As we prepare to watch the Golden State Warriors defend their title against the upstart Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals, the media frenzy of speculation is swarming in the air like bumblebees at the first warmth of spring. The likes of Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, and the injuries of Kevin Durant and Boogie Cousins are getting most of the attention.
This year’s NBA Finals is peculiar due to the overall composition of both teams, and not simply due each team having elite players, but because of the dearth of players on each team who had to take the G-League route to the NBA.
The Raptors are the first NBA team to make it to the NBA Finals without having a single lottery pick on their roster since 1966. Additionally, both teams have a combined 16 players on each roster who spent time in the G-League, the NBA’s minor league system.
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Each year, NBA teams bet their future on scouting, evaluating and drafting players that they feel will help them get to the next level. They’re banking on drafting the “next” great player, but most lottery players aren’t making it to the Hall of Fame. Similarly, not every player that isn’t drafted is doomed to see their dream of playing in the NBA cast into the dumpster of despair.
When trying to project a prospect’s potential, the results are often all over the place. For every LeBron James there will be at least one Anthony Bennett, the top overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft out of UNLV who now plays for the Agua Caliente Clippers in the G-League. Though they are similar in size, weight and physique, LeBron has established himself as an All-Time great while the Bennett is hoping to get one more shot on an NBA roster.
Kawhi Leonard, drafted with the 15th pick in the 2011 draft, just outside of the lottery, is now considered one of the greatest players in the game today.
These NBA Finals are made up of several all-world players.
However, the meat and sinew of each team is comprised of reserves like Norman Powell, Danny Green, Fred VanFleet and Pascal Siakam for the Toronto Raptors, and Jordan Bell, Kevon Looney, Quinn Cook and Shaun Livingston for the Golden State Warriors, who have all played a key role in helping their respective teams win their conference championships.
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We love to applaud the high scorers, explosive leapers and daring three-point daggers that make up the highlight reels of your favorite cable sports network.
However, the true sum of a squad cannot be calculated from posterizing dunks, but by the willingness of bench players to suspend their egos and dedicate themselves to the overall team dynamic for the sake of winning the ultimate prize.
Superstar players get all the accolades for team success, but part of Michael Jordan‘s legacy depended on the likes of Steve Kerr and John Paxson stepping into their destiny when the moment called for it.
Part of Kobe Bryant‘s legacy is tied to Ron Artest‘s 4th quarter heroics in Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals. Heck, Shaun Livingston has been clutch for the Warriors in each NBA Finals he’s participated in.
Both teams in this year’s Finals are filled with hungry players salivating for the chance to contribute to a championship team, players who perhaps doubted their destiny in the wee hours of the morning when their careers didn’t take off as expected.
But those tribulations are the makings of dogs, players with an aggressive edge who step up when called upon.
These finals are full of dogs who’ve got a lot to prove and are only a coach’s decision away from getting the chance to show they not only belong in the NBA, but are destined to flourish.