The NBA Playoffs are underway with 16 teams battling their way to the NBA Finals, beginning on June 1. It’s a highly-anticipated time of year, with the best players in NBA playoffs all focused on the path to winning the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy.
For many of the top NBA players, this is familiar territory. The likes of Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard have won multiple championships during their careers. As they all try to win another, the likes of Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Jayson Tatum will try and capture their first ring.
It’s a sure bet that we’ll see some all-time great performances from some of the biggest stars during the NBA playoffs. Curry, Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry delivered 40-point games in the playoffs just a year ago. With the stage set, it’s time to look at the field of talent in the postseason this year.
Let’s dive into our rankings for the best players heading into the NBA playoffs in 2023.
Top 10 players in NBA playoffs
10. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
- LeBron James stats (2022-’23): 28.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 6.8 APG, 50% FG, 32.1% 3PT, .138 WS/48
- LeBron James playoff stats: 7,631 points (28.7 PPG), 2,391 rebounds (9 RPG), 1,919 assists (7.2 APG), 49.5% FG, 33.7% 3PT
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James already enters the 2023 NBA playoffs with his legacy defined. He is one of the three best players in NBA history and his track record in the postseason is stellar. James is the all-time leading scorer in the NBA playoffs (7,631) and he will become just the second player in NBA history (Magic Johnson, 2,346) with 2,000 career assists in the playoffs.
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This will also be the 16th time LeBron has made the playoffs, meaning he has played in more postseason games than nearly half the NBA. In his age-38 season, James averaged nearly 29 points per game with his highest rebounding average since 2018-’18. Since returning from a lengthy absence for a torn tendon in his foot, James is averaging 25.3 points and shooting 40.4 percent from the perimeter. He remains capable of carrying a team on any given night, but the injury risk and declining defensive ability (0.124 Defensive Win Shares) put him 10th in the rankings.
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9. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
- Devin Booker stats (2022-’23): 27.8 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.5 APG, 48.4% FG, 35% 3PT, .157 WS/48
- Devin Booker playoff stats: 834 points (26.1 PPG), 172 rebounds (5.4 RPG), 144 assists (4.5 APG), 44.8% FG, 35.6% 3PT
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Hooker boasts an excellent track record in the NBA playoffs. In his age-26 season, the three-time All-Star has already helped Phoenix reach the NBA Finals once before. During his 2021 playoff run, Booker averaged 27 points per game, shooting 44.4 percent from the field with a 17.1 Game Score average, then followed that up with two 40-point games and a 28.2 PPG average in the 2021 NBA Finals
The 26-year-old will be playing a slightly different role this time around. With Durant in the lineup, Booker averages 27 points and 55 assists per contest and shot 47.1 percent from the field. While he remains a bit of a liability on the defensive end (115 Defensive Rating), Booker has four 40-point games and 13 30-point games in his postseason career.
8. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
- Kawhi Leonard stats (2022-’23): 23.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 51% FG, 41% 3PT, .194 WS/48
- Kawhi Leonard playoff stats: 2,865 points (21.2 PPG), 815 rebounds (7.9 RPG), 240 steals (1.8 SPG), 51.1% FG, 39.9% 3PT
Kawhi Leonard didn’t play last season and hasn’t eclipsed 60 games in a regular season since 2018-’19, explaining why he isn’t talked about as much as he used to be. However, the 6-foot-7 forward proved this year why he’s one of the best players in the NBA playoffs. Leonard and Durant are the only two NBA starters to average 50/40/80 this past season.
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Leonard’s track record in the postseason also speaks for itself. A two-time NBA Finals MVP, the 31-year-old has five 40-point games and 33 30-point games in his playoff career. While Los Angeles is unlikely to make a postseason run without Paul George, Leonard has carried a team to a championship before, so he will give the Phoenix Suns a fight.
7. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stats (2022-’23): 31.4 PPG, 5.5 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1 BPG, 51% FG, 34.5% 3PT, .226 WS/48, 125 Offensive Rating
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander playoff stats: 196 points (16.3 PPG), 53 rebounds (5.3 RPG), 48 assists (4.1 APG)
Selected with the 11th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is now one of the best players in basketball. The 6-foot-6 guard earned his first NBA All-Star Game appearance this season, but that’s only a sample of the player he has become.
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Leading a team that most expected to be tanking for Victor Wembanyama, Gilgeous-Alexander took Oklahoma City to the NBA playoffs. He dominated in the first half of the season (30.8 PPG, 50.8% FG), but was even better after the All-Star Break (33.3 PPG, 1.7 SPG). While this won’t be his first time in the postseason, he will fare a lot better than he did in 2020.
6. Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns
- Kevin Durant stats (2022-’23): 29.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 6.4 APG, 1.4 BPG, 56% FG, 40.4% 3PT
- Kevin Durant playoff stats: 4,559 points (29.4 PPG), 1,205 rebounds (7.8 RPG), 635 assists (4.1 APG), 47.6% FG, 35.6% 3PT
It took longer than he wanted, but Kevin Durant finally got his way to the Phoenix Suns. A freak injury in early March prevented the future Hall of Famer from having a full month to get acclimated with his new teammates. Then again, it might not be necessary considering Phoenix went 8-0 with Durant in the lineup. One of the best shooters in NBA history will also roll into the postseason having shot 53.7 percent from the perimeter since putting on a Suns’ uniform.
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Depending on how far Phoenix advances, Durant has an opportunity to climb up the NBA’s all-time leaderboard. He enters the 2023 NBA playoffs just 441 points shy of becoming just the seventh player in NBA history to score 5,000 career points in the postseason, putting him in rarified air with LeBron, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan. Considering Durant’s efficiency this year and how wide open the West is, it’s very possible he joins the 5,000-club.
Best players in NBA playoffs – Top 5
5. Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets
- Nikola Jokić stats (2022-’23): 24.5 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 9.8 APG, 63.2% FG, .308 WS/38
- Nikola Jokić playoff stats: 1,2269 points (26.4 PPG), 551 rebounds (13.2 RPG), 306 assists (5.8 APG, 51.9% FG
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić is a top-two player in the NBA regular season and there’s an excellent argument to make for him winning NBA MVP again. Jokić set a career-high in Win Shares per 48 minutes (WS/48), posting the 10th-highest mark in NBA history. He leads the NBA in FiveThirtyEight’s WAR (20.3) by a wide margin and had the highest Value Over Replacement Player (8.8) I the league. Jokić is unstoppable in the regular season.
It’s time for him to prove himself when it matters. Whole Jokic averaged 31 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks-plus steals in the 2022 playoff, Denver lost in the first round. Before that, Jokic’s Nuggets were swept in the 2021 Western Conference Semifinals, with a 15.75 average margin of defeat, If you want to be called one of the best players in NBA playoffs, at least win the conference.
4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
- Stephen Curry stats (2022-’23): 29.4 PPG, 6.3 APG, 6.1 RPG, 49% FG, 42.7% 3PT, .192 WS/48
- Stephen Curry playoff stats: 3,570 points (26.6 PPG), 833 assists, (6.2 APG), 210 steals (1.6 SPG), 45.2% FGm 40.1% 3PT
Stephen Curry might not have been one of the five best players in basketball this season, but it’s a very short list of players we’d take over him in the NBA playoffs. At times, it’s almost hard to choose which stats or performances to choose that highlight why. Curry has seven 40-point games in the playoffs and he could pass Hakeem Olajuwon (53) and Karl Malone (54) on the all-time leaderboard for 30-point games in the NBA playoffs. If that’s not enough, remember this is the same guard who averaged 31.2 points and 2 steals per game, while shooting 43.7 percent from beyond the arc in the 2022 NBA Finals.
There’s another reason to bet on Curry. He seeks out opportunities to prove analysts and the NBA world wrong. It happened last year when many were debating just where he ranked among the all-time greats, responding directly to critics. There are plenty of skeptics when it comes to Golden State, who went 11-30 on the road this season. All of this is just an opportunity for Curry to prove himself once again, winning another NBA championship only this time as a No. 6 seed.
3. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
- Jayson Tatum stats (2022-’23): 30.1 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, 46.6% FG, .185 WS/48
- Jayson Tatum playoff stats: 1,693 points (22.9 PPG), 503 rebounds (6.8 RPG), 325 assists (4.4 APG), 43.8% FG
Everyone remembers how Jayson Tatum performed in the NBA Finals last year. He shot just 36.7 percent from the field, while averaging nearly four turnovers and only 21.5 points per game. It was even worse in the final three matchups, with Tatum’s assist-turnover ratio at 17-15. However, we also can’t forget how he played before that series.
Tatum’s playoff line during the Eastern Conference playoffs – 27 PPG, 6.7 RPG< 5.9 APG, 44.6% FG – captured what he is capable of at this time of year. He eviscerated the Brooklyn Nets (29.5 PPG) in a four-game sweep then averaged 27.6 points per game and 2.1 steals-plus-blocks in a seven-game series win over the Milwaukee Bucks. Combine that with his defense and you’ve got one of the most dangerous players in the NBA playoffs.
2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
- Joel Embiid stats (2022-’23): 33.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 54.8% FG, .215 WS/48
- Joel Embiid playoff stats: 1,058 points (24 PPG), 488 rebounds (10.7 RPG), 68 blocks (1.5 BPG), 46.8% FG
Joel Embiid is one of the best NBA centers of the modern era, but he has never even reached the Eastern Conference Finals. Injuries and the supporting cast around him have certainly played a part, but the All-NBA center should be under just as much pressure to win as Jokić.
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Why is Embiid over Jokic? Because defense matters even more in the NBA playoffs. Embiid finished with the sixth-highest Defensive Win Shares (3.9) in the NBA. Furthermore, Philadephia allowed the seventh-fewest points in the paint per game (48.1), whereas Denver ranked 21st (52.5). Most importantly, the head-to-head matchup speaks for itself. Both are MVP-caliber players, but Embiid is the better bet to dominate for an extended run in the postseason.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
- Giannis Antetokounmpo stats (2022-’23): 31.1 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 5.7 APG, 55% FG, .204 WS/48
- Giannis Antetokounmpo playoff stats: (26.8 PPG), 12 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 5.2 APG, 52.7% FG
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best NBA player today. The Milwaukee Bucks star arguably should have more MVPs by now, but his focus is clearly on winning champions. Quite frankly, he likely would have a second ring right now if not for Khris Middleton’s injury that kept him out of the 2022 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Incredibly, Milwaukee took that to a Game 7 because Antetokounmpo – 33.9 PPG, 14.7 RPG, 7.1 SPG – almost single-handedly beat Boston.
The playoff resume speaks for itself. In the 2022 NBA Finals, put the Bucks on his back. In a legacy-defining moment, he averaged 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and 3 steals-plus-blocks per game, all while shooting 61.8 percent from the field in the NBA Finals. When you can get that player and add in Antetokounmpo’s All-NBA defense, you have the best player in the NBA playoffs.