NBA Finals: Breaking Down the Benches

1 of 2

May 26, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward James Jones (1) and Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith (5) celebrates after beating the Atlanta Hawks in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The amount of mouth-watering storylines in these upcoming NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors has made the eight-day break feel like 80 days. Will LeBron James and the Cavaliers bring the city its first professional sporting championship since 1964? Can Stephen Curry and the Warriors cap off a historically good season? Will Curry dethrone James as the NBA’s new king? How will two rookie head coaches (to the NBA Finals, relax David Blatt) cope with the pressure and scrutiny that comes with playing in June? Will Riley Curry strike again? These are just some of the storylines that has the basketball world counting down the sleeps until Thursday Night in Oakland for Game One.

While the superstars, such as James and Curry are rightfully gaining all of the headlines and attention heading into Game One, which will be James’ fifth straight Finals appearance (the first player to do so since the 1960’s Boston Celtics teams), the role players sitting on the benches will be defining factors in which team brings home the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Wednesday Morn: Starters Position by Position Preview

In terms of bench scoring throughout the regular season, the Warriors held a distinct advantage over the Cavaliers. In fact, every team held an advantage in terms of bench scoring over the Cavs during the regular season, as Cleveland’s bench ranked last in the league with a lousy 24.3 points per game. The Warriors bench ranked 13th in the league with 34.6 points per game, a modest rate for the leagues best team throughout the regular season. During these playoffs though, both benches have been underwhelming in terms of bench scoring, as the Cavaliers rank second to last in bench scoring (24.4) and the Warriors rank third to last (24.8.)

For both these benches though, it goes beyond the scoring punch they bring. Both Cleveland’s and Golden State’s second unit provides a degree of energy, hustle and defense, all of which will be crucial in determining who will break their respective franchise’s long championship drought.

Cleveland’s Bench

Main Rotation: J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, and James Jones

The Cavaliers bench had an extreme makeover mid-way through the season, as the Cavs acquired J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov. While two of the three have been in the starting line-up, the acquisition of the trio has forced Blatt to completely change his rotation and minimize it.

Cleveland has been rolling with an eight-man rotation for most of the second half of the season and the playoffs. Blatt dramatically lowered the minutes of the likes of Mike Miller and Shawn Marion and players like Brendon Haywood and Joe Harris only see the court during extended garbage time. Kendrick Perkins has played in minimal amounts but when he has played, the opponents have known about it, just ask Jae Crowder.

The man off Cleveland’s bench who has received majority of the attention lately has been Dellavedova and, depending on whom you ask, that attention has been good or bad. After incidents with Chicago’s Taj Gibson, Atlanta’s Kyle Korver and Al Horford, Dellavedova has been labeled as a ‘dirty’ player in some NBA circles. This classification of Dellavedova being a reckless, disheveled player is absolute nonsense. What Dellavedova brings to the Cavaliers is something that Clevelanders can relate to; a hard-working, grind it out type guy, who will hustle for every loose ball and do anything that the team asks from him. After Horford dropped a Hulk Hogan like elbow on Dellavedova in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, James came to the defense of the Australian post-game, per

"“Are we going to talk about us trying to win basketball games or about those guys trying to figure out a way that Matthew Dellavedova is this type of this guy, he works his tail off every single day. He beats the odds, and he comes to play as hard as he can every single night.”"

While many Americans have been shocked with the hard play of Dellavedova, it is something that Australians are used to. Australians have never been the most talented athletes in all sports, so they have counted on their hard work and determination to help them achieve at the highest levels. “It’s the Australian blood that he has in him that’s running deep. It’s deep-rooted,” Kyrie Irving said when asked about Dellavedova (Irving was born in Melbourne so he possess strong Australian connections). Irving continued the praise for Dellavedova, “They are (referring to Australian players) just non-stop and keep coming at you.”

Dellavedova may be asked to guard Curry at times, which may seem like a miss-match on paper but Dellavedova has an innate ability to get under the opponents skin by playing pesky defense. Dellavedova is only allowing opposing players to shoot 33.3% on three-point attempts during the playoffs, so the boisterous defense that the Aussie plays could be another way that the Cavaliers attempt to slow down the MVP.

One area where Dellavedova will need to step it up though is his shooting, especially from downtown. After shooting 40.7% from beyond the three-point arc in the regular season, that number has dipped to 36.0% in the playoffs. Now, that isn’t all that bad of a shooting percentage but consider Dellavedova only shot 31.8% from three-point range against the Hawks. That is a number that needs to improve, as the Cavs strongly rely on role players hitting open three-point shots.

One player who shouldn’t have a problem on converting open shoots is Smith, who has simply been a gem for the Cavs since acquiring him from the Knicks. After a shaky start to the playoffs (9.8 points a game on 36.6% shooting and 26.7% from downtown against Boston, along with a two-game suspension for clocking Crowder), Smith has really turned it on for Cleveland lately.

The Cavaliers rode Smith’s hot-hand in Game 1 of the East Finals, as his 28 points on 8/12 shooting from beyond the arc ensured Cleveland would steal home court advantage from Atlanta. In fact, Smith was smoking throughout the whole series against the Hawks, as he averaged 18.0 points, while shooting 50.0% from the field and a ridiculous 47.1% from three-point range.

Everyone knows that Smith has the ability to get red-hot on the offensive end for the Cavs and players like Smith can change ballgames. There is nothing more draining for the defense when Smith splashes home yet another, contested, fade-away 25 footer. One area of Smith’s game that hasn’t been focused on that much throughout the playoffs though has been his surprisingly excellent defense. Blatt touched on this after Game 1 in Atlanta, per, “Probably overlooked in his great shooting performance was the fact that he defended as well as he did and he got eight rebounds.”

Smith has been averaging a solid 4.9 rebounds during the playoffs but the superb defense that Smith has played is something he must continue against the Warriors, with their unstoppable backcourt of Curry and Klay Thompson. When being defending by Smith during these playoffs, opponents are only managing to shoot 42.4% on two-point attempts and 23.5% from three-point range, truly incredible numbers for someone who has been known as a lazy defender during his career. If Smith can keep his shooting percentages at an above average rate and play the active defense we now know he can, it will be a huge factor in deciding these NBA Finals.

Jones has seen his minutes increase slightly throughout the playoffs, as the 11-year veteran is averaging 14.1 minutes a game in the post-season, after only seeing 11.7 minutes during the regular season. In fact, Jones was playing up to a hair below 20 minutes a night in the East Finals, an indication of the improved trust that Blatt has in Jones.

Jones has been in this situation before, as amazingly, like James, it is also his fifth consecutive finals appearance. Jones is the constant professional on the court and always seems to make the correct decision at the correct time. He is also a major key to Cleveland’s floor spacing but is only converting on a mediocre 35.3% clip from downtown during the playoffs.

The true value that Jones gives the Cavs will be in the locker-room, as his leadership will help aid the younger Cavaliers making their finals debut. On the court though, the Cavs would love to see Jones splashing home a few more of those three-point attempts.

Next: Bench Warriors