The Warriors are the betting favorite to take the title, although the Celtics seem to be destined for greatness after sweeping the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving duo, knocking off Giannis Antetokounmpo and the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks, and taking game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals on the road against the Miami Heat.
Rather than looking at the Finals from a zoomed-out perspective, however, consider the best individuals in the series; here is a list of the top 10.
Ranking NBA Finals participants
#10: Robert Williams III
The Time Lord is one of the most fearsome rebounders and interior defenders in all of basketball; unfortunately for him, his role in this series could be limited by way of the Warriors’ style of play, which forces opponents to downsize and could see Grant Williams take a chunk of the center minutes in a small-ball lineup.
#9: Jordan Poole
Hype for Poole was at an all-time high after Draymond Green called him the team’s number-one option in 2022; he has had a solid playoffs, averaging 18.4 points, 4.5 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game, but he has not had the same individual impact or ability to take over games as he did in the regular season— such is to be expected from a young player, but still, there are players with less impressive stats that are more impactful than he currently is.
#8: Al Horford
“Big Al” is averaging 11.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in these playoffs, as well as 43.2% three-point shooting. He has been outstanding defensively, challenging nearly every shot at the rim and also switching onto perimeter players with ease, and has been there for his teammates in moments of offensive need, most notably dropping 30 points on the Bucks in the conference semifinals while trailing 2-1 in the series.
#7: Andrew Wiggins
The ever-vocal Draymond Green said that Golden State would not be in the Finals without Wiggins, and that much is true. The once overrated first-overall draft pick has now become an underappreciated contributor to an excellent team, giving them slashing, three-point shooting, and great defense. He is averaging an efficient 15.8 points and 7.0 rebounds and has often been deployed on opponents’ first option, most recently Luka Doncic, who he did a better job defending than any other player in these playoffs.
#6: Marcus Smart
Smart has proven his worth to the team by battling through injury and constantly coming up with game-changing plays on both ends. He has increased his regular-season averages in points, assists, and rebounds, and has been outstanding on defense. Somehow, “outstanding” still undersells his value on that end, but he is up for his biggest test of the playoffs having to chase Steph Curry around the perimeter.
#5: Draymond Green
Green’s stats will never amaze, and he hardly shoots the ball anymore, but his mental understanding of how to run an offense and orchestrate a defense is second-to-none in these playoffs, and potentially only LeBron James in the entire league. Golden State will not win this series if he is its best player, but is also nearly incapable of falling out of the top seven.
#4: Klay Thompson
One-half of the Splash Brothers, Klay’s numbers are slightly down from his usual standard, but that was expected after multiple injuries and a prolonged absence from the court. He is still capable of going nuclear hot, such as in his last game, a 32-point, eight-three-pointer explosion against the Mavs in a closeout game.
#3: Jaylen Brown
Brown, similar to Thompson, can be very inconsistent, but he is also extremely valuable to the Celtics. One underrated component of Brown’s game is that he is clutch, as he currently leads the entire playoffs in fourth-quarter scoring and is doing so while making over 60% of his shots. This is Brown’s best postseason by virtually every metric, and winning a title would cement him as a perennial All-Star instead of a fringe candidate.
#2: Stephen Curry
Yes, Curry is the second-best player in this series. He has a chance to prove otherwise, but the evidence points to his dwindling explosion as an individual scorer, and the fact that he is a target on defense. Nobody shoots the ball like him, but with that being said, Curry’s three-point average in these playoffs? 38.0%.
#1: Jayson Tatum
Tatum has earned the right to be called the best player in this series. He was phenomenal on both ends in the regular season, carrying the team’s offensive burden and leading the league in individual defensive rating, and the playoffs have been more of the same, except he now has the superstar clutch moments to match. If Boston loses the series, he will vacate the top spot, but for now, he is resting comfortably in it.
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