Throughout the history of the NBA and ABA, there has been a simple equation to winning a championship. It starts with coaching — a coach must be able to learn on the fly, motivate his players and know his team’s strengths and deficiencies. There are also the great players. Sometimes they score the points, other times they are simply the leader, coach, rebounding champion, pioneer type (looking at you, Bill Russell). Other than having a great coach or scoring tons of points, there are plenty of other roles needed to win a championship.
Today you’ll be reading the outline of what makes a championship team — outside of great coaching and star players; the roles, the archetypes, and of course, the mettle. Looking back at past champions, you’ll see most of these types on every team. The players of these roles were the best at their craft, and collectively, it made them the best in the league.
Danny Ainge. Matthew Dellavedova. Mario Chalmers. Bruce Bowen.
The pest has one role: get under the skin of the opposing star. They sacrifice points and stats for glory. They are the unheralded stars that become adjacent to the names of legends. Jawing at someone on a hot streak to try to throw them off their game is a classic pest move.
There’s a better way to describe them: you hate them until they’re on your team.
Ainge was a legendary pest. This was his calling card in the NBA, and in some ways, he’s continuing to do it now as the GM of the Celtics. His second ring in Boston he was one of the biggest factors of the team’s title in 1986.
Dellavedova was present for the Cavaliers’ first two title runs, winning one. The Cavs were competitive in the first two, they had a grit to their game that wasn’t there after LeBron decided to put shooters around him. Of course, Golden State added Durant, but stop ruining my argument!
This one is obvious. Charles Oakley; Bill Laimbeer — actually, the entire Pistons roster from the late 80’s; Dennis Rodman; Shaquille O’Neal actually doubled as an enforcer and the star.
Without a big guy to drop elbows on heads when an opposing player is feeling fresh, they will continue to run all over you. Remember when Allen Iverson stepped over Tyronne Lue in Game One of the 2001 Finals? How many games did the 76ers win after that? Elbows were dropped.
When the opposing star is in a groove, all he needs is a hard screen to loosen a few screws and make him forget his middle name for a few minutes. The enforcer plays a critical role. Look at Draymond Green — for all the hate he gets for his questionable plays, he does them for a reason.
He plays for Steve Kerr, who played for one of the greatest assembled championship teams ever in the Chicago Bulls. They had all the pieces, and Kerr knew that. He replicated that in his current team — not in player type, but player archetype. The scorer/star, the enforcer, the pest, and the next player on the list.
This is also an obvious one, but someone might want to remind the Cavs. Over their last two Finals runs, who was their best defender? JR Smith?
Scottie Pippen is the most famous champion defender and after him probably Hakeem Olajuwon. Defense wins championships. It always has, and unless there is some freak disparity in talent between the two Finals’ teams — it always will. That talent disparity I’m talking about was in 2001 — the same Iverson-stepping-over-Lue series. The Lakers’ defensive rating that year ranked 21st of 29 teams!
The thing is, Philadelphia was no match for the star studded Lakers who pretty much slept through the regular season before winning 11 straight games to start the playoffs.
Anyway, the reason I’m mentioning defenders is because out of the last twenty Finals, only two champions have had a defensive rating over 10th place — the 2001 Lakers, and last year’s Warriors — who ranked 11th.
So, do the Raptors have the personnel to make the Finals and win the title? They might. I’m not sure they’re a complete team yet, but there are still plenty of moves to make via the buyout market between now and March 1st.
With just 10 players under contract, here are some players I’d love to see in Toronto:
Robin Lopez to rack up fouls and rip down rebounds. Sure he may only play 10 minutes per game, but they’ll be bruising minutes and he’s one of the better rim protectors in the league right now. With a trio of Ibaka, Gasol and Lopez, the post would be a non-factor. Also, a Brook/Robin matchup in the playoffs? Seriously — I need to see that.
Milos Teodosic isn’t a great defender, but he’s a magnificent passer and passable shooter, and as a veteran, would have no problem understanding his role and throwing no qualms about it. For a season with the Los Angeles Clippers, the grizzled, bearded, passing wizard led amazing fast breaks with his ability to whip the ball down the court. He’d be a perfect fit next to Pascal and Norm.
Nik Stauskas would be a dead-eye shooter off the bench and basically give the Raptors the final shooter they need. With Norman Powell and Danny Green having career years shooting from distance, Stauskas provides the size to shoot while covered — much like Green can — and is more athletic than he gets credit for. He’d be a nice addition to the bench unit.
Who do you want to see the Raptors sign to fill some of these important championship roles? Or, who on the team do you think already fills them? Sound off below!