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Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
The NBA is loaded with talent, both young and old. When you look around the league, most teams have at least one player who’s good enough to build around. Some have more than one.
The list certainly narrows, though, when you’re looking specifically for the star who’d give you the best shot at winning the 2022 NBA Finals.
Previous championship or Finals experience would be nice. An adaptable game wouldn’t hurt. Someone who raises the ceiling of those around him would help too. Those boxes and others are the ones our writers are hoping to check in this discussion.
If you had to pick one player to build around for a title in the upcoming season, who would it be? Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic? Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Or perhaps you’re not ready to pass on two-time champion Kevin Durant, who just carried Team USA to Olympic gold.
Our answers for the discussion are found below.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
This feels like a toss-up between the reigning MVP (Jokic) and the Finals MVP (Antetokounmpo). With his passing, three-point shooting and soft touch outside the paint, Jokic almost certainly provides a higher offensive ceiling. He’s proved capable of elevating the games of a variety of teammates too.
Giannis, meanwhile, may not be the offensive engine Jokic is, but he’s individually dominant. Within five feet of the rim, an area he can easily access with his size, explosiveness and skill, he’s unstoppable. And he continues to improve as a playmaker too.
But it’s the other end of the floor that gives Giannis the edge overall. Jokic is a better defender than most give him credit for, but Antetokounmpo is a perennial All-Defense contender and a one-time Defensive Player of the Year. He can protect the rim, play basketball’s version of free safety or defend guards and wings on the perimeter.
With Giannis, you get cornerstone-level talent on both ends of the floor.
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Ashley Landis/Associated Press
The rushed 2020-21 schedule hurt the teams that went deeper into the postseason bubble of 2019-20. Both the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers, who faced off in the 2020 NBA Finals, didn’t get past the first round of the 2021 playoffs. The best healthy talent usually wins out, but neither team was close to full strength.
But now LeBron James—still arguably the best overall player in the entire league—will have gotten the rest needed to reclaim his crown. Yes, he’ll be 37 before the end of the year, but he’s still a massive problem on the court for all-comers during any one-year chase for a title.
No single player wins alone, which is what the Lakers have realized in their current build around LeBron. The Lakers made the bold move of acquiring Russell Westbrook over the offseason, and James needs a healthy Anthony Davis, just as Giannis needed Jrue Holiday and Kevin Durant needs James Harden.
Assuming health both to himself and his teammates, as well as a complementary star or two, James is still the player to build around right now—and he should show that this season with his Lakers ready to muscle through the Western Conference.
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Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
The key to an exercise like this is not to overthink things. And given the abundance of stars populating the NBA galaxy, overthinking is all too easy.
So, let’s keep it simple.
Giannis Antetokounmpo just proved he could be the best player on a championship team. The year prior, he joined Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to ever earn MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. The campaign before that one, Antetokounmpo put his first MVP award in his trophy case.
Good luck finding anyone with a comparable resume the past three seasons. And since Antetokounmpo hasn’t even turned 27 yet—he will in December—he hasn’t even necessarily played his best basketball yet.
Make him the centerpiece, and you could have the best offensive and defensive player on the court virtually every night of the campaign. Throw some shooters, playmakers and perimeter stoppers around him, and you should have the championship formula for the 2021-22 campaign.
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Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
Forget that LeBron James is going to turn 37 this December. Forget that he’s somehow going into Year 19. Even if he’s no longer the most skilled player in the NBA, there’s still no one better to build around on a one-year basis.
Outside of the numbers (which are still excellent at 25.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 1.1 steals and a 51.3 percent shooting mark), no player has had more experience bringing different groups of people together in the name of winning. No player has displayed the mental aptitude of James, able to literally put opponents in the correct positions to run their own plays.
Yes, Kevin Durant is the better overall scorer. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the more physically talented player. Luka Doncic is knocking on the door to becoming the NBA’s best overall, but he’s probably still a few years away.
If I’m trying to build a team to win the 2022 title—due to his scoring, passing, championship experience and ability to bring the best out of his teammates—James still has to be the answer.
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Eric Gay/Associated Press
As great as Kevin Durant was when he was healthy, last season was all about finding out whether he’d be the same player after missing the entire 2019-20 season with a torn Achilles.
The answer was an emphatic yes.
At his best in the playoffs, it wasn’t hard to argue Durant is still the best basketball player in the world. And he showed it again in the Olympics, basically carrying Team USA to the gold medal.
Durant will be 33 by the time this coming season starts, but he’s clearly still at the peak of his powers.
As long as he can stay healthy, there’s no one you’d rather have for the next year.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Giannis Antetokounmpo: 2
LeBron James: 2
Kevin Durant: 1
Hit the comments in the B/R App to let us know who you’re building around to win an NBA championship in one season.