The NBA Finals are upon us, and it’s time to rank the players involved. You’ll notice Tyler Herro is just an honorable mention, and that’s due to his injury status and not fully knowing when he’ll play in the series. These rankings are based on the level of importance and influence each player will have on their team’s hopes of winning the championship and hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in the end. Miami Heat vs. Denver Nuggets. Quick fun fact. This is the first NBA Finals since 1990 (Pistons-Blazers) that will not include a first-team All-NBA selection. There were no second-team selections either. Now, let’s get it on.
Honorable Mention: Tyler Herro
Word on the street is Tyler Herro could make his return from a broken hand between games one and three of the NBA Finals. Sounds a little like wishful thinking, so Herro is an honorable mention. He’s been no less than the Heat’s third option at full strength this season, but a shooter coming back from such an injury is dicey.
Honorable Mention: Bruce Brown
Bruce Brown is one of those players that’ll sneak up on you in the sense that you’ll look up, and he’ll have scored 15-20 points without much fanfare. Being a leading scorer isn’t his primary job but getting that type of production from your utility guy who plays multiple positions is always huge.
Honorable Mention: Max Strus
Another sharpshooter for the Heat, who can get hot at a moment’s notice. However, Strus can be streaky, which was evident against the Celtics as he made just 34 percent of his three-pointers. It’s a feast or famine situation with Strus. He made three or more treys in four of the six games in the New York series. Against Boston, he had just one game where he hit three three-pointers.
10. Kyle Lowry/Duncan Robinson
This one is simple. Kyle Lowry brings leadership, championship experience and can still heat up occasionally from the mid-range and hit timely shots. Duncan Robinson is on the court strictly for his shooting prowess, and when he gets going, it’s hard to stop him, as the Celtics witnessed in their series.
9. Gabe Vincent
An unlikely hero for the Heat during this phenomenal postseason run, Vincent has hit big shot after big shot for Miami. Vincent rolled his ankle against Boston and missed game five but bounced back to contribute 15 points in that heartbreaking game six loss in Miami. The ankle won’t be 100 percent, but with some treatment and extra time off, he should be ready to contribute heavily by Thursday because Miami will need all hands on deck.
8. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
KCP is no stranger to the NBA Finals, being a member of the 2020 bubble champion Los Angeles Lakers squad that defeated the same Denver Nuggets he now plays for in the Western Conference Finals in Orlando. Caldwell-Pope is another guy who can knock down threes for Denver taking pressure off Jokić and Murray. When KCP hits double-digit scoring, the Nuggets usually win.
7. Caleb Martin
Mr. Martin came alive in the Eastern Conference Finals, averaging over 19 points per game against Boston on nearly 49 percent from behind the arc. If the Heat can get any resemblance of that same type of production out of Martin in his first NBA Finals, Miami might pull off the upset most feel they have no shot at completing.
6. Aaron Gordon
Gordon is in the best position of his NBA career. The fourth option is on a stacked team where he doesn’t have to worry about how many points he scores. You won’t get a lot of style points out of Gordon, but what he will do is get to the rim, rebound, and defend. He’ll have the occasional 20-point performance, but overall, he’ll do the dirty work. Don’t be surprised to see Gordon matched up defensively against Bam Adebayo often in this series to spell Jokić.
5. Michael Porter Jr.
MPJ has finally become that third option the Nuggets expected him to be when they drafted him 14th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft. Porter can spread out defenses with his shooting ability and 6-foot-10 frame making him a matchup nightmare for most teams. Porter’s hitting just under 41 percent of his three-point shots during Denver’s playoff run. If he’s left open too often, he’ll make Miami pay.
4. Bam Adebayo
Miami’s big man will need to put pressure on Jokić in this series for the Heat to stand a chance. No one expects Bam or anyone else to shut down Joker on offense. Still, Jokić can be taken advantage of defensively by Adebayo, using his speed and agility to potentially wear down the former MVP. He’ll need to be active all over the floor, especially in the paint, for Miami to complete the improbable.
3. Jamal Murray
Next to Nikola Jokić, Murray is the most crucial player for the Nuggets. When he gets hot, he could wind up being the best player on the court on a given night. After missing an entire season, Murray returned this year and has picked up where he left off before the ACL injury in 2021. Murray has stepped up his game in the postseason, averaging 27.7 points per game compared to 20 during the regular season.
2. Jimmy Butler
If there was an award for the grittiest player, Playoff Jimmy would’ve won it the past two years after these postseason runs. Even when Butler isn’t the Heat’s leading scorer or shooting the highest percentage, he’s the reason they’re in the NBA Finals as the No. 8 seed. Only the second eight-seed to do so in NBA history. Butler was a little tame at times in the ECF against Boston, but Jimmy Buckets will need to make a few appearances for the Heat to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy once again.
1. Nikola Jokić
The obvious best player in this series is likely to average a triple-double in the process. Joker presents a tough assignment for every team, so the Heat will have their hands full. The Lakers were able to get Jokić into early foul trouble during the Western Conference Finals but couldn’t quite capitalize. Jokić will get his, but this series won’t be as easy as the previous one for the Nuggets.