Who Makes a Difference Part 2 (The X-Factors) – 10 Thoughts on the NBA Conference Finals
With the Conference Finals here, I thought I’d make another stab at ten players who have the ability to turn series for their team.
- Steph Curry – With Kevin Durant out for at least Game 1, the Warriors will go as far as Steph takes them. He needs to put up at least 30 for a win. He has a history of being streaky in the playoffs. Golden State cannot have a bad Steph Curry day.
- Kris Middleton – A remnant from my last list. Middleton is the key to their offense and I imagine he is going to spend some time guarding Kawhi Leonard. Middleton needs to provide the shooting that opens up the lane for Giannis. He also had to do the best he can to slow down the hottest player in the playoffs.
- Draymond Green – Guarding Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum is a daunting task. It cannot be done by one person. Steph and Klay are going to need the support that Draymond provides defensively and keeping Enis Kanter off the glass.
- Eric Bledsoe – When Bledsoe is hot, Milwaukee is unbeatable. He needs to be more than hot. He has to be smart. Kyle Lowry, who is not as athletic as Bledsoe, knows how to play intelligent defense. Bledsoe has to make smart plays and timely three-pointers.
- Kyle Lowry – The Raptors cannot be dragged to the Finals by Kawhi the way he dragged them to the Conference Finals. Lowry needs to take and make big shots. The rest of the team struggled through the second round and Lowry cannot be passing up shots if the Raptors are going to make it to the Finals.
- Andrew Bogut – The Warriors weakness is rebounding. Enis Kanter has dominated the glass in the playoffs. If the Blazers have any chance to dethrone the Warriors, they need Kanter to change the game by dominating the glass. Bogut is tougher than Nikola Jokic and he needs to physically dominate Kanter.
- Rodney Hood – Hood showed he can swing a game in playoff series. The Blazers probably need him to swing at least two. He has found his confidence and that makes him dangerous. His size and skill make him difficult to guard. If he commits to playing defense, he is a tenacious defender. Will his confidence wane when he is face to face with the defending champions?
- George Hill – Since he is healthy, Hill is the kind of point guard the Bucks need leading their bench. Hill was a surprise game-changer against the Celtics. I almost forgot that he was the point guard on those Indiana Pacer teams that made it to the conference finals. A healthy George Hill makes the Bucks such a deep team. They may be able to wear down the Raptors.
- Pascal Siakam – Siakam is not a second scorer on a championship team, but he is a third scorer and he can cause problems on defense with his length and athleticism. He needs to make his mark on the series or the Raptors are going home.
- Zach Collins – Collins showed in Game 7 against the Nuggets the effect he can have on a game. He is the type of player that could give the Warriors trouble. He could also spend a lot of time on the bench with foul trouble. We will see which Zach Collins comes to play.
As I watch the NBA Playoffs, I realize (1) how good the games are and (2) the series will not always be decided by the marquee players. Here are ten players to watch out for if their teams are going to advance to the Conference Finals.
- Pascal Siakam – If you saw my previous post, you know that Siakam was the MVP for the Raptors in the first round. Now he means even more to them. When the Raptors have won, Pascal has been amazing. Without him, Toronto is to easy to defend for the Sixers.
- Jimmy Butler – Jimmy Butler was exactly the guy that Philadelphia needed for the playoffs. While I thought he would have more of an impact on defense, Jimmy’s offense has been indispensable. The Sixers needed someone to take big shots and make his shots (sorry J.J. Redick). Jimmy grinded the Sixers to victory in Game 2. The team rode his grit in Game 3.
- Joel Embiid – Embiid is a force of nature. When he is aggressive and active on both ends of the floor, the Sixers are pretty much unbeatable. When he is injured or unengaged, the Sixers defensive flaws will destroy them.
- Kevin Durant – Durant, who arguably has been the best player in the playoffs the last three years, is the Warriors unstoppable force. Curry and Thompson are great shooters. Draymond is the heart of the team. Durant is what makes the Warriors the favorites for a third straight championship. He can do everything on offense and he is underrated on defense. He can line up in all five positions and he may be the guy who breaks Kareem’s scoring record.
- Al Horford – Boston has their work ahead of them. They are facing the team with the best record in the NBA and the this year’s MVP of the league. Horford has to be the guy to put some form of handcuffs on the Greek Freak and be the ultimate mismatch for his team to stretch the floor.
- Al-Farouq Aminu – The Blazers are powered by Dame and C.J.. The difference maker is Aminu. You can tell how well Portland is doing by how many point Aminu has. He also has an impact on defense that makes up for the two undersized guards.
- Kyrie Irving – Kyrie is the winningest player in playoffs history. He is the ultimate clutch shotmaker. He was unstoppable against the Pacers. He needs to be just as unstoppable to you against the league’s best defense. For all it’s talent, Boston
- Torrey Craig – Torrey Craig is the only real defensive stopper on the Nuggets. They need someone to do something to slow Damian Lillard down he can. Denver is not a defensive juggernaut and needs Craig to make some plays, both offensively and defensively, to get them past a very talented Portland offense.
- Kris Middleton – The Buck will go as far as Middleton will take them. Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to put up numbers. The Bucks are offensively limited. They need Giannis and Middleton to be great.
- Chris Paul – If the Rockets are going to have a chance against the Warriors, they need more than James Harden. They need the return of the point-god. Paul needs to make an impact on both sides of the ball.
Jamal Murray, Danny Green, Kyle Lowry, PJ Tucker, Eric Bledsoe, Marc Gasol, Andre Iguodala, Jaylen Brown, Fred Van Fleet and Tobias Harris.