Ranking the Last Five Finals MVPs

ByColin Wells

Jul 15, 2020

Every year, fans watch in awe as two organizations battle their hearts out to be crowned the best team in the NBA. During this seven-game finals series, a multitude of players step up and compete on the biggest stage in basketball. Only one of these men can take home the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award.

In this list, the last five NBA Finals MVP performances will be ranked. Although a number of factors can be taken into account, only three major ones will play a role. How the player performed in the Finals, other candidates for the award and overall narrative for that finals. The reason these were chosen to justify the ranking is fairly simple: these are the main components of a Finals MVP. A good narrative mixed in with a great performance (better than anyone else’s) is almost a guarantee for this award. Now, starting off at number 5….

5. Andre Iguodala (2014-2015 Finals MVP)

Stat Line: 16.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 4 apg

Photo: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Coming in at number 5 is none other than Andre Iguodala.

Perhaps one of the most questionable Finals MVPs of all time, Iguodala only started three games out of six in that Finals series. Along with this, he is one of the lowest scoring players to ever receive the award. 

The main reason he was given the honor was because of his defense on superstar LeBron James. While looking at the stats, it’s hard not to scratch your head. In that finals, not only did James average nearly 36 points, he was able to grab about 13 boards and dish out nearly 9 assists.

Although James did have an insane series, Iguodala was able to disrupt him enough to help the Warriors wrap the championship up in six games. James shot the ball under 40% for the entirety of that finals and averaged 3.5 turnovers per game. Iguodala’s ability to make buckets tougher for James ultimately fatigued him for the end of the game stretch, helping Golden State drastically in the long run. Overall, his ability to not stop but hassle LeBron won him the Finals MVP.

Photo: Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Aside from the lack of numbers, there are clear reasons as to why this Finals MVPs is one of the strangest we have ever seen. One of these reasons being many believed LeBron James deserved it.

The voting poll for this award states that Iguodala received seven of the votes while James received four. Although it is tradition to give a player on the winning team the Finals MVP, this could have easily been the second exception ever. LeBron’s dominance throughout that series was unparalleled and nothing like fans have seen before. The fact that he was able to bring it to six games without his other two best players is crazy to think about. Aside from James, there were also rumors that Stephen Curry could have won the award. He certainly had the statistics for it and he played a pivotal role (arguably more pivotal than Iguodalas) throughout that series.

Another reason Iguodala comes in last on this list is because LeBron’s two best teammates were injured. Considering the fact that both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love didn’t play a full game in that finals series is instrumental when considering why it played out the way it did. If the Cavaliers were able to bring that series to six games without two of their all-stars, nobody knows what would have happened if they actually played.

The load on LeBron would be way less, resulting in him not being as fatigued come late game. Although this is all hypothetical, it certainly casts doubt on how good Iguodala’s performance actually was. Nonetheless, Iguodala won that Finals MVP and comes in at number five in our list. 

4. Kevin Durant (2017-2018 Finals MVP)

Stat Line: 28.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 7.5 apg

Photo: NBAE/Getty Images

Although not a fan favorite, watching Kevin Durant play basketball is one of the most beautiful sights to see. A seven foot beast who can shoot from anywhere on the court and defend nearly any position. That is the exact reason no one was surprised when Durant was awarded with his second straight Finals MVP.

After defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers the year before in a clean five game series, there was nothing but confidence oozing from the Warriors coming into this finals. Again, they faced the LeBron James led Cavaliers, this time without his second in command, Kyrie irving. Due to this, they were able to leave Cleveland winless and win four straight games. 

This is one of only eight times a team has ever achieved a sweep in the Finals, which is insanely impressive. 

Once the series came to a close, Durant was awarded with his second career Finals MVP. Although there were some whispers that Stephen Curry could have won the award because of similar stat lines, at the end of the day he was not the one going head to head with a hungry LeBron James. Durant received seven out of the eleven votes for the Finals MVP.

Photo: David Dow/Getty Images

There are a couple reasons as to why this Finals MVP was not ranked any higher, the main one  being because of the competition. 

Taking a look at that Cavaliers roster, it doesn’t compare to the Warriors talent wise. In fact, only two players averaged over ten points during the finals for that team. One being LeBron, who averaged 34, and Kevin Love, who averaged 19.

 Along with this, everyone knew by the beginning of the season that Golden State was going to win the championship. Their team was just incomparable to pretty much every other roster, consisting of so much talent that it was seemingly unfair. That’s the exact reason why almost nobody was shocked when they swept the best team in the Eastern Conference. 

All in all, Durant went off in these finals. The main reason it can’t rank any higher is because the narrative was simply not there and the other performances on this list are simply better. No worries, Durant isn’t done quite yet. 

3. Kevin Durant (2016-2017 Finals MVP)

Stat Line: 35.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 5.4 apg

Photo: Getty Images

Again, Kevin Durant makes an appearance on our list. This time, for his performance during his first Finals MVP run. 

In his first year with the Golden State Warriors, Durant was under an enormous amount of stress. Not exactly on the court (he had just casually formed one of the greatest teams of all-time), but off of it. The amount of hate he received for signing with Golden State came in heaps. Although not 100% unwarranted, some of the things said to him were certainly uncalled for and over the line. 

Instead of caving in to this hate, Durant managed to help the Warriors make it to their fourth straight Finals. Although this was expected, it carries more weight than years after because it was his first season with the team.

In these Finals, Durant and the Warriors were matched up with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. This was Durant’s second time matching up against LeBron on the biggest stage in basketball. Previously, Durant and James faced off in the 2012 Finals, where James’s Miami Heat bested Durant’s OKC Thunder in five games.

Seeking revenge, Durant played absolutely insane in the five games we call the 2017 NBA Finals. Going toe-to-toe with one of the greatest players of all-time while playing some of the best defense he has ever played, there was no question as to who was going to win the Finals MVP. Therefore, Kevin Durant received his first championship and Finals MVP trophy.

Looking at this Finals series from an only statistical view could easily put it number one on this entire list. The fact of the matter is, there is more to a Finals MVP than just the numbers. While Durant did play insane, the narrative was not a great one by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, it was enjoyable (to some) seeing Durant finally win a championship and a Finals MVP, but many felt it was a cheap victory. At the beginning of the season, fans and analysts alike seemed to already know who was going to win the Finals, the Golden State Warriors. When they did in a dominant fashion, no one was surprised in the slightest.

Overall, Durant was amazing. He played his heart out in order to secure his first championship and he definitely deserves recognition for his overall performance. Although a bit unfair, his Finals narratives were simply not good because the team was just so much better than any of the opposition. Although he may have had the best statistical performance on this whole list, numbers don’t tell the whole story. Therefore, coming in at number 2…

2. Kawhi Leonard (2018-2019 Finals MVP)

Stat Line: 28.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 4.2 apg

Photo: NBA.com

Choosing between the number two and three spots was quite the difficult task, but Kawhi Leonard came up on top. 

After a disappointing final year with the San Antonio Spurs (one in which we saw Leonard only play nine games and have disagreements with the Spurs organization), he was traded to the Toronto Raptors in a blockbuster deal which dealt Demar Derozan to San Antonio. With only one year left on his contract and rumors spreading that Leonard wasn’t big on playing for Toronto, it was clear that this was a strictly championship move, and it worked.

The Kawhi-led Raptors stormed through the regular season, finishing with the second seed in the Eastern Conference. They continued this dominance all throughout the playoffs which included some moments that will go down in NBA history (*Cough* Kawhi’s “shooter’s touch” game winner). Eventually, they found themselves in the 2018-2019 NBA Finals, facing up against the repeated champions, the Golden State Warriors.

After six closely contested games, two in which were decided within four points, the Toronto Raptors had finally won their first championship in franchise history. Kawhi Leonard was awarded with the Finals MVP, garnering 10 out of the 11 votes for the award. The cap-off to his playoffs was that of a storybook ending, an ending that resulted in his second Finals MVP. In reality, no one else was really up for contention when it came to this specific award.

Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

This was a great narrative in some aspects and a not so great one in others. On the positive side, Leonard and the Raptors exceeded expectations by a lot. There was a good amount of doubt cast on the idea that replacing Derozan with Leonard would give the Raptors a championship. This doubt was eventually turned into false fallacies and had Kawhi laughing at it. Also, the idea of Leonard helping a franchise get their first championship is an extremely good story. Not many players get to be the main contributor on a first time championship team, and Kawhi was just that. Along with these points, ending the Warriors reign of dominance certainly sat well with many NBA fans.

On the flip side, many argue that if not for Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson’s injuries, Golden State would have 3-peated. The unfortunate and untimely injuries to two of the Warriors main stars certainly made many unhappy, as it’s always better to witness a healthy Finals compared to an injury-ridden one. Excluding Kevin Durant because he only played 12 minutes in that whole series, they still had Thompson for 5 and just over a half games. This means that although Thompson could have helped out immensely in the fourth quarter stretch of game six, he still had enough time on the court to make his impact. The Raptors were already up 3-2 with Thompson in the lineup. 

Although his stats weren’t better than Durant’s in 2016-2017, Kawhi’s performance had to go above. Not only did he stop the Warriors from becoming one of the only teams to ever 3-peat, he helped a franchise get their first championship and exceeded many expectations. The weight that this championship carries far surpasses that of the Warriors, which is why Kawhi Leonard comes in at number 2 in our list. 

1. LeBron James (2015-2016 Finals MVP)

Stats: 29.7 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 8.9 apg

Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This ranking should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. LeBron James’s performance in the 2015-2016 Finals is up there with some of the greatest of all time. Oh, and he also led the greatest comeback in Finals history.

After coming off of a year where James found himself yet again unable to capture his third championship, it was clear the man was determined like no other. The Cleveland Cavaliers began their chip chase by dominating the regular season and earning the glorious first seed in the Eastern Conference. 

On the other side of the spectrum, the Golden State Warriors did not just dominate the Western Conference, they man-handled it. They were able to boast the best record in NBA history (yes, the BEST record EVER in a regular season) by going an insanely impressive 73-9. In comparison, this was a better record than any team Michael Jordan has ever led. Not to mention this team had the first unanimous NBA MVP in Stephen Curry. 

Eventually, these two teams met in the Finals for the second year in a row. Only this time, the Cavaliers other two stars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were healthy. 

After Golden State blew out Cleveland in the first two games of the series, most people wrote off LeBron. Many believed the dreams of James winning his third championship were just that: dreams. Even after the Cavaliers came back with a 30 point win in game three, doubt was still written all over fan’s faces. This is when the Warriors won a crucial game four, putting the Cavaliers in the dreaded 3-1 deficit. No team in NBA history had ever been able to crawl out of a 3-1 deficit in the Finals. 

At this point, it was believed the series was over. This is when James shifted into third gear and proved to the world just how good a hungry and determined LeBron James was. Game 5: 41 points, 16 rebounds and 7 assists for LeBron, Cavaliers win. Game 6: 41 points, 8 rebounds and 11 assists for LeBron, Cavaliers win. Game 7: 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists for LeBron, Cavaliers win. 

Just like that, LeBron James had finally won his third chip. As he started to cry on the court shortly after the game seven buzzer sounded, fans watched in awe as they realized they had just witnessed one of the greatest moments in basketball history. There was no doubt as to who would be holding up that Finals MVP trophy after a full of heart performance from James.

Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As always, there is some doubt in this Finals win. People argue that if Draymond Green wasn’t suspended for game five, the Warriors would have wrapped it up and went on to become two-time champions. This does have some merit, as Green actually looked like Golden State’s best player throughout this Finals.

Aside from game five, he still played in two more games for the Warriors. That means he failed to close it out in both game six and seven! On top of this, it was his fault he didn’t get the opportunity to play in game five. This wasn’t some “outside of your capability” absence such as injury or family emergency, this was Green being ignorant and having four flagrant fouls through four games. Demeaning the Cavaliers championship because Green decided to get suspended is insanely unfair.

LeBron James had just beat a team that had the best regular season ever, the first unanimous MVP and were former champions. If this wasn’t enough, he led his team back from a 3-1 deficit, which is the first time in NBA history. Search up the word “legendary” in the dictionary, and this finals comes up. That is why he undoubtedly comes in at number one on our list. 

A Finals MVP is one of the most prestigious awards in all of sports. Being able to show up on the biggest stage and contribute to your team’s success is certainly one of the best feelings in the world. This list was not made to demean any of these players’ performances, it was made to rank the performances we have seen in recent memory. Comment what you think of the past five finals MVPs and I will be sure to read through your opinions!