I noticed that this NBA Finals eerily brought back memories of the 2000 Finals in terms of the matchup. Shaq even handed the torch to Giannis in a post congratulating him on bringing back ‘old school bully ball’.
That made me curious to do the comparisons between these two Finals:
2000 LA Lakers – #1 seed – 67 wins
2000 Pacers – #1 seed – 56 wins
2021 Bucks – #3 seed – 46 wins
2021 Suns – #2 seed – 51 wins
Seeding wise, the 2000 Finals was more of an even matchup between the top two teams of their respective conferences, but the 2021 Finals the Bucks could be considered the underdogs here.
However, its the play style of these two teams that intrigue me.
The 2000 Pacers were a better perimeter scoring team than the 2000 Lakers while the Lakers were more of an interior scoring team. This is exemplified by the main stars on both teams – Reggie Miller for the Pacers and Shaq on the Lakers.
2000 Pacers – 58% TS%, 46% FG%, 42% 3P%, 85% FT%
2000 Lakers – 53% TS%, 48% FG%, 38% 3P%, 57% FT%
The Pacers shot better than the Lakers and yet still lost in 6 games.
We have a very similar matchup in 2021. The Suns were a better perimeter scoring team (led by Devin Booker and Chris Paul) and the Bucks were an interior scoring team led by Giannis.
2021 Suns – 59% TS%, 49% FG%, 38% 3P%, 86% FT%
2021 Bucks – 56% TS%, 47% FG%, 35% 3P%, 73% FT%
Here the Suns just shoot better than the Bucks across the board and yet still lost in 6 games.
This is especially curious given all the narratives of the modern NBA where ‘Steph Curry changed the game!’ echoes – the last 3 NBA Champions featured superstars that were midrange and interior scorers. I think teams are quickly finding out that the Warriors are pretty much a unicorn because they have two unicorns on their team (Klay + Steph) that they can’t replicate and thus teams are trending once again to more traditional styles of play which is a combination of interior + perimeter play.
Comparing the top two stars from both teams:
Shaq (2000 Finals): 38 PPG, 16.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1 SPG, 2.7 BPG, 61% FG%, 39% FT%
Kobe (2000 Finals): 15.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 37% FG%, 91% FT%
Reggie Miller (2000 Finals): 24.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 41% FG%, 98% FT%
Jalen Rose (2000 Finals): 23 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 47% FG%, 83% FT%
I think its safe to say we all know how dominant Shaq was at his peak, and the 2000 Finals was won because nobody could deal with Shaq. Free throws be damned, Shaq just dominated in the paint and those numbers back that up. It’s obvious he was the clear factor in this series here as Kobe averaged less than half the PPG he did on almost half the FG% as well. Jalen Rose probably doesn’t get enough credit for playing almost at the same level Miller does in this series.
Giannis (2021 Finals): 35.2 PPG, 13.2 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.8 BPG, 62% FG%, 66% FT%
Kris Middleton (2021 Finals): 24 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0 BPG, 45% FG%, 89% FT%
Devin Booker (2021 Finals): 28.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.0 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 45% FG%, 87% FT%
Chris Paul (2021 Finals): 21.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 8.2 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 55% FG%, 75% FT%
Here it’s a similar story. Is Giannis the new Shaq? Well I would say he isn’t quite as dominant if you’re talking about pure presence in the paint, but Giannis gets very close while also being a more versatile defender and can distribute the ball a lot better. Efficiency wise he’s certainly Shaq-like – and he’s slightly better in free throw shooting. Middleton makes a very solid Robin here – better than 2000 Kobe but below 2001/2002 Kobe and around the same as 2012 Wade here. And despite all the CP3 hate going around, CP3 clearly was shooting quite well and distributing as well as he always does, I just wish he took more shots in this series when Booker was clearly feeling off.
I just wanted to do this comparison because I thought it was very interesting that the 2021 Bucks basically was a deja vu of the 2000 Lakers, with a superstar that played traditional ‘bully ball’ on the interior, beating their opponent in 6 games, and bucking all trends in the modern NBA, doing it without shooting all that well.