With just a few short hours until tip off, we will be looking at the 15 most important players to win the 2017 NBA Title.
15. Deron Williams
- By all accounts, Williams was able to provide some value off the bench for the Cavs once he came over around the middle of the season. As the playoffs advance and teams benches shorten, obviously players like Williams get less run. However, he can be necessary in case Kyrie gets in foul trouble or if the Cavs want to run two Point Guard sets. Williams can make an impact, but the Cavs better hope he doesn’t NEED to
14. Channing Frye
- Similar to Williams, Frye is a veteran who has primarily come off the bench to provide value. However, Frye has a much greater purpose than Williams; the ability to add scoring as a stretch 4 in small ball lineups. If Frye is able to find his shooting stroke off the bench in the Cavs space the floor with LeBron at the 5 lineups, the Warriors may struggle to keep up with the shooting attack.
13. Shaun Livingston
- A Golden State mainstay, Livingston comes off the bench in the second unit. While not the most talented or flashiest player, Livingston is solid at all facets of the game and is able to limit turnovers while finding open teammates. The greatest benefit is his length, and he could be utilized against the Cavs shooter lineup to disrupt clean shots.
12. Kyle Korver
- Another mid season acquisition for Cleveland, Korver is one of the most accurate shooters not only in the finals, but also in NBA history. Korver can absolutely swing the momentum of a game if he comes out shooting and hitting his shots. The reason he ranks so much lower on this list is because he really doesn’t add much value on defense, but could see a lot of floor time if the shots are falling early.
11. JR Smith
- Really, you could copy and paste the section above from Kyle Korver here and most of it would still be true. Two major things separate Smith and Korver however: Smith is a bit stronger on the defensive end and he has the energy to rally the team around him. When Smith is on a shooting tear, his energy is infectious and gives his teammates on the floor confidence and swagger, which could be enough to swing the tide of a game.
10. Andre Iguodala
- It seems like yesterday that Iguodala was winning the Finals MVP after “slowing down” Lebron James and stuffing the stat sheets for the Warriors. While time has slowed him down a little, Iguodala still possesses the ability to guard 3 positions on the floor with above average skill and can make tough scoring plays. Iguodala’s presence off the bench is also needed to get rebounds and start the break and he will often see time on the floor with the Warrior’s starters.
9. Zaza Pachulia
- I know, you’re reading this and thinking I’m absolutely insane for putting ZaZa anywhere the top 10, much less the top 15. But the Warrior’s are a much better team with ZaZa on the floor, and he realistically is one of the only players who provides size and rebounding. If the Cavs try to use Tristan Thompson early to get easy points in the post, Zaza will be crucial to stopping him. Be prepared to see a lot of him in the Finals.
8. Tristan Thompson
- Maybe he hasn’t justified the Lebron James strongarm to get him a max deal, but against a team like the Warriors, he does provide a poor matchup. Really, the only two traditional bigs Golden State employs are Zaza and David West, so Thompson could find himself controlling the boards and punishing smaller defenders in the paint. He also has a knack for grabbing offensive rebounds, which could allow shooters to get open when the defense collapses to grab boards. Thompson has the ability and the match up to average a double double in these upcoming finals.
7. Steph Curry
- Now we are at the portion of the list where people might become skeptical. “How can a two-time MVP rank so low in a top 15 players list?” you may ask. Simple, you know what you’re getting from Steph. He’s going to shoot threes, he’s going to show off his handles, and he’s going to get the ball to players in the right positions. These are all a given, especially since he’s healthy this year. Therefore, he goes lower on the list of most important players to win this year. We can all acknowledge Steph isn’t the best defender, so look for him to be stashed on whoever is at the 2 guard spot (JR Smith, Shumpert, or Kyle Korver) which are more spot up shooters.
6. Lebron James
- See above. We know what we are getting from Lebron. He’s going to do everything from scoring to rebounding to assisting to blocking shots. The only concern (and it’s a minor one) is if he ends up having another game like the one he did against Boston. But even then, you might as well pencil Lebron into a series triple double (or close to it) and stop worrying.
5. Draymond Green
- In my opinion, the most important player to the Golden State model, Green is an undersized Power Forward who has the ability and the balls to guard anybody on the floor. He’s tough, he’s emotional, he’s gritty, and depending on who you ask, his suspension in the finals last year is the reason Cleveland even came back from a 3-1 lead in the first place. If Green can harness his emotions in a non-destructive way, he could easily turn the tide for the Warriors in this series.
4. Kevin Love
- The most maligned of the Cleveland big three, Love is coming off the best and most consistent playoff series of his career. He tortured Boston with backbreaking threes and the ability to grab boards reminding us of why he was such a big deal all those seasons in Minnesota. If he can keep his production close to what he did last series, he could provide a dimension that Golden State can struggle to stop. But if he reverts to an inconsistent three point threat who isn’t getting boards, he may do more harm than good.
3. Kevin Durant
- KD finally gets his shot at the finals again. It seems like yesterday that Durant, Westbook, Ibaka, and James Harden were knocking on the door of a dynasty back in 2012. Hell, back then Derek Fisher was still playing and everyone thought Reggie Jackson was the future (we’ve come a long way in 5 short years). Durant finally gets the chance for redemption, this time in the Bay Area. If he can display the efficiency offensively that he showed this year, then watch out because that will open up everyone else on the floor. The one big thing to watch: can KD contribute something defensively? If he is able to use his huge wingspan to discourage passing lanes, distract shots, and grab boards, this series may be over in 5.
2. Kyrie Irving
- Irving proved his worth on the big stage last year, constantly exploiting slower defenders and knocking down big shots to help Cleveland to their first title in decades. Kyrie is big, explosive, and has arguably the best handles in the league. If he can replicate, or build, on his performance from the Finals last year, it’s hard to see a way that Cleveland doesn’t go back to back this year.
- Klay Thompson
- The founder of “Klaytheism”, Klay Thompson has not had the best playoffs. He has struggled mightily with his shot and has looked out of sorts on the offensive end. If he rediscovered his stroke in the layoff between series, this spells a big problem for Cleveland. But even if he doesn’t, Klay can have a massive impact on this series with his defense. Arguably the best guard in the league on defense, Klay will have his hands full staying in front of Kyrie Irving. The added bonus is he has the ability to switch from Kyrie to Lebron at times, which gives the Warriors much needed versatility and the ability to have a chance on the defensive end.
Ultimate prediction: Golden State reclaims the trophy in 6.
Series MVP is Kevin Durant (I’d feel better giving it to Draymond, but he’s probably going to end up kicking someone in the taint again).
Lebron averages 30 PPG, 13 RPG, and 9.8 APG, leading all the fanboys to cry out about how a losing player should get the MVP in the finals (again) even though his career record in the finals dips to a 3-5 despite playing in most of those with multiple Hall of Fame caliber players.
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