NBA Finals 2017: J.R. Smith vs. Klay Thompson
The marquee matchup in the 2017 NBA Finals will surround LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry. Despite not matching up positions wise, James and Curry will meet in their third conseutive NBA Finals, having split the pair. Just like in a good ol' fashioned game of 1 on 1, the third game decides the tie breaker. Positions wise, James and Kevin Durant will be the main story of the NBA Finals with Curry and Kyrie Irving holding equal importance, but perhaps the most impactful match up is Klay Thompson and J.R. Smith.
The Warriors have a big 4, while the Cavaliers have a traditional big 3. Contrary to popular belief, a big 4 is not what the Warriors have had throughout these playoffs. In the postseason, Klay Thompson has averaged a meager 14.4 points per game on 38% shooting. Averaging 2.2 trips to the free throw line a game and making only 81% of those attempts, Thompson has not been aggressive or efficient enough. His 2:1.7 assist to turnover ratio is rather neutral, showing no comparative edge in efficiency in that regard. Aside from the numbers, Klay just has not been Klay. Being relegated to the third option on offense has taken a toll on his play, as perhaps his confidence and comfort level within the offense have both taken a major hit. With a presence as consuming as Kevin Durant, of course adjustments must be made, but for someone who explicitly claimed "I'm not sacrificing s***” in the beginning of the season, it sure looks otherwise.
On the other side of the ball, J.R. Smith has been flat out balling. Feeding off of dribble-drive penetration from Kyrie & Lebron, and being the main benefactor of extra-pass assists from Kevin Love, Smith is shooting lights out. Through the postseason, While only averaging around 7 points per game, he is doing so on an impressive 48% shooting and has established himself as the second best perimeter defender on the Cavaliers. In addition, he is shooting an absurd 44.9% from beyond the arc. In the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston, Smith did his damage, especially in the TD Garden, making crazy threes and administering high fives to his teammates on the bench after every spectacular play.
The stark contrast between both players may not even be in their pure production level, but rather in their confidence. J.R. Smith's confidence seems to be at an all time high. Klay Thompson's seems to be at its lowest point since his rookie and sophomore seasons, if that. Their roles in the offense differ, however. J.R. Smith plays about 25 minutes a game, to Klay's 35. Thompson is looked upon to do more for Golden State, which includes but is not limited to: guarding the opposing team's best perimeter player, coming off screens for threes, and a higher volume of shots attempted. However, it is J.R. Smith whose production will be more vital.
The Cavaliers thankfully have many safety nets for Smith in the event of lackluster play. The addition of Kyle Korver gives Cleveland flexibility at the 2 guard spot, with a deadeye three point shooter who can keep up with the likes of the Splash Brothers in the long ball department. A defensive liability admittedly,but the Cavs also have Iman Shumpert at their disposal. A great defender who plays better off ball defense than Smith, Shump often times has a sporadic offensive game which comes and goes. J.R. Smith will be the bearer of tremendous burden. He will be ooked upon to be that fourth scorer for Cleveland's front line, Smith will have to come into the lineup prepared to play smart above all things, and execute at an efficient rate.
The Warriors also have flexibility and depth in their roster. Not as deep as Cleveland, Golden State does have a capable Ian Clark that can come in, handle the ball, and shoot the three. Shaun Livingston would be the main benefactor in the event of Thompson woes, as well as the ever-so-dependable Andre Iguodala, who almost never produces any mess-ups and controls the tempo of the game with grace. Klay is in a tough situation. As seen in the previous two NBA Finals, Stephen Curry has struggled (for his standards) to produce offensively in tight game situations. Therefore, with Kevin Durant as the primary option, Klay will need to supplement the offense with added three point shooting and cutting to the basket.
Taking a look at last year's NBA Finals, J.R. Smith was third on the Cavaliers in scoring with 10.6 points a game on 40% shooting from the floor. Klay Thompson outperformed his counterpart by exactly 9 points, while exhibiting a 43% field goal percentage. Both players averaged north of 35 minutes a game, a figure that is likely to change for both players, and both shot an identical 35% from deep.
These 2017 NBA Finals will produce nothing but the goods. With LeBron and Durant, and Steph and Kyrie in virtual stagnation, it will come down to Klay vs. J.R., as well as Draymond Green vs. Kevin Love, to truly decide who will hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy in a matter of weeks.