NBA Finals: Breaking Down the Benches

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May 23, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Golden State Warriors bench reacts during the first half against the Houston Rockets in game three of the Western Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State’s Bench

Main Rotation: Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights

The Warriors were the leagues best team this season for numerous reasons and one of them was the amount of depth the roster possesses. Each one of Golden State’s bench players brings a different element to the team and if they get contributions from all of them, the Cavaliers are going to have their hands full.

One of the key elements that the Dubs second unit will play in these finals is attempting to shut slow down James.

Iguodala is the first name that comes to mind when breaking down who can defend James on the Warriors bench. Per the data of SportVU and the research of John Schuhmann, Iguodala should be familiar with guarding James this season.

The length, quickness and versatility that Iguodala provides the Warriors are all ingredients that should help Golden State in limiting James’ impact. Iguodala has been a solid presence on the defensive end for the Warrors throughout the entire playoffs, as his defensive versatility has been able to disrupt offensive players in many different ways.

An interesting stat when breaking down Igoudala’s defensive impact though is how much better the team’s defensive rating is when he actually is off the court. The Warriors have a sensational defensive rating of 91.1 during the playoffs when Igoudala is sitting and when he is on the court that number spikes up to 104.8.

Despite that whacky stat, Igoudala has still made a big impact for the Warriors on the defensive end. When being being defended by Igoudala in the regular season and the playoffs, opponents are shooting 45.3% from two-point range (-3.2% from league average), 33.9% from three-point range (-1.3% from league average) and 41.4% (-3.0% from league average.) The most telling defensive stat for Igoudala though is the way he has defended when isolated in these playoffs, which will be a huge factor when defending against James.

James has a huge usage rate for the Cavaliers during these playoffs at 36.4%. Along with that usage rate, James has been playing a lot of isolation ball during the playoffs, per SportVU, “LeBron James has been the individual isolation leader in the playoffs with 192 in 14 games, which is more than the total for every team in the playoffs apart from Houston who totaled 210. James has only shot 37% on shots out of an isolation, and while dominant near the basket shot a total of just 4/24 from beyond the arc.” You may be asking, how does this impact Igoudala? Well throughout these playoffs, he is only allowing opponents to shoot 15.4% in isolation situations, an incredible number. If Igoudala is able to shut down James’ isolation game, it takes away the majority of Cleveland’s offense, which will spell disaster for the Cavs.

While Igoudala will be the main defender coming off the bench on James during this series, don’t be surprised if Livingston also sees some time on him.

Livingston’s long arms and quick movement could provide the Warriors with a helping hand in slowing down James’ drives into the lane. James obviously holds a major strength advantage over Livingston though, so the results could get ugly for the Warriors if James drives past him.

Livingston has been a sound defensive presence for Golden State throughout these playoffs, as opposing players are only shooting 31.0% from the field when being guarded by Livingston. The nine-year veteran may very well spend some time guarding Irving as well, and his length and quickness will be a major factor in making the hurt Irving work for everything he gets.

On the offensive end, Livingston won’t hurt you that much on the scoreboard. His 5.0-point per game average during the playoffs isn’t something that Cavs will be overly worried about but that doesn’t mean he makes a negative impact on the offensive end for the Warriors. The Golden State offense doesn’t miss a beat when Livingston enters the game, as the Dubs offensive rating in these playoffs is an unreal 110.9 when he is on the floor. As an indication of how amazing the Warriors offense is, that number is still a great 105.4 when Livingston isn’t on the floor.

For Golden State though, Livingston may provide them with some extra motivation to get over the line. Many believed that Livingston would never walk again, let alone play basketball again in his life after his horrific knee injury in 2007. The long road back has been tough for Livingston but now he is ready to soak in every moment of the finals, per Jeff Faraudo of San Jose Mercury News, “You can’t really put into words the feeling. I’m grateful. I appreciate this moment. I look forward to taking advantage of it.” Steve Kerr loves the story of Livingston, again per Faraudo:

"“I think a lot about Shaun and the horrific injury he had, the amazing comeback he’s made, and now, to be in a position to play for a championship when there was a time doctors told him he was close to having an amputation … when you think about that, what an incredible story.”"

Ezeli has been an underrated player for the Warriors this season, as his rebounding ability has been an important factor in Golden State attempting to win their first title in 40 years. Ezeli is grabbing 18.3% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor during the playoffs, including 14.1% of the available offensive rebounds. Ezeli’s big body and smart rebounding instincts may be able to provide the Warriors with an answer to Tristan Thompson’s rebounding greatness and the Nigerian could be Golden State’s X-Factor against the Cavaliers.

Barbosa is one of the older statesmen on Golden State’s roster and has played a small role in the Warriors run to the finals. The Brazilian is averaging 11.0 minutes during the playoffs and is putting up 4.9 points per game. Barbosa may not see much game-time in these finals but should be able to provide the Warriors with some leadership in the locker-room.

Speights was one of the Warriors most crucial players in the regular season but has been riddled with injuries during the playoffs. After averaging 10.4 points a game in the regular season, Speights missed all of the Western Conference finals with a calf strain but it seems he will be ready for Game 1 come Thursday Night, per Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area:

"“Mo’s good. He’s good to go,” Steve Kerr declared on Tuesday. “He’s had two good practices. He will more than likely play in this series. Just a question of how the rotations unfold, the matchups, that kind of stuff.”"

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Cleveland will need to be aware of the energy that Speights brings to the table, as he was one of the NBA’s best sixth men this season and will be ready to contribute in many ways in the finals.


The benches in these finals are going to be huge factors in deciding who takes home the rings. While both teams have multiple contributions coming off the pine, I give the slight edge to Golden State, due to their increased number of impactful bench players compared to the Cavaliers.

Who do you think has the better bench heading into these finals? Let your voice be heard in the comments section below or hit me up on twitter @lukesicari to let me know!

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