How The NBA’s Final Four Teams Were Put Together

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The NBA season is now down to four teams. And if we take a look at how each of the teams were constructed, we see there are many different methods to solve the madness.Even the casual sports fan knows that the Miami Heat were built almost entirely through free agency, after they gutted the roster for the purpose of adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

But in the era of the salary cap, is free agency the best way way to build a contender?

Let’s analyse the rosters of the NBA’s Final Four. First, the rules…

  • We will only look at the 12 active members of each roster.
  • All players will be categorized as having been acquired by one of three methods: Draft, Free Agent, or Trade. Players that were acquired via Sign-and-Trade, are categorized as free agents. Players that were acquired via trade on draft day are categorized as a draftee.
  • In addition to looking at the absolute number of players acquired via each method. We also look at what percentage of that team’s minutes during the regular season were played by each group.

First, let’s take a look at how the 12-man roster of each team was acquired. What we see is four teams and four distinct methods of building a roster:


NBA Final Four rosters

As we already knew, the Miami Heat were constructed almost entirely through free agency with 10 of their 12 players and 62.5 per cent of the Heat’s playing time coming via this avenue. Dwyane Wade is the only player on the roster that the Heat drafted.

The Bulls were built through both the draft and free agency. The Mavs used free agency and trades with only one player (Dirk Nowitzki) acquired via the draft. And the Thunder have only one free agent on the roster (Royal Ivey) with the rest coming through the draft and trades.

Now let’s take a look at the type of talent on each team and how each player entered the NBA…

NBA Final Four rosters

Now we see a little bit of consistency. Each of the four teams is loaded with high first-rounders. In fact the Thunder and Mavericks rosters are almost entirely made up of players drafted in the first round. In total, 34 of the 48 (70.8%) players still playing in the NBA were drafted in the first round. And nearly half (23 of 48) were lottery picks.

Not all of the lottery picks are superstars on the level of a LeBron James or Kevin Durant. But if a player was drafted among the top 14 picks in the draft, they must be able to do something positive on the basketball court. And the four teams still standing have clearly put a premium on building a roster around superstars and role players that were once highly regarded.

There is no one path to the Conference Finals in the NBA. But however you get your hands on them, a team needs to load up on first-round talent.