NBA Finals Preview: Shooting Guards

Part two of our NBA Finals Preview brings us to a match-up that may not be the most important, but is certainly one of the most intriguing. The shooting guards for each team are both willing to chuck the ball at will, and certainly capable of getting hot at any moment. We could simply say it’s a matter of which two-guard gets hot at which time, but we promised you analysis… or something like it.

The Starters

J.R. Smith

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There are players in this league who think they are better than they are. Mario Chalmers, Brandon Jennings, Jordan Crawford, Austin Rivers, all come to mind. J.R. Smith is one of those guys that I have on that list one week, and then I’m not so sure the next. At the very least we can agree that the guy can flat out shoot. There are nights when the guy goes cold, I’ll concede that, but when the ball leaves J.R. Smith’s hands, I wouldn’t worry if I were a Cavs fan.

As a basketball fan, I always enjoy Smith’s energy on the court. Whether or not he makes a bad decision, or whether or not he is shooting cold, the guy plays hard. He wants to win, he cares about his teammates, and will do he needs to do when called upon to do it.

The trouble with J.R., which as always been the trouble with J.R., is that those poor choices come more often than the average player. Earlier this postseason he was suspended the first two games of the Chicago series after throwing a fist at the head of Boston’s Jae Crowder. In the 2013 playoffs, J.R. was suspended Game 4 for elbowing Boston’s Jason Terry in face. When he was a member of the Denver Nuggets, he was suspended 10 games for his involvement in a brawl with his future team, the New York Knicks. This doesn’t include his trouble off the basketball court. That being said, he’s never been to the NBA Finals, he has a real leader in LeBron James, and they aren’t playing a team named the Knicks or Celtics, so maybe there’s nothing to worry about.

I’ll be most curious to see the kind of decisions J.R. makes when it counts. Down three with plenty of time, does he dribble up the court and shoot a transition three? Or does he give the ball to Kyrie or LeBron and let the play develop? If Draymond happens to put a hard foul on him, will he retaliate? Or will cooler heads prevail in the big moment? I guess we’ll just have to wait for Thursday to find out.

Klay Thompson

In this photo taken Wednesday Oct. 17, 2012, Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry, left, and Klay Thompson confer during an NBA preseason game against the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento, Calif.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Earlier this season, Klay Thompson scored 37 points in a single quarter (!!!) to set an NBA record. In that quarter he hit all thirteen of his shots, including nine from behind the arc, another record for a single quarter. There’s a reason they call them the splash brothers and a reason the Warriors had an elite offense this season.

Steph won the MVP but it was Klay’s (as well as the rest of the team’s) contributions that led the Warriors to 67 wins and the number one seed in a loaded western conference. What I like about Klay’s game so much is that he doesn’t play the Ray Allen or Kyle Korver catch-and-shoot role. We’ve seen him move well without the ball, cut down the baseline, and drive to the rim with authority. He has the size and length to shoot over a smaller two-guard as well as defend well on the perimeter, and like his Cavalier counterpart, when he gets hot, he gets really hot.

Wednesday night, Klay pump-faked, baiting Trevor Ariza into jumping, an act that led to Klay taking a knee to the side of the head. Friday, the Warriors announced Klay had been diagnosed with a concussion and said there was no timetable for his return. I don’t foresee Klay missing game one, though the Warriors did say he wouldn’t see the court until he ceased to show symptoms all together.

If he does return, he will probably have a little rust to shake off, which makes me a little worried if I’m a Warriors fan. He’ll be a little slow to react, I imagine, and may find himself getting lost on defense, but this is a minor worry. If anything, he may sit game one, get the extra two days of rest, and come back fresh for game two.

My only real concern for Klay, and the Warriors offense in general, is that in crunch time, they have a habit for “settling” for outside jumpers. This is usually an okay strategy, because Steph and Klay are that talented, but the Cavaliers will be more than happy if the Warriors’ back court is simply setting screens for each other and jacking up threes in crunch time. They don’t get cold often, but if they do, this could prove to be their undoing.

Back Ups

leandro-barbosa

Leandro Barbosa is skilled veteran with the right bit of speed (though he’s certainly lost a step) to keep up with the coast-to-coast pace that Golden State likes to run. He isn’t the guy I want taking the outside shot, but he can handle the ball well enough to penetrate the defense and finish at the rim, and his work on defense is scrappy enough to annoy opposing guards.

I’m going to mention Andre Iguodala, whom I like a lot. He’ll probably have some time at the two, which will be smart if Iman gets a lot of playing time, but he’s on the depth chart as the back up three, plays better in that role, and so I’ll save more on him for tomorrow.

Iman Shumpert is a player capable of starting on teams that don’t have a LeBron James. He plays the back up two in Cleveland, though if you sent him somewhere else, chances are he’s in the starting line up. He’s a quality shooter, an above average defender, and decent enough with the ball that he can get to the rim. He’s got the size of a small forward and the quickness to keep up with point guards *cough*Steph*cough*. He’s one of my favorite players in the league based on overall skill level, and I’d like to seen him have a Kawhi-like series in these Finals.

Advantage?

This is a tougher one to conclude than I thought it would be. On one hand, I think Klay Thompson is far better than J.R. Smith. I don’t think there’s a real comparison. At the same time, I think Cleveland’s depth at the position, which could also include James Jones and Mike Miller, people with size and shooting ability, is a little bit better than Golden State’s. Is it a cop-out to call this one a wash? Yes? Whatever. Advantage EVEN.

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