The ‘Valley’ vs The (Deer) ‘District’
This Finals will produce a new NBA champion, fresh marketable stars and potentially a new best player of the league.
Wisconsin and Arizona are two states that you would expect to decide the U.S. Presidential election, not the NBA Championship.
Yet here we are, Game 4 of the NBA Finals with the Phoenix Suns up 2-1, but the Milwaukee Bucks seeming to have stolen quite a bit of momentum.
There are five phenomenon in play that makes the title that the Suns and Bucks are fighting for absolutely historic.
New NBA Champion
Phoenix has never won an NBA championship—having lost in both 1976 to the Boston Celtics and in 1993 to Jordan’s Bulls— and Milwaukee has not been crowned champs since both Lee Alcindor (Kareem) and Oscar Robertson laced them up in 1971. the Bucks would reach the Finals again with the duo in ‘74, but lost in seven to Boston.
A fresh, small market champion sounds so good right now. Especially when you take a minute to realize that this is the first NBA Finals since 2010 without LeBron James or Steph Curry. In fact, you have to go back as far as 2006 to find a Finals between two cities that were considered new on the scene between Dallas and Miami.
This just has the feel of fun. It is the only time that I can remember where there is a party atmosphere surrounding an NBA game in each city. Maybe it is just the fact that we now live in a post-Covid world, but between the Valley and the Deer District, the fans are having a grand ole time.
Both the Suns and the Bucks fall into the classification of a non-super team. This fact alone makes the championship that much sweeter. But in order to understand why this is the case, we must first understand the definition of a super team.
In the modern era, a super team is one that is created via intentional manipulation either by ownership or superstar players off the court in order to maximize a team’s championship potential by having the best players possible.
It is important to understand that there are different tiers of how these super teams are received by the general public on whether the efforts are intentional by the ownership or players. Typically, the teams organized by superstar free agents have the worst perception.
For example, LeBron’s Heat and Kevin Durant’s Warriors are easily two of the biggest villains in NBA history. They created near unstoppable forces on the court that made for no suspense and no surprises.
It is not just players that do this; don’t forget that the Celtics traded seven players for KG back in the day and the San Antonio Spurs tanked to increase their percentages to get Tim Duncan in the draft lottery.
The best players on this year’s Finals teams, Chris Paul notwithstanding, have been original draftees—Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Giannis Antetokounmpo— which now potentially represent the new faces of the NBA for years to come.
Potential Changing of the Guard
We covered this is my newsletter when the playoffs began that a new champion would be great for the NBA. Booker becoming the next Kobe Bryant or Giannis enforcing an overpowering will on the rest of the league that is a combination of LeBron, Shaq and Durant is unbelievably enticing.
While the Suns are young, there is this sense that is reminiscent of the 2002 Sacramento Kings where fans thought they were poised to be back year after year, but of course, never were. An aging Paul is a key component to this particular team, and the rest of the west (Warriors, Lakers, Clippers, not to mention the Nets in the East) will be back healthier in the future.
Yes, we may revert back into a cyclical NBA dynasties— heck, maybe that is even Milwaukee or Phoenix—but these Finals are providing a platform for new faces to rise up and shift the entire direction of the league for the first time since the 2015 Warriors.
Top Five Point Guard
Chris Paul has had a long, journeyman-like career that has been littered with heartbreak. The NBA vetoed a trade that would have sent him to the Lakers, holds a 3-4 record in Game 7s and missed a Game 7 in 2018 against the Warriors due to a hamstring injury, and even had to miss the first two games of this years western conference finals due to the NBA Covid-19 health and safety protocol.
Still after all that adversity, if Paul wins his first ever title with the Suns many believe he will rank as a top five all time NBA point guard. Time will tell if reporters were jumping the gun on this or if Paul and the Suns can pull it off.
Best Player in the World
The most historic thing about this particular championship is how Giannis is changing the feel of the series. The Greek Freak was only a week removed from having his leg bend in an unnatural direction when he went for 20 points and 17 rebounds in 35 minutes during the Game 1 loss.
Then in Game 2, Giannis looked incredible early and played near perfect basketball in the second half to finish with 42 points and 12 boards in 40 minutes. He had no help from the rest of his team, and the Suns hung on to take a 2-0 series lead.
But back at home, Giannis double downed on his epic Game 2 performance. And he got help. He had 41 points, 13 rebounds and six assists as the Bucks used a 16-0 run to end the third quarter to prevent any Phoenix comeback. Most importantly, he increased his free throw percentage to 76.5 percent (58 percent in Game 1 and 61 percent in Game 2), making 13 freebies in a much less hostile environment.
To think, Giannis and the Bucks were the tip of KD’s shoe away from being eliminated in Brooklyn during the Game 7 of the Eastern Semis. Now if Giannis can keep up this remarkable pace of play, he could turn the 2-0 hole into an NBA title, a Final MVP and the label of best basketball player in the world.