• Nick Boylan

5 X-Factors That Will Shape the 2020 NBA Finals

The stage is set for an NBA Finals unlike any other, with the Orlando ‘bubble’ playing host to the Western Conference Champion Los Angeles Lakers and the Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat. 

While the Lakers deservingly go ahead as favourites to win their first NBA Championship since 2010, this savvy Erik Spoelstra-coached Miami Heat team have proven their quality over a blistering playoff run that’s only seen them lose three games across the same number of series. 

With that in mind, here are five X-factors, from specific players to game trends, that could prove decisive in deciding who leaves the Magic Kingdom holding the Larry O’Brien trophy aloft. 

1. Miami’s 3-point barrages and an undrafted Wolverine 

One of the features of the Miami Heat, particularly in the Orlando ‘bubble’ has been their 3-point shooting. With the second-most accurate shooting mark from downtown at 37.9% on 35.4 attempts per game, the Heat produce on the perimeter from a variety of contributors. 

During this season, key Heat players have posted fantastic percentages from downtown, including:

  • Duncan Robinson: 40%

  • Tyler Herro: 37.8% 

  • Jimmy Butler: 36.7%

  • Goran Dragic: 36.3%

  • Andre Iguodala: 35.5%

  • Jae Crowder: 34.4% 

Outside of Bam Adebayo, all of Miami’s major playoff rotation members can make big 3-point shots, and it’s no secret that such shooting has translated to winning basketball. In fact, the Heat are 8-0 when they shoot better than 37% from deep, and 18-1 when they make 13 or more 3s. 

Such scoring has been led by Robinson’s quick trigger, helping him post the best catch-and-shoot 3 point percentage with a minimum of 500 attempts, over a regular season and playoff run, converting on 45.6%. While the undrafted 26-year old out of Michigan may continue to see less minutes in crunch-time (4.7 minutes in the 4th quarter per playoff game), his hot shooting has helped Miami start games with a fire, which will be needed against this Lakers squad. 

2. The Lakers’ big man-committee

Whichever way Lakers coach Frank Vogel decides to go, he has a relatively stacked cupboard of frontcourt options compared to the Heat. The series against Houston saw less of Javale McGee and Dwight Howard for the Lakers, and more of Markieff Morris to combat the Rockets’ smaller lineup. 

Against Denver, Howard’s activity and physicality was extremely effective in a variety of ways. Not only did the Lakers center get into Nikola Jokic’s head and cause the Serbian to get into foul trouble, Howard also positively impacted the Lakers pace with rebounding. 

Leading the Lakers with 2.9 boxouts, Howard’s impact was shown in Game 4 against the Nuggets, where six offensive rebounds for the three-time Defensive Player of the Year led to a whopping 25 second-chance points for LA. 

Despite Howard’s positive numbers and effects on the game, it also won’t be surprising to see Morris get the start at some stage during the series, based on Brad Stevens’ effective use of Grant Williams. 

During Williams’ time on the floor, the Celtics went on a 22-8 run, before Daniel Theis checked back in and the Celtics were blown away. Morris’ mobility and lateral quickness may be used to match up with Adebayo for similar effect, however expect Vogel to look at Howard and McGee before inserting Morris into the fray. 

Contrastingly for the Heat, Spoelstra has significantly less frontcourt help to draw on, with reserve big man Kelly Olynyk averaging a mere 12.1 minutes per night in the playoffs. This has included two DNPs against the Celtics and one against the Bucks, while Myers Leonard has only seen the floor win a 15 point Game 3 win over the Bucks. 

Whether Spoelstra goes small with Iguodala, Solomon Hill, or the regular frontcourt pairing of Crowder and Adebayo, Miami will need to get creative to disrupt the Lakers’ big men. It also puts a premium on All-Defensive Team Adebayo to disrupt Davis at the rim.

3. Bam Adebayo needs to be aggressive

After a takeover performance to close out the Celtics in Game 6 with 32 points on 11 of 15 shooting and 14 rebounds, Adebayo’s showed how important he is to Miami’s success, and how much he wants the moment. 

Frustrated after the Game 5 loss, the 23-year old’s bounceback game showed a developing level of maturity that has the Heat centre poised to make an impact in this NBA Finals series. Whether that's scoring mid-range jumpers, putback slams to devastating finishes on pick-and-rolls with Dragic, Adebayo’s energy on offense has been effective. 

Adebayo also will have his hands full on the defensive end, dealing with Davis who’s been getting what he wants offensively in the playoffs, averaging 28.8 points per game. In both of Miami’s regular-season matchups with the Lakers, the Heat looked very different, with both 2019 games featuring Leonard at centre, and Iguodala and Crowder still members of the Grizzlies. 

However, in those games, Adebayo did spend time matched up with the Lakers’ star big man. While on each other, the Lakers scored 1.23 points per possession, while the Heat scored 0.8. The last of those two encounters came in a slim three-point loss in December, and it will be interesting to see how Miami’s young All-Star has grown since then. 

4. Who is the Lakers’ third guy?

Outside of the Lakers’ dynamic duo of James and Davis, constant questions have remained over who is their third guy. The truth is that it really could be anyone on any given night. Howard’s activity inside on both ends can be a major positive for LA, Playoff Rondo continues to show his veteran savvy with playmaking, steals and timely scoring, while Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can have big impacts in the Lakers’ backcourt. 

However, the one player who should and needs to step into that third star role for the Lakers to win is Kyle Kuzma.

Kuzma’s stats between postseason wins and the three playoff losses for the Lakers show key drop offs on the offensive end.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

In Laker playoff wins, Kuzma posts 10.4 points on 47.5% shooting from the field, 32.6% from deep and 83.3% from the free-throw line. When the Lakers have lost in the postseason, those marks change to an uptick in scoring at 11 points per game, though Kuzma’s shooting percentages fall to 40% from the field, 27.3% from downtown and 66.7% from the line. 

The 25-year old’s importance in leading LA’s second-unit in scoring is essential, along with looking for better shots. Too often in the Lakers’ series against Denver, Kuzma would have Michael Porter Jr hit a shot on him, which fuelled the Lakers reserve to take an ill-advised shot against the Nuggets’ rookie on the other end. 

While commentary may have joked over the battle between the two reserve scorers, Kuzma needs to strike that balance between having a green light and knowing when a shot isn’t there. Matched up against another reserve-unit scorer like 20-year old Herro, Kuzma will need to win that matchup and give the Lakers their neccessary punch from the bench. 

5. Andre Iguodala’s experience and versatility

While youthful energy and collective high-quality play has got the Heat within distance of a fourth NBA championship, having a veteran who’s been to this stage of the season is crucial. Enter Iguodala. 

Heading back to the NBA Finals for the sixth straight year, Iguodala’s numbers don’t jump off the page for the Heat’s playoff run. In 19.4 minutes per game, the 36-year old’s had 4.0 points, 1.3 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 1 steal and 0.7 blocks per night. 

While this is a career low, Iguodala has shown signs where he can still contribute offensively, none more so than in Miami’s Game 6 series-clinching win. The former Warrior had 15 points on a perfect 4-4 from downtown, along with three rebounds, two steals and an assist off the bench, showing how crucial his three-point shooting can be. 

Against Milwaukee in Game 5, Iguodala showed he still has some of the best hands in the NBA, stripping Khris Middelton with expert timing.

While Iguodala may not have the lateral quickness he once possessed, the 2015 Finals MVP will no doubt spend some time on his old foe in James. Since that series, no one has spent more time guarding the man from Akron, with Igudoala holding James to 44% shooting on 139 field goal attempts since the 2015 Finals. 

While Butler and Crowder expect to get the majority of minutes on King James, Iguodala’s ability to provide help, disrupt passing lanes and check James when necessary will be crucial for the likes of Butler and Crowder getting a reprieve. 

With a three-time champion on your team who can still impact the game in a myriad of ways, the Heat will have a chance in knocking over this Lakers powerhouse.