Now that some time has passed since the Orlando Magic were able to finish off the Philadelphia 76ers with a series-clinching win on the road in Game 6 on Thursday, I figured it'd be a good time to take a look back at who was the best player in the series. I'm partly inspired to write this piece after reading up on a post at 3 Hoops Fans, a fantastic site I might add, that touched on the same subject briefly.
In terms of the construction of this post, an article written by Eli Witus at Count The Basket (another great resource) roughly a year ago helped guide me along the way. Basically, I took a look at every available metric that tracks playoff statistics and sorted them out in a spreadsheet format. I believe encompassing as many metrics as possible will help balance the playing field, so to speak, and help eliminate flaws in each system when taking a look at all the data.
Here's a rundown of the statistics:
If you watched the games between the Magic and Sixers unfold, common sense would dictate that Dwight Howard was the best player in the series. Aside from Howard's low adjusted plus/minus number (which is skewed, due to the high standard error of the statistic & the good play of Marcin Gortat), the big fella really stood out from the pack on paper as he did on the court. No surprise.
On offense, Howard punished the opposing bigs for Philadelphia by dominating the paint and scoring at will. The Sixers made a concerted effort to let Howard beat them and he didn't disappoint, netting eye-popping offensive numbers in the process (70.5% true-shooting percentage & 68.3% effective field-goal percentage). On defense, Howard helped anchor that side of the court for Orlando. The Sixers were hesitant to penetrate into the lane, knowing full well the consequences for doing so (getting a shot blocked, etc). Thus, Philadelphia was forced to beat the Magic in transition and by shooting jumpers from the perimeter. The latter worked at first but eventually the law of averages settled in for the Sixers. Howard's dominance on both ends of the court was key for Orlando, as he was able to take over games at any time.
Andre Iguodala and Rashard Lewis were neck & neck when it came to which player held the rightful claim as the second-best player in the series. For Iguodala, he had a solid and steady series on both ends of the court, especially on the defensive side where his excellent talents on defense stifled Hedo Turkoglu for nearly the entire series. For Lewis, he started off slow offensively but turned it on as the series progressed. Defensively, Lewis made Thaddeus Young a non-factor on offense (the majority of the series) and helped eliminate a threat on offense for the Sixers. Everything came together for Lewis in Game 6, where he stepped up on offense and defense and turned in an excellent overall performance in the Magic's series-clinching win in Philly.
Andre Miller is a curious case. Like Howard, his adjusted/plus minus stat is low and taking a close look at the numbers, some of the same problems that emanate with Howard's statistic occur with Miller as well. Miller's standard error is high and the decent play of Louis Williams played a role in cutting into his numbers. In the end, given how well Miller played in the series, it wouldn't be outlandish to toss him in the 'second-best' group alongside Iguodala & Lewis. Miller was most effective on offense, where he was able to exploit his matchup against Rafer Alston for the entire series. It got to the point that head coach Stan Van Gundy was forced to switch Courtney Lee on Miller and use Anthony Johnson also to slow him down.
In the end, it is Dwight Howard that can lay the claim as the best player in the series. Game 5 epitomized the difference-maker Howard was for Orlando. Controversy aside, Howard single-handedly won that game for the Magic and showed how superior he was in comparison to the rest of the players on both teams.
[ed. note: In the playoffs so far, Howard ranks 2nd in PER, 2nd in WARP, and 3rd in Win Shares. I figured I'd toss in those rankings to show where Howard stands overall.]