To win an NBA championship it takes more than most people realize. What fans see is just the final product, a culmination of many tiresome days, and long grueling nights.
When a general manager is putting together an NBA roster they are given 15 roster spots to work with. Now, most of us only see the eight to 10 players who are used in games, however all 15 of those roster spots are valuable to a general manager, and a franchise. As we get into this list of the best and worst players on the 10 most recent NBA champions, it is important to remember that every player on a championship team brought value to their respective team. What else is important to remember as you delve into this list is that we are basing each entry solely on their skills at the time they won the title.
With the evaluation process clearly explained and a brief understanding of the value each and every player has to a championship team, let’s waste no more time. Here are the best and worst players on the last 10 championship teams. We will begin with the 2007 San Antonio Spurs and end with this past year’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
20. 2007: Best – Tim Duncan
The 2007 NBA Finals were an extremely lopsided affair. It pitted the wildly dominant San Antonio Spurs against the LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers. The Spurs had the Cavs dominated in pretty much every single area of the game, aside from the small forward position. However, the Spurs’ biggest mismatch came at the power forward spot. Tim Duncan was in the prime of his career in 2007, and he was not going to be stopped by the likes of Drew Gooden and Scot Pollard.
Although Tony Parker would be named the series MVP, it was obvious that Duncan was the anchor and ultimate leader of the Spurs. Duncan wrapped up the sweep with averages of 18.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. Duncan also showed the sportsmanship that separates him from most every NBA player in history when he embraced a young LeBron James after the final whistle of the series. He told James that the league would soon belong to the king and that James should be extremely proud of what he had accomplished at the age of 22.
19. 2007: Worst – Michael Finley
Michael Finley was an incredibly talented player who spent 15 seasons in the NBA. During his prime he helped lead the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns to some fairly successful playoff runs.
When Finley joined the Spurs in 2005 he was on the tail end of his career and looking for a chance to win a championship. Finley found himself in the role of mentor and trusted veteran by the time the 2006-07 season rolled around. During the sweep of Cleveland in 2007 Finley was relied on to play over 18 minutes per game, a lot for a player in Finley’s role. To say Finley performed poorly in the finals would be a bit of an understatement, especially considering the career he had up to that point. Finley finished the series averaging only 3.8 points on 26% shooting, and .083% from the three point line.
18. 2008: Best – Paul Pierce
One of the most un-athletic superstars the game has ever seen, somehow Paul Pierce was always able to get it done on the biggest stage. In 2008 Pierce led the Celtics big three to a title, winning Finals MVP along the way. Pierce, no doubt had some help getting there from Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. But, Pierce’s 22 points and 6.3 assists per game led the way for the Celtics.
When the Celtics and Lakers met in 2008 it was an intense series in which Pierce and Kobe Bryant were going head to head night after night. Kobe outscored Pierce, but it was the clutch shots that enabled Pierce to get his team the title. Hitting clutch shots is something ‘The Truth’ will be remembered for, as his career was filled with incredibly difficult buzzer beaters and last second clutch baskets.
17. 2008: Worst – Sam Cassell
Sam Cassell had an amazing career. He may be the only player in history to bookend his career with NBA championships. When he broke into the NBA in 1994 he was lucky enough to join the incredibly talented Houston Rockets, which enabled him to win back to back titles in his first two NBA seasons. To wrap up his time in the league he joined the Celtics in 2008 just in time to be part of another championship run.
Cassell played in five out of the six games in the 2008 finals, averaging just over 10 minutes per game. By 2008 Cassell was more like a coach who suited up. He spent the season mentoring younger players like Rajon Rondo and Glen Davis, but once the finals rolled around Doc Rivers looked to his trusted veteran for valuable playing time. Sam was unable to produce the way he would have like during his time on the floor, averaging only 3.8 points, and 1.8 assists in his five games.
16. 2009: Best – Kobe Bryant
For the basketball world, 2009 was supposed to be the year that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James matched up in the NBA Finals, however, LeBron was unable to lift his team past the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals. Fans were disappointed with the matchup, but Kobe was thrilled. During the 2009 Finals Kobe Bryant put on a performance seldom matched in NBA Finals history. Kobe posted 32.2 points per game in the five games it took the Lakers to discard the Magic. Kobe also rebounded the ball extremely well for a guard, 5.6 per night. The cherry on top for Kobe was his 7.4 assists per game, which led all players in the series.
Kobe has always been criticized for not distributing the ball well enough. During the finals in 2009 it appeared he was on a mission to prove the critics wrong. As he scored at an incredible clip, he also dished out assist after assist, leaving the Orlando Magic bewildered and confused on how to stop the Mamba.