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The 43 most exciting players in the NBA playoffs

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Well there are actually 45 but who's counting?

The NBA is a league of stars, and the playoffs are where these heroes show their true selves. In the interest of lionizing individuals instead of teams, here is my list of the 43 most exciting players in the upcoming 2015 NBA Playoffs. The criteria is loose, the science is dodgy and the rankings are quite arbitrary. You would expect nothing else.

Let's rank.

43. J.J. Redick

There's little more automatic in the NBA right now than J.J. Redick in the first quarter. He's No. 12 in the NBA in first quarter scoring (6.5 points) and shooting a scorching effective field goal percentage of .644 in the period. That's even better than Stephen Curry, which is saying something.

42. Mike Conley

Please be healthy. Please be healthy. Please be healthy.

41. Paul Millsap

Please be healthy. Please be healthy. Please be healthy.

40. Bradley Beal

When Beal is on his game, the Wizards are relatively enjoyable. If Washington had a decent coach, Beal and John Wall might use their young legs to get out in transition more often, but alas. If the Wizards get socked into halfcourt sets, a shot or drive for Beal is one of the least depressing things that can happen.

39. Joakim Noah

We're set up for Noah ripping the city of Milwaukee in the first round and going jaw to jaw with LeBron in the second round.

Though JoNo has had an uneven season, he's a fierce competitor and one of the few willing to talk immense s--t to superstars. That's worth something.

38. Khris Middleton and DeMarre Carroll (tie)

Who will get paid more by the Knicks this summer? Trick question. They are both getting paid all of the money by the Knicks this summer.

37. Jamal Crawford

Say what you will about the Clippers' bench, but they still have the second most electric reserve scorer in the league. (See No. 14.) Can any opponent rest comfortably with a small lead when Crawford hits the floor and starts hitting those crossover stepbacks?

36. Tony Allen

Easily the most entertaining player in the world who can't shoot jumpers or hit contested layups. Easily. All of the other stuff -- the nasty defense, the mean streak, the tweets, the cuts to the rim, the effective airport spokesmanship -- makes him so worth it.

35. Mark Jackson

ESPN has the Western Conference Finals this year. ABC, of course, has the NBA Finals. Both are likely to feature the Golden State Warriors, who famously parted ways with the former coach turned broadcaster. Are you ready for perhaps a dozen or more games in which Mark Jackson insults the best team in the world? Because I am.

34. Paul Pierce

This only applies to post-game interviews and clutch shots against LeBron's team. Is it wrong that I want the Wizards to get blown out of the playoffs so we can find out what The Truth really thinks about Randy Wittman?

33. Jimmy Butler

I really can't wait to watch 42 minutes of a taped-together Jimmy Butler doing Jimmy Butler things every night. The shooting guard position was in dire straits even a few years ago. But it's in really good shape now, and Butler's one of the most exciting of the vanguard.

32. Pau Gasol

Pau Gasol is playing meaningful minutes in meaningful games for a meaningful team. What a wonderful turn of events after the last couple years. (Meanwhile, his old friend Kobe hasn't played a playoff game in three years now. Cruel world.)

31. LaMarcus Aldridge

Aldridge isn't a classically exciting player: he's a face-up power forward with jumper smoother than almond butter. But consistent excellence is worth appreciating and occasionally marveling at. That LMA has kept Portland alive despite all their injuries (including his own!) is something pretty special. I wouldn't be surprised if once Portland is eliminated LMA's hand just falls off. Only determination has kept it attached.

30. DeMar DeRozan

He's officially carrying the Raptors on his back, and he's determined to get the Raptors a series win for the first time since 2001. (Toronto and Milwaukee share the current playoff series win futility streak.) Nearly all NBA players carry a strong competitive will, but DeRozan's is one of those that seems a notch above most. This postseason could really be his break into the real big spotlight.

29. Derrick Rose

Derrick Rose is finally healthy! Nothing can go wrong now. Nothing at all.

28. Zach Randolph

Zach Randolph is returning to Portland for a playoff series. Hoop Family rides again! (Let us pray that Hoop Family does not in fact ride again.) One of the problems I have with the West seeding is that it's pretty unlikely we'll get Z-Bo vs. Blake Griffin Round 182. I feel like this arc was finally going to reach a conclusion. Alas ...

27. J.R. Smith

If the Cavaliers win the title, I certainly hope CNN does the right thing and runs live coverage of J.R.'s Instagram feed.

26. Terrence Ross

Completely unreliable and completely able to throw down a dunk-of-the-century with no notice. When he flies out on the break solo, I instinctively hold down my furniture.

25. Boris Diaw & Glen Davis (tie)

Boom Boom Diaw and Big Baby Davis are going to be matched up in the first round. Fat Joke Twitter has never been more excited.

24. Rajon Rondo

Placed here for these three reasons: free throws, the three to five rewind-worthy passes he drops per game and the mere potential for Playoff Rondo.

23. Marc Gasol

No one noticed because of the madness that preceded it, but on Wednesday Marc put together a huge Grit 'N Grind effort to get the Grizzlies the No. 5 seed, and he did it against one of the best defenses in the league (Indiana). Gasol and his buddies seem to have a chip on their shoulder after being dismissed as a contender in the latter half of the season. And you do not want to face a Grizzly with a chip on his shoulder.

22. Nikola Mirotic

The best rookie in the playoffs is also one of Chicago's most potent weapons. His spot-up game is choice, his beard is full and he's been really good in fourth quarters. A healthy Rose and a potent Mirotic make the Bulls super dangerous.

21. Tyreke Evans

The most '80s player in the NBA. (That's a complement. I think.) Totally funky and anachronistic, and with perhaps the best Eurostep among American-born players.

20. Kyle Korver

I just watch Korver run around picks and get exhausted.

19. DeAndre Jordan

He'd be a whole lot higher if it wasn't apparent Gregg Popovich is going to order a grip of intentional fouls. Otherwise, his screen-roll dunk game, offensive rebounding and prolific, if irresponsible, block-chasing is too fun to ignore.

18. Dennis Schroder

I remind you that the best team in the East starts a 21-year-old German skateboarder at back-up point guard. Schroder is the closest thing the Hawks have to a maniac, and he gets lots of playing time. Be prepared for what's in store.

17. Monta Ellis

Still one of the league's fastest players, and he still has one of the lowest thresholds for what constitutes a viable shot. That's not always great for the Mavericks, but it's fantastic for neutral viewers. We never know when we're going to get too much Monta. Right, Dirk?

16. Dirk Nowitzki

A legend on the downswing, but a legend nonetheless. Good for at least a few strong fist pumps per game.

15. Tim Duncan

This may very well be Big Fun's swan song. He's still one of the most effective big men in the game on both ends, and his matchup with DeAndre Jordan in Round 1 should be illuminating for us all.

14. Isaiah Thomas

He's probably going to average 30 off of the bench for Boston in the first round and cement his legend status in the city. He's just so damn fun to watch, it's clear he's having a blast and his teammates haven't turned on him yet. This is a perfect storm of smiles.

13. Draymond Green

The meanest talker in the league, the most flexible defender you'll see and a nifty scorer and passer. No offense to the other Warriors, but let's pray every post-game interview is with Draymond.

We'll make an exception for Andrew Bogut, provided that the Andrew Bogut ones result in insults levied at Mark Jackson.

12. Blake Griffin

A thoroughly skilled power forward who can still put opponents on posters. If it really is time for the Clippers to climb to the summit of the West, half of that task is on Griffin's shoulders. His battle with the Spurs' legacy and power will be something incredible to watch.

11. Klay Thompson

[searches for the record for most points scored in a playoff quarter now so he doesn't have to frantically search for it in the middle of one of Klay's incredible runs]

It's 29, achieved by Sleepy Floyd in 1987. Klay can beat that.

10. James Harden

The best scorer in the playoffs and one of the best playmakers too, if we're being honest. He deserves an enormous amount of credit for landing Houston in the No. 2 seed, and I'm really excited to see how this plays out in the postseason after the disappointment of a year ago. Can Harden's style work in the playoffs, where opponents will have time to game plan against it? Watching Harden trying to beat Rick Carlisle's schemes should be great fun.

9. Chris Paul

He's sick of being left out of the MVP conversation. He's sick of the "anti-clutch" talk. He's sick of the Clippers being dismissed as a true contender. A pissed-off CP3 is something to marvel. He's here.

8. Giannis Antetokounmpo

The best storyline from this season in my book is the timely resurrection of the Milwaukee Bucks franchise. Antetokounmpo is the biggest reason for it. He's developed some key skills quickly, he has surprising good instincts for a relatively raw player and he's just impossible. Like, he is not possible. How is this happening?

7. Damian Lillard

Memphis is already down 0-1 because you know Lillard is going to pull a fourth quarter and a final shot out of his pocket. He's in my top three opponents who give you an immense sense of dread when your team is leading in crunch time. (LeBron and Kevin Durant are the others.)

6. John Wall

The most electric point guard in the playoffs, thanks to Russell Westbrook's demise. He can embarrass an opponent any which way and while the Wizards are underwhelming as a whole, Wall will be one of the very best players in the East bracket. That's worth something.

5. Kawhi Leonard

He's never played better than he has the last couple of months, and he has a Finals MVP under his belt. He can stop any single player in the playoffs. I mean, you saw what he did to Steph, right?

4. Kyrie Irving

Irving is LeBron's best co-star heading into the playoffs since Dwyane Wade in 2011. He seems to have meshed well with King James' game and has a sense of when to attack. His defense remains problematic, and he's not going to rack up many assists, and the Cavaliers still go into isolation mode too often to be beautiful. But there are few players I'd rather watch in an iso set than Kyrie.

3. Anthony Davis

The first chapter of what we presume will be a storied playoff career. If clutch exists, Ant Man might be the most clutch player in the game. There's little he can't already do, and he consistently surprises us. (Just as the Pelicans did on Wednesday.) He faces a seriously uphill battle against the 67-win Warriors. But Davis is so good it makes you at least consider the possibility that something could go completely off the rails here.

2. Stephen Curry

The presumptive MVP is set up to have an epic postseason. He'll play in fourth quarters that matter, even! He's had as many highlights as anyone this season, he's the sweetest shooter in the game and he loves playing up to the crowd. While the West seems oppressive in its competitiveness overall, Curry is a bolt of sunshine that will brighten the next few months immensely.

1. LeBron James

LeBron remains the king of all basketball despite dropping two straight MVPs and last year's Finals. He has a proper co-star in Kyrie, some solid supporting castmates in Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov and J.R. Smith (I know, right?) and a path to another legend for his storied career. If he gives Cleveland the championship that city so desperately wants, he'll be immortalized in his home state and a hero to generations. No pressure.