Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cardboard History Guide to the 2016 NBA Finals

This 2015-16 NBA season has been nothing short of spectacular. From the opening tip of the first pre-season game to the last two teams standing, the season has been exciting, unpredictable and basically everything an NBA fan could hope for.


Here is a screencap of the Playoff Bracket, from nba.com

28 teams have been eliminated, leaving two standing, one from the Eastern Conference, and one from the Western Conference. For the east, the Cleveland Cavaliers have advanced to the finals for the second consecutive year, and third in franchise history, all three of them in the LeBron James era, who will be playing in his 6th consecutive NBA Finals- becoming only the 8th player in the NBA's 70th year to accomplish that feat. All the others are part of the Celtics' Bill Russell-led dominant years of the 1960s, with the feat having been accomplished last in 1966. The Cavaliers are also in the finals with a rookie coach for the second consecutive year, which is unheard of. Former NBA point guard Tyronn Lue became coach of the team in January 2016.

The Cavaliers got here by having the best record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, than sweeping the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks, before facing more of a challenge from the Toronto Raptors, who advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, before falling in 6 games. The Cavs had to wait for the Golden State Warriors-Oklahoma City Thunder series to end, which went to 7 games (and why the Cavs are getting written up first- the Cavs section of the post is being written before game 7 of the Western Conference Finals!)

Wearing #0, Kevin Love is in his second year with Cleveland, although he missed most of the playoffs last season after having his shoulder pulled out of it's socket by the Celtics' Kelly Olynyk. 2015-16 is his 8th season in the NBA. Love is a second-generation player and nephew of founding Beach Boy Mike Love.
2015-16 Prestige #10
Wearing #1 is James Jones, also in his second season with the Cavaliers. Jones signed with the Cavs specifically because LeBron James moved to the team, Jones having played with James in Miami. He is mostly known as a 3-point sharpshooter. 2015-16 is his 13th NBA season.
2014-15 Panini Threads Signage #10
Wearing #2 is the starting point guard and 2011-12 NBA Rookie of the Year, Kyrie Irving. Irving was the first pick in the 2011 NBA draft and has played his entire 5 year career with the Cavaliers. He suffered a broken kneecap in game one of the 2014-15 NBA Finals. Irving was born in Australia as his father, who is American, played in the NBL, Australia's top basketball league.
2015-16 Hoops #222
Wearing #4 is Iman Shumpert, who completed his first full season with the Cavaliers in 2015-16, being traded to the team by the New York Knicks during the 2014-15 season. He was thrust into the starting lineup during the 2014-15 NBA playoffs after Love went down. Shumpert was also drafted in 2011, making this his 5th season, as well.
2014-15 Panini Threads #74
Wearing #5 is J.R. Smith, who, in his 12th NBA season has finally found a "home" in the NBA. The fit for Smith with the Cavaliers plays to his skill set perfectly, and he is now a starter on an NBA Finals team for the second consecutive year. Smith came to the Cavaliers in the same trade as Shumpert, on January 5th, 2015.
2015-16 Hoops #221
Wearing #8 is Australian point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who had a breakout 2015 Finals, as he stepped into the starting lineup when Irving went down. He played so hard he ended up in the hospital suffering from dehydration, yet didn't stop playing. 2015-16 is his third NBA season.
2015-16 Complete #77
Wearing #9 is Channing Frye, who joined the Cavaliers at the trade deadline this season, there are no cards issued of him yet in Cavs uniform. Frye is in his 10th season, with an asterisk- he missed all of 2012-13 with a heart ailment. (drafted in 2005) Luckily, he has made a complete recovery.
2015-16 Hoops #117
Wearing #12 is Jordan McRae, who is one of the least-used players on the Cavaliers roster. He joined the team on a 10-day contract on February 28th, and was later signed to a rest-of-season contract. He held the all-time single season scoring record in the D-League for part of this season, scoring 61 points in a game before being called up by the Phoenix Suns, which led to his later joining the Cavaliers. He did not receive any cards in 2015-16, which is is rookie season, but he was included in 2014-15 Prestige, despite not actually making the 76ers team. He only played 15 games in the regular season and 1 playoff game for the Cavs this year.
2014-15 Prestige #198
Wearing #13 is Tristan Thompson, who is lately playing the starting center role, although that depends on the matchups the Cavs are facing. He is another member of the 2011 rookie class, with Irving and Shumpert. He played all 82 games this year, which is becoming a rarity in the NBA these days.

2015-16 Panini Prizm #145




Wearing #14 is one of the least-used Cavs, and also the second and final rookie on the team, Russian center Sasha Kaun. Drafted back in 2008, he played in Europe before coming to the NBA this season, where he appeared in only 15 games during the regular season. He has yet to play in the playoffs.
2015-16 Limited #190
Wearing #20 is fellow Russian center Timofey Mozgov. who was the starting center on the 2015 NBA Finals team, but has mostly been relegated to the bench during the 2016 playoffs. Like Shumpert and Smith, Mozgov joined the Cavs in a trade during the middle of the 2014-15 season. 2015-16 is his 6th NBA season.
2015-16 Hoops #70
Wearing #23 is the unquestioned star of the team, and one of the greatest players of all-time, LeBron James. The 2003 #1 draft pick, 2003-04 Rookie of the Year, 4-time MVP, 11th all-time in scoring, and among all-time league leaders in literally every offensive category the NBA tracks, LeBron has nearly single-handledly willed his teams to the NBA Finals on multiple occasions, and by making it to the finals this year, he accomplishes something that names like Jordan, Magic, Bird, Bryant, O'Neal,  Abdul-Jabbar, etc, never did, in making it to the finals six consecutive seasons. (Two of which he won, being named Finals MVP both times). He accomplished this all in 13 seasons, so you know that he's not anywhere near done rewriting the record books. He is the only player on the Cavaliers to have previously won an NBA Title, winning in 2011-12 and 2012-13, both with the Miami Heat.
2015-16 Complete #53
Wearing #24 is Richard Jefferson, who has two previous Finals appearances- most recently in 2003! Jefferson reached the Finals in his first two seasons in the league, both with the New Jersey Nets. He joined the Cavaliers as a free agent this season, but Panini has not included him in any sets over the past two years. 2015-16 is his 15th in the NBA, making him the most experienced player on the roster. He is also the only Cavalier player to appear in more than 1000 regular season games (although LeBron is 13 games away)
2013-14 Totally Certified #157
Wearing #30 is the newest member of the team, Dahntay Jones. He joined the team only on April 13th, the final day of the season, and so played in only one regular season game for the team, fouling out at that. However, he has played in 9 of the team's playoff games. (he was suspended one for punching Raptors' Center Bismack Biyombo below the belt). Like LeBron, he was drafted in 2003, but he did not play in 2013-14 so this is only his 12th season. He has not appeared on a card since 2012-13.
2003-04 Topps #240
Wearing #52 is Maurice "Mo" Williams, who is in his second go-round with the Cavaliers, after playing for them between 2008-09 and 2010-11. Injuries limited him to 41 games this season, the lowest of his 13-year career. He is also from the stellar rookie class of 2003-04. He also played in 7 playoff games for the Cavs this year.
2015-16 Complete #101
The Cavaliers will face the Golden State Warriors, advancing out of a knock-down drag-out Western Conference Finals that has been one of the most incredible series in a long time. The Warriors have had an incredible season- the best ever, in fact, going an amazing 73-9, breaking the Chicago Bulls' record of 72-10 set in 1995-96. The team has been nearly unstoppable all season long, beginning the year with a 24-game win streak (2nd all-time) and setting numerous records along the way. Steph Curry is the leader of the "big 3" on the team, winning unanimous MVP for the first time in NBA history, something that most people believed would never happen. (The MVP was first awarded in the 1955-56 season) He also shattered the mark for most 3-pointers made in a season, with 402. He previously held the record already (286), and this season became the first player to hit 300 3s in a season, let alone 4. Teammate Klay Thompson also ended up hitting nearly 300 3s this season, 276, only ten off the previous all-time record. The Warriors found themselves in a 3-1 hole versus the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals but came roaring back, becoming only the 10th team in NBA history to trail 3-1 and come back and win the series.

The Warriors are one of only three remaining original franchises that have been in the League since 1946, they will try to win their 5th Championship in the 2015-16 season. The Cleveland Cavaliers, founded in 1970, have never won the NBA Title.

The Warriors got here by beating the Houston Rockets in 5 games (which would have been a sweep if the refs had not missed a charge by James Harden) and then beat the surprising Portland Trail Blazers, also in 5. The Western Conference Finals proved to be the Warriors' biggest challenge so far, falling down 1-3 before coming back, as noted above. 

Wearing #4 is Brandon Rush, younger brother of former NBA player Kareem Rush. Brandon Rush is a backup on the Warriors team who doesn't play all that often, because he is behind Steph Curry. He has not gotten any cards since 2013-14. This is his 8th NBA season.
2012-13 Hoops #184
Wearing #5 is Marreese Speights, who can play either power forward or center, depending on what the team needs from him. He is working on improving his shot, and added the 3-pointer to his repertoire in 2015-16. Like Rush, he was drafted in 2008. Nicknamed "Mo Buckets", he is usually the first player off the bench when the Warriors need some instant offense.
2015-16 Complete Silver #200

Wearing #9 is Andre Iguodala, who was named Finals MVP in 2014-15. He famously gave up his career-long starting role to lead the Warriors' second unit, and it payed off with his the title. 2015-16 is his 12th NBA season. When he won Finals MVP last year, partially for offense and partially for his defense of LeBron James, he became the first Finals MVP in history to not start a single regular season game, and also the first to not start every Finals game, as he moved from the bench back the starting lineup in game 4 of the 6 game series.
2015-16 Prestige #192
Wearing #11 is quiet superstar Klay Thompson. The second-generation player does not have the same showmanship flare, or get the same recognition, as some of his teammates, but he is most definitely a superstar in his own right. He holds the NBA record for most points in a quarter (37, set during the 2014-15 season) and can single-handedly win games with his sharpshooting if need be. He is another member of the talented 2011 draft class, making this his 5th season. He set an all-time playoff record by scoring 11 3-pointers during game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, which would turn out to be the deciding moment of the entire series.
2012-13 Prestige Prestigious Picks #10
Wearing #12 is Australian center Andrew Bogut. The #1 pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, Bogut is one of three former #1 picks to play in the 2015-16 NBA Finals, although, had teams known now what they knew then, there would surely be more, as Thompson went 11th, Curry 7th and Draymond Green 36th! Bogut is not much of a scorer, his main role is to rebound, block shots, and alter shots, something not truly trackable in stats. He is the only starter on the Warriors who I do not have an autograph of.
2014-15 Hoops Authentics #2
Wearing #18 is newest Warrior Anderson Varejao. The Brazilian center had spent his entire career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they traded him to Portland at the Trade Deadline this season, who immediately cut him for salary cap reasons. He joined the Warriors several days later and has provided valuable time at center with both Bogut and Festus Ezeli facing injuries down the stretch of the season. There are no cards of Varejao in Warriors uniform. It will be interesting to see the reaction at his first game in Cleveland not as a Cavalier, which will be game #3 of the Finals.
2015-16 Hoops #105
Wearing #19 is Leandro Barbosa, like Varejao both Brazilian and a member of the 2003 draft class.
Barbosa can play either guard position but does not really play all that often due to how many excellent guards are on the Warriors roster.
2015-16 Complete #176
Wearing #20 is James Michael McAdoo, one of the least-used Warriors. He is the nephew of Bob McAdoo, and 2015-16 is his second season. He can play power forward or center. He did not receive a single card in 2015-16.
2014-15 Panini Prizm #296
Wearing #21 is Ian Clark, who is in his first season with the Warriors. He was an undrafted rookie in 2013-14, and has not received any cards since that season, when he was with the Jazz. As a point guard behind both Curry and Livingston Clark is not seen all that often, although he did play more when Curry went down with injury during the playoffs.
2013-14 Panini Signatures Rookie Signatures #12
Wearing #23 is my 2nd all-time favorite player, Draymond Green. (To be honest, Draymond, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson all rank in my Top 5 all-time favorites) Draymond's personality though just sets him over the top. He's a character for sure, and he's also a great player. He is the starting power forward on the team, and leads the team in Triple Doubles, 13 of them being added to his career tally during 2015-16, and that's not counting the playoffs. He can do it all, from defense to offense, and will be giving you his opinion on everything while he's doing it! He was voted second place in Defensive Player of the Year voting this season. Drafted an amazingly low 36th in 2012, he can tell you every single player, in order and by what team, who was taken before he was in that draft.
2012-13 Panini Contenders #233- a card I pulled from a pack myself!
Wearing #30 is one of the all-time greatest players to play the game...and he's only in his 7th season! That is Stephen "Steph" Curry, 2-time consecutive NBA MVP, the first to win unanimously, the greatest three-point shooter in history, (In my opinion. He officially trails only Steve Kerr in accuracy but he takes much harder shots than Kerr did, and also plays significantly more, as Kerr was mostly a backup, whereas Steph plays the majority of every game, and attempts more shots. By the time he retires many years from now he will surely be #1 all-time. In just 7 seasons he already ranks 19th made threes all-time. If he matches his total next season he will vault from 19th to 5th all-time, and he's improved on the number of made threes in every season he's been in the league) He led the NBA in scoring average, free throw percentage, steals, and shots made, in addition to the 3 point record mentioned above, just during 2015-16. He has single-handedly won games for the Warriors on multiple occasions during this season alone, even during these playoffs. While everyone on the team is important to the team, without Steph, Klay and Draymond the Warriors are not in the NBA Finals two years in a row, He is only the 15th player in NBA history to win more than 1 MVP award,
2012-13 Prestige Prestigious Pros #6
Wearing #31 is Nigerian center Festus Ezeli, who is in his 3rd NBA season, despite being drafted in 2012-13, he missed all of 2013-14 with injury, and missed some of the next two seasons with injuries as well. He is the 2nd Unit center on the Warriors, although he will start on occasion instead of Bogut.
2012-13 Panini Preferred #379
Wearing #34 is one of the most remarkable comeback stories in NBA history, Shaun Livingston. Livingston was a highly regarded prospect, being drafted 4th by the Clippers directly out of high school in 2004. He was plagued by injuries early in his career, but suffered what is regarded as the worst knee injury ever to happen in the NBA. (one of the rare times where ESPN has had to use a disclaimer before showing it) It was so bad that doctors considered amputating his leg. They were able to save it, but it cost him more than a year and a half of playing. By all accounts this was a career-ending injury but he powered back from it and his career continued. He has never- and will never- regain the explosiveness he once had, but he is still a very capable backup point guard, and has found his most success with the Warriors, after having bounced around to 7 NBA teams and even 1 D-League team between his injury and joining the Warriors..
2015-16 Complete #224
Wearing #36 is the only rookie on the team, Kevon Looney. The final pick in the first round of the 2015 NBA draft, Looney missed more than half the season due to an injury, and found little playing time when he returned, getting into only 5 games before suffering another injury, which ended his season. He is the only Warrior that is guaranteed not to play in the Finals.
2015-16 Hoops #270
Wearing #40 is one of three Warriors to join the team in the 2012 Draft, Harrison Barnes. The highest drafted of the three (7th), Barnes immediately stepped into the starting lineup and has remained there mostly ever since. Like pretty much everyone on the team except for Bogut, Barnes specializes in shooting threes. He will have an exceptional challenge in the finals as he will be guarding LeBron James much of the time.
2012-13 Timeless Treasures Time To Shine #20
And that is the complete 30-man roster of the NBA Finals.

This is a rematch of the 2014-15 Finals, and it should be a great series. The Cavaliers are at full health this year, while Steph Curry is not, after suffering a sprained knee in the first round of the playoffs against the Rockets. It noticeably hampered him in the first few games of the Western Conference Finals, but they won the last three games (and game #2) with him on the court most of the game, so I doubt it will make much impact, or at least as much as the media will talk about it.

I predict that the Warriors will win it all in 7 games, with each team winning their home games. I believe it will go down as one of the best Finals in NBA history, and I am looking forward to seeing it play out over the next several weeks. The Finals begin on Thursday, June 2nd, at 9PM Eastern Standard Time on ABC.

4 comments:

  1. Excellent blog! Anybody remotely interested in basketball would do well to read your synopsis of the finals here. Curious about one picture though...why is Steph's top tooth blue?

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    1. He had the Warriors logo on his mouth guard

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  2. Great work as usual. Looking forward to the series

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    1. Thanks! Me too. I actually prefer the regular season to the playoffs but I will be giving this series my full attention for sure!

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