The NBA Championship is one of the most exciting events that takes place in sports every year, and the past three NBA Finals have been entertaining and fun to watch. The matchups in those series were highly competitive. The 2014 NBA Finals saw the San Antonio Spurs take on the Miami Heat. The 2015 and 2016 NBA Finals saw the Golden State Warriors face off against the Cleveland Cavaliers in back to back years, and the high level of play in these championship series left basketball fans around the word highly satisfied. There were plenty of great players that made up these championship rosters.
Kevin Love, Draymond Green and Tony Parker are just a few NBA champions that played crucial roles in their team going all the way. A team cannot just have great players to win a title, they also have to know how to play together well as a team. Teams like the Los Angeles Lakers put together a team comprised of Kobe Bryant, Shaq, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone in 2003-04, but could not win an NBA title because they just did not possess the team chemistry that the Spurs had in 2014, the Warriors had in 2015, or the Cavaliers had in 2016. A good starting five with good chemistry is a good ingredient in winning the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Let’s rank the starting five players of the last three NBA champions.
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15 Tiago Splitter
Tiago Splitter was a member of the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs, and was part of a giant starting lineup. He and Tim Duncan made up a front court that had a lot of length and size, but Splitter was inept when it came to blocking shots. Despite being the team’s center he only managed to average half a block a game during the 2014 postseason. He lacked the ability to be an effective shot blocker, but his field goal percentage and shot selection helped his team avoid shooting themselves in the foot. Splitter converted on 61 percent of his field goals during the entirety of the 2014 NBA postseason. He also did not possess the drive to grab a lot of rebounds, and many people thought of him as being a soft player.
Splitter only grabbed six rebounds per game during the 2014 postseason. The role that Gregg Popovich assigned Splitter had been fulfilled, and led to both of them receiving jewelry for attaining a championship.
14 Andrew Bogut
Andrew Bogut was a member of the 2015 Golden State Warriors, and he was a bit of a dark horse for this team during their championship run. His contribution of five points a game during the postseason leads many to think he was not an effective player for the Warriors during the postseason. His field goal percentage was 56 percent, which is highly effective, and his play on the defensive end of the floor paid dividends for his team. Bogut secured almost two blocks a game in the 2015 NBA Finals. His ability to protect the rim made the Cavaliers think twice about driving into the paint, and he even blocked LeBron James a couple times. The eight rebounds per game Bogut gathered helped the Warriors win the battle on the boards. Bogut's numbers are not eye popping, but his way of play was exactly what this Warriors team needed in a big man to win a title.
13 Tristan Thompson
Tristan Thompson is a member of the 2016 champions, and his role on this team has not the most glamorous one. His responsibility on the Cavs' run to the championship was to grab as many rebounds as possible, block as many shots as possible, and hustle on every possession. Thompson seemed to enjoy this position that coach Tyronn Lue put him in, and he rewarded his coach by doing everything that was asked of him. His numbers did not shatter any records. The most impressive aspect of his postseason play was his rebounding statistics, and more specifically his offensive rebounding proficiency.
Thompson was able to average nine rebounds a game and four of those rebounds were offensive rebounds. This allowed the Cavs to have more possessions than the Warriors in most games. Seven points a game is not a lot, but scoring was not what his team needed him to do, and his ability to get the basketball off of missed shots helped in securing a championship for Cleveland.
12 Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes was a member of the 2015 Golden States Warriors, and although he was not one of the main contributors for his team, he still did everything coach Kerr asked of him during the 2015 NBA Finals. Andre Igoudala spent the most time having to defend LeBron James throughout the 2015 championship series. Barnes spent the second most time defending LeBron James, and did all he could to slow down the best player in the world. The length and athleticism of Barnes was what helped him play decent defense. He didn’t put nearly as many shots up compared to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, but he still managed to score nearly 11 points a game during the 2015 NBA postseason.
His three point shooting also proved to be a useful weapon for the Warriors. When Steph Curry drove to the hoop Barnes would often times be uncovered, and had an open opportunity at a three point shot.
11 J.R. Smith
J.R. Smith was a member of the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers squad, and has not been wearing a shirt all too much since he became an NBA champion. The Golden State Warriors are loaded with players who can shoot. The Cavs needed to keep up with the Warriors in this department, and Smith was able to provide adequate three point shooting. He seemed to make the off balance three pointer almost as much as open three pointers. During the 2016 NBA playoffs Smith shot an impressive 43 percent from behind the arc, and his hot streaks from behind the line helped the Cavs match the Warriors in the three point shooting category throughout the series. Smith averaged almost 12 points a game during the Cavs' championship push. His scoring output was his main way of helping the team, but he also was able to record a steal a game while trying to stay glued to Klay Thompson.
10 Danny Green
Danny Green has not lived up to the hype of his fairly new contract, but he was playing exceptionally well by the time the 2014 NBA Finals kicked off. Green had kind of came from nowhere the previous season. Not many knew of him and whether he could even last in the NBA, but after his masterful performance in the finals it was clear that he would have a nice career in the league. It seemed like whenever Green pulled up for a three it was undoubtedly going in. The Spurs had lost Gary Neal to free agency, and were in need of Green stepping up his game to accommodate for his three point shooting. He made up for Neal’s absence by shooting almost 50 percent from three in 2014 postseason. Danny Green went from NBA bench warmer to key contributor to an NBA champion, and his skill set is one that is of need in the NBA.
9 Kevin Love
Kevin Love is a member of the current NBA champions, and there are a lot of differing opinions as to how his performance was in this year's NBA Finals. He was forced to miss a game due to injury during the finals. After missing a game, coach Tyronn Lue decided to shuffle his starting lineup and have Love come off the bench, and Love did not show any displeasure about this decision. All he wanted to do was win, and he was comfortable coming off the bench if it bettered the Cavaliers' chances at bringing home the hardware. The Kevin Love benching only lasted one game. After the benching he contributed in any way he could, and he ended up scoring 14 points a game during the NBA playoffs. His most impressive game of the finals came in Game 7. During the deciding game, Love grabbed a ton of rebounds, and this kept the momentum on the Cavs' side.
8 Tony Parker
Tony Parker was part of the 2014 San Antonio Spurs who defeated the Miami Heat. During the 2013-14 NBA season, Parker was still playing at an extremely high level compared to how he is currently playing. He brought leadership to a team that was in need of it after losing in the finals the previous year to the Miami Heat. Mario Chalmers was the Heat's starting point guard, but Parker easily outplayed him to give his team a great chance at winning the championship in 2014. His three point percentage of 37 was a major upgrade from what his percentage was in seasons past. Parker seemed to play his best in this series when his team needed him the most, and towards the end of games he would play at a higher level. His 16 points and six assists per game helped deliver yet another championship to his legendary career.
7 Tim Duncan
The year 2014 would end up being the last of five NBA titles for the legendary Spurs big man Tim Duncan. He just recently announced he was retiring from the NBA, and during the 2014 championship he still played a major part in his team’s ability to overcome the obstacle that they had failed to conquer previous year. That obstacle was defeating the Miami Heat. Chris Bosh could not stop Duncan from scoring over 16 points a night in the finals. He played the game so fundamentally sound, and never forced bad shots. The backboard was his greatest tool throughout his career. Duncan hit bank shots from inside the paint and also used the backboard on most of his mid-range baskets, and this contributed to his 52 percent field goal percentage during the 2014 postseason. His prowess on the boards was also a contributing factor to the Spurs winning it all in 2014.
6 Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson was a member of the 2015 NBA champion Golden State Warriors, and was arguably the second best player on the team. Thompson and Steph Curry are a part of the duo known as the splash brothers. His reason for inclusion in this duo is because of his ability to make threes at a rapid fire pace. His scoring mostly comes from beyond the arc, and he does not typically drive to the basket much at all. During the 2015 NBA postseason he contributed 18 points per game for his team. There were games in which he was not much of a factor, but in other games he would score 20 or more points in one quarter. He did not do much outside of scoring the basketball.
His play on the defensive side of the ball was decent, but it was his offensive production that helped the Golden State Warriors win an NBA title.
5 Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving was a member of the 2016 NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers, and hit what turned out to be the game winning shot to secure the NBA title. Irving has always been a flashy player who is speedy enough to get to the basket almost at will. The three pointer that was converted by Irving in the final minute of the game gave the Cavs the lead in the game for good. During the 2016 NBA playoffs he scored 25 points per game which was six points per game higher than his regular season average, and also gave up five assists per game in hope that his team would make it to the end.
The first two games of the 2016 NBA Finals were not great performances by the Cavs. A lot of the blame was put on Irving, but he came back from these disappointing performances and had a productive NBA finals.
4 Draymond Green
Draymond Green was and still is a member of the Golden State Warriors, and played a crucial role in delivering a championship to the Bay Area. He has a reputation around the association for being a dirty player. Some just look at him as a guy who plays hard, and does whatever his team needs him to do to help them win. There are a variety of ways in which he helped his team win the ultimate prize in 2015. He can score from anywhere on the court, and he proved that in the postseason in 2015 by scoring nearly 14 points per game.
He also contributes through rebounding the ball and helping his teammates get the ball in spots where they can easily score. Draymond Green is capable of recording a triple double on any given night, and his variety of skills helped tremendously in bringing hardware back to Oakland.
3 Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard was a part of the 2014 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, and in 2014 he really began to make a name for himself. He improved his game so much in 2014 compared to his rookie year, and was becoming a defensive stud for the Spurs. LeBron James would be pestered by Leonard throughout the entire series with the Spurs. Of course it is near impossible to eliminate LeBron James from playing at a high level, but Leonard was able to limit him enough to help his team win a championship in five games. After the series Leonard would be recognized as one of the top defenders in the NBA, and in the future he would end up winning defensive player of the year. His 14 points and seven rebounds per game during the 2014 NBA post season also played a big role in contributing to his team’s success.
2 Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry helped propel the Golden State Warriors to a title in the 2015 NBA championship. During the 2015 season he won the NBA’s most valuable player award. The highlight of this championship series was himself going up against LeBron James. Curry put on a show that left fans mouths wide open, and this show mostly included making contested three pointers whether they were right next to the line or midway between the line and half court. These circus shots seemed to go in more often than not, and they generated a lot of excitement from many fans who wanted to see LeBron James lose another championship. Curry scored 25 points a game during the postseason. He also got his teammates involved by dishing out six assists per game during the postseason, and was also casing havoc on defense. He is not known for his defense but during the Warriors' run towards the finals he recorded more steals than many were accustomed too.
1 LeBron James
LeBron James is a special player, and he came back to Cleveland and delivered them a championship in 2016, after the city had not won a major sports title in over 50 years. His determination throughout the 2016 NBA Finals helped the Cavaliers rally. LeBron put the team on his back, and he carried them all the way to a game seven after being down three games to one in the series. The blocked shot heard around the world that James had on Andre Igoudala was the turning point in the Cavs' Game 7 victory.
Impressively LeBron improved his numbers during this title run from the regular season, and this included grabbing around two more rebounds a game during the postseason. He was also able to score 26 a night and dish out almost eight assists every game. Deservedly he was awarded the 2016 NBA Finals MVP after leading his team to a historic title.
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