The 2017 NBA Finals is an event full of stars. With MVPs, scoring champions, defensive stars, arguably the best player ever and a few Hall of Famers on each side, this will be one of the best championship rounds to date. Not to mention that it’s the third year in a row where the rivals are facing off and the continuous storylines that come with the series.
But where do the players on each team rank? I broke down who the top-10 players in this series are:
Smith has come a long way as a defender since he first started in the league, and he’s someone the Cavaliers should be able to count on to stick with Klay Thompson. The 31-year-old is one of the streakiest players in the league; Cleveland is virtually impossible to stop when he’s hitting three-pointers. With the growth of Kyrie Irving and with LeBron James being LeBron James, Smith will have good shots coming his way.
The 2015 Finals MVP has been all but that this postseason. He’s had stints where he’s looked like Vintage Andre, but for the most part, he has looked a step slow. He’s been battling lingering injuries but nothing too serious to keep him out considerably. Golden State needs just two things from him this series: limit LeBron James and make open shots. Iguodala will get a ton of open looks thanks to the four All-Stars on his team. He will need to hold James to a low shooting percentage as he did in 2015 and make him work for his shots, something he hasn’t had to do much in the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Thompson has always had Draymond Green’s
number. He’s one of the best rebounders in the league and plays well within the Cavs’ offense. Thompson will destroy Zaza Pachulia
on the boards and will give the Warriors fits. Most importantly, he’s knocking down his free-throws. He’s shooting 67% from the foul line compared to 50% during the regular season. The most impressive part? He’s taking almost two more attempts now.
Love is healthy and has been on a tear rebounding the ball and stretching the floor. He can keep the Warriors defense honest by camping out at the 3-point line, giving Kyrie and LeBron room to operate in the paint. He doesn’t match up well against Golden State, and he’s helpless on defense against the pick-and-roll. Cleveland just needs him to hold his end on that side of the ball and make open shots to succeed.
It’s been the worst playoff run of his career on the offensive end, and the Warriors will need Klay Thompson to find his shot if they want to dominate the Cavs. Unfortunately for them, he’s struggled against Cleveland the past few years. Chasing around Kyrie Irving is no easy task, and it’s taken a toll on his legs, not giving him enough lift on his jumpers. Under a Mike Brown
offense, the Warriors are running more isolation plays, which hurts Thompson, who feeds off of ball movement. If he can contain and cancel out Irving, the Dubs won’t need his shooting as much as they would have in the past.
Uncle Drew is on the verge of cementing himself as one of the elite point guards in the league. It’s clear he’s always been a great scorer, but he’s getting better in each round. He made an Avery Bradley
backcourt look silly in the Eastern Conference Finals. Bradley is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, if not the best, and Smart is known for giving players problems too. Irving averaged 25.8 points per game in that series while shooting 62% from the field. He hit one of the biggest shots in playoff history last year in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, and his confidence is at an all-time high.
The best defensive player in this series and the favorite to win Defensive Player of the year, Draymond Green is on a mission. He practically cost the Warriors the repeat last season after a suspension that tilted the momentum towards Cleveland. Green had a historic Game 7, but like he said, it will forever go forgotten because of the Warriors’ epic collapse. He’s been nothing short of incredible in this year’s playoffs, and he should give the Cavs some fits both defensively and on offense with his playmaking ability. Don’t look now, but he’s also shooting 47% from beyond the arc this postseason on 4.2 attempts per game.
KD is back in the Finals and a much better player than he was when he first made it on the big stage back with Oklahoma City. He wasn’t bad back in 2012, but since then, he’s added scoring titles to his belt and an MVP award. Durant has also gone from one of the league’s favorite players to arguably the most hated. The villain Durant has been on a tear with Golden State, and despite battling injuries to end the regular season, he’s been his usual self this postseason. LeBron James has always had his number, but he’s never played better than he has now. With an added defensive skill to his game, the battle might be closer now than it has been in the past.
He’s healthy this time around, and he’s been having the best playoff run of his career through the first 12 games. Curry paced himself this year after a dominating unanimous MVP season overshadowed by a bum knee and an underwhelming performance last postseason. He’s been phenomenal this postseason with 28.6 points per game on 50% shooting from the field, 43% from beyond the arc and 90% from the free-throw line. He was outplayed by Kyrie Irving last Finals, but now that he’s 100% healthy, look for a different outcome. No one has been waiting for June 2017 the way Steph Curry has.
The best player in the world right now and constantly being compared to Michael Jordan, LeBron enters his 7th straight NBA Finals. He’s dominated the Eastern Conference and has been hit or miss against the West in the Finals. Last year he led the Cavs to the improbable after they came back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals. This will be his biggest test yet: a team made of four All-Stars. This year he won’t get to coast on defense because the Warriors improved their small forward position. He will have to have the best Finals performance of his career to overcome the Warriors’ “Big Four” which is very possible.