Apr 2, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forwards Anthony Davis (3) and LeBron James (6) signal to teammates against the Houston Rockets during the third quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve reached the Final Four of the 2023 NBA Playoffs. Here’s a look at the biggest winners of the postseason so far:

5. Anthony Davis, the healthy difference-maker

If you believe that health decides who wins the NBA championship, look no further than Anthony Davis. When he’s 100 percent, he’s among the best two-way threats in the game. The problem is that he’s seldom been healthy for an entire season. He hasn’t appeared in 70 regular-season games since 2017-18, and since joining the Los Angeles Lakers, he’s maxed out at 62. Every time he falls, Lakers fans wince and cross their fingers.

Davis has been able to stay on the court this postseason, making L.A. a contender. He’s averaging NBA playoff-bests in blocks (3.3) and rebounds (14.1). Davis’ presence on both ends was the difference in the second-round series victory over the Golden State Warriors.

4. Jayson Tatum, the volume shooter

If you believe in the shoot-first, ask-questions-later philosophy, Jayson Tatum is your guy. He’s been incredibly streaky. He had two clunkers against the Philadelphia 76ers (1-for-7 for 7 points and 5-for-21 for 19). However, few will remember those because he came through with heroics in Games 6 and Game 7. On Sunday, his 51-point explosion set a postseason Game 7 record to carry the Boston Celtics into the Eastern Conference Finals.

Tatum has taken the second-most shots in the playoffs (248, second only to Steph Curry’s 311). Among the 10 scorers who reached the second round, Tatum is shooting the worst (43.5 percent). None of that matters. Tatum’s reputation will only grow if he delivers a championship.

3. Erik Spoelstra, the Xs and Os savant

If you believe coaching is about maximizing your roster, no one has done it better in recent years than Erik Spoelstra. The Miami Heat are in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four seasons. This time, Spoelstra has one of his least talented teams. The Heat are just the second No. 8 seed to reach the conference finals (1999 New York Knicks).

Spoelstra has navigated around season-ending injuries to Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo. Jimmy Butler missed a game too. No matter. Miami keeps chugging along thanks primarily to Spoelstra, who outcoached both Mike Budenholzer and Tom Thibodeau. Spoelstra never got enough credit when he had the Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. He’s getting it now.

2. Nikola Jokić, the true MVP

If you believe in advanced metrics, Nikola Jokić should have won his third MVP. He led the league in Player Efficiency Rating (PER), win shares, box plus/minus, and Value Over Replacement layer. Some of his numbers were better than his 2020-21 MVP season. But voters are a fickle bunch and handed the award to Joel Embiid. While Embiid is sitting at home after the Philadelphia 76ers’ embarrassing Game 7 loss at Boston, Jokić and his Denver Nuggets will host the start of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday.

Jokić’s playoff PER is a staggering NBA-best 33.2. He’s averaging 30.7 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 9.7 assists per game. He has four triple-doubles in 11 playoff games, including the series-clinching Game 6 rout over the Phoenix Suns.

1. LeBron James, the shadow GM

If you believe that LeBron James has been operating as a shadow general manager for several years, he’s proved that he hasn’t lost his touch. He made a miscalculation by bringing in Russell Westbrook in 2021. James (finally) acknowledged that error by shipping out the former MVP and trading for D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley. Those deadline deals changed everything.

Once 13th in the West, the Lakers are in the Western Conference Finals as a No. 7 seed. They have a legitimate shot of upsetting top-seed Denver. Russell and Beasley provide more efficient perimeter scoring and shooting. Vanderbilt’s 7-foot-1 wingspan adds to one of the league’s best defenses. L.A. might not be talented enough to win a title, but James’ savvy decisions saved the season.


About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.