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Tuesday, June 11, 2013
FAQ: Greatest Individual Postseasons

By Kevin Pelton

Taking a few minutes to answer some of the most common questions about my rankings of the top 50 individual playoff runs since 1978.

Why do you hate my favorite player?

It's important to remember that the rankings were done strictly objectively. The foundation for them is the player's value during the postseason, as measured by my wins above replacement player (WARP) metric. The only changes we made -- adding bonuses for winning a championship and for Finals MVPs -- were done for all players. These don't necessarily reflect my opinion, which is why neither Shawn Kemp nor Gary Payton appears on the list.

No, seriously, why do you hate my favorite player?

Depends. Did he knock the Sonics out of the playoffs at any point during the '90s?

Why 1978 as a starting point?

That's the first year the NBA tracked individual turnovers, making it possible to directly compare players from anywhere after that point.

Why is Dwyane Wade 2006 relatively low on the list?

Wade's 2006 playoff run is famous in large part because he was so good during the NBA Finals. In fact, John Hollinger ranked it the best Finals performance ever when he ranked those several years ago. In terms of the entire playoffs, however, Wade wasn't quite as impressive. One important note is that later (and more important) rounds were not given additional weight in the rankings. Every game of the playoffs was counted the same.

Why is Scottie Pippen's 1996 playoffs ahead of Hakeem Olajuwon's 1995 run when Olajuwon was superior statistically in many categories?

This is a subtle one that surprised me. The biggest reason is the NBA as a whole was much better offensively in 1995. The league offensive rating during the postseason from 1994 to '96 went 105.0, 110.6, 106.8. Since everything is adjusted for league context, stats compiled in 1995 aren't quite as impressive as the identical performance in 1996. Additionally, the 1996 Bulls were much better defensively than the 1995 Rockets, who won the championship with a below-average defensive rating in the playoffs. That's affected by the competition they faced, but Chicago mowed through its schedule with the No. 1 defensive rating.

How can Dirk Nowitzki's 2011 playoffs rank behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade when the Mavericks beat the Heat?

A couple of factors here. First, again, is the fact that all playoffs count the same -- so the role James and Wade played in dispatching Boston and Chicago gets as much weight as Nowitzki's Finals heroics. Second, Nowitzki's 2011 run rated behind his own 2006 playoffs (when Dallas lost to the Heat) because he was less of a factor on the glass, played fewer minutes and turned the ball over more frequently.

Additionally, Nowitzki is also part of a small group of players who are tough for WARP to rate. Ordinarily, it credits big men who space the floor because of adjustment for 3-pointers attempted. Nowitzki is one of a handful of players who provides this same effect without actually taking many 3s, since he favors 20-footers. So Nowitzki doesn't rate as well in WARP as he should. Given that the Mavericks fell apart whenever Nowitzki left the game during the first three and a half rounds -- until Brian Cardinal unexpectedly stepped up during the NBA Finals -- it's clear he was more valuable than his ranking on this list would indicate.

Top 50: 1-5 | 6-10 | 11-15 | 16-20 | 21-25 | 26-30 | 31-35 | 36-40 | 41-45 | 46-50