This NBA season has seen the rise of young talent and newly-formed teams and the crash-landing of previous championship contenders in what has been one of the most interesting seasons in recent memory, all with the 2022 NBA Finals still to come.
The modern era has been entirely predicated around player empowerment and allowing stars to move around the league to form potential Finals-winning squads and compete against the other powers in the league— such has been recently seen with James Harden’s move from the Brooklyn Nets to the Philadelphia 76ers at the trade deadline. However, this also means that teams can change drastically in what seems like a matter of minutes, leaving history to be quickly forgotten.
So, with that being said, here is a glance back at what the top-three teams in each conference looked like just five years ago in a year called “2017.”
2022 NBA Finals Contenders in 2017
Starting Five: Goran Dragic, Rodney McGruder, Dion Waiters, Luke Babbitt, Hassan Whiteside
For the purpose of continuity, this roster look-back comes from the 2016-17 season, not the 2017-18 one. Miami finished this season at a dead-even 41-41 and was ninth in the Eastern Conference, completely missing out on the postseason since the play-in tournament had not yet been invented.
Dragic led the Heat in scoring that year, averaging 20.3 points per game to go with 5.8 assists. Whiteside looked like an emerging big-man star in the league and posted a line of 17.0 points, 14.3 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks. The only surviving member of the 2-16-17 squad? 41-year-old Udonis Haslem.
Starting Five: T.J. McConnell, Gerald Henderson, Robert Covington, Ersan Ilyasova, Joel Embiid*
Joel Embiid was tabbed as the savior of the 76ers‘ franchise and started all 31 games that he played in, but as was always the case with his early years, he missed a majority of the season with injuries. Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric also nabbed starts during his absence in what was a total logjam in the frontcourt.
Minus an unqualified Embiid, Ilyasova paced the Sixers in scoring with 14.8 per night; T.J. McConnell was a sort-of cult hero that was revered for his hustle, but Phili was severely outmatched almost every night their players suited up. They finished the season 28-54 under then-coach Brett Brown and were 14th in the East.
Starting Five: Matthew Dellavedova, Tony Snell, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, John Henson
This was Giannis’ first year averaging over 20 points per game and the first indication that he could one day become a star in the league. His teammate, Jabari Parker, was viewed as the more exciting prospect and was supposed to be the best player to ever come out of Chicago, a reputation that he had been building since he was in middle school.
The Bucks notably had current starters in the league Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and Miles Plumlee coming off of their bench for a Jason Kidd-led squad that went 42-40 and was sixth in the East.
Starting Five: Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, Tyson Chandler
In hindsight, the Suns’ starting five (and full roster) does not look as back as memory would believe it to be. Bledsoe and Booker looked like one of the league’s best backcourts, much less most young and promising ones, they had a versatile slasher in Warren, and Chandler was still a serviceable interior defender and rebounder.
One issue for this Phoenix team was three-point shooting, a category that was led by Jared Dudley’s 37.9% standard. The Suns ultimately only managed a 24-58 record for Earl Watson and were dead-last in the Western Conference.
Starting Five: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Chandler Parsons, JaMychal Green, Marc Gasol
Grit and grind is back! The 2016-17 Grizzlies were a team known for intense defense, a meticulously slow offensive style, and coming out with close, ugly wins. Conley, Gasol, and an older Zach Randolph led the team in scoring before they were soon split up.
Head Coach David Fizdale led the squad to a 43-39 record that got them into the playoffs as the seventh seed but could not help transition Memphis into the new generation and was soon let go.
Golden State Warriors
Starting Five: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia
This was the Warriors’ first year with Kevin Durant in the immediate aftermath of their blown 3-1 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals and was the team that “broke basketball.” Curry, Thompson, and Durant’s shooting prowess were too much for opposing sides, especially with all of the space that was created, and Draymond helped knit everything together on offense and anchor the league’s best defense.
The Warriors went on to finish the season 67-15 and reclaimed their spot atop the NBA, getting revenge on the Cavs in the Finals by winning 4-1. Durant was named Finals MVP for the first of two times in the Bay.
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