When you're watching the NBA Finals, something should stand out about each roster. Not the stars on both sides, but rather the way these rosters were constructed. When you look at talent for both teams, you may notice that almost every important player is playing for the team that drafted them. This year's Finals were no different, as the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics both built their rosters through the draft.
Throughout NBA history, the majority of championship teams have constructed their roster from the ground up by using the draft as the key to success. Whether it's Magic Johnson's Lakers, Michael Jordan's Bulls, or Tim Duncan's Spurs, almost every championship roster was driven by homegrown talent. The same can be said for the Warriors, whose longtime success in the draft propelled them to their fourth championship in the last eight years. Sure, there are some exceptions, such as the 2019 Raptors and 2020 Lakers, whose top two players were acquired by free agency or trade. However, both teams used previous draft selections to acquire a big time star who proved to be the missing piece, whether it was Kawhi Leonard for the Raptors or Anthony Davis for the Lakers.
Despite this, there are still teams who set out build championship caliber rosters to pursue marquee players who are either free agents or on the trade block. This year's Nets and Lakers are primary examples. The Nets went into the season hoping that their big three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden would lead them to a championship. Instead, Kyrie's refusal to take the Covid vaccine, Durant's knee injury, and Harden's desire to seek a trade culminated in the trio playing only two games this season. Even when Kyrie returned full time, the Nets got swept in the first round and with Kyrie's future uncertain, Durant might be the only one left by the time next season starts.
Out west, the Los Angeles Lakers believed they needed a third star, and would acquire Russell Westbrook on draft night. With a big three of LeBron James, Westbrook, and Davis, the Lakers looked set up to be on a collision course with the Nets. However, Los Angeles wouldn't even make the play-in tournament, as their supposed big three only played 21 games together. While their 11-10 record suggests the Lakers could've made the playoffs had all three been healthy, they would've been an early exit as they were never more than three games above .500. As of now, it's hard to imagine that the Lakers could be successful next season without parting ways with one of the three players.
On the other hand, the Golden State Warriors returned to the NBA's pinnacle after two non-playoff seasons thanks to the talent they've developed over the years. Besides Andrew Wiggins, their whole core is made up of players who they took a chance on in the draft. The first three guys that typically come to mind are Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. They set the foundation for Golden State's' long time success and each of them have been on the team for every single one of their championships during this dynasty. Additionally, Golden State's 2019 draft pick Jordan Poole developed into a reliable scorer, averaging 17 points off the bench in the playoffs. The most impressive part about Golden State's success in the draft is the fact that Curry was the highest selection at number seven, with Thompson being the only other lottery pick at 11.
As for the Boston Celtics, their success in the draft started in 2013 when they traded franchise cornerstones Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets for a ransom of long term picks. Fast forward to 2022 and Boston's top three players - Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart - are all prized possessions of the trade. Tatum is clearly the alpha dog of the three, but Brown has developed his game beyond dunking, while Marcus Smart became the first point guard to win Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton in 1996. Boston has also seen Robert Williams and Grant Williams take significant steps this season. Robert Williams in particular has a really bright future and could win a DPOY. Although Boston lost in six games, they are still very much contenders after some had written them off earlier in the season.
Any team will gain more attention from the media if they manage to acquire a star or two. They will be on national TV plenty of times and tickets will go up significantly. However, this isn't always the right formula toward building a championship team, as most of these moves don't yield the long term results many would expect. When watching the NBA Finals, general managers should realize that both teams have a least one major contributor who they previously drafted. This year was just another addition to the long list of Finals matchups where both teams had gotten to this point through the draft.
After an underwhelming 2021 season, it was believed that the Yankees' window to contend for a championship was starting to close. These opinions only became stronger as the Yankees had a quiet offseason where they made a lot of under the radar moves rather than going on their typical spending spree in free agency. Since the season started however, the Yankees have been dominating every opponent in their way. They are currently riding a 47-16 record which is not only best in the American League, but in all of baseball. Here are all the reasons for their spectacular start.
1. A More Balanced Lineup
The heart of the Yankees' lineup, without question, centers around Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. When healthy, they are one of baseball's more feared hitting duos, which is something pitchers dealt with last year. As of now, they have picked up right where they left off. Stanton has hit 13 home runs while Judge has taken his game to another level, clobbering an absurd 25 home runs. They are both on pace to hit over 30 home runs, although Judge might hit 66 at this rate. Let's not forget that he also leads the team in almost every other hitting category.
The big difference for Judge and Stanton this year, is that they have much more help at the plate. Anthony Rizzo has had a lower batting average than in years past, but he's well on pace to eclipse his home run and RBI total from last year. Meanwhile, Gleyber Torres only needed 58 games to match his home run total from the last two years combined. Additionally, the Yankees have a well rounded group of contact hitters led by DJ Lemahieu, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Jose Trevino. Out of all their hitters, Trevino has been the biggest surprise, hitting .300 while delivering two walk-offs this season.
2. Better Pitching and a Fundamentally Sound Defense
Last year, the Yankees' pitching staff had some stretches where they looked unhittable while other times, they needed 25 pitches just to get out of an inning. This year, they've been far more consistent. All of their starting pitchers have a winning record with the highest ERA being Gerrit Cole's 3.33. Despite this, Cole overcame a shaky start to the season and has looked like the $324 million ace the Yankees payed him to be, leading the team in strikeouts to go along with a 6-1 record. Nestor Cortes has been baseball's biggest breakout star as of now. His 5-2 record, 1.96 era, and 71 strikeouts make him all but a lock to start for the A.L. in the all star game. The rest of the rotation consists of a fully healthy Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, and Jameson Taillon who have all contributed toward the Yankees having the lowest era in the majors at 2.81.
Defensively, the Yankees have been much more respectable in the field compared to last season. This is because Aaron Boone has been playing guys where they are comfortable at, whether it's Gleyber Torres returning to second base or Giancarlo Stanton playing in the outfield more often. For Stanton to excel in the field, Aaron Judge has made the transition to center field where he's shown that he can cover ground as well as any other center fielder. Behind the plate, Kyle Higashioka and Jose Trevino have proved to be defensive upgrades, as Yankee pitchers no longer have to worry about their pitches going to the backstop. These adjustments are a big reason why the Yankees are in the top three for runs saved defensively. Without the improvement of their defense the Yankees would not have baseball's best record by such a wide margin.
3. Long Term Outlook
There's no reason to think that the Yankees can't continue their dominant stretch. Aaron Boone has been pressing all the right buttons and this team not only jells together, but they look like they're having fun which wasn't usually the case last year. Aaron Judge is well on pace to finally win his first career A.L. MVP, they're going to have a bunch of starters for the all-star game, and at this rate they can clinch home field for the entire postseason. As for their current record, (47-16) the only time they've had a better start was in 1998 where they won 114 games en route to a World Series championship. And while there's still a lot of baseball to be played, fans have every right to be extremely optimistic about this team.