In the first part of our 2016 NBA Finals preview, we looked at the matchup at point guard between Kyrie Irving & Stephen Curry. This blog post will talk about the matchup at the shooting guard, or two-guard position. This matchup will feature two major components – Klay Thompson from the Golden State Warriors & J.R. Smith from the Cleveland Cavs.
Thompson is one of the “Splash Brothers” along side point guard Stephen Curry, meaning that he is one of the best three-point shooters in the entire NBA. In 2015-16, Thompson made the All-NBA third team & was in the top 10 in three-point shooting percentage this year. Thompson benefits from the attention given to Curry on any given night as he is constantly open for shots.
In this series, J.R. Smith is going to be asked to rotate between guarding Thompson & Curry, and while the Cavs are a solid defensive unit, there will be situations where Smith will need to make a decision on who to guard at any given time, & while Thompson is always dangerous, he is a rhythm shooter – if he is hot, he’s very hot. If he isn’t, then Smith might make the decision to switch off on Steph & leave Thompson open, which could get him going from a shooting perspective.
One of the ways that Smith is going to have a tough challenge that many people don’t talk about is Thompson is great at getting open with the basketball. His movement away from the ball is phenomenal, almost to the level of Reggie Miller or Richard Hamilton. He can create great space through his fade away shot & his overall length and size for a two-guard can make him tough to defend at times. Smith is going to have to make sure his cardio is at a premium to make sure he is able to cut off those curls that Thompson likes to run to get his shot up. An option Cleveland might look at times is putting LeBron on Thompson or Curry to spell Smith & Kyrie. If James is taking that battle, Thompson will not see open baskets due to LeBron’s length & size that can body up against him. However, we are going to stick to just the traditional shooting guards.
On the flip side, Thompson is going to have some defensive ease guarding Smith. J.R. Smith is predominantly just a shooter – he doesn’t go to the basket much so he can play honest against him & make sure he doesn’t get hot. Where Smith tends to get himself into some trouble, however, is that he has a tendency every once in a while to shoot again & again, even if he isn’t seeing his shots fall, which means he ends up playing right into the defense’s hands and the Warriors will be able to play five against four, thus being able to send a double team to Kyrie Irving or LeBron James.
This is a matchup that overall, Thompson should have a chance to exploit pretty easily because of the Cavs’ need to always watch Curry & Draymond Green. Thompson is having an excellent NBA playoff run, but at the same time, the Warriors move the ball & move without the ball so well, along with being able to work off of screens easily, meaning that Thompson should continue to have open shots throughout points in the series.
Advantage: Splash Brother