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.
This year has seen so many young players in the NBA take huge steps in their careers. Whether it was Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, or Luka Dončić, the NBA is certainly in good hands for the future. With all the young talents in the league, here are my top 25 players under 25.
1. Luka Dončić
He will not win MVP as I predicted before the season but his incredible sense on the court, clutch shot making, and career averages of 28 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists will eventually earn him one. His averages are even better in the playoffs as he's turning the Dallas Mavericks into a playoff contender, as he will play in his first career Conference Finals following a 35 point masterpiece in game 7. Whether Dallas wins or not, it's only a matter of time until he will have accomplished everything an NBA player could dream of.
2. Jayson Tatum
In his first year as the established number one option, Tatum propelled the Boston Celtics to the second seed after an 18-21 start. Though he was always a big time scorer - just look at game 6 - he established himself as one of the league's best two-way players with his lockdown defense on Kevin Durant in the first round and clutch shooting against the Bucks. Add in the playoff experience he already has at age 24 and Boston could soon be hanging up banner 18.
3. Ja Morant
The high flying dunker of the Memphis Grizzlies took a massive leap in his third year, winning the league's Most Improved Player. Morant's incredible athleticism has made him one of the league's most exciting players. His impact on the team can't be understated as Memphis finished second in the West and won their first playoff series since 2015. Fans will now be hoping that he can make a full recovery as his amazing postseason was cut short after a knee injury.
4. Trae Young
Young's disappointing postseason makes it difficult to put him in the top three, but he still gets the nod at four. His ball handling and shooting has made him one of the league's most entertaining point guards since his rookie season. He's also became one of the league's best finishers with a bunch of clutch shots in big games such as last year against the Knicks and then the Cavaliers in this year's play-in.
5. Zion Williamson
Despite missing all of this season, Williamson still cracks the top five. When he is healthy, Williamson is one of the more dominant players on the court. He will back down anyone that stands in his way despite his small size for a power forward. On defense, he's a brick wall who refuses to let opponents have their way against him.
6. LaMelo Ball
LaMelo Ball is an impressive playmaker who has made the Hornets one of the league's most entertaining teams. While everyone loved his passing, they were skeptical about his shot. However, he has transformed his shot into a strength which is why he's dangerous on the offensive end. Although Ball hasn't appeared in a postseason yet, that will likely change.
7. Anthony Edwards
Anthony Edwards is probably the first player since LeBron to come into the league possessing an explosiveness that's highlight worthy, despite having the body of a football player. This allows him to get to wherever he wants on the court, whether it's out on the perimeter or in the paint. After being a finalist for Rookie of the Year, Edwards took a jump by leading the Timberwolves to the playoffs where he was easily their top player throughout the series.
8. Bam Adebayo
Bam Adebayo's skillset allows the Heat to flourish on both ends of the floor. On offense, he went from someone who could only score above the rim, to a decent midrange shooter with the ability to put the ball on the floor. He might look undersized on defense at 6'9, but his athleticism and agility makes him one of the league's toughest defenders.
9. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
For the last two years, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been a bright spot for the lowly Thunder. He's always been a good scorer, but he's also starting to become a facilitator. Despite being in the league for four years, Gilgeous-Alexander is only 23 years old. When you consider the fact that he nearly averaged 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists, imagine what he'll be doing four years later.
10. DeAndre Ayton
His future is murky as he only played 17 minutes of the Suns game seven debacle, but that shouldn't understate the fact that he's still a solid player. He might not be as flashy as the other big men in the game, but he has always been a guarantee for buckets and rebounds. In every year, he's averaged double figures for points and rebounds.
11. Darius Garland
Garland is a crafty offensive player who can excel offensively with or without the ball. Although he was solid in his first two seasons, Garland's play took a massive jump this season. His averages of 21 points and 8 assists earned Garland his first career all star appearance and although the Cavaliers lost both play-in games, Garland gives fans a reason to believe again.
12. Brandon Ingram
If it wasn't for Ingram, the Pelicans wouldn't have made the playoffs, let alone the play-in. Ingram has blossomed into a consistent scorer. During the play-in however, Ingram took his game to the next level as he led the Pelicans to two straight wins en route to a playoff birth. In his first playoff series, Ingram averaged 27 points in a losing effort.
13. Jarrett Allen
With the Nets, Allen was a decent player but after getting traded to the Cavaliers, he's took on a more significant role. His offense is solid, but his defense is what makes Allen a great fit for a team that surprisingly allowed the fifth fewest points in the NBA. Allen's play resulted in his first all-star selection.
14. Evan Mobley
You can't mention Jarrett Allen's impact on the Cavaliers defense without mentioning Evan Mobley. Although he didn't win Rookie of the Year, Mobley is a very talented power forward who looks like the second coming of Anthony Davis. He can wreak havoc at the rim on offense and defense. The only difference, is that he's a better ball-handler and shooter at this point in his career than Davis in his rookie season.
15. Lonzo Ball
Had it not been for two seasons where he had to be shut down because of injuries, Ball would be higher on the list. When healthy, Lonzo Ball is a solid playmaker who's defense is extremely underrated. His impact on the Chicago Bulls this year was undeniable as they went 22-13 with Ball, compared to their 25-27 record (including playoffs) without him.
16. De'Aaron Fox
For the last five years, De'Aaron Fox has been the only player worth watching on the Sacramento Kings. His quickness makes him one of the more entertaining point guards in the league. Although Fox has yet to make the playoffs, his career averages of 19 points and six assists suggest that he'll make the most of the opportunity when the time comes.
17. Scottie Barnes
When Scottie Barnes was drafted back in July, many people thought he went too early in the draft and that the Raptors had reached. Fast forward to now and there's no one who is against that pick. Barnes won Rookie of the Year and helped the Raptors exceed expectations by making the playoffs. Although they lost to the 76ers in six games, Barnes already has a significant role on this team.
18. R.J. Barrett
Unlike most people who make these types of lists, I will acknowledge Barrett's gradual improvement throughout his three seasons. He has become a threat from the perimeter, he's probably the team's best on-ball defender, and he delivers under pressure. Last year, he was integral to the Knicks surprising success and this year, he became the youngest Knick to average 20 points a game.
19. MIles Bridges
Miles Bridges has always been one of the league's most exciting dunkers, but this year Miles Bridges showed he's more than just a dunker. He has worked on his craft and it was evident this season. He averaged career highs in points, rebounds, and assists.
20. John Collins
Like Bam Adebayo, John Collins has also become more than just a guy who can excel above the rim. While he doesn't have the physicality Adebayo has, Collins is probably a better three point shooter. He can also put the ball on the floor and he remains a favorite for Trae Young to throw alley-oops to.
21. Jaren Jackson Jr.
In the first season that Jaren Jackson was fully healthy, he put up strong numbers all across the board. Offensively, Jackson can score from anywhere as he averaged 16 points and six rebounds. He was also a big reason why Memphis was one of the best teams at protecting the rim, blocking two shots a game.
22. Tyler Herro
After a stellar rookie season which saw the Miami Heat reach the NBA Finals, Tyler Herro took a step back. However, he has rebounded this year, averaging career highs in points and assists while shooting about 40%. Herro's scoring off the bench has helped fuel the Heat's offense and as a result, he won Sixth Man of the Year.
23. Desmond Bane
After a decent rookie season, Desmond Bane has taken a significant step in his sophomore season. He doubled his scoring average from nine points to 18 points. Most of his offensive production comes from three, where's he's shot 43% in each of his first two seasons. In the playoffs, his three point % hovers around 50.
24. Tyrese Maxey
Before the Philadelphia 76ers traded their malcontent Ben Simmons for James Harden, Tyrese Maxey really stepped up as the no. 2 option behind Joel Embiid. Even after Harden's arrival, Maxey continued to flourish with his craftiness on offense. As a matter of fact, Maxey performed better in the postseason than Harden, averaging 20 points compared to Harden's 18 while displaying a lot more effort. Just search up his hustle in game three against the Heat.
25. Jordan Poole
When the Golden State Warriors selected Jordan Poole late in the first round, not many thought much about the selection. However, Poole now has a significant role with the team, establishing himself as the newest "Splash Brother" alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The only difference between them is that Poole is 10 years younger than both Curry and Thompson.
Eastern Conference: Western Conference:
#1 Heat 4 #1 Suns 4
#8 Hawks 2 #8 Pelicans 0
#1 Heat 3 #1 Suns 4
#4 76ers 4 #4 Mavericks 2
#4 76ers 4 #4 Mavericks 4
#5 Raptors 2 #5 Jazz 2
#3 Bucks 4 #1 Suns 4 #1 Suns 4
#3 76ers 0 #3 Bucks 3 #2 Grizzilies 1
#3 Bucks 4 #3 Warriors 2
#6 Bulls 0 #6 Nuggets 4
#2 Celtics 2 #2 Grizzlies 4
#3 Bucks 4 #6 Nuggets 1
#2 Celtics 4 #2 Grizzlies 4
#7 Nets 2 #7 Timberwolves 1
One thing that has drastically changed throughout the NBA's 75 year history is the value of point guards. They've evolved from being solely valued as passed-first guys, to score-first players who must have a solid three point game. While this year's MVP candidates such as Nikola Jokić, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo are not point guards, the position is still more valuable than ever.
When you look at most of the contenders, they all have stellar point guard play. For example, the Phoenix Suns have the last version of a pure point guard in Chris Paul, otherwise known as the Point God. Paul might be averaging a career low 14.7 points, but he still has the ability to bring out the best in his teammates, which is a big reason why Phoenix has won a franchise record 64 games.
Other teams who will have home court advantage in the West can thank their point guards, who have elevated their teams sooner than anyone could've expected. In Memphis, Ja Morant has enjoyed a breakout season, As a result, Memphis has tied their franchise record for single season wins. Even when he hasn't been on the court, Memphis is 20-4, which says a lot about his impact on the team.
Luka Dončić of the Dallas Mavericks has enjoyed his winningest season in his young career, helping the team earn home court advantage for the first time in his three years in the playoffs. As a matter of fact, Dallas has two other reliable point guards in Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie. The three of them have all contributed to the Mavericks' second half success this season.
The Milwaukee Bucks have Jrue Holiday who has always been a scrappy defender and a dependable scorer. He will conclude this season shooting a career high 41% from three which is going to make him tough to defend considering his ability to create while driving to the basket. He can also set up Antetokounmpo and Kris Middleton rather than one of them bringing the ball up.
Stephen Curry has been the only consistent player for the Golden State Warriors this season. In a campaign that has seen them win 12 games after being 41-13, Curry is the reason why they haven't fallen further in the standings even with a streaky supporting cast.
In general, having a competent point guard is beneficial when a team is neck and neck in a close game. According to NBA.com's clutch stats - based on whether a game is within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or any overtime period - four of the five teams I mentioned are in the top ten: Milwaukee, Dallas, Phoenix, and Memphis. All teams have the luxury of a point guard who can successfully calm everyone down.
As for some of the teams I didn't mentioned, their regular season success might not be sustainable in the playoffs because of their suspect performance at the point guard position. For example, the Bulls and Nuggets are two teams who have had solid regular seasons, but will be skinny at point guard entering this year's playoffs.
Denver lost Jamal Murray to a torn ACL last season, and while they could get him back during the postseason, they need to win more than a few playoff games for that to happen. Especially if they want to match up against teams such as Phoenix after getting swept by them last year.
The Bulls on the other hand will suffer in the playoffs without Lonzo Ball who hasn't played since January. Without him, the Bulls have a .511 winning percentage which is far below their .628 winning percentage with a healthy Ball.
Of all the playoff teams who lack a real point guard, the Boston Celtics could be hit the hardest. They are a legitimate contender in the East with their suffocating defense, but the lack of a true point guard will come back to bite them at some point. Remember how I listed some teams who were in the top 10 for clutch stats? Well, Boston has the second worst record in that category. Marcus Smart has always had the reputation of laying his body on the line but his ability to run an offense is not exactly superb.
Let me also state that one reason why we're not even talking about underachieving teams such as the Knicks and Lakers is because their point guard play was extremely disappointing.
So when you're watching playoffs, and wondering who will go the distance, analyze their point guard. Whether he can run an offense or not will determine their fate.
With lot of attention surrounding the NBA's 75 Greatest Players, I've decided to play around with the selections by making three All NBA Teams. They will solely be constructed of the players who were honored at halftime of the All Star Game.
All NBA First Team
All NBA Second Team
All NBA Third Team
Coach: Pat Riley
I know Phil Jackson has six more championships (11) than Riley (5), but Riley won with different teams while using different styles. I'd take him over some Triangle nonsense.
The beginning of a new year marks an opportunity for everyone to set new goals for themselves. That's why I'm going to propose some theoretical new year's resolutions to notable sports figures who could use them in 2022.
1. Rob Manfred - Get Your Act Together
Even before this year, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was competing with Roger Goodell with the title of "most hated commissioner in all of sports". He has been heavily disliked by both players and fans for actions such as his response to the Houston Astros' cheating scandal. However Manfred reached a new low this year, which was partly due to the two different types of baseballs that were used. One of the baseballs was more pitcher friendly, while another helped hitters be more productive at the plate. Keep in mind that this is ironic considering Manfred's crackdown on foreign substances back in June. As of now, the MLB is on locking out the players while they try to negotiate a new league agreement. While Manfred obviously isn't a player or owner, he deserves a ton of blame for the league's failure with the negotiations.
2. Ben Simmons - Change Your Mindset
Since he passed up a dunk late in the fourth quarter of last year's playoffs, Ben Simmons has yet to step on the court this season. He didn't engage with team until October and when he did, Simmons got kicked out of practice for showing a lack of engagement and was later suspended for the season opener. Simmons has also refused counseling from the 76ers to help him get back on the court. To top it off, Simmons has requested a trade but isn't doing any favors to help his cause. While he can create for scoring opportunities for others and defend the opponent's best player, Simmons lacks a solid jump shot and has a massive contract. If Simmons wants a fresh start, he needs to change his entire approach because as of now, he's a bonafide diva.
3. Zion Williamson - Get In Shape
Zion Williamson has seemed to enjoy the food in New Orleans a little too much. Williamson was drafted no. 1 by the New Orleans Pelicans and seen by some as the NBA's next prodigy. When Williamson is healthy, he's a force to be reckoned with. His ability to attack the basket, haul in rebounds, and protect the rim, is super impressive at 6'5, 280 plus lbs. It's his availability that has been an issue for Williamson. He didn't take the court in his rookie year until January and has yet to suit up this season. To his defense, the Pelicans haven't done anything please Williamson in his three years with the team. They've had a three different coaches in every season which is a recipe to make your franchise player unhappy. However, Williamson must take better care of his weight. If Charles Barkley is concerned, that tells you something.
PreviewPreview2:51Shaq & Chuck Roasting Zion Williamson on Inside the NBA YouTube · House of HighlightsNov 2, 2021
There is no better word to describe the Knicks' season than inconsistent. Following last year's surprising playoff appearance, the Knicks were expected to build upon their success after acquiring Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, along with extending Julius Randle, Derrick Rose, and Alec Burks. With these moves, the Knicks started 5-1, but have sputtered since, going 9-16. So why has this been the case? Well, their record can be attributed to a few notable reasons.
It is no secret that every good NBA team must have a starting unit that plays as one and finishes the job during crunch time. As for the Knicks, their starters have been extremely disappointing. They went into the season with hope that Walker would mesh with Randle and RJ Barrett, but this hasn't been the case. It only took nineteen games into the season for coach Tom Thibodeau to making major changes to the starting lineup. Walker, their starting point guard going into the season, was such a liability defensively that he was removed from the rotation in late November. He did bounce back with an impressive performances in his last two starts, which will make Thibodeau's decision interesting once their other players get out of COVID protocols. Additionally, center Mitchell Robinson was removed from the starting lineup a couple weeks ago, and it's unknown when he'll get his next start.
Last year, the Knicks were a team that no one wanted to play. On defense, they suffocated opponents holding them to an average of 104 points on 44% shooting: both league lows. This year, the opposing field goal percentage still hovers around 44, but they're now 18th in points allowed. They've constantly allowed guys not known for their scoring to put up a season high total whether it was Ricky Rubio's 37, O.G. Anunoby's 36, or Zeke Nnaji's 21 off the bench. For the Knicks' defense to resemble last year's success, this troubling trend must stop.
The offense, which was supposed to be improved upon this offseason, has also taken a step back. The Knicks' glaring weakness on that end of the floor comes from behind the three point arc. Last year, they finished 27th in three point attempts, but third in three point percentage. This year the Knicks remain in the top ten in three point percentage, but have climbed up to 11th in attempts. Their heavy reliance on shooting threes is a big reason why their offense has struggled to produce at a consistent rate. Their top two players in Randle and Barrett also deserve a lot of criticism. Last year, most of the Knicks' offense ran through those two players and they delivered time and time again. Even if their stats this year were a sliver below last year's stats, the Knicks would've won more games by now.
Finally, there's always one point in a game where the Knicks seem to lose their focus, and it proceeds to haunt them in the end. There were many games where the Knicks dug a deep hole for themselves to climb out of, whether it was against the Bulls earlier this month, or Raptors a couple of weeks ago. There has also been a lack of maturity in some of these losses. Take their loss against the Nets for example: Julius Randle might've had some calls go against him, but he was in the wrong to argue with the referee, which earned him technical foul midway through the fourth quarter. The Nets ended up winning by two in a game the Knicks could've won in regulation or forced overtime had Randle kept his cool.
Now obviously, it's still very early in the season. The Knicks just beat the lowly Pistons in a stress-free game, and will be facing two more teams this week who's rosters have been ravaged by COVID. This is a golden opportunity for the Knicks to get some momentum going. Don't forget that last year, the Knicks had a somewhat similar record earlier in the season, before going on that nine game win streak which propelled them into the playoffs. This team is certainly capable of repeating their success from last year. However, it's best that the Knicks find a way to stop digging a hole to climb out of, because before they know it, their playoff hopes could vanish.
On Tuesday night, the NBA will begin its 75th season with the Milwaukee Bucks opening their title defense against the Brooklyn Nets in a rematch of last season's thrilling playoff series. It's fitting that this will be the first matchup in a season expected to have many teams contend for a championship. Over in the East, all eyes will be on the Bucks and Nets while the door is wide open for any team to contend in the West.
Regular Season Awards:
MVP - Luka Dončić
Defensive Player of the Year - Giannis Antetokounmpo
Rookie of the Year - Cade Cunningham
Sixth Man of the Year - Derrick Rose
Most Improved Player - Micheal Porter Jr.
Coach of the Year - Michael Malone
Eastern Conference Western Conference
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Suns 4
#8 Bulls 0 #8 Grizzlies 1
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Suns 4
#4 Hawks 1 #4 Jazz 3
#4 Hawks 4 #4 Jazz 4
#5 Heat 3 #5 Clippers 1
#1 Bucks 2 #2 Nets 4 #1 Suns 1
#2 Nets 4 #3 Nuggets 1 #3 Nuggets 4
#3 Knicks 4 #3 Nuggets 4
#6 Celtics 1 #6 Warriors 1
#2 Nets 4 #2 Lakers 2
#3 Knicks 2 #3 Nuggets 4
#2 Nets 4 #2 Lakers 4
#7 Sixers 1 #7 Mavericks 2
If there's one takeaway from this year's NBA playoffs, it would be the increased use of the midrange shot. Despised in the world of analytics as an outdated shot, it's important value was evident this postseason. Players such as Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and Khris Middleton took and made these shots.
When the Golden State Warriors were at their peak, they showed how valuable the three point shot can be, prompting everyone from guards to centers to add that shot to their arsenal. As a result midrange shots became a shot that players were advised not to shoot. During Mike D'Antoni's tenure in Houston, any player on the Rockets that didn't shoot a layup or three pointer on a possession would be called out during film sessions. The only player that still took these shots was Carmelo Anthony and while he still made those shots, teams despised it so much that he went a year unsigned. However, the Portland Trail Blazers picked him up in November, 2019 and he is once again proving how valuable it is to have a midrange shot.
In this year's playoffs, Anthony wasn't the only player knocking down midrange jumpers. The teams that won the most in the playoffs had guys that could knock down crucial midrange shots. The Brooklyn Nets had Kevin Durant who despite being the only healthy player out of their big three, literally knocked down midrange shots at will. Durant gave the Celtics nightmares in the first round and nearly eliminated the Bucks single handedly. Overall, he shot an incredible 59% on all midrange shots during the playoffs.
Devin Booker and Chris Paul feasted on midrange shots throughout the postseason while guiding the Suns to their first Finals appearance since 1993. Paul always had the ability to knock down midrange shots, connecting on 52% off those jumpers. But it was Booker who's midrange game took a jump. In his three best games of the playoffs (game 6 WCQF, game 1 WCF, and game 4 Finals), Booker shot an efficent 24/44 off midrange jump shots.
Although he missed the end of the semifinals and all of the conference finals due to an injury, Kawhi Leonard still had a terrific postseason. He helped the Clippers rally from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 against the Mavericks before putting them in a position to beat Utah. In the eleven games before the injury, Leonard was efficent from the midrange shooting 62%.
The Milwaukee Bucks won the championship mainly because of Giannis Antetokounmpo's heroics, but Khris Middleton also played an important role in their run. He established himself as one of the more clutch players of the playoffs hitting big shots on many occasions: his game winner against the Heat, a turnaround putting Milwaukee ahead for good in game 7 against Brooklyn, shots down the stretch to cap a 40 point Finals performance, and a fallaway to dash any hopes of a Suns comeback in game six.
In the regular season, teams never play defense as intense compared to the postseason where a midrange shot can be a useful weapon against tight defense. People who watched the NBA playoffs were reintroduced to the midrange shot. While the heavy use of analytics diminished its value, this shot was reborn during the playoffs. Expect an increased usage of these types of shots next season.
It has been over a week into the NBA transaction period and the offseason has already been wild. Many teams have already been active in the market whether it's through trades or free agent signings. And while there are still high profile moves that might take place, here are my four teams that improved this offseason.
After an offseason that backfired in their quest to repeat as champions, the Lakers decided to go in a different direction: trade Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and a first round pick to the Washington Wizards for Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has been one of the top point guards in the league for a long time thanks to his athleticism and playmaking ability. He's the all time leader in career triple doubles. His decision making is another story. He has the tendency to force shots or passes in the closing moments. These flaws can be avoided if Westbrook would be willing to defer to a guy like LeBron James or even Anthony Davis in crucial moments down the stretch. If he does this, he could finally win his first championship In addition, they signed another future hall of famer in Carmelo Anthony. While Anthony might not be the dominating scorer he once was, he's still a reliable asset who remains dependable in clutch situations. The only question about this team will be their age. They have a record five players 35 or older on an NBA roster, which could catch up later in the season. Nonetheless, any team led by LeBron has a chance to win it all and this is one of the more talented rosters he's been a part of.
The Heat went into the 2020-2021 with high hopes after a surprising run to the Finals in the previous year. However, they had a down year and were swept in the first round by the eventual champion Bucks. Going into this offseason, they wasted no time taking advantage of the available cap room they had. They signed P.J. Tucker who's a rugged defender and solid three point shooter for only $17 million, but their big move was signing all star point guard Kyle Lowry from the Raptors via a sign and trade. While he lost a step last season Lowry is still a stellar floor general who can create his own shots and set up his teammates. On the defensive end, Lowry's a scrappy defender who puts his body on the line and should form a tough defensive backcourt with Jimmy Butler. Speaking of Butler, Miami awarded him with a $184 million contract extension along with a five year $90 million extension to Duncan Robinson. While both were key contributors in their run to the Finals, Butler will be 32 years old going into next season and Robinson, while an excellent 3-point shooter, isn't a great defender or passer so it will be interesting to see how both deals work out.
Following a season in which the Knicks made their first playoff appearance in eight years, many wondered if they would be able to re-sign some of the upcoming free agents who got them in that position. When free agency began, they wasted no timing re-signing Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, and Derrick Rose. Bringing back Rose in particular was a smart move since there were other teams who recognized his value and wanted to sign him. While they did lose Reggie Bullock, their short term replacement is Evan Fournier who can score in off the dribble and from three. He's not as good a defender as Bullock is but that could be improved under Tom Thibodeau. They also acquired Kemba Walker after he reached a buyout with the Thunder. Although Walker was clearly not 100% last season, he's usually one of the more crafty point guards in the league and is a good fit for the Knicks since he stabilizes their point guard rotation going into this season. Finally, they extended their best player Julius Randle for four years and $117 million. Although Randle had a subpar postseason, he helped get them there and he's worth every penny. In fact, Randle actually took less money to allow the team to improve other areas of the roster.
The Bulls entered the offseason with money to spend on improving their roster and wasted no time in doing so. They added two skilled perimeter players in DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball via sign and trade. While they already have a talented scorer in shooting guard Zach LaVine, Ball and DeRozan both bring useful skillsets to the table. Ball is a strong defender who's averaged over one steal each year of his career. On offense, he brings playmaking to the Bulls. His scoring has slowly progressed, but his passing will most likely be the difference. Since entering the league, Ball has had 40 games with 10 or more assists; thirteen more games than anyone on the Bulls roster combined throughout that span. DeRozan might not be the player he was with the Raptors, but he's still a solid player. He converted 49.5% of his shots and averaged a career high seven assists. How he'll fit next to LaVine is going to be interesting given that they play the same position and still need time to develop chemistry.
These are the moves that I believe will pay the most dividends this upcoming season. As mentioned earlier, the offseason isn't over yet and there might be major moves in the making as we speak. However, these teams that I mentioned have had the best off-seasons and fans should feel good about their situation.