When many people picked the Cleveland Cavaliers to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals, everyone was under the impression that Kevin Love would be suiting up as the starting power forward. Unfortunately for Love, he only played four games in his postseason debut, as he was lost for the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury.
Since that injury, head coach David Blatt has called Tristan Thompson’s number, and so far it has paid off well for his team. The Cavs have gone 8-2 since Love’s injury, including a sweep of the No. 1-seeded Atlanta Hawks. A significant amount of the credit has been awarded to LeBron James, but the role players on this team have had profound impacts as well.
Prior to the season, Thompson wasn’t looked upon as someone who was going to have a significant effect on Cleveland’s title run. But so far in the playoffs, he’s nearly averaged a double-double with 9.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. He’s particularly made his presence felt on the offensive glass, as he constantly provides the Cavs with second chance opportunities, which is huge considering how efficient the offense is in general (No. 1 in the playoffs).
In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Hawks, a Thompson offensive rebound in the final minute of overtime led to a clutch three-point shot from LeBron that propelled Cleveland to victory. The dirty work he does in the painted area is often rewarding.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Cavs are a plus-6.2 in offensive rebounding percentage in the playoffs when Thompson’s on the floor compared to when he isn’t. The team is also plus-4.6 points per 100 possessions offensively when he’s on the floor, which can also be attributed to his offensive rebounding prowess.
The only concrete aspersions cast upon Thompson are his inability to spread the floor and suspect free throw shooting (58 percent). He doesn’t have the capability of pulling opposing bigs out to the perimeter, which would create more spacing. That kind of ability would be beneficial against a team like Golden State given its adeptness on the defensive end, but alas.
Thompson actually turned down a four-year, $52 million deal last offseason. He bet on himself and it turned out to be the right move because his production level this year, especially in the playoffs, might land him a max, or near max deal. He’s a restricted free agent, so Cleveland will have a critical decision to make this offseason.
There’s certainly skepticism about whether Thompson is worthy of said max deal given his offensive limitations, but a great series against the Warriors resulting in a title would certainly go a long way in that determination.
On the other side, the versatile Draymond Green will be called upon by Steve Kerr and the Warriors to have a major impact in this series on both ends. Many consider Green to be the heart and soul of this Golden State team because of his energy and willingness to get after it every single night. With this type of effervescence being contagious, players like this have values that seem to be immeasurable.
Appearing in 79 games this season, Green experienced a breakout year to the tune of 11.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per contest. The energizer bunny for Golden State made his presence felt in a profound way, finishing second to Kawhi Leonard in Defensive Player of the Year voting, and we should expect to see him guarding LeBron James quite a bit in this series. Green also finished second in the Most Improved Player of the Year race to Jimmy Butler.
In the playoffs, Green has increased his production from the regular season, averaging 14.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks in 37.5 minutes per night.
Green was drafted 35th overall by the Warriors back in the 2012 NBA Draft, and according to a piece on CSN.com, he was “steaming, hot and pissed.” But to his credit, he didn’t allow this to deter him in his endeavors, and now his hard work is paying off for his team.
With Draymond on the floor in the postseason, the Warriors have a plus-10.5 offensive rating, per Basketball-Reference.com, although he’s shooting just 42 percent from the field and 26 percent from beyond the arc. Back in Golden State’s Jan. 9 win over Cleveland, Green had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds, but shot a woeful 0-of-6 from three-point range. Then in their loss to the Cavs on Feb. 26, he scored 16 points, but once again struggled from downtown by missing all four of his three-point attempts. If he can improve those shooting percentages in the Finals, it would help to spread the floor even more for a team that prides itself on three-point potency.
Golden State is also plus-4.8 in both steal and rebound percentage with Green on the court, and this is a testament to his versatility and importance, which allows Kerr to play big or small. He may have games where he struggles offensively, but it doesn’t allow it to negatively affect the other aspects of his game. Just look at the fact that the Warriors are minus-14.9 points per 100 possessions defensively with the versatile forward on the bench in these playoffs.
This matchup features two players that have played well enough to command mega-deals this offseason. They may not be on that superstardom level of a LeBron James or Stephen Curry, but you’ll see a high-degree of scrappiness and impactful play from these guys during the series.