The inevitable Western Conference Finals: Matchups by position
Before you know it, the NBA playoffs will be underway and in full swing, full of close games, upsets, buzzer-beaters and anything you could want out of basketball. It’s the best time of the year for NBA fans, and this year is as competitive as ever, especially in the Western Conference. In fact, seeds three through eight are separated by just three and a half games, with teams like the Clippers and Nuggets fighting for a spot with a chance of doing so.
And then we have the top two seeds: the Rockets and Warriors, who are a full ten and 14.5 games ahead of the three-seeded Trail Blazers, respectively. They have been absolutely dominant, and think it is safe to say, barring serious injuries, that the only competition these two face is each other. For that reason, I think it is almost certain that these two teams will meet up in the penultimate step before the NBA Finals. Below I will analyze each matchup, by position, in what should be an inevitable Western Conference finals.
Stephen Curry (GSW) vs. Chris Paul (HOU): What a great place to start. Steph Curry was just diagnosed with an MCL sprain after returning from an ankle injury, and will be reevaluated in three weeks. For the sake of this piece, I will assume that he misses one or two rounds of the playoffs, and is healthy in time for this matchup.
Curry and Paul could not be any different in terms of playing style. Curry is a shoot-first three-point threat, the biggest one the league has ever seen, and will rightfully never turn down a shot that is even close to open. Paul, on the other hand, is a pass-first point guard and will always rack up the assists, but on a team that shoots and scores as much as Houston does, we have seen a lot more aggression from him in terms of scoring the ball. While CP3 is a superior defender and could do a good job against Steph, I’d have a hard time giving any point guard an advantage over Steph’s dribbling, underrated passing and of course deadly shooting. In terms of advantage, I’ll take Steph here.
Klay Thompson (GSW) vs. James Harden (HOU): Another great matchup with very different players, which is another reason why this conference finals matchup could be so fun. Klay was almost strictly a shooter, but has proved to everyone in his last couple of seasons that he can drive and get to the line as well.
James Harden, the most probable MVP winner this season, has so many tools in his arsenal that I truly don’t know how anyone successfully defends him. If he drives, he’ll probably score or go to the line, and if you give him space, he’ll drill the outside shot. With averages of 30.9 points, 5.3 boards, and 8.6 assists, the numbers tell the story on their own. He is also shooting a fairly efficient 44.8 percent from the floor, which is highly impressive given the high volume of shot attempts and ball-handling he is responsible for. At this point, there is not a single person to whom I would give an advantage over Harden here. Sorry, Klay.
Kevin Durant (GSW) vs. Trevor Ariza (HOU): Finally, we have a matchup that is quite a bit in favor of one team over the other. Kevin Durant is one of the best players to ever play the game, and will be considered one of the greats when all is said and done.
I am a huge Trevor Ariza fan, and while his Laker days of being a great scorer have come to an end, he’s still a great “three and D” guy and a vital piece to Houston’s success over the past few seasons. However, there is exactly one person I’d place over Kevin Durant, and his name is not Trevor Ariza.
Draymond Green (GSW) vs. Ryan Anderson (HOU): Once again, we see a matchup with guys that really couldn’t be more different. Green was the defensive player of the year just last season, and has been in contention for it since the Warriors have been winning games. He has been labeled the Warriors’ most valuable player by many, which is quite the feat when you’re playing with guys like Steph and KD.
Ryan Anderson, on the other hand, plays little to no defense, and hasn’t blocked a shot since the Mesozoic era (jokes aside, he actually has three of them since March 17, but none the whole month prior to that). He spreads the floor perfectly for this team, and since Houston doesn’t play much defense anyway, he is pretty much the perfect guy at that position. However, Draymond still takes the cake in this matchup due to his versatility alone.
Zaza Pachulia (GSW) vs. Clint Capela (HOU)
This one is fairly obvious, as Zaza often gets less than 20 minutes a game, and if he doesn’t injure the other team’s best player in that span, the Dubs usually go with a smaller lineup. Clint Capela is in the midst of his coming-out season, and is thriving in a fast-paced offense that has two guys in Paul and Harden that are phenomenal at throwing lobs to the big man. Clint wins this one by a landslide.
While the starters are not the entirety of the team and its success, most of them will be playing heavy minutes because of the competitive nature of the playoffs. The bench is vital as well, of course, and while both teams are fairly deep, I give the Rockets an advantage in this sense with guys like Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker contributing key minutes and stats.
I would be immensely surprised if we saw two other teams from the Western Conference meet in its finals, and Houston and Golden State deserve every part of it. Some matchups are too close for comfort, and others are not, but all in all these teams are both incredibly full of talent that it is so difficult to tell who will be representing the West in the Finals. It could be a phenomenal series and one of the best we’ve seen, and only time will tell what could happen. Playoffs can’t come soon enough.