Know Your Role: Bradley, Thompson, Livingston Carry Heavy Expectations In 2017 Playoffs

Know Your Role: Bradley, Thompson, Livingston Carry Heavy Expectations In 2017 Playoffs NBA Experts

The most important role player in each Conference Finals’ squad

Rightfully so, the superstars get all the attention, the billboards, TV commercials, jersey sales, All-Star votes, and big crunch-time shots. Now that the NBA season is down to its final four squads, players like Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard or Isaiah Thomas are primed to become the most important presence in determining which teams set up the 2017 NBA Finals clash in a few weeks.

But even the superstars can’t get by without some help from the unheralded role players. These are the men who go about their business without much fanfare or attention, plugging in the holes wherever necessary so that the bigger names have the freedom to shine. Throughout NBA history, role players like Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, Danny Ainge, Lamar Odom, and more, made a name for themselves for stepping up big in limited opportunity.

Here are the best role players in each of the remaining Conference Finals squads. The rules here are simple: only players who haven’t received a major individual award (NBA Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, All NBA, All-Star, Finals MVP) over the last three years will count.

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Cleveland Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson – LeBron James is this team’s engine, Kyrie Irving is the spark-plug, and Kevin Love is the extra gear, but the Cavaliers’ machine would remain incomplete without the presence of Tristan Thompson. A fourth pick in the 2011 draft, Thompson has developed into an important starter for Cleveland, becoming the team’s primary interior-defender and rebounder. With the Cavaliers struggling to defend the post all season, Thompson’s ability to deter shots will be invaluable, even without the extra statistical credit for his efforts. He destroyed the Warriors on the offensive glass last season and will be counted on to do the same for two more rounds in the post-season.

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Boston Celtics: Avery Bradley – Bradley’s only distinguished personal accomplishment has been two All Defensive Teams, and it is almost certain that he will be named among the NBA’s best defenders again this season. He has become a specialist at manning up opposition guards and will be counted on to stick to Kyrie Irving for most of the Conference Finals series. On the other end of the floor, Bradley has improved as a scorer every year in the NBA and has been one of the Celtics’ top scorers this season. No matter the situation, Bradley is sure to be in the thick of things when the going gets tougher.

Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Golden State Warriors: Shaun Livingston It’s not an enviable job to be the primary backup to one of the greatest point guards of our time, but Livingston has played his role with aplomb for the past three years for the Warriors. While Stephen Curry is the NBA’s most devastating shooting machine, with a fast-paced style that excels in chaos, Livingston is important because he is in many ways Curry’s antithesis. Livingston’s best moments on offense is when the pace is slower, when he can post up, back into the defender, and unleash a clinically reliable mid-range jumper. On defense, his size (6-foot-7), gives him a great advantage against opposing PGs. Livingston has already had several signature playoff moments, and the Warriors’ ambition for a second title in three years will require him to play a big part for the next two rounds.

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San Antonio Spurs: Danny Green – The Spurs, a wonderful mix of players in their prime, veterans, and up-and-coming youngsters, have heroes all over their roster. Every game, a new role player beyond Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge has the ability to step up and make his presence felt. But the most crucial of these players is Danny Green, a quintessential “three and D” player, who has the following two abilities he can perform among the best in the NBA: hitting spot-up three pointers and playing elite perimeter defense. With Leonard’s status in doubt, there will be added responsibility on Green to give San Antonio a boost on both ends of the floor and hope to defeat the Warriors.

You can follow the writer KARAN MADHOK on Twitter @Hoopistani.

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