Headlining discussions abound in the NBA playoffs clash between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers.

Stephen Curry vs. LeBron James. Draymond Green vs. Anthony Davis. The reality that Golden State and Los Angeles are entering as sixth and seventh seeds, respectively. More LeBron vs. Steph. Television-rating bonanzas. Legacy debates. The longevity of title windows. And then some more Steph vs. LeBron.

Those conversations all matter. But playoff series are so much more than the most compelling (and obvious) storylines. They are, to some extent, determined by subplots—players and adjustments and questions that exist adjacent to the spotlight.

For consistency's sake, none of the top-three names from Golden State or L.A. will be eligible to appear here. LeBron, Steph, AD, Draymond, D'Angelo Russell and Klay Thompson have my sincerest apologies. This space is for the—[insert dramatic pause]—X-factors.


Kevon Looney

Playoff-mode Kevon Looney verges on generational at this point—someone so incontestably critical he almost graduates from the X-factor discussion.


Looney's importance only increases against the Lakers. His playmaking is crucial to optimizing both single- and dual-big lineups, and he will once again have his work cut out for him on the boards.

The latter battle is inextricably tied to Anthony Davis, who has so far been unplayable on the glass. Both his defensive (27.8) and offensive (9.0) rebounding rates would be career postseason highs. Keeping him under control will predominantly fall to Looney. (Related: Sign me up for eight games of these two duking it out on misses.)

So, too, will matching up with him in general. The Warriors can always pull at the Draymond Green-on-AD thread, but their defensive disruption forever crescendos if he's stashed elsewhere and allowed to roam. Golden State will also need him to pitch in against LeBron James, which becomes far less of a pick-your-poison proposition if Looney is holding his own, at both ends, against AD.

That matchup gets a little thorny for the Warriors on offense. Looney doesn't have the pure range to yank Davis away from the basket. Then again, despite taking the occasional three, the same can be said about Green. Looney, not unlike Draymond, can force AD to move around more with his high screens, hand-offs and sprays to the corner.