With the NBA Finals kicking off on Thursday night, our NBA department breaks down the series in our 2015 NBA Finals Roundtable discussion. Contributors NBA Editor Bryce Warner (@brycewarner1), NBA Editor Harrison Marcus (@HarMarcusLWOS), NBA Contributor Matthew Cardenas (@CardenasMaLWOS), Basketball Editor Bailey VanHouten (@LWOSVanHouten), NBA Contributor Kyle Ottenbreit (@CoachOTSuns), NBA Contributor Ryan Timmerman (@The DudeMan3), and NBA Editor Jack Moon Perrin (@LastWordJack).
1. Besides LeBron James, which Cavaliers player is most important for their success in The Finals?
Bryce Warner, NBA Editor: If he’s 100% healthy, it is Kyrie Irving. Without Kevin Love, the Cavs need a star besides LeBron James to contribute in a big way, and Irving has shown he can be that guy. If Irving isn’t completely healthy, I will say Iman Shumpert needs to play big for the Cavs to have a chance. He will mostly be defending the sharpshooters for Golden State and his defense will play a big factor. Shumpert has the versatility to disrupt the Warriors’ shooters and continue to contribute on the offensive end.
Harrison Marcus, NBA Editor: Kyrie Irving needs to be healthy and playing at a high level if the Cavs want to win the NBA Finals. JR Smith has been firing on all cylinders out of the backcourt as of late, but David Blatt and the Cavs shouldn’t rely on such a streaky player on a stage this big. For the Cavs to outscore the Warriors, Irving needs to provide most of the scoring in the backcourt and consistently be an electric offensive force.
Matthew Cardenas, NBA Contributor: I am going to have to include more than one player in this one. These three players were not even on the Cavaliers at the start of the season. JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov all have huge roles in this series. LeBron James has put a lot of faith in Smith to knock down three’s at a high rate, and he has delivered so far. Offense is the key to beating the Warriors. For Shumpert, he will be called upon to try and stop Stephen Curry. This would be huge for James, as this could take a big chunk of the workload off of him. His three-point shooting has also been vital to the success of the Cavs, and it will need to continue. Mozgov’s role on offense is a factor, but the defensive side is where it really matters. Having a big man presence will be huge in this series. The Cavs desperately lacked size in the beginning of the season, and the addition of Mozgov has really paid off. He really has to focus on altering the shots in the paint.
Bailey VanHouten, Basketball Editor: J.R. Smith. He has been terrific for the team this postseason, and he can keep a hot hand, it brings a new dimension to their offense.
Kyle Ottenbreit, NBA Contributor: Shumpert. With Kyrie hobbled the Cavs need Shumpert to contribute lockdown D on Thompson and Curry as well as being able to hit open threes.
Ryan Timmerman, NBA Contributor: Tristan Thompson. Outside of having LeBron, the only advantage the Cavs have is possibly being able to out-rebound the Warriors. It’s imperative Thompson owns the glass, specifically on offense, to create extra possessions for the Cavs.
Jack Moon Perrin, NBA Editor: JR Smith. When Smith takes the game seriously as he has seemed to since the Bulls series, he can be deadly. He often takes reckless shots, but makes them. Smith takes scoring pressure off of James and is key to the series for the Cavs.
2. Besides Steph Curry, which Warriors player is most important for their success in The Finals?
Warner: In my mind it won’t necessarily be one player, but whichever player is given the task of guarding LeBron James. Whether it is Draymond Green, who will presumably guard James most often, or Andre Iguodala or Harrison Barnes, how the Warriors defend James will be key to them winning this series. James has not being playing efficiently lately, but he has been carrying the Cavs. If the Warriors can defend him effectively enough one on one, it will make it much easier on their team defense, which has been one of the tops in the league all season.
Marcus: Draymond Green will need to have a huge impact on this series if he wants to help bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy to the Bay Area. Green will most likely be given the task of guarding the four-time MVP, which should be an excellent matchup to watch. Golden State would gain one leg up on Cleveland if Green is able to get in James’ head and limit his efficiency on the court. As for the offensive end, the Warriors will need Green to generate plays, move the ball, and knock down open threes, just as he has all year long.
Cardenas: The average basketball fan would instantly think of Klay Thompson. But I am going to go with the player who has the most experience, Andre Iguodala. Whenever the Warriors seem to be in a slump, Iguodala comes in and instantly relaxes his teammates. Not only will his leadership be important, but so will his defense. There are not many people on this planet that can guard LeBron James, but he is one of them. He has done it before and does not back down from the task. The Warriors obviously want to win a championship, and stopping James should be their first priority.
VanHouten: A few guys can be named, but Draymond Green has the widest impact of anyone on the floor. His ability to guard every position and do the little things could be the difference in the series.
Ottenbreit: Draymond Green. He’s a player who breaks the mold for Warriors. He allows them to play small with a four who can hit threes and lockdown D. If he gets in foul trouble that will be a huge problem for Warriors.
Timmerman: Draymond Green. I expect Klay Thompson to draw a lot of attention from the Cavs defense, and wouldn’t be surprised to see LeBron on Thompson quite a bit. So Green becomes the guy that has to produce on offense for Golden St. Plus, I expect Green to be put on LeBron defensively, so Green’s all-around production will be crucial.
Perrin: Klay Thompson. While Barnes is key for his defense on LeBron, it seems a given he will do well. Thompson, however, suffered a concussion and his play is in doubt. Thompson will be key because if he shoots well, it makes the defense on Curry more vulnerable. It is hard to stop two pure shooters. Thompson needs a big series for the Warriors to win.
3. Although not his most efficient series, LeBron James averaged nearly a triple double in the Eastern Conference Finals. Would winning a title this season be James’ greatest accomplishment? And if you’re Steve Kerr, how do you plan to stop James in this series?
Warner: Winning this series would probably be James’ most impressive work in one postseason. Without Kevin Love and with Kyrie Irving hobbled, James has had to carry this team, similar to what he did in 2007 before getting swept by a much better Spurs team. It may be the most satisfying for him as well, winning one in Cleveland and without Dwyane Wade. If I were Kerr, I would try defending James with Draymond Green and hope that he can at least contain him in one on one situations with Andrew Bogut protecting the rim in support. If they are forced to double James often, the Cavs shooters will be able to hurt the Warriors.
Marcus: As impressive as it would be for Lebron James to lead Cleveland to a championship, I do not believe this would be his greatest accomplishment. I believe that winning four MVP awards, as well as appearing in the NBA Finals for five consecutive seasons, are more impressive achievements for The King. For Steve Kerr and Golden State to stop Lebron, they’re best off letting Draymond Green, who finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting, handle most of the defensive duties against him. Green should invite him to shoot threes off the dribble, just how the Spurs did the past two NBA Finals. As great of a season as James has had, his field goal percentage hasn’t been this low since 2008, and his turnover rate was the highest it’s ever been in his career. In order to exploit these “weaknesses,” the Warriors should force James into shooting tough jumpshots and try to jump in his passing lanes as much as possible.
Cardenas: Without a doubt, this championship for James would be his most impressive. After a horrific start to the season, questions about David Blatt, and all the injuries, he still found a way to get the Cavs to the finals. He may have not been that efficient in the Conference Finals, but he was still keeping himself involved in the game. If I am Steve Kerr, I am telling his defender to keep James out of the paint. Let him shoot from the perimeter. His jump shot has been really inconsistent throughout the entire playoffs. But if his shot is falling, then that is all she wrote.
VanHouten: It would be his best accomplishment, BY FAR. James’ legacy as one of the best players to ever play would be validated. Kerr and assistant coach Ron Adams — a defensive ace — should force LeBron to score from the perimeter and not let his teammates get going from three.
Ottenbreit: If I’m Steve Kerr I allow James to score as much as he wants. I refuse to double him in the post. If he wants to score 40 that’s fine but I’m not letting him get Smith and Shumpert open shots.
Timmerman: It absolutely will. Considering all injuries, this Cavs team might not be a whole lot better than the team LeBron led to the Finals in his second season. Kyrie Irving will play, but is a shell of himself. They have shooters, rebounders, and rim protectors, but injuries have taken away more from the Cavs than any Finals team in recent memory.
Perrin: No doubt, if James can lead his team to the NBA championship, this will be his greatest accomplishment. James has become a true leader on this team. He plays every position. He coaches. He makes the players around him play better (see JR Smith). James has really grown up this year.
4. The Warriors have been the NBA’s best team all season. With 67 wins, they have been the favorite to win the championship from the outset of these playoffs and are heavily favored to come away victorious against Cleveland. That said, is everyone underestimating LeBron James and the Cavaliers, even without Kevin Love?
Warner: Missing Love hurts the Cavs, although it didn’t hurt them coming through a weak Eastern Conference. I think the Cavs have a legitimate shot at winning this series. Klay Thompson suffered a concussion, and his status is still up in the air although he is rumored to be ready to go for game 1. The Cavs have LeBron James, and I wouldn’t put winning this series past him. The Warriors should be favored to win, and might end up being an historically great team, but having James alone gives the Cavs a chance.
Marcus: The Cavaliers are definitely being overlooked a bit, but that isn’t to take away at all from how incredible the Warriors have played all season long. One huge advantage for the Cavs comes in the experience department. Other than Lebron James, who of course has much experience in the NBA Finals, Shawn Marion, Kendrick Perkins, Mike Miller, and Brendan Haywood have all won NBA titles with other teams. While none of these veterans see much court time, their championship pedigree cannot be ignored in the locker room and on the bench.
Cardenas: I really do not understand why the Warriors are such heavy favorites. Yes, they had an outstanding regular season and have produced in the playoffs. But, the finals are a completely different stage. No players on the roster have been to the finals. The Cavaliers veterans all have finals experience and even though they do not play much, they are great role models for the young players. And of course, James has two rings and is laser-focused this time of year. I really think people are not giving the Cavs the credit they deserve. Kevin Love is out, but the case can be made that they have played better since his injury. Of course it would be great to have him out there, but others have stepped up in his absence. Tristan Thompson has taken his game to another level and has proven he is one of the best rebounders in the league. Never count out a team that is led by James.
VanHouten: Everyone is underestimating the Cavaliers. With perfect role players — guys that can spread the floor and get rebounds — to fit LeBron’s style, they have a chance to beat the Warriors. They are a better team than they get credit for.
Ottenbreit: No question that Warriors have better roster but the Cavs have the best player in the world. If the Cavs can continue to dominate the offensive boards and get Green in foul trouble they have a chance.
Timmerman: I don’t think it’s so much that LeBron is being underestimated, it’s that the Warriors are that good. They’ve been among the best offensive and defensive teams since the start of the season. Even if they win (but especially if they lose), I’m not sure Golden St. will be remembered properly, which is that they are a historically great team.
Perrin: I believe people are amazed at how well Cavaliers have played without Love, especially after Hawks series. No one is underestimating them now and they are favored to win.
5. When it’s all said and done, who wins the series, and in how many games?
Warner: I like the Warriors in six. If Love were healthy, and if we knew Kyrie Irving would be 100% ready to go, it might make me change my mind. Without their big three it will be tough for James to beat a Warriors team that is so well rounded offensively and defensively as well as deadly from three-point range. James may average a triple double in the series, but it won’t be enough to take down the Warriors.
Marcus: The Golden State Warriors will be the 2014-15 NBA Champions. I anticipate a thrilling seven game series filled with high energy and exceptional shooting, with the Warriors ultimately prevailing. Not only is the roster of Golden State so deep and balanced, but the chemistry of this team is what makes them so special. The trio of small forwards, Green, Barnes, and Iguodala, all have skillsets that complement each other’s perfectly, and the elite shooting of the Splash Brothers doesn’t hurt either. The Cavs and Warriors are two of the most exciting teams to watch, so NBA junkies are in for a wildly entertaining championship series.
Cardenas: This series has all the pieces to be a Finals for the ages. Whether it is LeBron Vs. Curry or rookie head coaches going at it, this is what the basketball world wanted. The Warriors have had a season to remember, but they are going to fall just short of a championship. James came back to Cleveland to bring a championship to his hometown, and I just cannot see him letting an opportunity this great slip away. The other players know what this means for James, and are going to step up on the biggest stage. Every game will go down to the wire, and I see the Cavs closing it out in six games on their home court. The city of Cleveland will have a championship of any kind for the first time in over 50 years, and it will be a great moment seeing James hold up the Larry O Brien trophy for his hometown.
VanHouten: I’ll take the Cavaliers in seven games. The whole team is playing their absolute best at the most important part of the season.
Ottenbreit: I think we are in for a shock. I think James takes over and Thompson and Mozgov continue to gather offensive Boards and extend possessions. I may be in the minority, but Cavs in 6.
Timmerman: Golden St. in 6.
Perrin: Cleveland wins in 6. LeBron James wins Finals MVP.