This is my final betting article of the 2015 NBA season. GSW were able to finish things off for their 1st title since 1975. Did we learn anything that might help project future Finals winners?
First off, don't expect a trend of unusual Finals MVPs. When I looked at updated player props ahead of Game 6, Golden State's Andre Iguodala was down to +2000 after opening as high as +10000 at some sportsbooks before the series began. There was no reason to waste your money back then because Iguodala didn't start a single game during the regular season or playoffs (before this season he had started all 808 of the games he had played in the NBA). I'm not sure he deserved to be series MVP, but he indeed did become the first MVP who didn't start every Finals game or any regular-season games. Iggy was inserted in the Game 4 starting lineup with the Warriors down 2-1 and they wouldn't lose again, scoring at least 103 points in every game.
Iguodala was very good -- other than from the free-throw line -- over those final three and LeBron James shot only 30 percent on contested shots against Iguodala and committed 13 of his 21 turnovers in the series when guarded by him in the series. I'm happy Iguodala won it because by all accounts Iggy is one of the good guys in the league. I doubt Steph Curry, who was the -200 favorite heading into Game 6, cares much whether he won Finals MVP. He actually didn't get a single vote, which is pretty surprising. Iguodala got seven votes and LeBron four. It would have been awkward to have the Finals MVP presentation on the court with the champion Warriors and have to give it to LeBron (doubt he would have come out of the locker room). It is the second straight year a "supporting" player won it partly for his defense on LeBron. The Spurs' Kawhi Leonard took home the 2014 Finals MVP.
3-Point Shooting A Must
It's now more clear than ever you don't need a dominant center to win a title, but you must be dangerous from the 3-point arc. The Warriors were bombing away from 3-point range all series and have done so all season. Curry had 25 made 3-pointers by himself in the Finals and a whopping 98 in the playoffs, shattering the previous individual postseason record. Golden State's center, Andrew Bogut, wasn't much of a factor in this series and absolutely none after Game 3.
Why did Cleveland lose this series? Largely because guys like LeBron, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova were struggling from behind the arc. Last year's Spurs did have Tim Duncan but he's not a center. They also were proficient from long range. Ditto LeBron's Miami Heat the previous two years (Ray Allen anyone?).
Depth More Important Than Ever
For a while there, it seemed teams needed at least two superstars to win the Finals. LeBron had two of them with his Miami teams. But the deeper team has won the past two Finals. The 2013-14 Spurs -- I don't consider Tim Duncan or Tony Parker superstars at this stage of their careers -- had nowhere near the star power of the Heat but were way deeper. Ditto these Warriors, who do have one superstar in Curry, a very good player in Klay Thompson and great role players like Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green (triple-double in Game 6). Cleveland was denying Curry and Thompson their shots in Game 6 and daring Iggy, Barnes and Green to win the game, and they did.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers generally only played seven players in this series for the most part. You could tell by the end of the series that LeBron was gassed by carrying so much of a load. I believe that if this small-ball trend continues that depth will continue to beat out star power because games are going to be more track meets. The Cavaliers will have LeBron, Kyrie Irving and most likely Kevin Love next season for a great Big 3, but their huge salaries may preclude much depth. Can they afford Tristan Thompson to return? Smith? Shumpert and/or Dellavedova?
Golden State really was pretty fortunate in these playoffs. They avoided any serious injuries despite scares to Curry and Thompson. Yet every team they played had key injuries: New Orleans (Jrue Holiday), Memphis (Mike Conley), Houston (Patrick Beverley) and Cleveland (Love and Irving). The Bulls might have beaten the Cavs in the East semifinals if Pau Gasol hadn't gotten injured. Washington I believe beats Atlanta in the East semis if no John Wall injury. The Hawks lost Kyle Korver in the East Finals vs. the Cavs and DeMarre Carroll was severely diminished. Are players wearing down? The days of superstars playing all 82 regular-season games could be over to keep them fresh for the postseason.