It has been a few weeks since Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered on his promise to the city of Milwaukee and rewarded the Bucks with an NBA championship. Giannis was rewarded with the Finals MVP, which some are saying is the greatest showing in the Finals we have seen in the last 15 years.
It’s been a week to let what Giannis did in the Finals marinate in our minds. The Finals MVP defines a playoff run and we have had some really good ones in the last decade and a half. The Celtics and Lakers, Heat and Spurs, Warriors and Cavaliers, and now first-time champions have given us some dazzling moments in the NBA Finals.
Those players that led their respective championship teams were not created equally. Some moments were more flashy than others. With that said, here are the power rankings for the last 15 NBA Finals MVPs.
15. Andre Iguodala - 2015
16.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG (6 games)
LeBron’s stat line of 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists was impressive, but at the end of the day, he didn’t deserve the Finals MVP for being on a losing team. Iguodala had the task of guarding him on defense. Even though he didn’t “stop” LeBron from having one of his best FInals performances, he did wear him down and it was evident in Game 6.
LeBron’s Game 6 saw most of his jump shots fall short. When Iguodala was on the floor, LeBron shot 38% from the field. Had Steph Curry gone off for 30 points in the final game, the award might have gone to him. Instead, Iguodala scored, rebounded, and defended LeBron. He also didn’t have any turnovers in his final two games, only one for the series. He was a true team MVP, but not the best individual.
14. Kawhi Leonard - 2014
17.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.2 BPG (5 Games)
For similar reasons to Kevin Durant, Leonard’s first Finals MVP is ranked near the bottom. Leonard played with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. While these three were in the later stages of their career, these were proven championships that had already won three titles together. Leonard, who was in the younger stages of his career, won this title primarily because of the defense he played on LeBron James.
Leonard was the second-leading scorer on the Spurs by 0.2 points. Parker led the team at 18.0 points, while Duncan contributed 15.4 points and 10.0 rebounds. In a way, you could make an argument for either of those players too.
13. Tony Parker - 2007
24.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.0 BPG (4 Games)
Parker led the Spurs in scoring with 27 points in Game 1 and 30 points in Game 2. He earned Finals MVP for his offensive showing, where he averaged 24.5 points per game in the series. However, the Cavaliers were not ready to win a title.
What LeBron James did, at the age of 22 years old, is historically remarkable. With that said, the veteran-laden Spurs had three big names on their team. The Cavaliers second-best player was Drew Gooden.
12. Paul Pierce - 2008
21.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.3 BPG (6 Games)
Kevin Garnett averaged 18.2 points and 13.0 rebounds. Garnett was also the heart and soul of the defense. Many believe that Garnett should have won the Finals MVP, while conspiracy theories state that Pierce got the tie-breaker because he was the longest-tenured Celtic.
Regardless, beating the Lakers was no easy task. Pierce led the team in assists but also had help from Ray Allen’s 20.3 points per game, who also had more rebounds than Pierce. When comparing this Finals MVP to others, it does not compare to some others’ performances.
11. Kevin Durant - 2018
28.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 7.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 2.3 BPG (4 Games)
When the Golden State Warriors won their second championship in a row, it ended up being one of two sweeps in the last 15 years. Durant was named Finals MVP for the second consecutive season. With that said, his performance still ranks near the bottom in our power rankings for a few reasons.
For starters, it was the second year that the superteam of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Durant, and Draymond Green played together. Their chemistry was off the charts. This team featured three players that could have won Finals MVP. Also, this was the worst Cavaliers squad the Warriors had played in four years. No Kyrie Irving and the Eastern Conference was bad in general. It didn’t matter who made the NBA Finals. They weren’t beating the Warriors.
10. Kobe Bryant - 2009
32.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.4 BPG (5 Games)
The numbers feel inflated here. The Lakers played the Orlando Magic, headlined by Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, and Jameer Nelson. What Orlando did was impressive, but they were not the best overall team in the Eastern Conference. Had Bryant did this against the Celtics, we would be more impressed.
The Lakers beat the Magic in five games, but is anyone surprised? The overall depth of the team was better. Bryant was a bigger star than Howard, who was playing in his first-ever NBA Finals. Bryant was a pro at this point and knew exactly how to carve up this Magic defense.
9. LeBron James - 2012
28.6 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.4 BPG (5 Games)
LeBron’s first championship makes the top-10, but with 15 players, it’s still on the bottom tier of our rankings. That is because of who LeBron played to earn his first title. The lethal threat of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook is a lot more dangerous than they were 10 years ago. The three players were just north of 20 years old and playing in their first-ever NBA Finals.
LeBron’s squad of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had already accomplished more in their career than any of these three, who had only four to five years of experience. LeBron winning his first championship was exactly why he left Cleveland for Miami, but this particular championship is the least impressive out of his four titles.
8. LeBron James - 2020
29.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 8.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.5 BPG (6 Games)
Something has to be said about the Lakers winning the title in a year that saw the world lose Kobe Bryant. In the Finals, LeBron nearly averaged a triple-double. He delivered in every aspect of the game that you could ask. Mentally, winning a championship through the death of Kobe and a pandemic should be given some form of respect.
Out of his four championships, this was not a top-5 performance, but it was a different style of play for LeBron. He played more defense, facilitated his teammates, and still scored nearly 30 points each night.
7. Kobe Bryant - 2010
28.6 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.9 APG, 2.1 SPG, 0.7 BPG (7 Games)
Bryant had a chip on his shoulder. With this championship, it would give him one more than his former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, and put him one step closer to Michael Jordan’s six championships. In this seven-game series, Kobe led all scorers in six of the seven games, including back-to-back nights to keep away from elimination.
Bryant averaged ten more points than second-leading scorer Pau Gasol and Boston leading scorer Paul Pierce. This Finals MVP also came on the heels of the Lakers winning back-to-back championships. This also came in 41.1 minutes per game. The production matched the minutes, but winning in seven games, down 3-2, is just as impressive.
6. Kevin Durant - 2017
35.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.6 BPG (5 Games)
The Warriors took down the Cavaliers in five games this series and Durant won his first championship and Finals MVP. Durant was close to getting beat out by LeBron despite him playing in the losing team. LeBron averaged 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 10.0 assists to become the first-ever player to average a triple-double in the NBA FInals.
Durant led all scorers in Game 1 and Game 2, scoring 38 and 33 points respectively. While Durant might have had help from two-time MVP in Steph Curry and 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green, Durant made this NBA Finals all about him. He took down King James, who made history, so he should be given some form of respect for that.
5. Dirk Nowitzki - 2011
26.0 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG (6 Games)
Let’s put this into perspective. Nowitzki led the Dallas Mavericks to their first-ever championship against a Miami Heat squad that featured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. It might have been their first season together, but those are three Hall of Famers, while Nowitzki’s right-hand man was Jason Terry.
The talent difference between the two teams was huge. Nowitzki nearly averaged a double-double and either led the team in scoring or rebounding in five of the six games. The championship was everything Nowitzki wanted, as the Finals MVP was the cherry on top.
4. Kawhi Leonard - 2019
28.5 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.2 BPG (6 Games)
Similar to Nowitzki, what Leonard did for the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals was equally legendary. Leonard’s shot in Game 7 of the semifinals to get the team to the Conference Finals has already gone down in postseason lore, but leading the franchise to its first-ever NBA championship is just as historic.
Leonard led the Raptors over a Warriors team that featured Curry, Thompson, Durant, and Green. Granted, Durant got injured in his return, while Thompson tore his ACL, but this Warriors team battled the Raptors to six games. That included winning in Toronto in Game 5 to keep the team from clenching. In the end, the Raptors got the last laugh and dethroned a team that had made their fifth straight trip to the NBA Finals.
3. LeBron James - 2013
25.3 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 7.0 APG, 2.3 SPG, 0.9 BPG (7 Games)
The second championship that LeBron won featured one of his best showings in the NBA Finals. The San Antonio Spurs were up 3-2, but the Heat stole Game 6 in overtime thanks to a three-point shot by Ray Allen. Outside of the shot, LeBron led the team with 32 points. Then, he delivered 37 points in Game 7 to give Miami their second straight title.
During the series, LeBron averaged 43.0 minutes per game, which was seven more minutes than the next highest player. LeBron led the Heat in points, rebounds, assists, and steals this series. For a small forward, those are some impressive numbers.
2. LeBron James - 2016
29.7 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 8.9 APG, 2.6 SPG, 2.3 BPG (7 Games)
It’s hard to believe that LeBron’s 2016 Finals MVP stats aren’t even his best stat line, but his performance in these Finals is the second-greatest spectacle we have seen in the last 15 years. To deliver his promise to Cleveland and give the city its first NBA championship, it took some hard-fought games.
The Warriors held a 3-1 lead on the Cavaliers. Remind you, this was a team that won an NBA record 73 wins in the regular season. In Game 6, LeBron scored 41 points to lead all scorers to force a Game 7. Then, he finished with a triple-double of 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists, as well as the game-saving block on Andre Iguodala. This series was outstanding from top to bottom, but LeBron stood out the most.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo - 2021
35.2 PPG, 13.2 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.8 BPG (6 Games)
What we saw Giannis do in the NBA Finals was near replicant of what Shaq and Michael Jordan did in their three-peats. Giannis scored over 40 points three times. That included 42 points in Game 2 and 41 points in Game 3. His greatest performance came in Game 6, becoming the seventh player to ever score 50 points in an NBA Finals game.
Out of all the past 15 Finals MVPs, only LeBron has scored 50 points in an NBA Finals Game (2018). Giannis helped the Bucks secure their first NBA championship in 50 years, the first since the early playing days of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The names that Giannis has paired his game with are true legends of the sport. His overall performance in these finals was also legendary.
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