in this series. You realize the Lakers traded two no. 1 picks and agreed to allow Cleveland to take the better pick between the Lakers’ 2013 first-rounder and Miami’s 2013 first-rounder just so they could “upgrade” from Fisher to Ramon “I Had To Wear A Diaper During The Playoffs Because I Kept Pooping My Pants” Sessions, right? Hey, anytime you can give up two and a half no. 1s to get killed in Round 2, you have to do it. I feel like putting on a pig’s suit and rolling around in Sessions’s shorts from the OKC series right now.

7. Russell Westbrook

Averaging a 27-8-9 in the Finals … and probably getting picked apart today for some admittedly sloppy decision-making (especially in the open court). I always thought Rondo was the ultimate Table Test Guy, but it’s hard to remember anyone who brings more to the table and takes more off the table than Westbrook. Basically, he’s bringing you an incredible Thanksgiving turkey, homemade sweet potatoes and the best cranberry sauce you’ve ever had, only he’s walking away with the stuffing and the gravy. Let’s tackle this in detail later in the Finals, because it’s important. For the record, I am pro-Westbrook.

8. The Curse of Seattle

The irony of this Finals: You can’t find a decent cup of coffee within a short walk of any downtown hotel. It’s almost like Starbucks and Peet’s said, “Screw those guys, they’re on their own.” If we’re going to have the Finals here for 10 of the next 12 years — and it’s starting to look like a distinct possibility — we’re going to need better coffee, and we’re going to need at least one luxury hotel that isn’t haunted. Both of those things are doable. You can do it, OKC. Just have a four-floor Mandarin Oriental with a giant Starbucks in it ready by next April and we’re fine. You’ll break even on that hotel in a worst-case scenario. People will come and keep coming. You have Kevin Durant. Repeat: You have Kevin Durant.

(In case you’re wondering, I did NOT stay at the Skirvin this time. One brush with a ghost in this lifetime was enough.)

9. Scott Brooks

The last time I ragged on him for playing the wrong guys and wrote things like “This just isn’t the series for [Perkins],” it backfired on me faster than the speed of a flying Cristal bottle during the Drake–Chris Brown melee. So I’m treading carefully here. Just know that the great Haralabos Voulgaris (the world’s preeminent gambler/tweeter, or at least in the top 700) joked that Brooks could potentially be accused of match-fixing (like in Italian soccer) if he keeps going with his bigger lineups. Which finished minus-17 for Game 2, in case you were wondering.

Beyond the obvious (you know, the fact that Oklahoma City comes alive every time they go small, or smaller, check out Sebastian Pruiti’s piece for more detail), it’s just a common-sense thing — by hurrying the pace and making the game more helter-skelter, you’re putting more miles on LeBron (again: 45.4 MPG in his last 10 games) and Wade (again: banged up and maybe even hurt). When last night’s fourth quarter started with Miami leading by 11, it was hard not to look at the Durant-Harden-Westbrook-Fisher-Collison small-ball lineup without thinking, “Finally.” I will say it for the second time in three weeks: This just isn’t the series for Perkins. Or anything that leads to the words, “Oklahoma City isn’t playing fast enough.”

10. David Stern

The underrated story of the Finals: DJS has his mojo back. He spent the last few days strutting around Oklahoma City with his chest puffed out, breathing in the fumes of a successful labor deal, booming TV ratings, two recent sales (New Orleans and Memphis) and a league that features more marketable superstars than every other American sports league combined.3 Right now, the NBA pretty much has a waiting list of billionaires trying to buy in, even though only one team (Sacramento) is available. The worn-out, beaten-down Stern from last December has been replaced by the invigorated, charismatic guy who sat proudly in the front row of Wednesday’s screening of the Dream Team documentary (and chuckled through most of it) just a few hours after picking a much-publicized fight with a transparently fiesty Jim Rome. On the list of aging stars who inexplicably managed to revive their careers, I don’t know where Stern ranks against Garnett, Duncan, Nash, Pierce and Bryant. But he’s in the mix

Many people made the mistake of counting out the Commish last December … including me. I thought the Chris Paul veto was the beginning of the end, an unrecoverable error in judgment that remains a stain to this day.4 The old Stern never would have handled that specific situation that poorly. It was a red flag, or so it seemed. There’s a chance we never fully appreciated the toll of those never-ending lockout talks on Stern, Peter Holt, Glen Taylor, Billy Hunter, Derek Fisher (who was a mess on the court for three months) and everyone else involved — especially after those grueling 15-hour sessions that lasted until the wee hours. It’s possible that Stern, a 69-year-old man, simply wore down and made an egregious mistake.

Will he ever admit this? No!!!!!! He’s David Stern! He rarely if ever admits being wrong. Just know that he’s back in the saddle. You can see it. As recently as two months ago, I expected Stern to announce this summer that he was hanging it up. Now? I could see him sticking around even if this seems like the perfect time to leave. Think about it. Fans forgot the lockout almost as quickly as it happened. The owners created a better business and increased the value of franchises. Ratings are going up and up and up. The budding Durant-LeBron rivalry is almost out of central casting and could end up driving the league’s immediate future by itself. Add everything up and Stern could happily ride into the sunset right now.

Of course, as the great Don Draper once said, “What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.” Sounds like the kind of thing David Stern would say. He’s not going anywhere. There will be plenty more chest-puffing.

Not ranked: Yelling at Mario Chalmers, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant’s mom, Erik Spoelstra, cinnamon bun Popcornopolis, cupcake Popcornopolis, Bricktown, Bill Hader, Bill Hader’s dad, Effie the Ghost, Adrian Peterson, Micheal Ray Richardson, wife-beating analogies, Seattle parades, steak, Sara Evans, the girl who got into the Skirvin’s elevator last night at around 12:30 a.m. who was built like an “S,” Eddy Curry sightings, the Barry brothers, Rick Barry, my dad, Father’s Day, Juwan Howard high-fives, Mark Lisanti’s wedding, future Lisanti children.

Filed Under: Events, NBA Finals, Power Rankings, Series, Sports

Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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