I saw a statistic that at least one of Shaq's teammates has played in the NBA Finals every year for 37 years straight and counting. That sounds like a lot! For one thing, it starts 9 years before Shaq got in the league.
It got me wondering what the longest streak was. What else can we find out?
The longest streak
Shaq isn't the leader, believe it or not. Kevin Willis currently holds that honor, with 38 consecutive years with a teammate in the finals, spanning 1977-2014.
Shaq is well-poised to tie for the lead this season, given the number of active teammates he still has in the league (notably LeBron, who has gone to the finals 9 out of the last 10 years).
Most teammates in the finals
It looks like LeBron will move up this season. If he makes the finals, that adds ~15 to his total. Even if he doesn't, he has a lot of former teammates around the league. It seems likely that he will be #1 by the time all is said and done.
Almost everyone who has played in the league has at least one finals teammate. Of the 4,814 players in the dataset, only 80 have no teammates who ever made the finals. Just 1.6%! Essentially every one is:
- From the 40's/50's, or
- only played a handful of career games (e.g. 10-day contract guys), or
- are rookies/sophomores currently in the league.
At first I thought that can't be right. How has almost every rookie played with someone already? I realized that's thinking about it backwards - instead of rookies who haven't played with many teammates yet, think of every finals team as 15 guys (x2 teams) who can spread out across the league, and 1 finals player counts for a whole team.
For example, J.J. Redick went to the finals once with the Magic in 2009, and so every team he's been on since his rookie season in '06-'07 has at least 1 finalist. That's how Zion Williamson has a teammate, despite being a rookie who didn't even make the playoffs this year.
So who are these guys with no teammate-finals appearances? Some of the names that jumped out at me:
- Ja Morant
- Mo Bamba
- Dennis Smith Jr. (only player with at least 3 years that I noticed)
- Michael Porter Jr.
- Jaren Jackson Jr.
- Wendell Carter Jr. (what's with all the juniors?)
You get the idea. Players in their first few years in the league, who just happened to not have anyone on the team with them. I think this is basically accurate.
There are obviously edge cases on what constitutes a "teammate" - for example, Memphis rostered Andre Iguodala the whole year up until the trade deadline, but he never played for them. Does he count for Ja Morant?
I decided to go with the rosters as defined on Basketball-Reference. So in that particular case, no. Iguodala is only listed on the Heat for the 2019-2020 season, he doesn't count for the Grizzlies.
It's possible this method under-counts some players who were traded, or gained or lost a teammate mid-season. If you find anyone notable, please let me know.
Information courtesy Basketball-Reference.com