SI.com will periodically panel its basketball experts during the 2015 NBA playoffs and ask them a pressing question about the league. Today's topic...trying to find the Warriors wing best-suited for guarding LeBron James.
Golden State owned the NBA's best defense during this season and has four wings that present challenges for LeBron James: Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala. While no one can stop LeBron, Golden State certainly has a good shot of containing him. With that in mind, we asked our NBA experts...
Which Warrior is best-suited to guard LeBron?
Lee Jenkins: Draymond Green
The Warriors are reasonably well positioned to defend LeBron James, if that’s possible. Draymond Green was probably the best defensive player in the NBA this season because he has the strength to bang with 4s down low and the foot speed to track 3s on the perimeter. I assume he’ll spend most of the time on James, though Golden State may need him boxing out Tristan Thompson also. In those stretches, the Warriors can always turn to Andre Iguodala, who was one of the most effective defenders against James when he was in Philadelphia. Iguodala may have lost a step since then, but he will be valuable in this series as a reinforcement for Green.
Chris Ballard: Andrew Bogut
It's a given that no one defender can stop LeBron, so the Warriors' scheme is going to be all about help, and making James uncomfortable. Iguodala is best-suited to deny LeBron the ball—one of Iggy's strengths—and swipe at his dribble. He's also disciplined, and has had some success against LeBron in the past. Draymond Green stands a better chance on post-ups and at withstanding those monster truck drives. He's also younger, bigger and more fiery than Iguodala. But it will be the help D of Bogut and occasionally Festus Ezeli that may well play the biggest role. Whether it's Barnes, Iggy or Green on James, the plan will be the same: dare him to take jumpers and try to keep him out of the paint. When he does pass, close out on the three-point shooters, and don't let Tristan Thompson beat you on lobs and the offensive boards. Few in the league are better at walling off the rim than Bogut, but he needs to stay out of foul trouble and the rotations need to be crisp. Whenever he leaves the game, the lane will be wide open, and once LeBron gets that close it's all over.
Ben Golliver: Draymond Green
Golden State used Green, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson against LeBron James during his one appearance against the Warriors this season, a 110-99 Cavaliers victory back in February. How did that pack of defenders do? Well, James got loose for a season-high 42 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, finding success anywhere and everywhere. (Seriously, his shot chart from the game was entirely green, with 5/6 shooting in the basket area, 3/4 shooting in the paint, 3/6 shooting from midrange and 4/9 shooting from deep.) The Warriors' coaching staff won't exactly be thrilled with their defensive work in that game, but this was mostly a case of James having one of those Hall of Fame nights. In particular, he was in a deep rhythm with his outside shot, a rhythm that he hasn't come close to recreating during the playoffs. During the postseason, James is shooting just 32.9% on long twos and 17.6% on three-pointers in the postseason. That's a lot of iron.
I fully expect the Warriors to stick with a rotating approach on James after using Thompson, Barnes and Iguodala to frustrate and wear down James Harden in the Western Conference finals. Among that group, I see Green as especially crucial because James has been operating out of the post a lot during Cleveland's run-up to the Finals. Green has the size, strength, motor and technique to make James work for his points in those situations. The All-Defensive First Team selection and Defensive Player of the Year runner-up should be able to do a reasonable job of playing James one-on-one from 15 feet and in, thereby allowing Golden State's other defenders to stay home on Cleveland's shooters. Another possibility: using Iguodala or Barnes on James when he goes to the post, and deploying Green as a roving help defender to clog both the paint and the passing lanes.
One other thing to keep an eye on: Will the Warriors take a page out of the Spurs playbook by backing off James and daring him to shoot from the outside in isolation situations? The numbers suggest that will be a winning strategy, but it could always backfire if James miraculously rediscovers a consistent shooting touch or if the approach motivates him to a greater degree of aggressiveness.
Michael Rosenberg: Draymond Green
He has the strength and intelligence to at least give himself a fighting chance when James posts up, and if that forces James to play a bit more on the perimeter, that's good for Golden State. But what I really love about Golden State in this series is that the Warriors have so many good options. Green can start on James. Andre Iguodala can handle him for stretches. So can Klay Thompson. Golden State should be able to put an excellent defender on James for every minute of the series—and none of them can stop LeBron, but maybe they can keep him from dominating.
Matt Dollinger: Andre Iguodala
Trying to slow down LeBron might be the game's most arduous task, but Golden State does have a few advantages heading into the Finals. The quality and quantity of their wing defenders is superior to anyone Cleveland has faced in this postseason. More importantly, they have an easy blueprint to follow in attempting to contain him. James is just 12-of-68 from three-point range this postseason (17.6%) and Golden State happens to have one of the best rim protectors in the league in Andrew Bogut. The Warriors could follow in the footsteps of other James opponents and dare LeBron to shoot from deep while stacking the paint to discourage drives. If that's the strategy they deploy, Iguodala could be Golden State's best bet atop the key. The veteran has the length and the speed to keep up with James on the perimeter and has enough strength to initially slow James down on drives. Golden State's goal is to keep LeBron shooting jumpers and make him beat the Warriors with his accuracy, not power.
DeAntaePrince: Harrison Barnes
The Warriors have the most capable bodies to throw at LeBron James in the league, with Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green all worth their weight in gold on that end. While it is virtually impossible to guard James with only one player, Barnes might be best-equipped to single-handedly corral him. His recent experience playing defense deep in the post against the Memphis Grizzlies serves as unique experience for a player who already possesses long arms and graceful athleticism. Barnes’ instincts and wiry strength should prove a useful combination in Golden State’s effort to thwart James, the best player on the planet.