The Playgrounder Staff’s 2020 NBA Finals Panel

The day is finally here! The NBA Finals start today, and in celebration, the Playgrounder staff devised and answered some of the questions burning a hole through everyone’s minds. Take a look below to see how we all think the series is going to play out!

Who’s the best player coming into the series? 

Zach Wilson: LeBron James: I feel like some people may try to argue that AD is the best player on the Lakers, and he certainly has his nights where he seems like it, but as far as consistently the best player who impacts the game the most, it is still LeBron.

Rob Shaw: It’s LeBron. The guy is the NBA’s 31st franchise: 17 years, 10 finals trips. We call  Harden and Curry offensive systems. LeBron is an entire franchise; if you’ve ever LeBron on your team you, were guaranteed a finals trip at some point. 

Jesse Cinquini: I’ll give you a hint: he’s participating in the 10th NBA Finals of his career. LeBron James is as motivated as ever in his quest for ring number four. He’s been the world’s best player for the last decade, and he will remain so regardless of the outcome of this series.

Matt Esposito: I’m still mad about the Celtics losing. LeBron James.

Andrew Lawlor: It’s LeBron. Is there any argument? He’s still the best player in the world.

Geoff Campbell: The dude still chasing the ghost that played in Chicago. LBJ.

Karin Abcarians: It’s LeBron James. Literally don’t need to say anything else. 

Nick Trizzino: A quote from the movie Doubt comes to mind: “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.” They were talking about LeBron James, I assume, because scores of NBA fans have survived the last decade by pretending they don’t already know LeBron is going to smash everyone’s goddamn skull in when the playoffs roll around.

Which individual matchup are you most looking forward to? 

Wilson: I feel like the obvious one is Bam vs. AD, but I’m going to go with the bench hype of Meyers Leonard vs. JR Smith.

Shaw: Erik Spoelstra vs. Lebron James. I would give my right arm to sit in on a Heat coaches meeting to hear how Spo and the staff are planning to handle LBJ. I’d give both arms if Riley’s in the room.

Cinquini: Bam Adebayo vs. Anthony Davis is the matchup that may very well decide this series. Considering the Lakers have LeBron James and Miami doesn’t, Bam is going to have to outplay AD all series long if the Heat want to pull off an upset. Additionally, if Davis comes out and dominates Adebayo throughout the Finals, the Lakers could take home the title in as early as five games in my opinion.

Esposito: These nerds above me all gave nerdy answers and when I say that, I truly mean that they stole the good responses. Allow me to be contrarian for contrarian’s sake. I’m training my hawkeye to watch for those special, little moments when Rajon Rondo is doing something to get in Jimmy Butler’s head. Or Tyler Herro’s. Or Gordan Dragic’s. So basically, Rondo versus Miami’s collective patience.

Lawlor: Erik Spoelstra vs. Frank Vogel, almost by default. The Heat don’t have anyone on LeBron’s or Davis’ level, so the only way they win this series is if Spoelstra puts on a coaching master class.

Campbell: The Lakers defense vs. the Miami Heat’s perimeter shooting. Tyler Herro has been NBA Jams on fire. In addition, Duncan Robinson, Kelly Olynyck, Jamison Crowder, and throw Goran Dragic in there if you want, will have the ultimate green light. Closing out to shooters will be a make-or-break “keys to the game” for this series.

Abcarians: Oh, Nick, you better believe I’m sending you ALL THE GREAT RONDO CONTENT POSSIBLE. But I’m also looking forward to the GOAT, Alex Caruso, putting the defensive clamps on literally anyone.

Trizzino: Me vs. Karin, who I know is chomping at the bit to send me as much pro-Rondo propaganda as humanly possible.

What is the best shape for Tostitos?

Wilson: Definitely the scoops. The fact that you can spoon up any dip, and hold it easily… EASY ANSWER… FYI Matt, I pointed that exact thing out to a friend this week

Shaw: Scoops by a country mile. Not even debatable.

Cinquini: The scoops are easily the best. 

Esposito: I can 1000 percent guarantee that no one in this post has ever noticed that the two ‘t’’s in the middle of the word ‘Tostito’s’ are featured in their logo as two people dipping a chip.

Lawlor: Matt’s right, I had not noticed that.

Campbell: Scoops…multigrain….yeah, I said it!

Abcarians: I’m going to be the one who picks something completely different, because that’s how I roll, I’m going with the restaurant style (lightly salted) ones, cause I’m classy and care about my cholesterol.

Trizzino: For reasons I won’t explain but involve wide hands, small chips, (unreasonably) narrow queso jars, and beer-clouded judgement, my college roommate liked to call me ‘the Dip Fister.’ Unrelated: the big triangles are the best shape.

What’s been more impressive, the Lakers’ offense or defense?

Wilson: The offense for sure. I’ve been skeptical all year of every Laker outside of LeBron and AD, but their role players continue to prove me wrong. Guys are shooting well, and Howard has been great on the offensive glass.

Shaw: The defense. The Lakers have faced elite offensive player in each round; Lilliard, Harden, and Jokic are all special offensive talents, and they all struggled against the Lakers.

Cinquini: To me, it’s the offense of the Lakers that’s been more impressive. They lead the entire league in field goal percentage in these playoffs. Aside from the team’s dynamic duo, they’ve received consistent scoring punch from the likes of Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and even Rajon Rondo. The Lakers have more offensive weapons than most realize, which is part of the reason why they’re four wins away from a title. 

Esposito: Anthony Davis is nailing midrange looks. LeBron is hitting a career best 63.6 percent of his 2-pointers. Rondo is hitting near 45 percent of his triples. ‘Nuff said.

Lawlor: The defense. It’s the strength of the team, and what they can lean upon when the shots are not falling. They’ve now corralled Damian Lillard, James Harden, and Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic all in a row, without breaking a sweat. The rim-protection is great, they gobble up rebounds, and they have the guards and wings to bother perimeter players.

Campbell: Everything that Shaw and Lawlor said. While I believe the collective talent of the Heat combined with their amazing ball movement and just overall sense of understanding the moment will be too much, the Lakers have certainly slayed some goliaths in Jokic, Lillard, and Harden to earn this Finals berth.

Abcarians: As the Lakers fan among this squad of legendary writers, I can confirm that BOTH have been impressive. They’re a defensive minded team that can put the clamps on everyone easily, and that in turn makes their offense light up. This is why the Lakers are a scary team. They’ve shown it all throughout these playoffs.

Trizzino: Offense. Gonna piggyback off what Matt said here: if James Naismith could time travel to the present and saw Anthony Davis hitting step-back threes, he’d go back in time and stop himself from ever inventing basketball, hoping to spare humanity from the calamity it would bring. 

Where would you put Jimmy Butler in the superstar ladder?

Wilson: I use the term superstar very tight. I think there are only about five of those in the league. However, on the all star ladder, he’s probably in the middle. Not a guy who you can place anywhere and feel confident in their title chances, but a guy who can certainly be the best player on a finals bound team.

Shaw: Jimmy Butler best player on a NBA Finals team,I didn’t think I’d ever say that. If winning matters as much as everyone claims it does he’s no lower than 12 but I wouldn’t call him a superstar.

Cinquini: Jimmy Butler is a top 10 player in the world right now for the simple fact that he’s the best player on a Finals team. Prior to these playoffs, I did not have him in my top 10, but after his late-game heroics this postseason he deserves a spot among NBA royalty.

Esposito: Jimmy is a “Blue Moon” guy. As in, once in a Blue Moon a guy who isn’t a top tier talent leads his team to a Finals appearance and maybe even a ring. We saw the same with Chauncey Billups, another tier two guy who hit the perfect combination of teammates, chemistry and luck.

Lawlor: I miss Jimmy in Chicago. He is a great player who has come a long way in his career, from being a defensive specialist as a rookie to being the best player on a Finals team now. Yeah, he’s got a lot of depth behind him on his team, but I’d put him in the top 10 of stars in the NBA. He can do whatever your team needs.

Campbell: The term superstar should generally be reserved for players that are routinely no-doubt-about-it first team All-NBA first team…and maybe second-team selections. Even though Butler doesn’t meet that criteria, he would be voted a superstar if the players had a vote. Butler might be the most feared player in the league not named LeBron James and he also might be one of the top four or five stars that other players want to play with. The NBA has watched Jimmy Buckets elevate almost every franchise he’s played with…and if you ask Butler, he probably values the undeniable respect he receives from his peers over any other title attached to his name.

Abcarians: I don’t think I’d call Jimmy Butler a superstar just yet, but if he has an incredible finals run, he’ll get closer to being one. He is a superstar owner of my heart.  Also, fun fact: he and I have the same birthday!

Trizzino: I like to divide superstars into tiers. Tier 1: LeBron (bonus: Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Cedi Osman); Tier 2: KD, Kawhi, Giannis, Harden, Steph, AD, Luka; Tier 3: Dame, Nikola Jokic, Kyrie, Joel Embiid, and now, Jimmy Butler. Short answer: anywhere from the 8–12 range.

Where would this title rank for LeBron compared to his others?

Wilson: I’d rank it 2nd. The Cleveland title will always be at the top, and that Miami team was so strong in talent, not to mention LeBron was absolutely peak LeBron then. Winning in year 17, a lot of people counted out the Lakers from the jump, and I think this bubble environment is so much more difficult than people are giving credit to.

Shaw: The highest this title can rank is second. Nothing can surpass his Cleveland title. The ability to win in LA and come out of the West has silenced a lot of people. 

Cinquini: A title this year for LeBron would rank as his third most impressive. The titles over the Warriors in 2016 and the Spurs in 2013 would sit above this one because they were both better teams than this current iteration of the Heat.

Esposito: Second. But only because the 3-1 comeback versus Golden State that snapped an entire city’s titleless streak is arguably the most impressive championship in league history. Yeah…I said it.

Lawlor: Fourth. The bubble has introduced a weirdness to this season that lessens it. He’s going to do it in front of an empty stadium in Orlando, against a team that finished fifth in the East in the regular season. It’s still a big deal, and I’m excited to watch it, but I’d take any of his other titles over it.

Campbell: I’ll place it second. I understand that mysterious bubble has increased shooting percentages to the point that some games look like a slightly more competitive version of the All-Star game, but still…the long layoff between the NBA shut-down and re-start kind’ve balances that out. I would’ve expected way more injuries. Once again, LeBron’s other-wordly ability to stay healthy and be available for his team, even during a world-wide pandemic, at 35 years of age is just insane. 

Abcarians: It’s definitely second. That Cleveland one is always number 1. The emotions that will come out of this championship will be pretty damn incredible, though. #ForKobe.

Trizzino: Fourth, unless he rains heavenly judgement on the Heat for four games. Beating the Thunder in 2012 got him his first ring and created the biggest inflection point in the NBA timeline this century. The Spurs, as we saw the next year, were a death squadron. And the 2016 title…whew. I need to go lie down.

What is Bam Adebayo’s ceiling?

Wilson: I’ve said it for the past few weeks: I think Bam could be a top-15 big of all time. A guy who could make double-digit All-NBA’s, All-Defense, and All-Stars. Not to mention I think he could win one or two DPOY awards as well. He is one of the most versatile players in the league offensively and defensively. I could see him having a watered-down version of Kevin Garnett’s resume.

Shaw: Bam’s ceiling is the roof (or whatever MJ said). Bam reminds me of bigger Draymond Green. Is it wild to say bigger, better Draymond? Too late, I said it!

Cinquini: Bam Adebayo could evolve into the NBA’s best big man one day. He can do a bit of everything on the court, which is why I believe his upside is sky-high. I picture him finishing his career with a number of All-Star appearances, All-Defense team selections, and possibly even a championship or two. All in all, I think Adebayo is heading to Springfield once it’s all said and done.

Esposito: I’m a little thirsty but unfortunately Zach drank all the kool-aid on this one. Bam is a superstar talent and already on a trajectory to be a Hall of Famer. That’s not crazy to say. Yet, I don’t think he can be the best player on a championship team.

Lawlor: Right now, he’s a guy that can anchor a defense and create plays on offense. He was just the best player in the Conference Finals. Maybe it’s a cop out, but I don’t want to make any hot takes about his potential; I just want to appreciate what he is now.

Campbell: Sure Bam’s skillset is great, but intrigues me the most is his mindset. Early on in the season you started to hear about his competitiveness and that he’s a “Heat guy”. I forget the interview but either one of Jimmy, Spoelstra, or Riley said that. For that reason alone, I’m sure, whatever his ceiling is, he’ll reach it. I think Kevin Garnett and Draymond Green are great comparisons. Maybe a little Chris Webber as well. 

Abcarians: He could easily be the best big man in the NBA some day. He’s awesome and his ceiling is the roof. And that roof is on fire because of heat. Get it? Because he plays for the Heat. I apologize for this ridiculous joke.

Trizzino: Sure he’s great yeah whatever more importantly I WOULD LIKE TO MAKE IT KNOWN THAT BACK WHEN KYRIE REQUESTED A TRADE FROM THE CAVS I SUGGESTED THEY SEND HIM TO MIAMI FOR GORAN DRAGIC AND BAM. (That said, I didn’t know he would be this good. Won’t go as far as Rob, but I’ll say he’s almost as good as Draymond—with room for improvement).

Who wins the series?

Wilson: My heart tells me Lakers in six or seven, but my brain is telling me Lakers in five. Either way, I’m choosing LA.

Shaw: Kentucky wins no matter the outcome; either way, two former Kentucky Wildcats will be crowned NBA champs. If that answer isn’t what you’re looking for, Lakers in six.

Cinquini: I’m going with the Lakers in six. Miami is well-coached, excellent defensively, and they can shoot the three ball. But Los Angeles’ star power is going to overwhelm the Heat at times, as the two best players in this series are wearing purple and gold. It’s going to be an intense, competitive duel, but the Lakers will come out on top. 

Esposito: Celtics in…whoops. Lakers in six. 

Lawlor: Lakers in six.

Campbell: Heat in six. The Lakers clearly have the two-best players on either team. Conventional wisdom tells you it’s an open and shut case, but the Heat’s business-like approach and amazing chemistry have them peaking at just the right time. Overall, I don’t trust the Lakers’ supporting cast in a 7-game series against a staunch defensive unit, above-average isolation scoring, fantastic perimter shooting, and the closer…Jimmy Butler.

Abcarians: I’m judging those of you who picked the Heat. SILENTLY JUDGING YOU. Lakers in 5.

Trizzino: On one hand, betting against LeBron is a great way to look like an asshole. On the other, betting against Jimmy Butler is a great way to make Jimmy Butler relentlessly scream in your face that you’re an asshole. *sigh* Heat in six, but only because I’m petrified by confrontation, imaginary or otherwise.

Who wins Finals MVP?

Wilson: LeBron James: I am predicting the Lakers to win it all, and I do believe LeBron is on a mission this year. I think AD and LeBron will both be fantastic, and even if it is a close race statistically, the voters will lean Bron’s way.

Shaw: LeBron James I dont think there is a scenario where the Lakers win and anyone even AD could win the Finals MVP.

Cinquini: Anthony Davis is going to put on a show during his first appearance on the NBA’s brightest stage. Bam Adebayo is a phenomenally talented big man, but I’d take Davis over him any day of the week. Davis will prove to the world that he is indisputably the top big man in the game when he takes home Finals MVP. 

Esposito: Anthony Davis, and here’s my reasoning. LeBron James will be the focus of Miami’s defense. They’ll force anyone else to beat them. In a humbling show of deference, James will set up Davis for success and in doing so surrender the Finals MVP trophy to him; something Michael Jordan would never even consider.

Lawlor: LeBron. We’ve seen him dominate Finals (Finalses?) before, and he’s going to do it again.

Campbell: Jimmy Butler. I might be biased, as Butler is one of my favorite players in the NBA, but his excellence on both sides of the court will be on full display. Expect at least one or two clutch/dagger shots in the fourth quarter during this series. 

Abcarians: I want to say LeBron, but my heart thinks this might end up being the best series of Anthony Davis’ playoffs career. So you know what? I’m saying Anthony Davis. But it won’t be surprising if LeBron wins, ’cause that man is in the zone right now and ready to dominate. Also, dark horse winner: Rajon Rondo. Yes Nick, I said Rondo. 

Trizzino: At the risk of going entirely too galaxy-brain…Goran Dragic (*ducks into cover*). This iteration of the Heat feels like it could go the 2013 Spurs route, when Danny Green played out of his gourd and almost won Finals MVP.

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