Just as each team progresses through the season with the aspirations of making the playoffs, each of the 59 current (now 56 due to injuries) referees have those same aspirations.
Without getting into a scenario that every fan would love (none making it into the playoffs), I'll give my rundown of those referees deserving of postseason and Finals assignments.
In this picture, crew chiefs No. 57 Greg Willard, No. 33 Sean Corbin, and No. 61 Courtney Kirkland make my officials bracket.
There are 35 officials working the first round of playoffs, and some may only officiate the first round.
Those officials are typically those officiating their first playoffs or newer officials who haven't been evaluated as high as the veterans and stand out performers (and yes, there are stand out performers despite the popular opinion that all NBA officials stink).
The officials working only the first round will be No. 58 Zach Zarba (Pictured, and a very good young official; he will be a crew chief in three years), No. 59 Gary Zielinski, No. 52 Pat Fraher, No. 51 Leroy Richardson, No. 30 Tony Brown, No. 23 Jason Phillips, No. 61 Courtney Kirkland, and No. 42 Eric Lewis.
There is always a crew of three officials working an NBA game. The lead official is the crew chief. He is usually the most senior official of the three, but not always.
He isn't necessarily the official doing the toss (rule changes in years past state that the crew chief, or referee, can assign another official, one of the umpires, to toss). You can always tell the crew chief when the replay comes into play, as the crew chief makes the final decision.
There are eight crew chiefs in the first round. My eight crew chiefs are No. 15 Bennett Salvatore (pictured); No. 26 Bob Delaney (who was injured last year), No. 27 Dick Bavetta, No. 18 Mark Wunderlich, No. 17 Joe Crawford, No. 43 Dan Crawford (widely regarded as the best NBA official), No. 48 Scott Foster, and No. 14 Joe Derosa.
I wouldn't be surprised if No. 49 Tom Washington and No. 13 Monty McCutchen get crew chief assignments however. As a note, No. 29 Steve Javie has been hurt with a knee issue, and will miss playoffs this year.
Round Two of the playoffs brings the number of officials down to 27, with seven crew chiefs.
With questions surrounding his retirement, No. 27 Dick Bavetta (pictured) will not be a crew chief in the second round. This means nothing in terms of what he has done in his career. He won't be a crew chief in Conference Finals either.
Read further to see if he makes the Finals this year or not (last year was his first absence from the Finals in many years).
In the Conference Finals, these officials are officiating for the right to make it into the NBA Finals.
There are now 20 officials in this round with six crew chiefs. Losing crew chief status here is No. 18 Mark Wunderlich, but only because there are more deserving officials ahead of him.
No. 9 Derrick Stafford (pictured) has had an excellent year. In two games, his crew was down to two officials either because of injury (to No. 36 David Jones) or a snow storm preventing an official (No. 40 Leon Wood) from making it to a game. He has one Finals game under his belt and as a new crew chief in the regular season has done a superb job.
There are only 12 officials for the Finals. Those officials who have been evaluated as the best throughout the regular and postseason earn Finals officiating spots.
There are then four crews of three officials, thus four crew chiefs. In the next four slides, I will give my four crews in order of games.
I have no new officials making the Finals. Two things have changed from years past. One, Dick Bavetta again does not make the Finals and that has nothing to do with his performance but rather others performing at a higher level. Secondly, I do not have Bennett Salvatore as a crew chief. That doesn't diminish his officiating either.
The crew for Game One of the Finals, with the crew chief listed first is:
No. 14 Joe Derosa (pictured)
No. 49 Tom Washington
No. 13 Monty McCutchen
Joe will bring a calm demeanor to the crew. Tom is very mild mannered and Monty is strong and sound in his mechanics.
The crew for Finals Game Two is as follows:
No. 43 Dan Crawford (pictured)
No. 41 Ken Mauer
No. 24 Mike Callahan
This is a very strong crew. Dan Crawford is regarded as one of, if not THE, best official on the roster. Ken Mauer and Mike ("Duke") Callahan are both fundamentally strong officials.
The Finals crew for Game Three is:
No. 26 Bob Delaney
No. 15 Bennett Salvatore
No. 48 Scott Foster
This is another strong crew. Bob Delaney has very good game management and brings his law enforcement career to good use as an official. Bennett Salvatore is a very good official and regular season crew chief and Scott Foster is still young and will be in many more Finals in years to come.
The Finals crew for Game Four is:
No. 17 Joe Crawford
No. 18 Mark Wunderlich
No. 9 Derrick Stafford
Say what you want about Joey Crawford (and he knows his anger management issues), he is a darn good official. The combination of Mark Wunderlich and Derrick Stafford will balance any tendency for Joey's perceived quick whistle.
Games Five, Six, and Seven can be combinations of each crew or the same crews. For instance, for Game Five the same crew from Game One could appear, or two officials from Game One and one from Game Two could be used.
The final word on the playoff officials is one of congratulations. Put aside any negative (and for argument's sake positive) opinions formed on officials.
To be selected to work the postseason is to achieve ultimate success as an NBA official, just like it is for the teams competing. Each official should be congratulated for making it this far.
Of course there is more responsibility once in the playoffs and that means for each official there is more training, studying, case work, video review, evaluations, testing and most importantly, scrutiny. Each play is scrutinized 10 times more by their evaluators, assessors, peers, coaches, players, fans and commentators. They each understand this and welcome it. It makes them better.
Now to see how well I did in my officials bracket (By the way, speaking of brackets I did pick Duke to win).