Dan Favale | Fri 11/05/2018 - 05:19 EDT

Biggest X-Factor for Every Surviving NBA Playoff Team

Biggest X-Factor for Every Surviving NBA Playoff Team
Superstars are the most important part of an NBA. That's not up for debate. Sometimes, though, someone less than the first- or second-best player on a team can swing a major part of the series. In other words, every playoff squad has an X-Factor—someone whose importance outstrips their typical status. We've got your X-Factors from every 2018 Conference Finals squad right here.

NBA championship odds come courtesy of TopBet and are accurate as of Thursday, May 10. Remember to double-check these lines at your sportsbook choice before submitting a wager, particularly if you're deciding after a game in either series has taken place. That's when sportsbooks will move on their odds the most.

Boston Celtics (+3000): Semi Ojeleye


There's a slim to better-than-slim chance the casual basketball fan has not heard of Semi Ojeleye. He's a rookie, from MSU, who the Boston Celtics played during the regular season only sparingly. 

And you know what? He's about to be super important.

We saw as much in the Celtics' first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks, when head coach Brad Stevens inserted Ojeleye into the starting lineup. He didn't play a huge role in their second-round bout with the Philadelphia 76ers, but only because they didn't need his defensive switchability as much against the City of Brotherly Love's larger lineups. Yes, guys like Ben Simmons, Ersan Ilysaova, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid are contemporary in their own right, but they're also all taller than the 6'7" marble slab that is Ojeleye.

Things are about to change in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics are going up against LeBron, the ultimate matchup nightmare. Just as they used Ojeleye to try pestering Giannis Antetokounmpo in Round 1, they'll try doing the same against LeBron James.

Keeping him on the floor can be difficult. Yes, all of his shots come from the right places. More than 80 percent of his looks came at the rim or from beyond the arc during the regular season. But he failed to clear a 33 percent conversion rate on his threes. It's been basically the same story with slightly better efficiency during the playoffs.

Still, his defensive chops are too integral bench for long periods of time. The Celtics don't have a collection of weak defensive assets; they'll even let Marcus Smart go at LeBron from time to time. But Ojeleye is someone they can use on him one-on-one, while every other player diverts their attention elsewhere.

That, after all, figures to be the name of the Celtics' game: let LeBron get his, and then attempt to stymie his teammates. Ojeleye will be integral to making that work by ensuring they needn't send too many help defenders in the direction of the four-time MVP. 

Cleveland Cavaliers (+650): Tristan Thompson


Tristan Thompson lives!

At first glance, it looked like he may not ever crack head coach Tyronn Lue's rotation. The Cleveland Cavaliers only played him in very small spurts during the first round. It wasn't until Game 7 that he really let loose.

And since then...curtains.

Thompson is crucial to the Cavaliers for a number of reasons, even when he's coming off the bench. They cannot play him and Larry Nance Jr. together, but to be honest, they can't play Larry Nance Jr. at all these days. He hasn't been as good rotating around the rim or defending in space, and he's made some questionable decisions with the ball off the catch.

Thompson, on the other hand, is more used to working with LeBron. Their pick-and-roll chemistry has been a key cog in the Cavaliers' machine for a few years. That won't change now. Thompson is smart when fielding bullets in traffic; he's a decent finisher around the rim; and he's learned to fling passes to corner shooters while diving toward the basket. Nance isn't yet ready to fill that role.

Believe it or not, though, Thompson is even more paramount to the Cavaliers' defense. They play long spurts of the game with Kevin Love at center, where he's still a liability. Inserting Thompson is a way for the Cavaliers to inject switchiness without giving up size or, in some cases, even needing to bench Love, who can be moved to the 4.

Never mind this Eastern Conference Finals date with the Celtics alone. If the Cavaliers are going to make noise in the NBA Finals, they will need to put up with super-small lineups from either the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors.

Short of sticking LeBron at the 5, they don't have the personnel to perfectly combat those alignments. Thompson gives them similar mobility to Draymond Green, P.J. Tucker and even Al Hoford. He's also dominated the latter in past playoff series, specifically on the glass. And if he can again play Horford into submission, the Cavaliers will be sitting pretty. 

Golden State Warriors (-160): Draymond Green


Draymond Green is, on the surface, a little too high profile to be an X-factor. He has more than one All-Star appearance to his name and is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. He's more household than not.

Blame the Warriors' overwhelming collection of star power for his inclusion. He cedes status to Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. He even sometimes plays in the shadow of Klay Thompson. 

The reason? He's not a pure scorer. His three-point percentage is up-and-down, and he prefers to pass off the dribble rather than look for his own shot. And that's fine. The Warriors don't need another volume scorer. They have three others at their disposal. They value Green more so than anything for his work ethic at the other end.

Watch him defend in the half-court when you get a chance. Seriously, do it. You'll see him flying all over the place, party-crashing passing lanes, corralling rebounds, rotating around the rim, closing out on shooters and all that good stuff. On any given half-court possession, he could switch onto four different guys. That's absolutely absurd.

Pairing him with Andre Iguodala specifically is unfair. The Warriors are allowing just 94.1 points per 100 possessions whenever they share the floor—fourth-best mark in the league among the 152 two-man duos who have logged 125 total minutes or more throughout the postseason.

Give Golden State this locked-in version of Green, and they're nigh unbeatable. He even averaged a triple-double in Round 2 against the New Orleans Pelicans while canning over 40 percent of his threes, which he's struggled to hit all season.

Perhaps most importantly, Green is the Warriors' stylistic trump card. He has the power to determine how not only they play, but how their opponents play.

Will the Rockets be able to keep Clint Capela on the floor when Green lines up at the 5? Will the Cavaliers be able to keep Love and even Thompson in the game at all when that happens? Perhaps yes. But there's also the chance none of the league's remaining playoff bigs can keep pace with Green's wing-like skill set. And if the Warriors are going to dictate terms on personnel, well, we might as well award them their third title in four years right friggin' now.

Houston Rockets (+240): P.J. Tucker


The Cavaliers do not have the antidote to the Warriors playing Draymond Green at center. They can counter with LeBron James at the 5, but that will result in unnecessary wear and tear for him, while forcing his supporting cast mates to assume roles they're not comfortable playing.

The Celtics don't have the answer to Green-at-the-5 combinations either. He stands to play even Horford out of the game, and from there, Boston's best bet will be using Semi Ojeleye at center or hoping Marcus Smart can stand the test while head coach Brad Stevens stashes their big (probably Horford) on another assignment.

As for the Rockets, well, they may have an answer for Green. His name is P.J. Tucker.

No, he cannot log as much time at the 5 as Green. He's not built for it, and it has become increasingly difficult for him to chase around the most mobile players as he ages. But he does work at center. The Rockets have closed games with him there on a number of occasions, and they end up with a fireball offense almost every time.

Making this call isn't as easy on the defensive end. Whereas Green is a sturdy rim protector, Tucker won't be getting in many faces around the iron. Still, he's able to switch across almost every position, namely from wings to bigs. 

If the Rockets are going to dethrone the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, they're going to need him to be on point. Golden State has the ability to play Capela off the floor and doesn't have another option to lean on if that happens. Should Tucker be hitting his threes and effectively manning the middle on defense, the Rockets will be fine. Should he struggle in any way for long stretches at a time, though, they're positively screwed. His play is the barometer for their championship chances.

Category : Sports Betting News

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