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Warriors-Raptors: An underinformed NBA Finals Preview

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Warriors-Raptors: An underinformed NBA Finals Preview (AP file photo)

As has been noted in these pages before, I am not a huge NBA fan specifically. However, I am a fairly observant general sports fan, and so I do have a degree of awareness regarding basketball – just enough awareness to have opinions. Underinformed opinions, but opinions nonetheless.

And so – why not offer up an underinformed NBA Finals preview?

The Golden State Warriors are facing off against the Toronto Raptors in a best-of-seven series for the NBA Championship. The Warriors are here as Western Conference champs for the fifth straight time, having won three titles in the last four years. The Raptors, on the other hand, are here as Eastern Conference champs for the first time in the franchise’s quarter-century of existence.

For the casual fan, it’s a pretty solid matchup in terms of historic narrative. On the one hand, if the Warriors win, it’s a chance to experience a truly historic sports dynasty – only a scant few teams have ever had such a stretch of success. On the other hand, you’ve got a chance to see a title-starved city watch a team that they adore hoist a trophy. Either way is a win, really.

So which team is superior? Well, there are a few underinformed ways in which we can examine this.

First up, the superstar test. Again – I’m moderately aware of today’s NBA, so I have a decent sense of the bigger names. But once we get past the superstars, my knowledge gets pretty spotty pretty quickly. Basically, this is a look at how many players on each team are on the radar of the casual fan.

For the Warriors, I can rattle off a few names pretty quickly. Steph Curry is a former MVP and a face of the league, so he’s here. Ditto Kevin Durant, even though he’s hurt and likely out the door after the season. Draymond Green was the one who got suspended for a game in one Finals for … kicking LeBron James in the groin? That’s what I remember, anyway – but I do remember him, so it counts. Klay Thompson’s shooting greatness puts him here; he’s the fourth of the Big Four that the media often talks about. After that, it gets a bit vague. I can pull Andre Iguodala, but I’m not sure he’s “casual fan” level. And then … I’d be guessing.

For the Raptors, however, it’s Kawhi Leonard … and that’s it? Granted, Kawhi is a great player – one of the NBA’s best. Plus, there was the whole business of him kind of forcing his way out of San Antonio to land in Toronto. But I really couldn’t name another Raptor without checking the roster.

Obviously, that’s a win for the Warriors. Yes, their advantage in fan awareness is doubtless buoyed by their constant presence in the Finals. And yes, they are a superteam by design. But still – tough look for the Raptors.

Another underinformed way we can check things out is through positional unit comparisons. It’s a drastically simplified look at various units, both starting and reserve. We can pull numbers for which we don’t fully comprehend context and rely on vague impressions that may or may not have held true.

Some are easy. We can look at the starting backcourts for both teams – Curry and Thompson for Golden State, Kyle Lowry and Danny Green for Toronto – and have a pretty solid idea of which unit is better. We can do that by stating that Curry and Thompson both pass the aforementioned superstar test or by noting that they have averaged over 40 combined points through their last 22 Finals games. Meanwhile, Lowry is someone whose name rings a vague bell and Green is someone that I thought once played for the Celtics (he definitely did not); neither man has been all that impressive offensively in the playoffs. Advantage: Warriors. Easy.

The starting frontcourt’s not as easy, however. Sure, the Warriors have Draymond Green occupying one forward spot, with Durant (if he’s healthy) or Iguodala (if he’s not) in the other. But the Raptors have Leonard in one and Pascal Siakam (who’s apparently quite good) in the other. And at center, while the Warriors have Jordan Bell, who is basically a shoulder shrug as far as I’m concerned, the Raptors have Marc Gasol, who I know because he’s a very large Spanish man who has played in the NBA for some time, though I didn’t know he was currently doing so for Toronto. You could easily argue that this one is a push.

And then there are the benches, neither of which I know much about (nor does the average casual fan in all likelihood).

So where does this leave us? Aside from underinformed, of course?

Considering the sheer star wattage and historic success of the Warriors, it’s difficult to argue against the season ending with the same inevitability predicted by most pundits at the beginning. It was a general assumption that Golden State would march with ease to another title this season – an assumption that is going to be proven right.

Warriors win.

Underinformed prediction: Golden State in five.

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