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A Bay Area Split
Early Finals takes, including Klay's gravity and the impact of a limited Robert Williams.
It’s been a while, I know. Since last we spoke there’s been three rounds of playoffs, a draft lottery, an NBL championship and even the start of NBL free agency.
What better way to return than with some NBA Finals takes. At the time of writing the series is 1-1 heading back to Boston for game three on Thursday morning AEST.
Are we approaching a Klay benching?
In short, no.
Whether I think Klay should be benched vs. whether I think Steve Kerr will actually pull the trigger are probably two different arguments, but at this point in time the runs Klay has on the board is already enough to secure his spot in the rotation, but he also still carries tremendous inherent on-court value despite his shooting woes.
Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, is the gravity Klay provides while on the court. Just because Klay is shooting 30% from the field and 27% from three in the Finals so far, it doesn’t mean Boston are going to start daring him to shoot and make him beat them.
Klay’s shot profile has always been what any coach would probably describe as “textbook bad shots.” As a movement shooter relying on perpetual motion, like some of the great shooting guards in years gone by a la Reggie Miller and Richard Hamilton, Klay uses a plethora of screens, fakes, dives and cuts to generate his offense without touching the ball.
A deadly quick release means Klay only needs a nanosecond of time and a whisker of space to get his shot off, and nothing has changed form wise, so why is Klay all of a sudden struggling to shoot?
For one, Jaylen Brown is an excellent defensive player, and a big shooting guard in the modern NBA at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds. Where Brown differs from a lot of shooting guards defensively isn’t necessarily his length, but his bulk. He’s able to bump Klay to an extent others can’t, knocking him off balance, while this also helps Brown navigate screens and doesn’t let him be knocked off course as easily.
Still, that’s a key defender absorbed by Klay, even in this limited form he’s showing. Klay’s gravity also allows those much talked about passing lanes for Draymond Green, and it also allows the Warriors to run those lineups with Green and Kevon Looney together.
Klay has also been passable defensively off the ball in help situations, especially rotating to challenge at the rim with verticality, not fouling and forcing driving Celtics into tough shots.
What helps Klay is there really isn’t much of an avenue for the Warriors to hand his minutes elsewhere. Jordan Poole is currently playing just under 24 minutes a game right now, but is such a negative defensively that that’s probably his range.
I would like to see the Warriors experiment with more Otto Porter Jr-Draymond Green lineups, if a tweak was to be made. I really like the skillset Porter provides at the four against Boston’s more commonly used lineups where they swap out Robert Williams III for either Grant Williams or Derrick White.
Small sample size aside, Porter is 5-6 from three in the Finals, after hitting 37% during the regular season. He has the length to defend Jayson Tatum, if not lock him down, because at this point that’s easier said than done.
Porter appears to be the swing guy in the Warriors rotation, at that 7th-8th spot, as a key bench piece alongside Poole and the returning Gary Payton II. I think he has more to offer the Warriors, especially if Looney proves to not be the right matchup for long stretches as the series progresses.
Is Timelord’s knee a big deal?
You might not find a bigger Robert Williams III fan outside the Celtics fanbase than myself. I’ve absolutely loved his progression this season into an elite defensive anchor and lob threat, while I also think he’s flashed some nice passing chops in limited opportunities when asked to make plays out of the high post.
But right now he’s visibly hindered by that knee injury suffered late in the season.
I’m not here to talk about the long term health implications Williams is opening himself up to by playing now, although that is worrying on a human level.
But I do wonder as the series goes on whether Golden State will look to expose Williams out in space for the minutes he’s on the floor.
Williams got his knee rolled up on in a collision during Game 2, which was sure to flare up his existing ailments, and Mark Jackson was immediately on commentary calling for a high pick and roll to get Williams into the action against Steph Curry.
That re-injury and blowout meant Williams only played 14 minutes in Game 2, and we’ve seen Daniel Theis soak up spot minutes in both games so far, so I wonder if Ime Udoka is preparing for a reduced Williams as the series goes on with these contingency Theis minutes, even if only to start games or quarters.
Functionally, Theis isn’t part of the Boston main rotation and nor should he be, but if Williams is significantly reduced going forward he could be a shadow for Kevon Looney at the very least.
On Williams, he’s still shown flashes of his elite rim protection and quick jumping ability, and has slipped to the rim for finishes very well. Where he’s not as effective to me is his activity on the glass, especially at the offensive end.
Williams averaged nearly four offensive rebounds a game through the regular season, but only has two total through two games in the Finals. He seems to be prioritising getting back on defence and setting up positionally rather than crashing the glass, which is one of his offensive strengths.
He isn’t as missed on the defensive glass because he isn’t much of a board chaser anyway, and the Celtics can more than cover for him with Tatum, Brown, Smart and Horford.
Impressively, Boston haven’t lost too much in terms of second chance points. While they weren’t a prolific second chance points team in the regular season, they did manage 13 a game. In the Finals, that figure is down, but only to 10.5, despite limited offensive rebounding from Williams.
So while Boston never relied on second chance points as a big part of their offense, the lack of offensive rebounding due to Williams’ limitations has reduced the amount of possessions they can stretch during a game. Boston are averaging 6.5 offensive rebounds a game in the Finals compared to Golden State’s 9, and those couple of extra possession can prove to be the difference late in games.