A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The case for Miami making a 5th straight final

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Yesterday I predicted Miami to once again represent the East in the Finals, despite the loss of Lebron James. I wanted to elaborate on this a bit.

Truthfully, I’m pretty split between Cleveland, Miami and Chicago to make the Finals and I expect Cleveland to have the best regular season record. So I still feel there’s a better chance of Miami not making the Finals than making it. Nevertheless, I side with them.

Why I am high on Miami:

Talent level 

In general, I see talented teams and players largely figuring it out over time. For example evaluating teams by splitting up their offense and defense can be tricky, because teams with great offensive talent can finding themselves saving more energy for defense, or taking other strategical measures like a slow pace to make their results balanced on both ends.

The Heat have a very talented team even without James. Yes, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are not at their apex, but these are still Hall of Famers in their 12th season. Some recent 12th seasons for Hall of Fame caliber players include Kevin Garnett’s, 2006-2007, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash’s 2007-2008, Tim Duncan’s 2008-2009, Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki’s 2009-2010. When the talent is high enough, most players of Wade and Bosh’s caliber continue to have elite production for their positions. Their strengths are as much basketball IQ as physical tools, so when added to skills this should persist.

In addition to a dynamic SG and PF/C, the Heat’s talent doesn’t end there. Luol Deng is one of the most talented “3rd options” in the league. When looking at other teams in contention for most talented in the league such as Oklahoma City, L.A. Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Deng’s talent level when considering both ends is fair compared to players like Serge Ibaka, Deandre Jordan or Kyrie Irving. Deng not fitting in Cleveland statistically, is not enough to yet say he’s past his prime or won’t return to all-star production.

Miami’s backup bigs Josh McRoberts, Udonis Haslem and Chris Anderson can all be productive. McRoberts can space the floor and pass the ball well at PF, Anderson’s efficiency finishing at the basket is a difference maker and Haslem is a solid, high IQ player. On the perimeter Mario Chalmers has been long proven competent shooting and defending at PG, Norris Cole  has a clearcut role as a defender, Shabazz Napier and James Ennis may contribute offensively as rookies after their preseason performance. Danny Granger’s contributions are unclear, but if he comes through he may shoot and defend. The Heat have the depth to compliment their talented top 3.

Age and coaching

If teams play to a level different than talent, often age or coaching has something to do with it. Young teams struggle by making mistakes offensively and defensively compared to more experienced teams. Older teams like the Spurs and Mavericks can make a coach look good by working their system with precision and timing.

The Heat are one of the oldest teams in the league and Eric Spolestra from what I’ve seen, appears to be a great coach. Even before Lebron James arrived, Spo had the Heat making the playoffs with a weak roster around their star Wade, on the back of defensive results and system play After losing to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, he was ahead of the curve enough to make Lebron a small ball power forward and fully jump into the spacing-first offensive strategies of the modern NBA.

And this is where I take the Heat over the Cavs even though I am predicting the latter to have a better regular season record. If the Heat play the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals, it’s a tough look for Cleveland. They have many more inexperienced playoff performers, young players potentially making mistakes on defense and a coach who hasn’t going through a deep NBA playoff series. In addition to the fact that the Heat may be near their class in talent level anyways.

But what about the Lebron fall-off?

The Heat won 54 games last year, so how does losing one of the best players of all time equate to being as strong a team next year? There are multiple variables in play. As great as Lebron is, if Deng plays like a top 7 or 8 small forward in the league it at least cuts the loss of James in half in the win total. In addition, Dwyane Wade played 54 games last year and more-so, playing a secondary ball handler role to James negates some of his strengths. Wade is not a strong off the ball player because of his subaverage 3 point shooting along with declining defensive energy. Putting the ball in his hands more allows Wade to greater take advantage of his penetration and passing skills. At small forward Deng provides great balance to the Heat. He can make an impact without taking the ball out of Wade and Bosh’s hands, by playing defense and then having a naturally supporting offensive role. It’s true the Heat’s season could be submarined if Wade’s health gets the better of him or him and Bosh simply decline, but I could also see a surprisingly effective “old legend” season like so many of the greatest players of his era like Bryant, Duncan, Dirk, Nash, etc. churned out.

There’s also the fact that the Heat won 66 games just two years ago, with a team where Lebron’s supporting cast seemed less talented than the 2014-2015 Heat will be. That season the Heat were firing on full cylinders in the regular season far more than 2013-2014, but with a deeper team and a big addition in Luol Deng, who’s to say these Heat can’t perform like the 2013 team without Lebron more than the 2014 team without him? When I stepped back from last year’s record, I saw the Heat being one of the most talented teams in the league thanks to the headlining power of Wade, Bosh and Deng and solid depth. And when added to ample experience and coaching that should presumably help maximize talent, this made them look like an all around force.

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Written by jr.

October 28, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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