Starting Five: Know Your Role

Each week NBA Australia‘s stable of experts - which this week includes Downtown’s Liam Santamaria and Tom Hersz - takes a close look at the big issues in the NBA.

For a team to be successful in the postseason, they need a balanced contribution. The Starting Five assess the best role players who have provided their team with an extra spark during the playoffs.


Liam Santamaria: Tristan Thompson

With Kevin Love out and Kyrie Irving also missing games, LeBron James has been nothing short of amazing recently.  Like Magic Johnson in Game 6 of the ‘80 Finals, LeBron played all five positions at different times in Game 3.  It was an historic performance and his heroic triple-double has brought Cleveland to the brink of the NBA Finals.

But no man is an island and The King’s supporting cast has also risen to the challenge over the past couple of weeks.

None, of course, have made more headlines than Matthew Dellavedova, who has been terrific at both ends while holding the fort for Kyrie.  His intensity and hustle have caused controversy (and at least one injury), but his defense and general fearlessness on offense are where he’s been most impactful.

Then, of course, there’s Iman Shumpert and J. R. Smith – the two happiest guys in basketball right now.  Shump is always excellent at the defensive end but has also found his shooting stroke, nailing 8/14 from downtown over the last two games.  Smith, free from the distractions of NYC, has averaged 15 points per game since returning from suspension last round, including a 28-point explosion in Game 1 vs Atlanta and an important double-double in Game 3 yesterday.

For me, however, it’s been the play of fourth-year pro Tristan Thompson that has most supported LeBron since the Love injury.Double T, as James likes to call him, has averaged a double-double since Love went down; finishing strongly around the rim (.559 FG) and relentlessly crashing the glass for the Cavs (11.1 rebounds per game).

Thompson’s been playing close to 40 minutes per game as Love’s primary replacement, up from the 26.8 he played in the regular season and 25.5 he played during the opening round of the Playoffs.

Believe it or not, #13 (not #23) actually leads the Cavs in minutes after three games of the Conference Finals.

During winning-time of Game 3, Thompson blocked a potential game-sealing Mike Scott shot near the end of regulation and pulled down a crucial offensive board late in OT that led to a LeBron corner three and gave the Cavs the lead.  He quietly had himself a massive say in the outcome of that ball game.

LeBron’s dominant play, Kyrie’s tendonitis and Delly’s (apparently) controversial approach are grabbing all the headlines, but Thompson’s play won’t go unnoticed within the Cavs organisation.  And it won’t go unrewarded either, with the big fella entering restricted free agency at season’s end.  Cha-ching!


Tom Hersz: Matthew Dellavedova

Just 22 months ago, the kid from Maryborough was an undrafted Summer League hopeful, just gunning for a shot at a training camp invite.

Yesterday, he was sitting next to The King on the podium, having helped his team take a dominant 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Yes, it’s fair to say he’s come a long way.

Delly has been thrust into the spotlight this postseason by virtue of Kyrie Irving’s injuries, a few—what I like to call—“agitating” incidents, but mostly because of his play.

In his second year, he has continued to go about playing his way. Delly is a worker; a hustler; an energy guy; but mostly, he is the ultimate role player.

“This is the guy that works his tail off every single night …. He beats the odds, and he comes to play as hard as he can,” said LeBron James after the Cavs’ Game 3 win yesterday.

James summed it up perfectly. Delly simply approaches each game with the mindset of doing whatever he can to help his team. He is selfless in that respect and the hard work and stay-ready attitude has paid huge dividends this postseason.

Filling in for Kyrie Irving in the deciding Game 6 against Chicago, Delly had a career night , starting the second half and blowing the game wide open, Patty Mills style, with timely three-point shooting, an attacking mentality and his trademark hard-nosed defence.Against Atlanta, he has started the past two games with Irving out, carrying a huge workload with no other point guard on the roster.

“I will be ready for whatever the team needs,” Dellavedova said prior to Game 2.

Ready he was. He’s averaged 14 points, 4.5 rebounds, three assists and three triples made over those two starts, playing a whopping 41 minutes—exactly double his regular season playing time.

Delly has allowed LeBron James to not have to burden himself with all the ball-handling duties in addition to carrying the scoring load sans Irving and Kevin Love.

Delly shoots when he’s open, attacks when given opportunities, finds the open man and then hustles back on defence; basically doing whatever he thinks is needed to help his more experienced teammates.

He knows who he is and is comfortable with that, even amidst all the backlash about his “track record.”

Delly’s been called all kinds of names over the past 24 hours—almost all of them undeserved, inaccurate and unfair. He’s just hustling, trying to make plays and help his team; playing his role.

The impact of his role is measured in the box score by exactly one metric—the final score.

With the Cavs up 3-0, it is fair to say he’s playing that role to perfection.


To find out which role players Simon Legg, Angus Crawford and Scott Howard-Cooper think have stepped up for their teams, click here.


This article first appeared on NBA Australia.


Author of the article

I like to think that I bring the all-important little man’s perspective to the Downtown crew. The rim may be 10-feet high folks but the court, itself, is at ground level. My one season playing ball on the national scene was back in 2001/02, when I played the vital role of 4th-string PG as a member of the Victoria Titans. Go back and watch the tapes, I’m confident that only Patty Mills outranks me worldwide as an end-of-the-bench towel-waver. This experience, however, gives me the kind of an insight into pro hoops that can only be gained by spending time ‘behind the curtain’. These days I spend most of my spare time squeezing every last cent out of my League Pass subscription. And when I’m not playing, watching, writing about or podcasting about basketball, you’ll find me soundly outplaying all-comers at the fantasy version of the game. Safe to say that if I had a tattoo it would say ‘mum’. But if I had two tattoos, the second one would definitely be of a basketball. Follow me on twitter: @liam_santa

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