The NBA playoffs have reached the conference finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers squaring off against the Boston Celtics in the East and the Golden State Warriors facing the Houston Rockets in the West. While role players are nice and can win a game in a series, both series will be decided by the performances of star players. As such, here is our ranking of the top 20 players in the conference finals:
20) Kyle Korver, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers
Korver's ability as a shooter is crucial to what the Cavs do on offense. While he is somewhat limited in his ability, he has perfected that ability to the point where he deserves a place on the list. He's Cleveland's third-leading scorer in the playoffs.
19) Marcus Morris, PF, Boston Celtics
Morris doesn't start for the Celtics but is always on the court during the most important times of the game. His versatility as a stretch four gives Boston yet another dimension in their lineup.
18) Tristan Thompson, C, Cleveland Cavaliers
Thompson has re-emerged as a force in the middle for Cleveland during the postseason, showcasing the rebounding ability that made him one of the highest-paid players on the Cavs roster. He's one of the biggest keys for them if they're going to make the FInals.
17) J.R. Smith, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers
When J.R. Smith plays well, the Cavs almost always win. He's not the player he once was but is still a very versatile offensive threat who is capable of winning a game for Cleveland. Just ask the Raptors, who allowed Smith to score 15 points in three of their four games.
16) Jaylen Brown, SF, Boston Celtics
Brown hasn't been slowed by the hamstring injury that caused him to miss a game against Milwaukee in the first round and has been a major factor on both ends of the court, averaging just under 17 points per game. He needs to become a more consistent shooter but it's clear his future is very bright.
15) Trevor Ariza, SF, Houston Rockets
Ariza has not had a major impact in these playoffs yet, but that's largely because he hasn't had to. He's still one of the league's better defenders and a great three-point shooter. Expect Ariza to be a major X-factor against the Warriors.
14) Eric Gordon, SG, Houston Rockets
Gordon is one of the best sixth men in the entire sport and that shows in his plus/minus numbers. The Rockets were +576 during the regular season when he was on the court, which was the best number in the league by a considerable margin.
13) Terry Rozier, PG, Boston Celtics
Scary Terry has become a star in these playoffs, averaging 18.3 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game. It remains to be seen if he can keep this up but his clutch play, leadership, and eye-popping 4.3 assist to turnover ratio is why he's up to No. 13.
12) Andre Iguodala, SF, Golden State Warriors
Iguodala's versatility and defense are one of the reasons why Golden State has been able to be the team they've become. The Warriors will be relying on his perimeter defense (along with that of Klay Thompson) to slow down Houston's three-point attack.
11) Kevin Love, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers
Love can still fade out of games at times - sometimes on his own doing, sometimes because he's not put in scoring positions - but has shown he's still an All-Star caliber player who is capable of putting up 20 & 10 every single night.
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10) Jayson Tatum, SF, Boston Celtics
Tatum has really blossomed into a star in these playoffs, recording seven straight games with at least 20 points. He is Boston's leading scorer in the postseason.
9) Clint Capela, C, Houston Rockets
Another player who has turned into a superstar on the postseason stage, Capela's shot-blocking abilities, rebounding, and athleticism have made him the third member of Houston's Big 3 - and should earn him a lot of money in free agency this summer. The Suns are reportedly ready to offer him a max contract.
8) Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors
Although he's probably the least appreciated of any of the Warriors, Thompson is probably the best perimeter defender (outside of LeBron James) that is left in the playoffs. And we all know what he can do shooting the ball.
7) Draymond Green, PF, Golden State Warriors
Speaking of defense, Green may be the best defender in the league and is certainly one of the most versatile. His ability to defend centers and shut down the opponent's best frontcourt player is the whole reason why Golden State's small-ball lineup works.
6) Al Horford, C, Boston Celtics
As great as Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum have been for the Celtics in the postseason - they wouldn't be in the conference finals without them - Horford continues to be this team's rock and one of the most underrated players in the league. Every time Boston needs a bucket, they go to Horford and he delivers.
5) Chris Paul, PG, Houston Rockets
Even as he gets older, Paul remains one of the best point guards in the entire league. He has proven he can play without the ball next to Harden but is still capable of winning a game by himself, which he showed in their closeout win over Utah.
4) James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets
The MVP at No. 4? Really, players ranked 2-4 are interchangeable, but Harden sits here due to his reputation (which he can shed against the Warriors) of wilting late in the playoffs. There's no challenging how good he is - that's why he's going to win the MVP - but needs to show he can carry the Rockets past top-end competition.
3) Kevin Durant, SF, Golden State Warriors
Individually, there isn't anything Durant can do on the court. He might be the best scorer in league history and has drastically improved his defense since joining the Warriors.
2) Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors
Why is Curry ranked ahead of Durant? Golden State's record dips dramatically when they play without Curry, whereas it stays relatively the same without Durant. His playmaking and shooting ability are the keys to the Warriors offense and, without him, they're not the juggernaut we know them as.
1) LeBron James, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers
Even though LeBron has not won an MVP award since 2013, he's still the best player in the world and is proving that every single game. He's pretty much the only reason why the Cavs are expected to come out of the East.