OAKLAND – Two LeBron Jameses? Two Stephen Currys? It might seem like overkill or an embarrassment of riches, but a lot of times in showdowns such as The 2016 Finals, that’s what we get: the actual superstar and then his stand-in.
As in, the opposing player designated by his team to be “LeBron” or “Steph” in practice, a surrogate who tries to mirror the other guys’ primary threat to aid in preparation. It’s a tactic that many “scout teams” use regardless of sport.
Back in 2001, coincidentally, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue helped the Los Angeles Lakers get ready for their Finals against Philadelphia by playing the part of Allen Iverson. It was a natural bit of casting, from their similar 6-foot size right down to the braided hair. L.A won that series in five games.
So who is Golden State’s “LeBron” and Cleveland’s “Steph?” Well, the Warriors and the Cavs aren’t quite approaching their practices so literally.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we have some young coaches, so our scout teams are comprised of coaches,” said Golden State assistant Ron Adams. “Which I like because they get through it quickly, they get into stuff, there’s not much fooling around. Do we have a ‘LeBron?’ No, we don’t structure it like that. And we’ve had very little time from the last game to this game.”
Some teams don’t go “live” with their second units as opponent play-alikes, leery of risking injuries if the action gets too real. So they’ll simulate the opposition at a walk-through pace. Still, among the assistants and staffers who do show the Cavs’ tendencies to the Warriors’ starters, doesn’t someone wind up in the spots and role typically filled by James?
“Probably Theo,” Adams said, mentioning Golden State video coordinator Theo Robertson.
Robertson, 29, played at the University of California, a 6-foot-6 shooter who in 2010 helped the Golden Bears win their first Pac-10 championship in 50 years. As a senior, Robertson averaged 14.2 points and hit 45.3 percent of his 3-pointers, but he also was hampered by hip problems that undercut any pro playing ambitions.
“But,” Adams reiterated, “we don’t really do it that way.” So Theo is only a sorta, kinda, rough-draft, stand-in for LeBron.
Similarly, according to veteran reserve Dahntay Jones, the Cavaliers have no designated “Curry” clone when they take to the practice court. Their backups’ primary mission is to provide a sparring partner that demonstrates the Warriors’ maneuvers overall.
“Our scout team is very knowledgeable about what the other team is doing,” Jones said, “and we spend as much time studying as they do. That’s where this [Cleveland] team is a whole and a unit – even guys who don’t play, they’ll prepare even more to help [the starters] prepare.
“We won’t designate a player [as Curry] but we’ll present their tendencies. With their bench, how they evolve as a team, how they switch units. We have those components on our team too.”