How the 2024 conference finalists mirror past NBA champions

Which of the 2024 conference finalists most closely match with the 1995 NBA champion Houston Rockets? AP Photo/Pat Sullivan

Sometimes, to see into the future, you need to look to the past.

For instance, fans have spent the 2024 NBA playoffs daydreaming that the Minnesota Timberwolves' Anthony Edwards is the next Michael Jordan, comparing Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic to previous three-time NBA MVPs and examining the parallels between the 1994 and 2024 New York Knicks. As much as we are often prisoners of the moment, we also frequently use history as a guide to help contextualize the present.

With that in mind, let's borrow the same exercise as when we compared the NHL's top contenders to Stanley Cup winners from years past and search for the most similar historical NBA champions to each of this season's "final four" teams.

Our method looks at both the regular season and playoffs -- with playoff games getting more weight -- and uses several layers of statistics, starting with winning percentage and offensive efficiency, moving through the so-called Four Factors on both sides of the ball and also considering categories such as a team's average age (penalizing a team for being too young or too old) and the quality of its best player (according to Estimated RAPTOR). After using percentiles to scale each of these factors relative to all other playoff teams and weighting them for importance, we found for each conference finalist the NBA champ that had the smallest set of differences across all our metrics.

Going back to 1984, when the league expanded to a 16-team playoff bracket, here are the most similar champions for each remaining squad: