X Factor: Four Players Who Could Swing the 2018 NBA Finals
After a compelling 8 months of NBA basketball, we’re back where we were last June: the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will face off for the Larry O’Brien trophy. These teams have changed quite a bit from last year’s series, especially the Cavs who traded Kyrie Irving in the offseason and then made a number of moves at this year’s trade deadline. From LeBron James and Kevin Love to Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, this series has plenty of star power but this series could be decided by some of the less-heralded players on each side.
Jeff Green – One of the NBA’s more unpredictable players throughout his career, Green came up big for Cleveland in Game 7 against the Celtics, posting 19 points and 8 rebounds in 41 minutes as the Cavs edged the Celtics. Along with his scoring and rebounding ability, Green has the length, athelticism, and ability to switch defensively that is hard to come by on the Cavs roster. LeBron is going to need a lot of help to overcome the Warriors and if Jeff Green can play as well as he did to end the series against Boston, LeBron’s chances of getting his fourth ring become far more likely.
JR Smith – Smith is another wildly inconsistent and unpredictable player but there’s no question the Cavs are a better team when he’s on. In the first three games of Cleveland’s series against Boston, all double digit losses, Smith didn’t hit a single three-pointer. In Game 7 in Boston, he went 3-8 from 3 as the Cavs edged the Celtics. As Cleveland’s starting shooting guard, JR has to hit the open looks from deep provided to him by LeBron, as well as hold his own defensively against Steph Curry and Klay Thompson for stretches. If he’s unable to do so, the Cavs will have a hard time justifying keeping him on the court, other than the fact that their options to replace him are extremely limited.
Golden State Warriors
Andre Iguodala – The fifth member of Golden State’s preferred “Hamptons 5” lineup, the Warriors depend heavily on Iguodala’s versatility as a playmaker and defender. Golden State struggled for stretches without him in the last four games of their series against the Houston Rockets. Iguodala’s health looms large for this series. While he’s not the same player he was when he won the Finals MVP award in 2016, he’s still Golden State’s primary defensive stopper and would be responsible for guarding LeBron the majority of the time in this series. Although they have four All-Stars, Golden State’s roster is relatively thin and Iguodala’s presence on both sides of the ball is necessary for the team to perform to their full potential.
Draymond Green – While he’s one of the stars in this series, Draymond’s performance in this series is pivotal due to both the Warrior’s lack of depth and the variance in his play. His defensive versatility is crucial as always but where they’ll need him to step up is offensively. The Pelicans and Rockets elected to leave Draymond open for their series against the Warriors and so far he hasn’t been able to capitalize, shooting just 28.6% from 3 in the playoffs. The Cavs will likely take a similar approach, leaving Draymond open in order to focus more attention to Curry, Durant and Klay Thompson. If Draymond can knock down his open 3s consistently, while continuing to anchor the Warriors’ defense, this series could be a quick one for Golden State.