Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals is Thursday with the Toronto Raptors hosting the Golden State Warriors.
Given the road both teams took to reach the Finals, it's truly one of the most perplexing Finals matchups in years and one that's understandably hard to get a read on.
To help in sorting out which team ultimately emerges to claim the title, we went through both teams and ranked every player that figures to see at least some key minutes as part of the rotation.
This isn't a ranking of the 22 best players or the 22 most talented players. Health and situational context matters.
That Kevin Durant might not play until late in the series or perhaps not even at all matters. Ditto for DeMarcus Cousins.
In all, we settled on 22 players that will likely play a hand in determining the final outcome.
Without further ado, here's one incredibly unofficial and entirely subjective ranking of players who most factor into the 2019 NBA Finals.
22. OG Anunoby
What's somewhat crazy is that if you rewind to last summer or even preseason and asked what would need to happen for the Toronto Raptors to make the NBA Finals, one of the most popular answers would be something along the lines of "OG Anunoby made a leap." That the Raptors are here despite getting nothing in the playoffs from Anunoby is pretty incredible.
The versatile wing, who just one year ago was Toronto's primary defender in the playoffs against LeBron James, has not played since the team's regular season finale against the Minnesota Timberwolves because of an emergency appendectomy. Latest reports on his status for the NBA Finals are promising, though nothing has been officially announced.
MORE: Injury update on Anunoby
How he factors in: At this point, anything the Raptors get from Anunoby is a cherry on top. The biggest potential for a major contribution could be defensively against Kevin Durant if the former scoring champion returns in this series. While the Raptors obviously have Kawhi Leonard to throw at Durant, Anunoby could at the very least soak up some valuable minutes to help keep Leonard's legs fresh. He's an X-factor to keep an eye, especially if the series goes long.
21. Jonas Jerebko
Since Durant went out, Jerebko has seen an increased role in Golden State's rotation, averaging about 12 minutes per game over the last five games dating back to Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Rockets.
How he factors in: This is Jerebko's fifth straight year playing in the postseason after stints with the Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz. He was part of the five-man crew that blew open Game 1 of the Conference Finals, turning a six-point lead into a rout all with Stephen Curry on the bench. Jerebko brings energy and will be given opportunities to knock down open shots by a Toronto defense more keyed in on stopping others.
20. Jordan Bell
Like Jerebko, Bell has seen an increased role in the wake of the Durant injury as he's averaged 13 minutes per game over Golden State's last five games after appearing for a grand total of 11 seconds over the first five games against Houston.
How he factors in: Bell's elite athleticism feeds directly off Draymond Green's playmaking. Bell is at his best attacking the rim and finishing lobs from Green and could be a big benefactor if Toronto decides to key in on Green. He's the type of springy secondary finisher that the Raptors did not see in either of the last two rounds against the Bucks or 76ers.
19. Quinn Cook
Cook's been a pleasant surprise for the Warriors this postseason with his timely shot making and steady hand giving the Warriors room to rest Stephen Curry.
How he factors in: He's not shy, averaging over 14 attempts per 36 minutes in this postseason. Steve Kerr likelys to sub in Cook for final possessions at the end of quarters so if he nails a key shot at the end of the half with others getting more defensive attention, don't be surprised. He could be Golden State's answer for Fred VanVleet as a source of unsuspecting offense.
18. Andrew Bogut
There's a decent chance Bogut could start in the Finals as he's started six games this postseason including the pivotal Game 6 on the road at Houston.
How he factors in: The Raptors are a far more friendly matchup for Bogut than either the Rockets or Blazers, especially whenever Marc Gasol is in the game. Bogut's a smart player who has lots of experience going up against Gasol including their battle in the 2015 postseason. On a team that has a penchant for playing a little too loose, Bogut can act as a calming influence of sorts which is important against an opportunisitc team like Toronto.
17. Alfonzo McKinnie
McKinnie could strike a chord with Raptors fans as he played in 14 games for Toronto as a rookie last season. He's coming off his best game of the postseason in the series-clinching win over Portland as he scored 12 points in 26 minutes while starting in place of Andre Iguodala.
How he factors in: Not only did he play the entire overtime period in that series-clinching win over the Blazers, it came after he didn't play at all in the fourth quarter. That shows not only a high level of trust from Steve Kerr, but also the ability to stay focused and prepared to hear his name called. McKinnie hit at least one 3-pointer in every game of the Conference Finals and surely will not hesitate to let it fly if left open in this series.
16. Shaun Livingston
The trusty vet is among those who have stepped up in the wake of the Durant injury as he's shooting 75% from the field over Golden State's last five games. Though he may have lost a step, Livingston can still get up when called upon.
How he factors in: In addition to being a trusted piece of the rotation that won't shy away from any moment, the Raptors are a good matchup for Livingston offensively. He has a massive height advantage over both Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, giving Livingston an edge to become even for a few possessions at a time a legitimate post-up threat and viable scoring option. Given the rosters, don't be shocked if there's a quarter where Livingston takes over to swing a game.
15. Norman Powell
The Warriors have horses and if the Raptors are going to stay with Golden State, they'll likely need some big hitting performances off the bench. Enter Powell.
How he factors in: In Game 4 of the Conference Finals, Powell took a team-high 18 shots including 13 from beyond the arc. Simply put: he's not gun shy. He'll have ample opportunities to get going against a Warriors team that's comfortable playing a loose style. The only player in these playoffs that's taken more shots in any game off the bench is Lou Williams who torched these same Warriors in the 1st Round. If in two weeks we're talking about how the Raptors upset the Warriors, there's a good chance that somewhere along the way Powell performed like Williams.
14. Danny Green
During the regular season, Green shot 47.4 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers which ranked among the top four in the NBA. He did it on a relatively large number of shots too, ranking just outside the top 10 in catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts. That disappeared entirely in the Conference Finals as Green shot just 4-23 on catch-and-shoots from beyond the arc against the Bucks.
MORE: "Just keep shooting " - Green's mentality during slump
How he factors in: Starting across from Green is Klay Thompson, the second-best shooter in the world who can single-handedly swing games in an instant by spontaenously combusting into a 6'7" walking fireball. The Raptors don't need Green to answer Thompson, but they do need him to relocate from whatever piece of real estate on Antarctica that he moved to against Milwaukee. Green is a Finals veteran that once set a Finals record for made 3s in a series. Toronto needs that version of Green to show up or it will be shown the door.
13. DeMarcus Cousins
On talent alone, Cousins is obviously not the 13th-best player in this series. Fully healthy, you could make a case for him as a top-five player in the Finals. But we don't know how many games he'll play and if he does play, how many minutes he'll stay on the floor. If we see Cousins in this series, it's more likely we see a version used as a change-up or tone setter more than offensive fulcrum.
How he factors in: Cousins can put pressure on Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in ways that nobody else on Golden State can. If Kevon Looney or Draymond Green are struggling offensively to the point that Gasol especially is able to control the defensive end of the floor without much resistance, Cousins is the wrecking ball that Steve Kerr has to unleash on the Raptors. Will Cousins be effective so soon after tearing a quad? To what degree will he be able to play like himself? It's one of the biggest wild cards entering Game 1.
12. Serge Ibaka
Above all else, we'll remember Game 7 for Kawhi Leonard's shot. Obviously. But one aspect that shouldn't fall by the wayside is the play of Serge Ibaka who was easily Toronto's second-best player in that game, scoring 17 points and finishing plus-22 in a game his team won by two.
How he factors in: Weirdly, Ibaka can be Toronto's answer to DeMarcus Cousins in that he has the ability and potential to put pressure on an opposing defense as a scorer. As he showed in that Game 7, Ibaka can get hot from the outside. As he showed in Game 5 against the Bucks, Ibaka can turn into a monster on the offensive glass and feast on second-chance opportunities. You have to account for Serge Ibaka and if you don't, he's good enough to take over for stretches in emphatic fashion.
11. Kevon Looney
The Bucks didn't win the series, but one thing they did do well is challenge Toronto inside the paint and on drives. For the series, the Raptors shot just 45% on drives, well below what they did in the second round against the 76ers (50%) or first round against the Magic (58%).
How he factors in: Looney is tremendous defensively, especially as a big when switched on to smaller players that like to hunt mismatches and attack the rim. He'll be vital on rack attacks by both Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam, the latter of whom feasts on slower-footed bigs when he puts them on their heels and utilizes that signature spin move. Looney's numbers might not wow you and he's overshadowed by Draymond Green but make no mistake, he's a potentially game-changing force on the defensive end of the floor.
10. Fred VanVleet
Fatherhood and lack of sleep is all Fred VanVleet needed to turn into Toronto's super sub. In three games since the birth of his son, Fred Jr., the diminuitive back-up point guard has been anything but diminuitive on the floor, averaging 16.0 points per game while shooting 14-17 from beyond the arc.
How he factors in: VanVleet will play a major role in this series. Nick Nurse never wavered in his trust of VanVleet even during his dry spell which in turn paid dividents over the final three games of the Conference Finals. While shot making is of critical importannce, equally important could be his defense on Stephen Curry. In the one matchup against the Raptors earlier this year that Curry played in, it was VanVleet who defended Curry far more than any other Raptors player.
9. Marc Gasol
The offseason trade for Kawhi Leonard receives most of the attention and rightfully so. But the midseason acquisition of Marc Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies is proving to be yet another masterful stroke by Masai Ujiri. A cerebral player on both ends, it's the passing of Gasol that's truly unlocked the non-Kawhi components of Toronto's offense. As the Raptors jumped from 22nd in assist percentage prior to his debut all the way up to fourth since he's been with the team.
How he factors in : When the Warriors are dialed in, they're truly an elite defensive team. They do go through stretches however where they let their collective guards down and that's where Gasol's passing can capitalize. He likely won't pile up numbers to the degree that Draymond Green does as a playmaking big, but his ability to hold Golden State accountable on off-the-ball defense is crucial for a Raptors team that at times can struggle to score outside of Leonard.
8. Andre Iguodala
There's perhaps no player that benefits more from Golden State's long layoff than the 35-year old Iguodala who missed Game 4 of the Conference Finals. By the time Game 1 tips off, Iguodala will have had 11 days off since his last game action.
How he factors in: Iguodala's individual defense has been a big enough factor to swing one NBA Finals already as he won Finals MVP in 2015 for slowing down LeBron James. Though he's four years older, Iguodala has at times looked the most spry he ever has in this postseason. It's not hard to imagine a world in which he puts the clamps on Leonard.
7. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant is not the seventh-best player in this series. Prior to going down in Game 5 against Houston, you could make a case that Durant was the best player in the world as he was averaging over 35 points per game on 50-40-90 shooting. That's never been done in the history of the game. Unequivocally, Kevin Durant was having the most efficient volume scoring postseason in NBA history.
But he got hurt.
How he factors in: There's a chance Durant doesn't play at all in this series in which case ranking him seventh is way too high. There's a chance he comes back and single-handedly swings the series in favour of Golden State in which case ranking him seventh is way too low. Nobody really knows. The question then becomes how many games does Durant have to play in order for him to carry more value than any of the other players over the course of an entire series?
6. Pascal Siakam
Did you know that Siakam passed Vince Carter on Toronto's all-time postseason scoring list in the Finals-clinching win over the Bucks? A guy on the up-and-up just scratching the surface of his potential has already tallied more total points in the playoffs than Vinsanity, himself. Wild.
How he factors in: It's been an up and down postseason for Siakam who is learning that postseason basketball is different than in the regular season. He'll be challenged in a major way in this series, particularly if he's being guarded by all-world defensive maestro Draymond Green. If Siakam can put pressure on Green by attacking him in transition, pulling him away from the rim and keeping him from playing free safety, that can have a massive domino effect on Toronto's ability to score consistently enough to hang with Golden State.
5. Kyle Lowry
This feels like the postseason where Kyle Lowry has finally gotten his due as a floor general that impacts the game in so many ways not often seen in the box score. Diving for loose balls, scrounging for key rebounds, taking timely charges, slyly holding Antetokounmpo back from truly challenging Kawhi Leonard's emphatic Game 6 dunk... Lowry just does things and often times in such a subtle manner that if you're not actively looking for it, you'll miss it.
MORE: Finals berth erases years of hearbreak
How he factors in: You could argue that Lowry is coming off the best series of his postseason career as he averaged 19.2 points on 50.7 percent shooting including 46.5 percent from beyond the arc. On nights when it felt like the Raptors were one possession away from falling out of it, Lowry delivered time and again with big-time shots. While Siakam might ultimately emerge as Toronto's seond-leading scorer, his buckets typically come within the flow of offense or as a by-product of high energy. It's Lowry's emergence as a legitimate shot creator that changed the Raptors' trajectory. Going up against the Splash Brothers, he'll need to keep that up if Toronto is going to hang.
4. Klay Thompson
There's perhaps no player in the league, Stephen Curry included, that can get hot as quickly as Thompson. He's scored 60 points on 11 dribbles. He's scored 37 points in a single quarter. He needs zero daylight to get off his shot at any time and when he's feeling it, there's simply nothing you can do. If Thompson goes on one of his tears, it's enough to single-handedly steal a win his team otherwise has no business winning. In a matter of minutes, Thompson can undo everything an opponent has worked so hard to build over an entire game.
How he factors in: Ask Oklahoma City how it feels to be on the wrong end of Mt. Thompson. His performance in Game 6 of the 2016 Conference Finals not only changed the outcome of that series, but the entire fortunes of a franchise and of the league itself. If the Raptors find themselves knocking on the door to glory, they'd be wise not to sleep on Thompson who with a few flicks of the wrist can leave an entire team looking lost and wondering what on earth just happened.
3. Draymond Green
This is the best Draymond Green has looked in years. He's recorded four triple-doubles this postseason and if it wasn't for Kawhi Leonard, would probably be recognized as the best defensive player in the playoffs. Green is coming off a Conference Finals in which he averaged 16.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 2.8 blocks and 2.3 steals per game, numbers that are outrageous and yet still seem to undersell just how incredible he played in that sweep of the Trail Blazers.
MORE: Dear Toronto: good luck stopping Draymond Green
How he factors in: The Warriors have the luxury of placing either Andre Iguodala or Klay Thompson onto Kawhi Leonard which frees up Green to orchestrate Golden State's defense off the ball, hit the defensive glass and attack with reckless abandon. Toronto has looked most vulnerable whenever Pascal Siakam has been neutralized and what better player to get in the' young forward's head than Green. He's got the freedom to wreck havoc defensively and the ability to single-handedly throw a wrench into everything Toronto does offensively.
2. Stephen Curry
Curry just scored the most points in a sweep in NBA postseason history. The Raptors might be riding a euphoric high entering the NBA Finals, but are running into a two-time MVP that's hotter than he's ever been. "Who guards Stephen Curry" is one of the questions at the heart of this series. Do the Raptors really want Kawhi Leonard chasing him around? Or a 33-year old Kyle Lowry? Or the 6'0" Fred VanVleet? On paper, there's no obvious answer.
MORE: Which player has the most to gain in this series?
How he factors in: Is this the year that Curry finally wins that elusive Finals MVP? He's had tremendous success as a scorer in the regular season against the Raptors, averaging 28.6 points per game which is the third-most ever behind only Allen Iverson and James Harden. Although the Raptors are an excellent defensive team, there isn't the type of quick-twitch, shifty lock-down defender that's given Curry fits in the past. With Durant out for at least Game 1 and perhaps the entire series, the table is set for Curry to have his most prolific Finals yet.
1. Kawhi Leonard
Clippers coach Doc Rivers just said that Leonard "is the most like Jordan that we've seen." Well, then.
He leads the postseason in total minutes, points, field goals, field goal attempts, made free throws, steals and drawn fouls. He's been the most clutch player in the league. He shut down the presumptive MVP on essentially one leg. This really isn't hard... he's been the best player in the league over the last two months.
How he factors in: LOL.
Say it with us, Kawhi Leonard is VERY good at basketball. #WeTheNorth- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 26, 2019
27 Pts | 17 Reb | 7 Ast | 2 Blk | 2 Stl pic.twitter.com/DWm5jl7ezy
He does everything.
If the Raptors are celebrating an NBA title after all of the dust settles, it's because he was the best player in the series on both ends of the floor and then some.
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