The 2016 NBA Finals begin Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC. There are 15 players on the Warriors and 15 players on the Cavaliers. You know many of those names well. Some others? Perhaps not.
As a public service to you, we rank all 30 players in the series in terms of importance. Enjoy!
30. Sasha Kaun
There are a handful of "he's in the NBA?!" names in this series. None is greater than poor 31-year-old Sasha Kaun.
29. Kevon Looney
Looney exists as a symbol of the Warriors' blessedness. He was a lottery talent that slipped to them at No. 30 in the last draft. They might even need him some day.
28. Jordan McRae
A top contender to be asked for his credentials upon arriving at the arena in Oakland for Game 1. "I'm a player. I ... play for the Cavaliers." Sure, buddy.
27. James Michael McAdoo
If I had my way, James Michael would be in the top five on this list. But we must acknowledge that Steve Kerr is a hater of the highest order and doesn't want to let the McAdoo get the job done.
26. Dahntay Jones
This is a compromise placement. To the Cavaliers' chances, Jones is completely irrelevant and unimportant. To the Warriors' balls, he is a real threat. I feel like if Adam Silver preemptively suspended him for the series, no one would be terribly upset.
25. Ian Clark
Ian Clark is actually good, and he would actually be a relevant NBA player if he didn't play on a ridiculously deep team that has had immense good fortune in terms of injury avoidance.
24. James Jones
He's not going to play much (God willing), but as the world's LeBron Whisperer, he takes on substantial importance.
23. Brandon Rush
Like Clark, Brandon Rush is actually good! He's just unnecessary for a team this loaded. I have a sneaky suspicion he's going to sign a deal around the mid-level very early in free agency.
22. Mo Williams
Remember when Cleveland traded Mo for Baron Davis and the pick that became Kyrie Irving? No offense, Mr. Williams, but you're never topping that contribution to the Cavaliers.
21. Leandro Barbosa
That tree frog nectar or whatever he drinks is magical. The Blur is still legit fast -- not old man fast, but legit fast -- at age 33. He also remains a pretty wonderful bench celebrator. Who doesn't love Leandrinho?
20. Timofey Mozgov
From dropping 20 in a pivotal Finals game to DNP-CDs in one year. Not good, Mozzy. HOWEVER, I do think Mozgov will get a look at some point in the series, should Tyronn Lue need to shake things up. If those outside jumpers stop falling, the very large Mozgov could open up some breathing room by soaking up room and attention in the paint. He's actually a pretty nice luxury to have, though this turn of events that led to him playing a grand total of 50 minutes through three playoff rounds may have completely wrecked his readiness and confidence.
19. Mo Speights
Here's the thing with Mo Buckets. If he's got it going, the Warriors have already won. If he doesn't have it going, the Warriors will probably still win.
18. Matthew Dellavedova
Delly -- such an integral piece a year ago -- has fallen far down the pecking order in 2016, the last player in a nine-man rotation. His physical defense on Stephen Curry was important in last year's Finals, but for better or worse, Lue is likely to ride with the Irving-Smith combo and bring in Iman Shumpert and Delly for limited reserve work. It doesn't help that Delly has shot poorly in his sparse playoff minutes.
17. Anderson Varejao
Varejao is this high on the list primarily because of the potential that he is a plant and will be funneling key information back to LeBron and his pals in Cleveland.
16. Shaun Livingston
Livingston is one of the most solid backup point guards in the league. He's also the only Warriors player under 7-feet who can't shoot threes. He's a real different look, and the famed Golden State spacing dies a little bit when he's out there. If Kerr indeed starts Andre Iguodala from the jump, Harrison Barnes as a reserve can help alleviate Livingston's range anxiety. But now we're getting ahead of ourselves.
15. Richard Jefferson
Richard Jefferson is going to be playing critical minutes in the NBA Finals in 2016. What an incredible world we live in.
14. Festus Ezeli
Every time Kerr calls Varejao from the bench, Ezeli's heart beats a little weaker. Unless there's a secret injury (always possible), Kerr's lack of trust in Ezeli makes you wonder if these are the last games the Nigerian will play for Golden State. He's going to be an expensive (though restricted) free agent, and while Andrew Bogut is clearly aging fast, the Warriors might intend to look elsewhere for a long-term replacement.
13. Andrew Bogut
Speak of the saint, Bogut looked really banged up and limited at times against the Thunder and really damn good at other times. Bogut's passing is always top drawer, his defense is usually fantastic and he's still spry enough to finish off the roll or the rare off-ball cut. He won't likely have Mozgov to deal with this year, but the Warriors must be at least a little concerned about Bogut trying to chase Channing Frye out to the corners and what that might do to the team's rim protection.
12. Harrison Barnes
Another Warrior free agent who might be exiting in a month's time. We won't know if Barnes is getting benched for Iguodala until closer to game time, but it seems real likely. On the one hand, this could be good for Barnes' numbers: playing with Livingston in lieu of Curry provides more shots for Harry B. On the other hand, this dude was the primary starting small forward for a team that went 73-9. Trust him a little!
Anyways, as long as Iguodala is shooting lights out, there's little rationale for keeping Barnes as a starter or giving him more minutes. But is anyone betting on Iguodala continuing his hot streak from deep, especially considering the defensive demands about to be heaped on him? Barnes will matter in this series.
11. Iman Shumpert
Shumpert should play a major role defensively for the Cavaliers, especially when Lue turns to those bench-heavy units centered around LeBron and shooting. Shump did pretty well against the Warriors' gunners a year ago, but he's had a massively uneven season and Golden State's even better. It'll be interesting to see just how much run he gets: He averaged 17 minutes per game through three rounds while basically never shooting. If Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith continue to play huge minutes, that will limit just how much Shump can be out there. If Lue benches Irving more because of his defense, Shump could shine. (Or, get burnt by the Splash Brothers.)
10. Tristan Thompson
The shift to a high-octane offense has deflated Thompson's role a bit, but he's still going to be a huge factor on defense. He made his name (and money) trapping and switching on Curry in last year's Finals, and there's going to be a lot more of that in 2016 if he guards Draymond Green. There's a thought that LeBron might instead defend Green in stretches, leaving Thompson to be a backstop (not his best role) guarding Bogut or Ezeli, or handling Barnes or Iguodala on the wings.
I'm most interested in what license Thompson is given to attack the offensive glass. As one of the more fleet Cavaliers, it might be more important for Thompson to fly back to help slow the chaotic Warriors attack. But he's an excellent glass cleaner and there's value in letting him try to punish Golden State much as Steven Adams and Enes Kanter (for one game, at least) did.
9. J.R. Smith
Curry is 48-for-118 on threes in the postseason. Smith is 49-for-106. It's Smitty's time!
8. Kevin Love
Love's going to play a lot of minutes. There's been talk by a lot of smart analysts that Love can't play much against the Warriors because they are too swift and deadly on offense for an undersized, slower defender to survive. But he's going to play a lot, because Lue seems to value his offense much more than he fears his defense.
In fairness to Love, he's had about as good a postseason as can be reasonably expected on that end of the floor. Cleveland will hide him as much as reasonably possible (ready to guard Iguodala, Kev?) and will try to exploit his shooting, passing and touch around the rim on offense. About half of his shots have been threes in the playoffs, and he's hitting 44 percent after shooting 36 percent in the regular season. If he shoots 36 percent from long range in this series, the Cavs lose. If he hits 44 percent, they have a chance.
7. Channing Frye
Speaking of tall shooters! Frye has been a revelation of sorts for Cleveland, far more valuable than Varejao (who was traded to make way for Frye at the deadline) would have been. Frye hasn't played or shot a ton in the playoffs, but he's around 60 percent from long range and we just know Lue is going to press him into service. He's also a passable defender, especially against guys like Bogut and Ezeli who aren't threats to step out. I'm really eager to see whether Lue lets Frye play against the Death Lineup, and what the rest of the Cavaliers' unit looks like in such situations.
6. Klay Thompson
Thompson is the third- or fourth-best player in this series (depending on where you put him in relation to Draymond), but he's so damn consistent and predictably awesome that other guys seem more important. Thompson is going to defend his ass off, he's going to shoot the lights out in the aggregate, he's going to perhaps have a rough game once or twice, but he's also going to have at least one insane spree. He's incredibly important to the Warriors, but taken for granted by us in many ways. His size, skill and defensive intensity let them get away with so much oddness. All the Cavaliers can do is hope he has trouble staying in front of Irving and force him to drive the lane, where he might make mistakes or miss layups.
5. Kyrie Irving
Irving had a great Game 1 last year before injury ended his season prematurely. If Irving can be great against Curry (and Thompson, who will likely guard him much of the time), Cleveland is good enough to win this series.
Kyrie draws tons of heat for his defense, and the defense is a big problem. But nothing has indicated Irving isn't willing to give maximum effort on that end -- he just lacks the skill and intuition to be a good defender at this point. The Splash Brothers will test him repeatedly and try to prove right the theory that the Cavs had a better shot with Love and Irving injured. It's up to Kyrie to set that theory on fire.
4. Draymond Green
Green is running right up against the NBA's limits on postseason technical fouls and flagrant points. If he can't cool his jets or if the referees don't grant him wide berth, he could absolutely be suspended for a Finals game. Nothing has ever ever indicated that it is possible for Draymond Green to cool his jets. It's not him. That's not who he is. So it's up to the refs to listen to him scream at them about blown calls, and it might again be up to Kiki VanDeWeghe to give Green the benefit of the doubt on some sneaky dirty play. Green always seems to find a way to stay on the court.
And on the court? Man, he's good. He's so dangerous the Cavs will likely keep Love on a different Warrior; that could allow Green to blow by a big man on the screen roll or occupy LeBron, keeping him from wreaking havoc in the passing lanes or at the rim.
One more thing to watch: how Green's teammates interact with him if the Warriors get down again. The incident with Steven Adams' crotch last round coincided with Golden State's swoon; the whole episode seemed to chasten Green, who was on his best behavior for a couple days. That's usually not the case when the going gets tough for the Warriors (in those rare instances where the going gets tough). At the very least, Thompson seems disinclined to be berated by Green; that dynamic is a bit fascinating to watch.
3. Andre Iguodala
There's really not much say here because it's painfully obvious why Iguodala is so important in this series. He won a Finals MVP trophy defending LeBron James in the Finals. Now, he has to do it again. After hassling Kevin Durant into a 10-for-31 night in an elimination game and doing solid work in Game 7, he's primed and ready. More on this matchup in a moment.
2. Stephen Curry
The best player in the world. His two elite skills -- shooting and handling -- are so powerful, so damn deadly that they outweigh other contenders' advantages. LeBron is stronger than the rip tide at Ocean Beach, Durant is longer than a Friday afternoon drive over the Bay Bridge, Kawhi Leonard is more disruptive than anyone in Silicon Valley and Russell Westbrook is faster than the Rocketboat zipping past Angel Island. It doesn't matter. Steph is such an incredible shooter and has such deadly handles that it doesn't matter. He can beat anyone, anywhere, anytime.
A Finals MVP would be the perfect and most obvious icing on his historic 2015-16 season. Odds are he gets it.
1. LeBron James
LeBron's truly the only man who can disrupt that. (Provided no one injures Steph. I'm looking at you, Delly.) There are no bounds to LeBron's greatness, no limits on his basketball prowess. We've watched him shoot teams to victory, we've watched him control the paint, we've watched him lock down elite scorers, we've watched him make the right pass time after time after time.
In some ways, LeBron vs. Steph is the ultimate battle between completeness and specialization. Peak LeBron is everything you'd want in a basketball player; if you got all Weird Science with a draft prospect, you'd churn out a facsimile of James. Curry is a good defender and passer and more athletic than he's given credit for, but he's a glorified specialist. He'd be in the league even if he couldn't hit 400 threes a year (Seth Curry is proof of this) but he wouldn't be an All-Star, an All-NBA first-teamer, a unanimous MVP, a surefire Hall of Famer without the shooting. And he wouldn't shoot this much if he didn't have the handles to spring free of any defender you put on him.
(Here I am gushing about Steph in a section devoted to something else. That tends to happen.)
Some basketball fans glorify the well-rounded. If a young player can't do it all, he's inherently flawed and needs to fix his weaknesses. Curry is making the case for the power of elite specialists, much as Durant did before him. This battle -- LeBron vs. Steph -- is the purest distillation of this argument we'll see in this era. The specialist won the first round a year ago. We'll see if the basketball Frankenstein can take Round 2.
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Nobody can stop the Warriors' deadliest play
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