For a second straight year, the NBA Finals MVP has been awarded to a player whose primary responsibility was to slow down LeBron James. Most believe Kawhi Leonard is going to go on to have a Hall of Fame type career, but he also had a much better series against a more complete team than Andre Iguodala did this season.
There was a lot that was unique about Iguodala’s accomplishment. Iggy is the first player to win Finals MVP with the regular season MVP on his team since Magic won the award in 1980 when Kareem was the regular season MVP.
Iguodala is also the first player ever to win the award and come off the bench in any of the games in the Finals. His three starts were all wins, though, so clearly Iggy was valuable. But just look at the rest of his playoffs … he only averaged double-digits in one other series (10 PPG vs. Memphis). He averaged 6.3 points against New Orleans and 7.0 points in the Conference Finals vs. Houston.
Although a good player, he just isn’t what you imagine when I tell you to picture the MVP of the NBA Finals. Which begs the question – Is Andre Iguodala the most random Finals MVP in NBA history?
I’ll try and stretch this out to four candidates, but when it comes down to it, there are really only two:
Andre Iguodala (2015) 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.3 steals
At best, Iguodala was the fourth-best player on his team (Curry, Thompson, Green), yet he was determined to be of the most value to the winning team (because LeBron was clearly the most valuable in the series). Iggy’s played in an All-Star game before, something none of the other three candidates had done at the time they won the award, so maybe he’s not THAT random. But he’s also much more of a role player at this stage of his career than the others – pretty evident by the fact he was a bench player when the series began. Steph Curry is a much better player that took a ton of pressure off guys like Iggy in the Finals, but when you factor in the LeBron duties on D, and the fact switching him into the starting lineup changed the momentum, you can see why he won.
Kawhi Leonard (2013) 17.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.2 blocks
So this is a big stretch, but I guess we still don’t know how Kawhi’s career plays out. If he falls off the map, and was just a flash in the pan for the first few seasons of his career, we could look back and say, “Whoa! Kawhi Leonard won a Finals MVP?” Do I see that happening? No way. Leonard is going to get a max-contract from the Spurs and likely continue developing into a star. So we move on quickly from this one.
- I have to mention Leonard shot a ridiculous 61.2% from the field in this series, barely edging out Shaq’s 61.1% in 2000 for the highest of any Finals MVP.
Chauncey Billups (2004) 21.0 points, 3.2 rebounds 5.2 assists, 1.2 steals
Today we know him as “Mr. Big Shot”, but back in 2004 Billups was just stepping into the spotlight. After finding himself on an odd path for a No. 3 overall pick, Chauncey broke out in 2001-02 with the Timberwolves before winding up in Detroit. The Pistons got swept in the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals, but once they won the big one, Billups remained a star. Six straight Conference Finals appearances and multiple All-Star appearances later, and he’s a player being traded for Allen Iverson. So although he was a surprise at the time, Billups went on to accomplish a lot, just like I expect Leonard to.
Cedric Maxwell (1981) 17.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists
Here’s the guy that can give Iggy a run for his money. “Cornbread” was a starter on the Celtics first championship run of the Bird-era, but Kevin McHale was coming off the bench behind him (so he was really the fourth option in the frontcourt alone). The “Big-3” was in place (Bird, McHale, Parish) and Nate “Tiny” Archibald was even still on the C’s. That means Maxwell was, at best, the fifth-best player on his team, yet still won the award. Like Steph Curry, Larry Bird could have easily won the MVP with his 15.3-point, 15.3-rebound, 7.0-assist, 2.3-steal showing in his second season in the league. And honestly, why the hell didn’t he? But the award still sits in Maxwell’s trophy case somewhere. Active players aside, Maxwell is still the only player on the Finals MVP list who isn’t also in the Hall of Fame. How’s that for random?
Like I said, I have to take Billups and Leonard off the list if I’m deciding on this myself, just because they went on/project to go on to have big-time careers. The Finals MVP was their coming out party. This wasn’t the case for Maxwell, and certainly isn’t for Iguodala (who has been in the league since 2004).
As much as I’d like to just give it to Iggy, he’s going to have to settle for second place here. Cedric Maxwell was a very good player too, but winning MVP over a player like Bird when you also have McHale, Parish and Archibald on the team ahead of you is just too much. We’ll see who the next guy we have to throw on this list is in around 30-35 years the way things have been going in the NBA.
For comments find me on Twitter @julianedlow