NBA Finals 2017: Bench Battle
Whose Bench Will Have the Upper Hand in the 2017 NBA Finals?
It’s the rubber match between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, with the winner calling themselves NBA Champions two out of the last three years. Superstars like Steph Curry and LeBron James will figure prominently in who will take home the Larry O’Brien trophy, but in any seven-game series, key contributors from both benches of the Warriors and Cavs, will play a large role in seeing who takes home basketball’s greatest prize.
Key Bench Players for Golden State
In Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, David West and JaVale McGee, the Dubs have faith in going to their second unit, knowing they won’t see a severe drop off in production. Livingston is fully capable of running the show at point guard and has taken advantage of Cleveland’s smaller guards in the past two Finals matchups. Iguodala is an inconsistent scorer, but he is one of the better wing defenders on the Warriors’ roster, a helpful asset against the Cavs spot up shooters, who can also play both frontcourt spots as well.
West and McGee are the primary backups at the power forward and center positions, with McGee providing the biggest boost since his addition late in the season. Much like his run with Denver back in 2013, when McGee is focused and motivated, his length and athleticism are fun to watch. West rounds out the group and provides a veteran stability for the backups, as well as being a great passer on the blocks.
Even smaller role players like Ian Clark or Matt Barnes can have an impact in this series. Barnes thrives in playing the villain, and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if he were to draw the defensive assignment across from James should they be on the floor simultaneously. Golden State is high on the upside of Clark, who has proven he can provide a scoring lift as well as dependable minutes should Livingston falter or Curry go into a shooting funk.
Key Bench Players for Cleveland
The bench is a bit smaller, literally, for Cleveland. With center/forward Channing Frye serving as the first big man off the bench, it leaves little behind him in the way of depth with only forward Derrick Williams seeing game action in these playoffs.
Cleveland does have scoring punch in its backcourt, with guard/forward Kyle Korver, Iman Shumpert and Deron Williams. Williams has found a second-wind as the main relief for Kyrie Irving and can be the defensive stop gap needed to slow down Golden State guards. Shumpert does a little bit of everything for the Cavs and leads the team in rebounds off the bench.
Richard Jefferson has been quiet so far, but the Warriors would be wise to not sleep on the veteran wing-player. Even at 36, Jefferson is still a capable scorer in spurts and shouldn’t be taken lightly, despite appearing only nine games so far in the playoffs.
With LeBron, Irving and Love all playing major minutes, Cleveland doesn’t use their bench in the same way Golden State does. However, in seeing the Warriors seemingly running out of gas in Games 6 and 7 losses to the Cavs in last year’s Finals, it could serve as a major plot line for whomever wins the series.
Both teams have capable guard play, so that looks to be a wash from there, with no noticeable advantage for either team. However, where Golden State has a distinct upper-hand is in big men like West and McGee. With only Frye serving as their main big man and not having much in the way of bodies after him, poses a problem for the Cleveland forwards should they get into foul-trouble. Look for that mismatch to be a key matchup in the series, as well as giving the advantage to the Warriors bench.