By Brandon James Anderson
After more than a full week of no professional basketball games taking place, the NBA Finals are set to begin tonight with the Golden State Warriors at home to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Just as I did last year, below is an overview for the casual basketball fan (and/or the disinterested) so you can sound like you know what’s up with the 2015 NBA Finals:
*LeBron James, just like last year (and the year before), is still the best basketball player on the planet. Last season LBJ led the Miami Heat to the Finals (in an ultimately losing effort). In the off-season, he made a much publicized move back to his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and guided the Cavs to their first Finals appearance since 2007. That 2007 team, it should be noted, featured James and an assorted collection of sacks of garbage. This 2015 Cavs team is far better. However, injuries to star players Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — who missed the second round of the playoffs, the Eastern Conference finals, and will be out for the Finals — has made LeBron’s journey back to the final round all the more impressive.
*Speaking of LeBron being impressive, he’s already done something Michael Jordan never did by reaching the Finals five straight times. Jordan famously won six NBA championships during the 1990’s, but those reigns consisted of two “three-peats” that were separated by Jordan’s first retirement from the NBA to pursue a minor league baseball career. LeBron spent the past four Junes playing in the Finals with the Miami Heat and now has gotten there a fifth straight time with the Cavs. Even for sporting a losing record in the Finals, making it to the last stage five straight times is a huge accomplishment.
*Some feel that above paragraph does not make LeBron all that impressive. Why? Because, simply put, the Eastern Conference is awful. Media figures and analysts have said this about the East since the early 2000’s (or, in other words, after the Bulls dynasty ended). And it’s pretty much true. Sure, Eastern Conference teams have won the title here and there (Detroit and Boston once, Miami twice), but the level of talent has consistently been stronger among the 15 teams in the Western conference over the past decade and a half…
*…which means Golden State’s 67 win season is nothing to take lightly. That win total makes the Warriors tied for sixth in terms of the best regular season record of all time. Only five other teams have ever won more than 67 games (and four out of those five won the title that season). The Warriors reached that mark with a first year head coach in Steve Kerr. (The last team to win 67 games was the 2006-2007 Dallas Mavericks who, ironically, were shockingly ousted in the first round of the playoffs by Golden State.)
*Golden State’s Stephen Curry may be the greatest shooter of all time. This sounds like a bandwagon opinion, and maybe it is, but watch Steph Curry shoot. Seriously, watch him. I’ll give you a few minutes…
Steve Nash, one of the best shooters of the past decade, has given Curry his endorsement as being the best shooter of all time. And if you compare Curry’s stats to Nash’s, the numbers bear out. Stephen Curry has played roughly one-third of the NBA games Nash played over his 13-year long career yet Curry has attempted more than 68% the number of three-pointers Nash attempted with Curry being a more accurate three-point shooter. Nash has a better overall field goal percentage (as do some others like, say, Magic Johnson), but Curry will likely finish his career with stats that will surpass many hall of fame guards in nearly all categories.
*The 2015 NBA Finals has a surprising number of Midwest connections. Of course, there’s the fact that one of the two teams hails from Ohio and is led by native son LeBron James. Fellow Cavaliers Iman Shumpert and the aging Shawn Marion both hail from Illinois. On the Golden State side, Harrison Barnes comes from Ames, Iowa, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston were both born in Illinois, center David Lee hails from St. Louis, and Draymond Green, who played college ball at Michigan State, comes from Saginaw, Michigan. Oh, and Stephen Curry was actually born in the same town as LeBron James, Akron, Ohio.
*Regardless of who wins the Finals this year, a rookie NBA head coach will win the title for the first time since 1982 when Pat Riley won the title with the Lakers. The aforementioned Kerr is in his first season leading the Warriors (though he did spend some time as General Manager of the Phoenix Suns, where he infamously traded for a run-down, well past his prime Shaquille O’Neil for reasons that are still a mystery to this day). The Cavaliers also feature a first-year head coach in David Blatt who comes to the NBA from the Euroleague where he won that league’s Coach of the Year award last season, making him not quite as much of a “rookie” as the term would suggest.
*As good as Stephen Curry is and will continue to be, he won’t be the breakout star of these Finals. That title will belong to his daughter, Riley, whose fame and allure will only continue to grow with each post-game press conference she attends.