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2026 OBWL Finals Preview

Rising young stars Sheldon Perkins and Joe Aviles have helped push traditional league powers Boston and Tampa Bay back onto the big stage of the OBWL Finals.

The OBWL finals are set, and the Boston Buzzards will be facing the Tampa Bay Tritons in a season where we now know that a new champion will be crowned. The series is set to start in Tampa soon, so that means it is time for the annual OBWL Heikkinen Cup primer. Without further ado, let's take a look at what we can expect to see.

How They Got Here

Tampa Bay Tritons

Per usual, the Tampa Bay Tritons were near the top of the standings in both the OBWL and the American Conference. With 60 wins, they finished with the third best record in the league, second best in the AmCon, and tops in the AmEast. They finished #1 in the league in scoring differential at +11.7 points per game, on the back of the #6 offense and #3 defense in points per game. The Tritons rely on efficient shots, extra passing, and countering the analytics experts out there who live and die by the three point shot. They finished top-3 in both three point percentage, and three-point percentage allowed, giving the #1 net-differential in the league in that area. Topping the conference in assists, alongside those high percentage shots, it will come as no surprise that they also paced the league in effective field goal percentage.

Once the playoffs started, Tampa Bay was able to get off to a quick start, making easy work of the upstart St. Louis Sun Kings, and finishing the series in four games, winning by an average margin of 13.75 points per game. Each game saw another player step up and be named player of the game, culminating in a typical manner where, despite the sweep, it was a Sun Kings player named Player of the Game in Game 4. Unsurprising, and prototypical of the team brand of basketball that Tom Lacher preaches.

The next round saw the Tritons face the Sacramento Snipers; a team that many (including your dear author) viewed as perhaps the league's most talented team--and one young and hungry to join the upper-echelon of the OBWL. That belief was rewarded in Game 1 as Sacramento went east, and stole home court with a 90-89 victory. It was after this game, though, that the Tritons seemed to lock in. Not to spoil too much, but it was the last loss that Tampa suffered this season. Playing on the versatility of Hunter Heath, Carroll Warner, and Joe Aviles, the Tritons took the next four games using three different starting lineups and advancing to the AmCon finals, despite Lynwood Emmert's hero ball. There, a familiar foe awaited...

If you were constructing a list of the class franchises in OBWL history, the top-3 would undoubtedly feature Tom Lacher's Tampa Bay Tritons, Ben Johnson's Kansas City Pioneers, and the London Knights behind Jian Lan. This year's conference finals, once again, featured two of the three. Closing their series on the same day, Lacher and Johnson would once again go head-to-head for a chance to go to the Heikkinen Cup. The Tritons came out and made an absolute statement in Game 1 about who the better team was, going into Kansas City and blowing the Pioneers out by 30 while holding them to just 29.5 percent from the field. From there, they did not take their foot off the gas, winning each of the next three games by double digits and allowing the Pioneers' #3 offense in the OBWL to reach 100 points just once. Locked in, and with extra time to rest at home, they were on their way back to the championship round.

Boston Buzzards

The Boston Buzzards had arguably one of the hottest starts in OBWL history to begin the year, after ownership decided open up the coffers, inflating the Buzzards salary to the tops in the OBWL. It looked like they were most definitely going to be rewarded early on...and then Darin Deans went down with an injury, and the Buzzards went south without one of the league's best rebounders and rim protectors, falling to second-tier at best. On his return, they struggled to get him back in the mix, and looked destined for a first round exit. Still, they persevered, and finished by winning 7 of their last 9 to elevate themselves to 50 wins and the #5 seed. They finished with the #2 rebounding team in the league on Deans' return, and were also one of the best in the league at forcing turnovers (#2), in part due to the 9.4 steals per game they average, and in part due to their tenacious matchup defense. The Buzzards, like the Tritons, rely on a healthy dose of Sheldon Perkins (23.8 ppg on 31.7 USG and 56.1 TS%) in the 28-29 minutes per game he supplies them as perhaps the best sixth man in the OBWL.

Once the playoffs started, the Buzzards knew that in order to advance far, as a bottom-half seed they were going to have to be road warriors. They struggled in the early going, falling behind three times to the Arizona Thunderbirds (0-1, 1-2, and 2-3) before rallying in the final two games, decided by just 5 points combined. The key to victory seemed to be moving the superstar sixth man into the starting role, where he played his last two games.

Jason Rouse arrived in Minnesota with a loud mouth for a team that didn't seem to have a ton of talent, immediately looking to establish a rivalry with his co-Jason in Boston. He quickly turned the Minnesota Marauders into a playoff team, but the Buzzards swept them last year in the opening round. This year, they faced off again, this time in the second. This time, the Marauders were definitely the favorite after winning 64 games--the most in the OBWL. This time, still, the result was the same. Boston pulled off the opening game upset, squeezing out a two point win after outscoring Minnesota by 6 in the final period. The Buzzards found themselves in trouble again after being blown out in the second game, but once again bounced back stronger, riding the two-headed monster of Perkins and Frank Gifford to take the next three games. Though the series only went five games, it was much closer than that, as two were decided by one possession, and three were by single-digits. The Buzzards proved once again that they could come through in crunch time.

Awaiting them in the NatCon finals were the even-more-surprising Vancouver Highlanders. The Buzzards knew they'd have to win on the road to reach the finals, so when the Highlanders shocked the world sweeping the (albeit-Larryless) defending champion Knights in round 1, then defeating the Honolulu Inferno in round 2, nobody was happier than the Buzzards. As a fifth seed, they had home court advantage, and looked to capitalize, coming out strong and winning by 16 in Game 1. Then...they gave it away, apparently never wanting to take the easy road. Back in the "road warriors" mentality, Boston went into Vancouver and routed the Highlanders twice in front of their home fans, putting up 115 on the #1 defense in the world as a parting gift. Jesse Yoshida was impossible to contain in the final two games, helping elevate the Buzzards to the Heikkinen Cup for the first time since 2016.

Key Players

Tampa Bay

G Colby Allan
Earlier, I mentioned that the Pioneers, Tritons, and London Knights were the three class franchises in OBWL history. Colby Allan has already won championships as a franchise player for both Kansas City and London. Now, in Tampa, he will look to do it again. One of the greatest of all time, at 30-years-old, his days an MVP are behind him. But he's still a dominant force, and a matchup nightmare. Allan is still a freakish athlete, able to create his own shot at-will from anywhere on the floor, while also using his other-worldly basketball IQ to set up teammates as well. He plays both guard spots equally well, allowing Lacher and head coach Jerry Brunet to be creative on any given night.

F/C Hunter Heath
Perhaps the greatest matchup defender in OBWL history, Hunter Heath is a general manager's dream, who is amped to do the dirty work every night. Though he has also lost a step with time, and may not be as explosive as he once was, the 32-year-old still moves as well as anybody without the ball, and refuses to give an inch on the defensive end. He's got range out beyond the three-point line, and is also a very good passer, making him difficult to defend for the less mobile big men as well. Another versatile player, he'll also allow Lacher and Brunet to be creative on any given night.

F/G Joe Aviles
Though I'm listing third here, Joe Aviles is by no means the third best player on the Tritons roster. At 6'10" and 265 pounds, with the athletic ability to take over on both ends of the court, and one could argue that Joe Aviles is the closest thing the league has had to Hunter Heath since Hunter Heath. He's a solid passer and rebounder, and--stop me if you've heard this one before--his versatility will allow Lacher and Brunet to be creative on any given night.


C Darin Deans
As discussed, when Darin Deans was healthy at the beginning of the year, the Buzzards didn't look like one of the teams to beat in the OBWL. They were the team to beat in the OBWL. When he sunk, the Buzzards did too. On the court, his production--while great--is not other-worldly. He was 21st in the league in rebounding (7.9 per game) and 5th in blocks (4.5), while scoring 9.8 points per game, but his defensive presence in the paint cannot be overstated. The trajectory of the Buzzards completely changed the second Deans signed on the dotted-line, bolting the Tritons in the process.

F/G Sheldon Perkins
The Buzzards have quietly been one of the better drafting teams in the OBWL, considering they're usually near the end of the first round. Perhaps no player is a better example of that than Sheldon Perkins, who has settled into his role as the best 6th man in the league not named Jose Owens. Rarely do you see a player with his combination of USG and TS%, as stated earlier. In just 28.8 mpg this year, he ranked 8th in the league with 23.8 points per game. He's dangerous from anywhere in the building, aggressive as soon as he enters the game, athletic and strong enough to play the 2, 3, and 4, and is also a willing defender. It's rare to find a player of his caliber who will embrace a sixth man role, but Perkins thrives in it. Don't be surprised to see him in the starting lineup if things go south at some point. The Buzzards need him on the floor to win this series.

G James Wall
Deans came by free agency addition, Perkins was a homegrown draft pick, and James Wall represents the third in the three-pronged approach the Buzzards used to build this team. While one could have easily put Frank Gifford or Jesse Yoshida in this slot as well--both are arguably more productive and versatile--it is Wall who will probably decide how the Buzzards go on this series, because he'll be tasked with trying to slow down Colby Allan. A former playoffs MVP, Wall is a two-way player, capable of beating anybody to the basket when he puts his head down. He's one of the better perimeter defenders in the game, matching his fundamentals with production and jumping passing lanes as well. He's equally capable and productive at either guard spot, marking yet another player who gives game plan and strategy options in this series. He'll need to show up consistently on both ends, but he's one of the few in the league who can slow down Colby.

Five Burning Questions

How will the "shell game" play out?

As can be seen above, this series features an abundance of athletes who can play two, three, or even four positions. Guys who can beat you from different spots, and with different skillsets. The real game here is going to be on how well Warnke and Lacher can play the shell game. Will Perkins be constantly shadowed by either Heath or Aviles? Will Wall be able to match up on Colby? How will the lineups shuffle from night-to-night? This is going to be the single biggest key to the series.

Can Jason Warnke get over the hump?

Consistently one of the best team-builders and consistent winners in the basketball world, Warnke has come close but fallen short on more than one occasion. Tom Lacher has solidified himself on the Mount Rushmore of this game, so the stakes aren't as high for him. Getting to the top is not easy, and has been a years-long process that can't be taken for granted. This is Warnke's chance to leave the Charles Flowers world of GOAT-without-a-ring--a title that nobody wants. Can he step up, and finally reach the promised land?

What will Darin Deans' impact be?

As stated, it's impossible to overstate the respect and impact that Deans has in the paint on the defensive end. However, he is one of the few players who is likely to be limited to just one position in this series. The Tritons don't rely on the center role for much of an offensive contribution, thus taking some value away. Deans will be motivated to face the team that let him go, but will have to find a way to help off-the-ball in order to be able to change the game.

Which defense will establish their dominance?

Both of these defenses were in the top quarter of the OBWL this season, at the end of the year. Both teams did a fantastic job of creating turnovers while avoiding them themselves. Both teams feature team defenses who swarm the ball, and make guys work for points--you will not see many easy baskets in this series. They're also both crazy-efficient on offense. Something has to give in this series; one defense will come in at some point and make the other team uncomfortable with that pressure. Breaking up the efficiency will be key to taking this series.

Will Andy Teeters see the floor?

This one is probably a bit of a cop-out and won't have a huge bearing on the result, but it feels criminal to not bring up the fact that one of the greatest players in the history of our game has returned to the place where he became a household name, in what will likely be his swan song. At this point, he's nothing more than a locker room leader and end-of-bencher; with that said, though, if he does see the floor, it will probably be a good sign for the Tritons, so the question is not completely irrelevant.


Talent-wise, the matchup is even. I don't know that there's ever been a series that I can remember where there has been this much versatility with players. This is the culmination of modern basketball where positions are fluid, roles undefined, and where trying to predict what matchup will happen not just night-to-night but even minute-to-minute is impossible. This one really will come down to which general manager is able to game plan better. Rarely will you see me predict that a series will go seven games, but I think this one will. I think that whoever takes game one will take the whole thing. In the end, Boston will have to wait another year before they can finally get over the hump...

Result: Tritons in seven

Playoff MVP: Joe Aviles


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