Star Role Players: Draymond Green vs. Tristan Thompson

Jun 1, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) dribbles the basketball against Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13) during the third quarter in game one of the 2017 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 1, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) dribbles the basketball against Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13) during the third quarter in game one of the 2017 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The most important players in the NBA Finals could be between the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Tristan Thompson.

In this year’s Finals, each team has a star role player (or starring in their role) that I would consider an x-factor in the series. While the Golden State Warriors have Draymond Green, the Cleveland Cavaliers have Tristan Thompson. Now I’m not comparing the two on abilities because that would be extremely unfair to Thompson. He’s a good player but he’s not nearly as good as Green. For a relative comparison, consider that Green is a superstar role player and Thompson is a star role player.

Green made the All-NBA Third Team this season, something that Thompson hasn’t done and may never do.

Green is one of the most versatile defenders in the NBA and his ability to guard all five positions on the court makes him a vital piece to the Warriors’ success. He’s a chess piece on defense that can be used to neutralize the best player on an opposing team, including guarding the best player in the league, LeBron James. On offense, Green has the ability to pass, shoot and handle the basketball. He’s not as talented on the offensive end of the floor as he is on defense but he’s just as versatile.

Most people assume a role player is someone who excels in one area and isn’t asked to do much outside of their one strength. Although that assumption could apply to many roles players, Green is a different type of animal. His versatility is his strength. and thus, his role is predicated around his versatility.

He’s the glue that keeps the Warriors together.

When he’s playing at his best, the Warriors are unbeatable.

No game better shows his versatility than his triple-double in February against the Grizzlies. Green became the first player to get a triple-double and score fewer than 10 points. If he had scored six more points, he would’ve become the third player in NBA history to record a quadruple-double.

Green’s ability to fill up the stat sheet without scoring and play stellar defense makes him one of the tougher players in the league to game plan for and having stars like Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson help Green immensely. Nonetheless, Green understands his role and thrives in it like few others in the league.

Green may not be a superstar. However, he’s a superstar role player and may be the most important player on his team.

While Thompson isn’t a shooter or even a scorer, he doesn’t need to be surrounded by James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to make an impact on the floor.

Many fans laughed when the Cavaliers signed Thompson to a five-year, $82 million deal in 2015 but the Cavaliers knew what they were doing.

Although he’s struggled in the first two games of the Finals, he’s a vital piece to the Cavaliers’ success. The Cavaliers cannot get themselves back into this series without Thompson doing his job more consistently.

Cleveland signed Thompson because he’s one of the best offensive rebounders in the NBA. During the regular season, Thompson averaged 3.7 offensive rebounds per game, which was tied for fifth in the NBA. Thompson was the only player in the top five that isn’t seven-feet tall.

Thompson isn’t known for his versatility but because he’s been capable of defending multiple positions and he’s becoming more involved as a passer in the pick-and-roll, he’s allowed the Cavs to stay small and remain dominant on the glass.

Because James is the primary ball-handler and Cleveland’s Big Three exert most of their energy scoring, the Cavaliers need someone to dominate on the boards. While James and Love both rebound at a solid rate, the vast majority of their rebounds come on the defensive end. With the attention they draw around the rim, Thompson has to be the clean-up crew.

As I touched on earlier, Thompson is much more versatile on the defensive end of the floor than on the offensive end. His ability to switch the pick-and-roll and defend smaller guards in space makes him a valuable piece in this series.

Thompson won’t be able to guard Curry, or any of the Warriors perimeter players full-time. Still, he does a better job of making Curry work hard to get open shots for himself and his teammates than the other Cleveland bigs. He’s also a solid defender in the post. Opponents have been held to 58.2 percent shooting within six feet of the rim in the playoffs with Thompson as the closest defender, 4.1 percent less than their average. In the regular season, that magic number was 52.7 (8.8 percent less than opponents average).

Thompson’s defensive versatility is an extremely valuable asset in what’s becoming a nearly positionless league. Teams are always looking to exploit mismatches, so having a versatile defender like Thompson helps limit these mismatch opportunities.

Because Thompson has struggled in this year’s Finals, he’s been relegated to the bench more often than not. He’ll have to show that he’s not an offensive liability, making his shots in the short roll, in order to stay on the floor and have a chance of making an impact on the game. Otherwise, he won’t have an opportunity to fill his role.

The stigma that role players can’t be stars is extremely outdated.

It’s like the narrative that calling a quarterback a “game manager” is an insult, when it’s actually the quarterback’s job to manage the game. Both Green and Thompson are extremely important to their teams, for different reasons.

Green is the better player and should have the greater impact but that doesn’t mean Thompson can’t be a key reason for a Cavaliers victory.

Although LeBron is Cleveland’s best and most important player, the Cavaliers cannot beat the Warriors without a great game from Thompson.

Game 3’s biggest storylines for most fans will be James versus Durant and Curry versus Kyrie Irving. Watchers-on will wonder if Klay Thompson will play like he did in Game 1 or Game 2.

I’m most intrigued by the match-up of the teams’ most important star role players: Draymond Green and Tristan Thompson.

Cavs - Warriors III: The Matchups

How important do you think Draymond Green and Tristan Thompson are to their team’s success? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section or Twitter @KJG_NBA.