The NBA is full of uncertainties every single season. It could be certain players ending the season due to injuries, whereas sometimes it might be someone stepping up unexpectedly in clutch moments. And these are exactly the beauty of the sport.
When it comes to X-Factors, anyone’s possible. One can be a rookie who has never been to the biggest stage but rightfully prove that he was born for this. Or one can be a veteran who is no longer considered worthwhile giving a try but once again show up demonstrating his value.
Let’s take a look at the last 10 seasons’ X-Factors for the NBA champions.
10. 2012-13 NBA Champions - Miami Heat
X-Factor - Ray Allen
On June 17, 2013, former All-Star guard Ray Allen hit a series-altering three with 5.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter to help the Miami Heat force a Game 7, which eventually turned into another championship. That 3-pointer Allen made is inarguably one of the most crucial and impactful shots in the entire NBA history.
Allen, known as one of the Big 3 of the Boston Celtics alongside Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, joined the Heat in 2013, which was one of the most controversial stories at the time because of the profound and spicy history between the two franchises.
Even though Allen only averaged 10.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game during that year’s playoffs, the magnificent shot single-handedly made his off-season choice worthwhile.
9. 2013-14 NBA Champions - San Antonio Spurs
X-Factor - Kawhi Leonard
Every time when Kawhi Leonard thinks about his missing free throws in the 2013 NBA Finals, he must be highly regretful. Fortunately, however, Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs took back what they lost the year after.
The 2013-14 NBA Finals were a rematch of the Heat and the Spurs and also revenge for the Spurs. 22-year-old forward Leonard stepped up in the Finals, averaging 17.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.2 blocks over five games. Most importantly, he matched with LeBron James on both ends of the floor, which won him the Finals MVP.
After that year’s finals, Leonard was widely considered the heir to the post-GDP era and gradually became an MVP-level player.
8. 2014-15 NBA Champions - Golden State Warriors
X-Factor - Andre Iguodala
There’s no doubt that the hiring of head coach Steve Kerr and the growth of core players instantly made the 2014-2015 season Golden State Warriors a championship-level team. And former All-Star forward Andre Iguodala adjusting his role from a starter to a sixth man was one of the essential changes to the Warriors’ ultimate success.
Iguodala starting from the bench made the team more balanced due to his defense and facilitating ability. Also, a famous lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Iguodala, known as the “Small Five,” was invented that season, which was the most efficient one to close the game for the Warriors.
During the finals, when the team was down 1-2 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kerr boldly started Iguodala for the next three games, which led to the first championship for the Warriors’ dynasty. Iguodala, again as the primary defender of LeBron James, averaging 10.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game, won the Finals MVP that year.
7. 2015-16 NBA Champions - Cleveland Cavaliers
X-Factor - Kyrie Irving
Another clutch shot made by LeBron James’ teammate in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA finals belongs to Kyrie Irving. The game was tied at 89 with one minute left of the regular time; Irving made a pull-up 3-pointer over Stephen Curry's head after three consecutive crossovers and a horizontal step to the right.
History was made. The Cavaliers were the first team to win the title when they were down 1-3 in the finals. The 2016 championship run was purely a two-man show for the team, James and Irving, who averaged a combined 51.5 points per game.
Irving is known for his fancy dribbles and clutch shooting ability, but prior to the finals, he had never proved it on the biggest stage. That single shot demonstrated that he was born for the moment.
6. 2016-17 NBA Champions - Golden State Warriors
X-Factor - Kevin Durant
Why is Kevin Durant? Weren’t Durant and the Golden State Warriors expected to win it all?
Yes, probably over 90% of the world thought the Warriors could win easily over the Cavaliers in 2017. But it doesn’t prevent him from being the X-Factor.
Durant hadn’t played in the finals since 2012 with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He much needed to prove himself belonged to the highest stage, considering the criticism that he received after choosing the Bay Area.
Most importantly, Durant did it as the best player on the team, averaging 28.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game in the playoffs. His scoring per game elevated to 35.2 points in the finals, making game-winning 3-pointers over opponents in Games 3 and 5.
5. 2017-18 NBA Champions - Golden State Warriors
X-Factor - Stephen Curry
Everyone knows that the true finals of the 2017-18 season were the Western Conference Finals, where the Houston Rockets, led by James Harden and Chris Paul, pushed the Warriors to seven games.
Stephen Curry hadn’t had a good playoff performance before the Western Conference Finals, mainly because of his injury, which caused him to miss the first round. When the Warriors were down 3-2 against the Rockets, Curry constantly stepped up and saved the team.
In the last two games, Curry averaged 28.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 2.0 steals, and 2.0 blocks, including 12 threes, contributing on both ends and helping the Warriors achieve their third ring in four years.
4. 2018-19 NBA Champions - Toronto Raptors
X-Factor - Fred VanVleet
After going undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft, Fred VanVleet signed with the Toronto Raptors. Nobody would expect that three tears later, this 6-foot-1 guard became one of the championship team's best role players.
VanVleet averaged only 8.0 points in the playoffs. However, he had a huge break out during the finals against the Warriors, where he contributed an average of 14.0 points per game, including 22 points and five 3-pointers in Game 6.
After the championship run in 2019, VanVleet has earned his place as a starter and a big contract extension. Last season, he was named an NBA All-Star.
3. 2019-2020 NBA Champions - Los Angeles Lakers
X-Factor - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, due to his excellent defense and shooting ability, was considered the perfect fit for LeBron James and Anthony Davis. During the 2019-2020 regular season, he averaged 9.3 points per game and only started 26 of his 69 games.
However, Caldwell-Pope became a starter every single game in the playoffs and a primary perimeter defender for the lakers, guarding players like Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat, Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets, and James Harden of the Houston Rockets, etc.
Caldwell-Pope averaged 12.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 6 games in the 2020 NBA Finals. In the last three games, Caldwell-Pope scored an average of 16.0 points per game, including a total of eight 3-pointers.
2. 2020-21 NBA Champions - Milwaukee Bucks
X-Factor - Khris Middleton
Statistically, forward Khris Middleton didn’t have an impressive improvement from the regular season to the playoffs in 2021. However, he showed up when it mattered.
When the Milwaukee Bucks were down 1-2 in the finals against the Phoenix Suns led by Chris Paul and Devin Booker, it was Middleton who elevated his games to another level on both ends and helped the team win their first championship since 1971.
Middleton averaged 28.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 2.0 steals over his last three games, including seven 3-pointers. Also, he was one of the primary defenders of Paul and Booker, which was of great importance for their wins.
1. 2021-22 NBA Champions - Golden State Warriors
X-Factor - Andrew Wiggins
The 2021-22 season was a rescue for forward Andrew Wiggins, where he was voted as an NBA All-Star Starter and won his first championship with the Golden State Warriors. Most importantly, he was unarguably the second-best player, besides Stephen Curry, on the team during the playoffs.
Wiggins averaged 18.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 6 games in the 2022 NBA Finals. He was the primary defender of the Boston Celtics’ best player Jayson Tatum, who was limited to 21.5 points per game on 36.7% shooting.
Wiggins posted 26 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block in Game 6, showing dominance on both ends. After being criticized for years in the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins finally proved that he deserves a championship.