The 2021 NBA Finals weren’t as highly anticipated as previous championship series. There were stars involved, but not the LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry type of stars. There were the new ones…and Chris Paul. After six games of pure excitement and plenty of varying narratives, the NBA Finals series between the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks became one of the most entertaining while possibly defining the league’s new alpha.
The Bucks defeated the Suns 105-98 in Game 6, behind what I consider the best performance in NBA Finals history by Giannis Antetokounmpo. The “Greek Freak” scored 50 points, the most points scored in an NBA Finals game, and added 14 rebounds and five assists to his stat-line. While those numbers were spectacular, plenty of Finals performances featured gaudy numbers like Giannis’. What made this performance so special was Giannis repairing his biggest flaw, free-throw shooting, at least for the most crucial game of his career. After shooting 56.4 percent from the line through the first five games of the series, he not only attempted the most free throws of this year’s playoffs, but he made 17 of them. Yes, the man that made air-balling free throws a habit earlier in the series shot 17-of-19 from the line in Game 6, and that’s what highlights this as the best performance of all time.
Switching gears a bit, Giannis wasn’t a No. 1 pick in the draft. He wasn’t a top-five pick, wasn’t a top 10 pick, and wasn’t a lottery pick either. He was the 15th pick. There were 14 players chosen ahead of him in 2013, and the next closest player to him as far as personal success goes is CJ McCollum.
A generational great player was drafted outside of the lottery in 2013, while none were drafted inside the first 13 picks. The same goes for the reigning MVP, Nikola Jokic, who was drafted 41st the year after. The only other player in that draft who turned out to be on Jokic’s level is Joel Embiid, who was drafted third. So, out of 41 players in the 2014 Draft, only two can be considered a ‘face of a franchise’ type of player. Outside of Karl-Anthony Towns with the No. 1 pick, the entire 2015 draft was disappointing when discussing generational greats or cornerstone pieces. The 2017 Draft was better, featuring names like Jayson Tatum, who was the third pick, but players like Donovan Mitchell and Bam Adebayo were late lottery picks at 13 and 14 themselves.
Those are only a few examples that prove you want a top-five or even a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft, but that it’s not everything. If you’re a fan of a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, who has the sixth, 16th, 18th, 34th, 36th, and 55th pick in the NBA Draft, don’t fret if you don’t hear NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announce the name you want to hear, because there’s a very legitimate chance that the real diamond in the ruff may be sitting somewhere else in the draft, which in the Thunder’s case, could be in six different spots within 60 picks.
Giannis, Khris Middleton, the 39th pick of the 2012 Draft, Jrue Holiday, the 17th pick in the 2009 Draft, and Bobby Portis, the 22nd pick in the 2015 Draft, just led a franchise to its first title in 50 years. Use the Milwaukee Bucks as your small-market example of how to rise to superiority.