The NBA Finals are here in a matchup of former Thunder players (Thundermen? Thunderers?) Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. Before game 1 tips off, the WTLC crew digs in with their thoughts on the series.
1) Kevin Durant is out for at least game 1 of the Finals. Golden State is 31-1 in its last 32 games WITHOUT Durant. With as little salt as possible, will the Warriors actually miss KD while he’s out in these Finals?
Ben Mertens: They’ll miss him because he makes them invincible, but that isn’t the same as saying they need him to win. They can win this series even if Durant isn’t on the court for a second. KD is a floor raiser for this team, not a ceiling raiser.
Where I think they’ll miss him most is their inability to run real smallball lineups that have enough shooting. Those lineups have been Golden State’s add in the hole dating back to Harrison Barnes time there, but without Durant they don’t have additional wing with real 3 point range to slot in when Draymond goes to Center. Those lineups could be valuable in this series.
Nile McNair: I think Kevin Durant will be missed because of the pace in which Toronto has been forcing their opponents to play at. Kawhi in particular has been controlling the tempo causing the opponent to play more in the half court, where having Durant would be crucial.
Reid Belew: It was specifically stated that I needed to respond to this “with as little salt as possible” and I don’t think I’m capable. I will trim all the fat off my thoughts into a simple “no.”
Dom Flaim: Kevin Arnovitz recently put this in the best way I could possibly explain it. He spoke on people who dismissed that the Warriors are better without Durant and instead rephrased the question basically as...”If they’re not better without him, are they worse?” I don’t think they’re better without him, but I also don’t think they’re any worse, so no. He’s a luxury but not a necessity.
2) The Warriors are the overwhelming favorites, but what factors could result in a Raptors upset?
Ben: Kawhi being the best player in this series would be big. Kawhi, Steph and Durant all have legitimate claims to “best player in the world” if LeBron’s best days are truly behind him. If KD is out and Kawhi can be the best player in the series over Steph, the Raptors can take this.
Nile: It seems all postseason Toronto has been best when the game comes down to the final minutes, so that’s the first factor. The second all depends on where Nick Nurse decides to deploy Kawhi defensively. Personally, I think until Durant returns it would be smart to put Kawhi on Klay and force Steph to beat the Raptors being Golden State’s only true offensive threat.
Reid: I think the question of who guards Steph and Kawhi is really interesting. I don’t think it will happen because of the obvious matchup ramifications, but I would pay top dollar to see Kahwi guard Steph for extended periods. For Kawhi, it’s going to be Iguodala until KD is back.
To me, there’s a higher yield from Kawhi being guarded by Iggy than Steph being guarded by Lowry. That’s all just a feeling.
Another thing that rings important is how Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol are guarded in addition to who Serge guards. The Warriors have always been weak at the 5 position, and all of those guys are really effective two-way players. My assumption is that a load of the offense will be portioned to the player who isn’t guarded by Draymond and that one of those 3 could really give Draymond fits. Seeing a Kawhi and Gasol/Siakam pick and roll could be really awesome.
In short: the Raptors have an edge in the matchup department on paper. The execution is what matters.
Dom: Kawhi continuing this level of play while Lowry plays well along with maybe a bad Steph game or two (or if not bad just not normal Steph).
3) Who is the unexpected role player that will play out of his mind this series and get a future bloated contract as a result?
Ben: Fred VanVleet is two good games away from getting maxed by the Phoenix Suns in 2020. Secure the bag Fred!!
Nile: My prediction for the breakout role player will come from the Warriors and it will be Quinn Cook. If like I suspect Kawhi will be on Klay, Golden State will need another backcourt member to pick up the scoring something Cook is qualified to do.
Reid: This is my favorite post-season tradition. Some player has a mind-numbing performance then becomes a financial burden for years. My favorite ever is former Rap Bismack Biyombo. Get them checks.
Perhaps no player is better positioned than Andrew Bogut. Seeing him play on a huge stage, admirably switching and guarding pick and rolls could give him an expensive 2-year deal. I like that.
Another obvious one is Kevon Looney. He’ll be an unrestricted FA. He has the youth and he obviously wasn’t bad enough to stop his team from reaching the Finals. Almost by sheer association, he could get a pay raise that won’t be worth his actual abilities.
For Toronto, it has to be Danny Green. He’s a widely respected player, but he’s had somewhat of a resurgence with Toronto (not that he ever fell out of fan consciousness or anything). He’s shown that he’s still a very effective 3-and-D player, and those players are worth gold in the NBA. If Danny Green hits 6-7 threes one game and plays well defensively in the same or another, he’ll be paid handsomely.
Dom: Well at this point I guess he’s not unexpected anymore but Fred VanVleet? He was basically shooting like Curry coming off the bench the last few games so if that keeps up it’ll be huge for the bench production.
4) Give your series picks and why.
Ben: Warriors in 6. An exciting series that will be knotted at 2-2, with Golden State winning the decisive game 5 and closing things out in Oracle. Steph finally wins Finals MVP.
Nile: I will go with the upset and pick Raptors in seven. It just feels like eventually the loss of Durant has to take an affect on the Warriors. Also, Kawhi is just playing on another level from everyone else and I think the best player in the series could elevate his team to an upset victory.
Reid: I’m picking Raps in 7 because my entire Bucks in 6 worldview and lifestyle was shattered, and I want the better story.
I know the Warriors will win in 5 or 6. I know.
It just hurts. I can’t give in.
Raps in 7, baby. Been saying it for years.
Dom: Well I thought the Bucks would have won this series and the transitive property doesn’t really work but the Raptors are still the best team this Warriors run has met in the Finals since 2016 and Kawhi can cause some real issues for them. So with that said I’ll go Raptors in 7. The Warriors fall and Durant sees his way out.