Talented players are key to winning in the NBA, but luck can help define a team’s success.
Luck means anything that can enhance a team’s path to an easier title, whether that easier path entails injuries or draft picks. The first team that comes to mind is the Golden State Warriors. Though they have benefitted from luck more than other teams, they aren’t the only beneficiaries.
With the 2018 NBA Finals underway, it’s time to reflect on how the Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers made it this far. Loaded with talent combined on both teams, the Warriors have four All-Stars: Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers have two All-Stars in LeBron James and Kevin Love. Although all this talent is very helpful in NBA team success, these teams have also been aided by luck. Let’s further break this down below.
How Luck Often Shapes NBA Team Success
Golden State’s Dynasty Needed Luck
Let’s focus on the dynasty that is now the Golden State Warriors and how it came to fruition.
It started with the 2009 draft when the team selected Stephen Curry. Drafting Curry essentially started the dynasty and the team of the future was born. But where they were fortunate was when the Minnesota Timberwolves had two picks back-to-back before the Warriors’ pick. Minnesota took two point guards ahead of Curry – Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio.
Fast forward to when the Warriors became highly successful and reached the 2015 Finals. The Warriors had not reached their championship pedigree and were looking for their first championship with the nucleus of Green, Curry, and Thompson. In those Finals, they faced James and the Cavaliers. Kevin Love had a shoulder injury which kept him out the entire series. Kyrie Irving played in Game 1 but got hurt as well, keeping him out for the rest of that series. Though they could have still beaten the Cavaliers that year, the Warriors were lucky they had a fully healthy team against a team missing its second- and third-best players.
The next step to building the dynasty for the Warriors was to recover from blowing a 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals. That off-season, luck was on Golden State’s side once again. Kevin Durant joined the Warriors that off-season. It’s not luck that some players and coach Steve Kerr convinced Durant to come. However, the timing of Durant leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder coupled with Golden State losing the Finals increased the Warriors’ chances of landing arguably a top-three NBA player. That’s something that many Hall of Fame players said they would never do themselves. Durant joining Golden State stacked the odds to make them the clear-cut favorites in the NBA.
Now, the latest good luck the Warriors experienced was in this year’s Western Conference Finals. With Golden State down 3-2 in its seven-game series against the Houston Rockets, Chris Paul, Houston’s star point guard, got injured. Paul did not play for the remainder of the series. Could the defending champs have won Game 6 at home and Game 7 in Houston even if Paul was there? Yes. But Paul is the leader of the Rockets and could’ve helped them overcome the Warriors’ deadly third-quarter runs, which he did in Game 4 of the series. In contrast, Kerr said he believed this series would’ve been over in five games if Andre Iguodala had played in every game.
Cleveland’s Success: Luck Is Still Key
The Cavaliers’ path to success has been fairly simple: everything comes down to LeBron James.
James has carried the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals once again. The mere fact that the Cavaliers got to draft James and he’s from Akron, Ohio, is luck. Winning the draft lottery in 2003 had nothing to do with skills or front office competence. The Cavaliers won the lottery and landed the next generational player in the NBA. So, after leaving Cleveland to join the Miami Heat, James decided to come back to Cleveland four years later, mainly because he believed he owed his hometown a championship before he retired. If James wasn’t from Ohio, it’s unlikely he’d have returned to Cleveland.
At the end of the day, both teams have had help in becoming the teams they are today. Cleveland didn’t have to face Boston’s two best players in the Eastern Conference Finals. Meanwhile, Golden State didn’t play against multiple superstars on their way to this year’s Finals. But talent is the overall decider when it comes to who will win in the NBA playoffs. Even so, luck or good fortune is something that can make or break a team in its quest to hoist the trophy.