Grading Every Star So Far From 2022 NBA FinalsJune 9, 2022
Grading Every Star So Far From 2022 NBA Finals
With three games of the 2022 NBA Finals in the books, we now have a large enough sample size to start doling out grades for the household names populating the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors rosters.
Naturally, our red pens are out and reporting for duty.
Grades will be reflective of performances across the entire series through Game 3. They are not meant to be predictive; they're reflective. A poor mark for Player X now doesn't mean he won't turn things around in the matchups to come.
"Star" classifications are in the eye of the beholder. Maybe you're of the mind that Stephen Curry, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the only viable candidates on either side. That's fine. We're going to broaden our scope to include those with longstanding track records of stardom, even if they're not necessarily living up to the billing now.
Boston Celtics Honorable Mentions
Al Horford: B+
Following up a 26-point Game 1 with a two-point, four-shot Game 2 stripped Horford of some Finals luster, but he regained a large chunk of it in Game 3. He cooled off by the end of Wednesday night but still filled out the box score with a tidy 11 points, eight rebounds, six assists, one steal and one block on 5-of-7 shooting.
Some will penalize him for staying in drop when switching onto Stephen Curry. I can't get there. That's clearly a schematic decision by the team, not a personal preference. And outside of the moments, Horford's comprehensive impact stands. He has been Boston's most mobile big man and its second-most-savviest passer, behind Jayson Tatum.
Marcus Smart: B+
Ever the offensive roller coaster, Smart is exceeding expectations on the more glamorous end. If you told the Celtics they'd get two hyper-efficient performances and one dud from him through the first three games before the series, they'd absolutely take it. Even with his Game 2 no-show, he's still drilling 41.8 percent of his threes (7-of-17).
Smart's defense, meanwhile, is its usual level of absolutely exhaustive. He remains ultra-physical and has made life harder for Stephen Curry than anyone else on the Celtics. His grade would be even higher if he didn't throw so many listless passes straight into the arms of Warriors players.
Golden State Warriors Honorable Mentions
Jordan Poole: C-
Poole has jacked up his offensive efficiency since the latter half of Game 2, but he's still far from the player Golden State needs him to be. His typically indiscriminate offensive usage suddenly seems reserved.
He went 4-of-8 from the floor in Game 3, including a couple of aggressive finishes around the rim, one of which saw him put Robert Williams III in a blender. But the Warriors need him to be even more aggressive during his minutes. Poole is new to the Finals and still just 22 years old. The Warriors can't afford to care. If he's more inclined to defer, they may be better off favoring Gary Payton II's defensive skills (assuming he's healthy).
Andrew Wiggins: B
Wiggins is beginning to show the wear and tear incumbent of his defensive workload. He had a much harder time containing the ball in Game 3 and didn't play with much directionality when attacking on offense (see: two offensive fouls).
Others will harp on his poor outside shooting (9-of-25 on jumpers in the Finals). That's not unfair. But Wiggins is still playing with more thrust than ever, and he has been the Warriors' most effective and available wing stopper. In fact, the Celtics are averaging 0.80 points per possession as a team whenever he's registered as a defender on Jayson Tatum.
Jaylen Brown: B+
Jaylen Brown's first dose of Finals basketball is treating him quite well.
His 22.7 points per game leads the Celtics and comes on good-not-perfect efficiency. He hasn't enjoyed the cleanest looks inside the arc, but he is attacking Golden State's defense more than he's settling and has dropped in 77.8 percent of his looks at the rim (7-of-9). His free-throw shooting is no longer undermining his performance (11-of-13 at the charity stripe).
Brain-fart turnovers remain peppered throughout Brown's outings, but he's amped up his playmaking for much of this series. He was instrumental as both a passer and scorer during Boston's comeback in Game 1 and committed just two turnovers while dropping five assists during Game 3.
Brown has been comparably valuable at the other end. He's the one primarily saddled with chasing Klay Thompson around half-court, a responsibility he's handled admirably, and no one on the Celtics is averaging more defensive boards per game. He hasn't been the Celtics' best player in the aggregate, but he's certainly been their most reliable.
Stephen Curry: A
Stephen Curry entered these Finals not needing to prove a damn thing.
He's proving something—everything, really—anyway.
Through three games, Curry has turned in three masterpieces, averaging 31.3 points while downing 48.4 percent of his twos and a molten-hot 48.6 percent of his threes. His 3.7 assists per game won't endear him to conventional point guard sticklers, which is fine, because he's always been anything but conventional.
The magnetic pull he has on Boston's defense, both on and away from the ball, is a form of playmaking unto itself. Not surprisingly, and most problematically, Golden State's offense has cratered during his absence. Its effective field-goal percentage dips by nearly 10 points while its offensive rating plunges by 25.3 points per 100 possessions when he's catching a breather.
Though the Celtics' insistence on playing so much drop coverage has helped fuel Curry going supernova, his performance is not borne entirely from their illogical defensive approach. The Warriors have been at their best, and at their most hopeful, whenever the ball is in his hands. He has even held up fairly well when Boston targets him on defense.
As things currently stand, Curry has a genuine chance to win Finals MVP regardless of how this series ends. This, of course, presumes he's healthy enough to keep playing at his present, and mythic, pace. He suffered a left foot sprain while diving for a loose ball in the fourth quarter of Game 3—an injury he expects to play through, but one that also stands to upend the Warriors if it leaves him anything less than deific in the games to come.
Draymond Green: D
Draymond Green summed up his performance nicely when asked how he played in Game 3.
"Like s--t," he told reporters.
These two eloquently assembled syllables don't describe Green's Finals play in its entirety. He's been gigantic on the defensive end for stretches—particularly in Game 2—and his passing has proved mission critical on more than a handful of possessions.
Still, Green is supposed to be one of the Warriors' three, maybe four, stars. He's not playing like one.
Game 3 was rock bottom. In 35 minutes of action, Green combined for more turnovers and fouls (eight) than points and assists (five). Boston has treated him like a complete nonentity when Golden State is on offense. Green has yet to make them pay. He's shooting 5-of-19 from the floor while missing all seven of his three-pointers and throwing passes so sloppy it's almost like he's trying to give the Celtics' free possessions.
Handing a "D" to Green isn't an overreaction to one game. He has looked unplayable on offense for most of the Finals—so much so that Golden State may want to consider downsizing with Kevon Looney in the middle over him. That he seemed to be checked out or gassed on defense Wednesday night is merely the unflattering capper to what's been a mostly regrettable showing.
Jayson Tatum: B+
Painfully loud points-per-game purists will distill Jayson Tatum's Finals debut down to a compilation of vapid cliches—tired, vacuous tropes along the lines of "He needs to step up!" or "Jaylen Brown > Jayson Tatum." Ignore them. Or mock them in the quote tweets and replies. Whichever you prefer.
Tatum's performance during the Finals is, in many ways, a barometer for just how gargantuan of a leap he's made. His 27.8 percent clip inside the arc would be troubling if he wasn't splashing in 43.5 percent of his triples and, more importantly, shining as a playmaker.
It says a great deal that Boston's two victories have come on nights in which Tatum has substandard shooting clips but drops dimes in droves. He has done a magnificent job seeking out mismatches and generally putting Golden State's defense into frantic rotation. He may not be the flashiest passer, but he's now an expert in turning the attention he commands into high-quality kick-outs.
There is likewise value in Tatum balancing his obligation as the Celtics' best playmaker with their need for him to remain aggressive. He may be hitting under 25 percent of his looks on drives, but he keeps attacking and attempting to finish through contact. That relentlessness has fueled his Finals-leading free-throw attempts and afforded Boston another lifeline when its offense bogs down in the half court.
Klay Thompson: C-
Klay Thompson came alive in Game 3, detonating for 25 points on a 5-of-13 clip from beyond the arc. No matter how much he struggles to find nylon—and he has been—he always seems good for one or two trademark eruptions per series.
Even when he's completely out of sorts, Thompson's off-ball movement puts invaluable pressure on the defense. The Celtics still treat him like a nine-alarm inferno when he's pinballing around the half-court—utility the Warriors cannot afford to bench when they're playing two non-shooters, and when Jordan Poole is going through the motions.
None of this spares Thompson from a hard-to-look-at grade. He passes, just barely, because of Game 3. In the aggregate, though, he's been a letdown—even when noting he's in the first few months of his return from two devastating injuries.
Many of the shots Thompson has taken this series, and throughout the playoffs, are inexplainable eyesores. And while it's somewhat plausible that his efficiency will tick up—he's—shooting 36.3 percent on twos and 32.8 percent threes in the Finals—he poses unique challenges to the Warriors on defense. They have frequently "stashed" him on Boston's bigs rather than saddled him with tougher on-ball assignments, a nod to just how far away he is from the player he was in 2019.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Spotrac.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and subscribe to his Hardwood Knocks podcast.