The 2022 NBA Finals matchup is now set. The Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics will travel to San Francisco to take on the Golden State Warriors for Game 1 on Thursday.
Making their sixth NBA Finals appearance in eight years, the Warriors open up as favorites. In its first championship round appearance since 2010, Boston is not going to go down without fighting.
In previewing the 2022 NBA Finals, we’re going to rank the top-10 players set to take to the court once things tip off from the Chase Center Thursday evening.
10. Al Horford, center, Boston Celtics
- Al Horford stats (2022 NBA Playoffs): 10.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 3.4 APG, 47% shooting, 34% 3-point
Horford’s emergence in the playoffs is one of the primary reasons Boston is headed to the 2022 NBA Finals. He had some absolutely brilliant performances in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. That included a 30-point outing in the conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks.
A bit long in the tooth (35), it will be interesting to see what type of a role Horford plays against Golden State. He has an ability to extend his game to the perimeter. The same thing can’t be said for Warriors center Kevon Looney. Is this an advantage for Boston? Perhaps. The only question is Looney’s rebounding ability (more on that next).
9. Kevon Looney, center, Golden State Warriors
- Kevon Looney stats (2022 NBA Playoffs): 6.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 67% shooting
Don’t be fooled by Looney’s otherwise pedestrian stats. He didn’t play a huge role in the first round against Denver and started getting action during the latter part of the Warriors’ second-round series against Memphis (22 rebounds in Game 6).
With that said, the former first-round pick from UCLA picked his game up big time in the Western Conference Finals. Looney scored 10 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and dished out four assists in the series-clinching Game 5 win. He also scored 21 points in a great Game 2 performance. Expect Looney to be a major X-factor in the 2022 NBA Finals.
8. Andrew Wiggins, forward, Golden State Warriors
- Andrew Wiggins stats (2022 NBA Playoffs): 15.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 48% shooting, 35% 3-point
Wiggins’ two-way ability proved vital in at least somewhat containing Luka Doncic in the Western Conference Finals. It’s something the Dallas Mavericks’ star touched on during the series itself.
Wiggins’ presence was felt on both ends. Golden State finished plus-55 with him on the court. Despite having to follow Doncic around defensively, he still produced on the other end of the court. That included dropping 18 on 7-of-16 shooting in Game 5. Wiggins’ ability to guard Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in the 2022 NBA Finals could also loom large.
7. Jordan Poole, guard, Golden State Warriors
- Jordan Poole stats (2022 NBA Playoffs): 18.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 4.5 APG, 53% shooting, 39% 3-point
It was earlier in the playoffs that the 22-year-old Poole made headlines with a tremendous performance against the Denver Nuggets in the first round. He averaged 28.7 points over the first three games. Despite some struggles against Memphis in the second round and Dallas in the conference finals, Poole’s ability to score has been huge for the Warriors.
He connected on 6-of-8 shots in the Warriors’ Game 5 win over Dallas. He also connected on 40% of his three-point shots and 64% of his shots against the Mavericks. With an ability to go off at any time, Poole can make another statement with a strong performance in the Finals.
6. Marcus Smart, guard, Boston Celtics
- Marcus Smart stats (2022 NBA Playoffs): 14.9 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 6.3 APG, 40% shooting, 33% 3-point
Boston’s longest-tenured player, Smart has been a linchpin for the team since it made him a first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. While he still struggles shooting the ball, Smart’s defense is going to play a huge role in deciding who comes out on top in the 2022 NBA Finals.
The reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year will be going up against a turnover-prone Stephen Curry. His on-ball brilliance could have a huge impact. Smart’s ability to up his game offensively (24 points in Game 7 against Miami) will also be a major component here.
5. Klay Thompson, guard, Golden State Warriors
- Klay Thompson (2022 NBA Playoffs): 19.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.4 APG, 46% shooting, 40% 3-point
Someone might have told Thompson that Thursday’s series-clinching game against the Mavericks was actually a Game 6, because, the dude came to play big time. After struggling in the first four games of the series (29% shooting from distance), Thompson was on absolute fire.
One of the best long-range shooters in NBA history, Thompson connected on 8-of-16 from three-point range. He scored 32 points. It was the second consecutive close-out performance from Thompson in the playoffs after he dropped 30 points in a Game 6 win over the Grizzlies in Round 2.
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4. Draymond Green, forward, Golden State Warriors
- Draymond Green stats (2022 NBA Playoffs): 8.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.3 APG, 54% shooting
The embattled Green was absolutely spectacular in the Western Conference Finals. He actually scored 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting in Game 5 against Dallas. That very same game saw Green grab six rebounds while dishing out nine assists.
Just how important was Green to the Warriors’ run to the 2022 NBA Finals? The Warriors are plus-97 in his minutes through 16 playoff games. He’s taking in more of a scoring mentality on offense, too. On a team that is stacked with scorers, that could make Golden State an unstoppable force in the championship round.
3. Jaylen Brown, guard, Boston Celtics
- Jaylen Brown stats (2022 NBA Playoffs): 22.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 3.4 APG, 48% shooting, 39% 3-point
Brown is going to have himself a plus-level matchup against Warriors two-guard Klay Thompson in the 2022 NBA Finals. He has the size and athleticism advantage. However, there’s issues with consistency when it comes to the 25-year-old wing.
Game 4 against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals was a representation of this. Brown scored all of 12 points on 5-of-20 shooting. That came one game after he dropped a playoff career-high 40 points. Boston will need more consistency from Brown if it is going to win the NBA title.
2. Stephen Curry, guard, Golden State Warriors
- Stephen Curry stats (2022 NBA Playoffs): 25.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 6.2 APG, 45% field goal, 38% 3-point
Despite struggling shooting the ball in Golden State’s close out Game 5 win over the Mavericks (5-of-17 from the field), Curry played a great all-around game. He added nine assists and finished plus-11 in 35 minutes.
Curry heads into the 2022 NBA Finals fresh off winning the first ever Western Conference Finals MVP award. He averaged nearly 24 points to go with 6.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists while shooting 44% from distance. Golden State was plus-45 with him on the court and minus one when he rested. The three-time champion has changed his game some to include plus-level play on defense and a new-found perimeter game. That will have an impact in the 2022 NBA Finals.
1. Jayson Tatum, forward, Boston Celtics
- Jayson Tatum stats (2022 NBA Playoffs): 27.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 45% shooting, 37% 3-point
Still only 24, Tatum has arrived big time and is now among the most-talented young stars in the entire NBA. His 26-point performance in Game 7 of the Easteren Conference Finals adds another layer to this.
It’s somewhat surprising given that there were some questions early during the regular season whether a Tatum-led Celtics team can compete for a title. Having dropped 20-plus points in 15 of 18 playoff games, that’s no longer a question. Heading into the 2022 NBA Finals, Tatum is the best individual player between the two teams.