For the third year in a row, the Warriors faced off against the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. There were a lot of historic performances and aspects of this series, as well as countless controversial story lines that were highlighted throughout the series. Now that we’ve had almost a week to really reflect on this year’s edition of the NBA Finals, we can step back and take a clear look at the storylines and takeaways from this year’s Finals.
The Warriors are far and away the best team in the league.
After watching the Warriors dismantle the Cavs, it seems that the league will need a massive shake up for any teams to catch the Dubs. Their 4-1 series win and 16-1 postseason record was the historic performance the team needed for redemption after losing their 3-1 lead in last season’s Finals. Golden State won by a historic margin of 13.5 points per game, which includes a 21 point loss in Game 4 of the Finals (their margin of victory was close to 20 points per win). The Warriors blew out everyone they faced and did not leave any doubt that they were the best team in the league. They even entered the conversation as the best team ever. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry led the team that was on a mission to redeem themselves after last year’s devastating loss. While the Spurs may be closer than they showed in the Western Conference Finals because of an injury to Kawhi Leonard, I still don’t believe they would have had enough to beat the Warriors. That means someone is going to have to make a blockbuster move to add a star in order to catch the Warriors. There are teams in reach (Celtics with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft and cap space to add a star, Cavaliers if they can add another star, Spurs if their healthy and maybe add another star, or another surprise team that can add two or more stars), but it will take a historic and miraculous effort to beat the NBA Champions, which leads to the next takeaway.
Teams need to make some major decisions this summer.
After their dominating performance, you have to wonder if anyone can possibly beat the Warriors. It will take the addition of another superstar to any of the top competitors and maybe even more for some other teams. This brings up the decision: Should teams spend millions on stars to try to win now, or should teams stockpile draft picks and build for the future in an attempt to wait out the Warriors? It will be interesting looking at a team like the Celtics who may be able to break through the Eastern Conference but will have a lot of trouble reaching the Warriors. What will they do? What will the rest of the league do? On top of that, teams need to solve the Warriors. Teams need to look at whether they want to build a defensive powerhouse like the 2004 NBA Champion Detroit Pistons, or should teams try to build a team of offensive players like the Cavaliers tried this year? I believe that it is impossible to beat the Warriors in an offensive “track meet.” Therefore, I believe teams need to look defensively. They need to find a team that can both slow the Warriors and score effectively. There’s only one team in the league that can do that right now: the San Antonio Spurs. With their defense lead by star Kawhi Leonard and mastermind Coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs looked like they had figured the Warriors out in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals before Leonard left with an injury that held him out for the rest of the series. I believe teams need to look to the Spurs and try to build a similar team, which in the past has been seemingly impossible. Teams will need to make a lot of decisions about their futures this summer because of the dominance the Warriors showed.
LeBron the GM is not as great as LeBron the player.
Despite one of the greatest Finals performances ever from LeBron James, his team still lost in five games. Throughout the series, it was obvious that the Cavaliers were completely outmatched in all facets of the game. A team handpicked by LeBron James, who has taken as close to complete control of the Cavs as possible for a player since his return to Cleveland, could barely compete with Golden State. The Cavaliers are filled with players that are close with LeBron, such as J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson. Even the coach Tyronn Lue was LeBron’s choice after he got David Blatt fired (although Lue has earned respect and now even LeBron listens to him). And many of LeBron’s players were overpaid for. LeBron has gotten almost every player he has asked for, and because of that, the Cavaliers have the highest payroll in the league and are 13 million dollars over the salary cap. Unfortunately, LeBron’s plan to beat the Warriors failed. He has gotten the Cavs to sign a number of older players who can only play offense. These defensive liabilities killed the Cavs in the Finals. Lebron’s handpicked team of older players let him down in the Finals.
LeBron James is getting too old and is no longer the best player on the planet. Nope!!!
If LeBron proved one thing this Finals, it is that he is still the best player in the world. While KD solidified himself as the next in line alongside Kawhi Leonard, he has not passed LeBron yet. Durant is ascending though, and it won’t be long until he overtakes LeBron as the best player. Durant averaged 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 5.4 assists while shooting 55.6% from the field (47.4% from three) this series. While those averages and Durant’s freedom on the court made people gape and rush to name him the best player, LeBron assured the world that he was still the king. LeBron, becoming the first player ever to average a triple double over a full Finals series, averaged 33.6 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. While Durant won the MVP award, it was obvious that his superior team allowed him to open up and play with freedom, while LeBron was stuck carrying the Cavs in every area. The fact that LeBron even lead his team to a win against this historically great Warriors squad cements the fact that, while LeBron’s best is behind him, he is still the best player on the planet.
Durant may have been the Finals MVP, but Curry is the most important player for the Warriors.
While Durant was dominant throughout his first Finals with the Warriors, it was clear that Steph Curry makes the Warriors run. The former MVP averaged 26.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 8.0 assists in the first Finals where he played like his MVP-self. Throughout the series, just as during the rest of the playoffs, Curry was the player that ran the Warriors. He set up countless chances for Durant and other teammates, and he controlled the pace of the game, pushing when needed, but also slowing down when it was favorable. His great shooting from long distance opened up wide open shots for other players inside the paint and around the arc. His improved defense (2.2 steals per game) also helped set up a lot of fast break opportunities. While Curry can’t compete with Durant’s size and speed, he is the player that makes the team great. He makes the right pass, spreading the ball around and initiating the ball movement that separates the Warriors from the rest of the league. If the Warriors continue to allow Curry to be their general on the floor, there is nothing they can’t do.
Featured Image: Ramin Rahimian for ESPN; http://www.espn.com