A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

A victory for nuance, not unselfishness

with 7 comments

Image via ontfin.com

The NBA Finals are over and I can’t quite believe it. As I realized the Dallas Mavericks had taken control of Game 6 like they had done in no other games in the series, and that this was probably going to be the last NBA basketball played until the labor dispute is resolved, my mood turned bittersweet. It was a great season, and I’m sad to see it end.

Now where to begin with the analysis? Well let’s start with clarifying the story line.

I’ll admit that I was cheering for the Dallas Mavericks and am thrilled they won. However I chafe at the narrative that this was a morality play of the blue collar defeating Hollywood glamour.

The Crowd: Yes! We’re all different! 

Man in crowd: I’m not… 

Miami’s Big 3 were as unselfish as you could possibly want. They sacrificed money. They sacrificed personal statistics. They played great defense. And they could have easily won the title. When people portray the Heat as a bunch of individuals as opposed to a team, they mostly miss the mark.

Mostly though is a key word. As I wrote about, the Heat have a redundancy problem.  Particularly between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but also Chris Bosh. These are all guys whose best characteristic is as volume scorers, and they are currently being brought together in a simplistic offense that’s no better than what LeBron was able to achieve without any other stars in Cleveland.

In that sense, the Heat are playing like individuals compared to the Mavericks. None of Dirk Nowitzki‘s teammates are volume scorers, and each of the other 5 key players on the team (Chandler, Terry, Kidd, Marion, Barea) have their own very distinctive strengths. I don’t want overrate how special that supporting cast is, but it is safe to say that each key piece was chosen for they could bring that the others did not bring.

The same simply cannot be said about Miami. LeBron and Wade did not choose to play with each other because of their differences, but because of their similarities, and this is simply not a wise way to build a team.

You’re good, get better. Stop asking for things. Close the door.

This ties in to why I cheered for Dallas. I’ve got nothing against Miami, and I honestly hope they win championships. However, I also want my basketball to be smart. I don’t want a team with primitive tactics that don’t make use of their full potential to win the title.

Partly this is a matter of wanting to have a slightly wiser narrative in place. I don’t want fans or players or the media to think that you can just throw a bunch of scorers on a team and they’ll be unstoppable. And despite the fact that a close inspection of the numbers reveals the wiser narrative anyway (the Heat’s offense was really not any better than the Cavaliers’ was in previous years), had the Heat won people would have run with the “3 stars = championship” theme regardless. Oh, and make no mistake I know how close Miami was to winning. There was nothing fundamental that kept them from a title, they just played a solid team with a really smart coach in Rick Carlisle.

More than anything else though, I just hate watching basketball with guys making bad plays and getting away with it. When LeBron hoists up a low percentage shot and makes it, I know he’s going to be more likely to take that bad shot again. Had the Heat won this title, perhaps they conclude that there’s nothing wrong with their current level of play, and that would be a shame.

I want to see the Heat work on their flaws and improve. I want to see them truly create a world class offense that makes use of the nuances of the game. I don’t know if they will do it, but I do know that the odds of this occurring just got a bit better.

Written by Matt Johnson

June 14, 2011 at 12:36 am

7 Responses

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  1. Interesting outlook. It’s fascinating to me how history will probably view this as a failed experiment (even if they win it all next year), yet they were basically right there to win. Whether it was G2, or the free throw line (Dallas gained 17 points from what was expected in FT shooting results). The final margin in the series was 14 points.

    If that makes Miami work to devise a better offense, I suppose that’s a good thing for basketball. Goodness, if they played their roles and got into their sets as efficiently as Dallas (with 6 or 7 quality NBA players!) the results may very well be scary.


    June 14, 2011 at 11:41 am

    • This is where I have to agree with how frustrated you get with short term thinking.

      Before the season, whenever anyone said “They may not get there this year, but by the 2nd year they will be unreal.” no one objected. Yet, now we’re one year in, the team just barely missed out on a title and it’s the end of the world. Quite amusing.

      Still, as a lover of the beauty of sport, I feel quite entitled to give’em hell. I don’t want to believe they’ve hit their ceiling.

      Matt Johnson

      June 18, 2011 at 8:11 pm

  2. Agreed. Miami’s offense was structurally flawed by having weak outside shooting and weak interior scoring from bigs. On teams like Dallas and last year’s Cavs, the star Lebron/Dirk could find those great shots by the attention they create. But those shots weren’t there for Wade and Lebron to create in Miami. Dallas didn’t beat them by being more unselfish, they beat them by having a better offense with 3s + inside scorers + Dirk + insane passing to find the best shot.

    If I’m the Heat I throw my MLE at Mehmet Okur this summer, if he’s healthy enough to be productive like before. That gives them two 3 spot up 3pt shooters beside Wade and Lebron, which should be the goal of most offenses. Yeah the Bosh/Okur frontcourt would be weak defensively and on the boards, but the Heat’s perimeter defense is so good that they cover each other. Plus you spell him with Anthony if you need d and no o


    June 14, 2011 at 11:48 am

    • I’ll be honest and say I don’t know exactly what the Heat should do.

      I will say though that when you’ve got 3 volume scorers at the 2, 3 & 4, it’s hard to see acquiring a center for his 3-point shooting. I get that it would give them a certain matchup advantage, and maybe that’s the best they can expect from exterior options.

      Matt Johnson

      June 18, 2011 at 8:42 pm

  3. Actually just forgot Okur isn’t a free agent until next year. Utah could buy him out though, they have Millsap, Favors, Jefferson and might draft another big, so there’s no minutes for him there anymore.


    June 14, 2011 at 11:50 am

  4. about the money thing, it’s true that the Heat players took a pay cut (I think all 3 combined around for $15 million)

    but Dirk alone took $16 million less than he could have get.
    THATS what I think is a real sacrifice


    June 15, 2011 at 1:42 am

    • Hmm, let’s get clear here. Most NBA superstars technically take a pay cut eventually because their salaries get so big once they get older. Hence, while Dirk did technically take a bigger pay cut, he still did not take a pay cut big enough for him to be as cheap as the Heatles.

      Regardless though, I certainly wouldn’t criticize Dirk as selfish, and have no objection to him getting his props for the good he’s done his franchise on and off the court.

      Matt Johnson

      June 18, 2011 at 8:50 pm

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