A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Posts Tagged ‘Miami Heat

Revisiting Shabazz Napier in the 2014 draft

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Shabazz Napier in my opinion has been one of the most impressive rookies this preseason. His averages of 12.7 points, 3.0 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 20.3 minutes, extrapolate to a robust 22.5 points, 5.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per 36 minutes. Although his FG% is only 41.2%, by scoring from 3 and the FT line his TS% is a solid .586.

I wanted to revisit why Shabazz Napier fell to the Heat at 24 and why I liked him more than that before the draft, ranking him 8th on my mixed model board, which took into account other factors than my traditional talent grades (where he rated 6th), such as conventional draft ranking, college production (PER by age) and analytics performance.

The reasons Napier fell

Napier had several traits that hurt players draft stock. Despite being in the spotlight as a national championship winner, Napier being a senior who turned 23 in July still played against him. Seniors are typically considered lower upside prospects who have less room to develop. While Napier’s production was good enough to lead UConn to the title, it wasn’t as elite as some seniors in the past. He had a 26.0 PER as a senior, while my “benchmark” I wanted to see seniors clear in my PER/age adjusted model was 28.0.

Napier’s physical tools also largely played against him. According to draftexpress.com’s combine database, the average 1st round project PG prospect at the combine measures an average of 6’1.02 in shoes, 185 pounds, 6’5.2 wingspan and 8’0.8 standing reach. Napier measured 6’1 in shoes, 175 pounds, 6’3.25 wingspan and 7’9 standing reach. Thus Napier is legitimately undersized for a point. Despite solid defensive results in college, his lateral quickness in the NBA also projected to be mediocre at best. So a lot of Napier’s doubters looked at him as a player who would struggle to finish at the basket or defend at the NBA level.

Physically he was also considered just an average athlete. When added to his size concerns, Napier was not rated as a slashing prospect in the pros, more likely to throw up jump shots as a spark-plug off the bench.

With growing number of teams looking at analytics to draft players, Napier also did not perform well here. Age is very important to analytics ratings, thus Napier’s senior status made it hard for him to perform well in those ratings.

Therefore for all these reasons he gets drafted 24th where most drafted PGs are targeted to be backups, not future starters.

However, there are some things Napier had going for him in my system that made him rate as a top 10 prospect:

An elite, not good shooting prospect?

One of my pet tricks in the draft is to not only look at 3P% when evaluating shooters, but FT% to back it up as a sign of the player’s mechanics, along with to a lesser extent volume of 3pt attempts.

Here was the 3P% of Napier compared to Doug McDermott and Nik Stauskas last year in college, considered the two most elite shooting prospects in the class:

3P%

McDermott: 44.9%

Stauskas: 44.2%

Napier: 40.5%

McDermott and Stauskas outperform Napier here. But here is their the FT% and 3PA per 40 minutes:

FT%

Napier: 87.0% (6.8 FTA/40)

McDermott: 86.4% (7.0 FTA/40)

Stauskas: 82.4% (5.7 FTA/40)

3PA per game:

McDermott: 6.1 (7.2 per 40)

Napier: 6.0 (6.1 per 40)

Stauskas: 5.8 (6.5 per 40)

What made Napier’s shooting line so rare his last year in college, wasn’t just hitting 40% from 3 on a high volume of attempts, but a stellar 87% from the FT line. It’s rare for a college production to be aces in both categories. McDermott had the most complete shooting numbers of the 3, but a case can be made Napier’s 3P%/FT% combination is as impressive as Nik Stauskas’ was.

When it comes to shooting it’s important for a player to not just hit a higher % of spot up shots, but to be able to shoot off the dribble, thus creating jump-shots instead of having them created for him. Creating jump-shots off the dribble is an area where Napier thrives. Of the above 3 shooters, McDermott appears to be the likely concerning candidate in this area without the noted handles that Napier and Stauskas have. Thus by having seemingly more off the dribble skills than McDermott and a higher FT% than Stauskas, a case can be made Napier was no worse an overall shooting prospect than either.

Going against this is the admitted fact that Napier’s jumpshot just looks strange aesthetically compared to a classic shooter like McDermott or Stauskas. However I believe the abnormal part of it is when he lands, as uniquely he lands on one foot. It’s possible this doesn’t affect the rest of his shot compared to others. As players like Kevin Martin has proved, if it goes in it goes in.

If Napier becomes not just a good but elite shooter in the NBA off the dribble and/or spot up, clearly it goes a long way to establishing him as a legitimate starter or all-star.

A slasher with ballhandling, not athleticism

Napier may be an average athlete, but he was clearly one of the best ballhandling prospects in the class with all sorts of nifty tricks up his sleeve to get by players, with perfect control. Ballhandling and athleticism have a similar end game offensively for guards in the NBA. If Player A uses his blazing first step to get by an opponent and player B uses his ballhandling skills to get around him, an equal amount of value penetrating past the defense may have been gained by each trait. It’s for this reason that the list of best penetrating guards in the league contains non-elite athletes like Chris Paul, Tony Parker and James Harden, instead of just athleticism-driven players like Russell Westbrook and Eric Bledsoe.

When I judge how perimeter player penetrate, I use a visually-driven technique rating how well they “get behind” the defenses when they drive to the rim. Napier performed fairly great in this method, using his ball handling to drive right into the heart of the defense. In preseason so far, Napier’s high free throw attempts rate (5.3 attempts per game in 20.3 minutes, or 9.4 per 36 minutes) may be a result of this more able than expected penetration. Napier’s size may remain a weakness when finishing at the rim and defending, but his ballhandling helps cover up for some of what he loses as just an average athlete.

Or to step back and look at it from a big picture perspective, if Napier was an elite shooting prospect and an elite ballhandling prospect, then his overall skill level including both shooting and ballhandling, is a fearsome combination that only comes along every so often in the draft for a guard. In the draft elite physical tools for a position gets all the press, but elite skill level for a position may get a player just as far.

Napier was not a perfect prospect because of his size, no better than reasonable college production for his senior, mediocre analytics production. However I believe all the tools are there to be an above average starter at his position, with a relatively rare offensive combination of shooting ability, the ball handling skills to drive to the paint and the craftiness and heart to put it all together.

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Written by jr.

October 19, 2014 at 8:53 am

Analyzing the talent level of Michael Carter-Williams

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Michael Carter-Williams is strongest out the gate for the 2013 draft class, putting up a 22 point, 12 assist, 9 steal game in his first game and 26 points, 10 assists, 3 steals in his 3rd. Against two great defenses in Miami and Chicago, no less.

But as recent rookies Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Lin have proved among others, a start this hot does not guarantee long term stardom.

Here was how I rated Michael Carter-Williams talent level in June in my three categories Physical Impact Talent, Skill Impact (shoot, post, pass) talent and Feel for the Game talent, using these grades:

11: Transcendent, 10: Incredible 9: Elite, 8: Great, 7: Very good, 6: Decent, 5: Average, 4: Lacking, 3: Weak, 2: Very poor, 1: Awful

What the overall grades mean:

25+: Perennial all-star talent, 23-24: Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent, 19-22: Blue Chip starter talent, 17-18: Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent, 14-16: Rotation player talent, 12-13: Deep bench to rotation player talent, 11 or lower: Deep bench player talent

Grades:

Physical impact grade: 6 / Decent

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 4 / Lacking

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 17 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

For players with a grade of 17, due to variables like shooting development, I estimated these probabilities of having talent higher or lower than this:

< 1% Perennial all-star talent (grade of 25+)
< 1% Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent (23+)
15% Blue Chip starter talent (19+)
65% Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent (17+)
98.5% Rotation player talent (14+)
99.5%+ Deep bench to Rotation player talent (12+)

Carter-Williams’ appeal was based on a combination of physical talents and feel for the game. As a good, but not elite athlete with ballhandling skills, he has talent attacking the basket off the dribble. His length is an asset defensively, but a thin frame may hurt him finishing plays at the rim.

His biggest strength is his feel for the game. He is a crafty and smooth player, allowing him to find space in the defense and to see the court passing the ball. His steals so far is also arguably a product of anticipation and vision.

This clip shows how MCW’s speed and feel, has helped him attack the basket and find teammates:

Why Carter-Williams didn’t rate higher is his shooting. He shot 30.7% from 3 and 67.9% from the FT line over two years at Syracuse, including 29.4% from 3 and 69.4% from the FT line his sophomore season. The 3 point shooting numbers are poor for the NCAA line, but the FTs were even more worrying as typically good shooting prospects, are at least in the 70s.

That shooting is the biggest difference in his NBA career so far, hitting 47.1% from 3 in his first 3 games, going 8 for 17 from outside. Considering most prospects need time to translate to the longer NBA line, this has been impressive. Carter-Williams has only gone 66.7% from the FT line by hitting 10 for 15. Both of course, are at a risk of small sample size trickery. MCW hitting 5 for 17 from 3 instead of 8 for 17, would have made his 3P% 29.4%, identical to his final year at Syracuse. On the other hand, hitting 12 for 17 from the FT line would have made his number 80% from there, more representative of a great FT shooter. To give you an example of how Carter-Williams could fall apart from 3, after Jeremy Lin started 1-10 from 3 his first 3 “Linsanity” games, he went on to go 12 for 26 from 3 in his next 8 games (46.2%),  a larger sample size than MCW has had, before reverting. A more positive comparison for MCW is Chandler Parsons who had a 4 years college career where he averaged 33.7% from 3 and a weak 61.1% from the FT line, but has gone on to average over 36.6% from 3 on 4.1 attempts a game in the NBA, making him one of the better shooting options at the SF position. Shooting like MCW in college is not a death sentence, it just makes it less likely.

If Carter-Williams settled into an above average shooter at the position, deserving of a grade of 6 or higher in my skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent category – I would rate him as a “blue chip” talent, roughly enough to be an above average starter. It’s surprising that a player with his college shooting career would shoot at an above average NBA rate, but the unpredictably of shooting is largely the reason for giving out that estimate of 15% chance at a blue chip talent. The only way I can see Carter-Williams surpassing even that to  become a perennial all-star and franchise player, is if he becomes one of the best shooters in the NBA. Nothing is impossible, but after his Syracuse results I’d need a larger sample size than 17 shots to put that in play. The worst case scenario is that Carter-Williams’ shooting falls apart and more, where the inability to hit open shots leads defenders to play way off him, Rajon Rondo-style.

To me, early Jeremy Lin is the all-around best comparison. Like Lin, Carter-Williams has the athleticism to attack the basket, size for his position and a strong feel for the game. And like Lin, the rest of his career will depend on shooting. Lin’s regression as a shooter made him a poor fit with James Harden and cost him his starting spot to begin this year, though by hitting 4 from 10 to start this year from 3 he may be on the rebound. My guess is that MCW at best is an above average, but non all-star PG, but at worst is a 3rd guard and average contributor. To Michael Carter-Williams’ credit, he has started his career with confidence and has seized the opportunity given to him by lack of offensive options above him in Philadelphia. His start sets the table for the rest of his career. He’s booked his place at the table for the long term, but how close to the head of the table will he be?

Written by jr.

November 3, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Why I’m no fan of the Greg Oden signing for the Heat

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Greg Oden wallpaper

Greg Oden wallpaper (Photo credit: A Stern Warning)

Miami won the take a flier on Greg Oden sweepstakes – and at a cheap, minimum salary price considering his demand from other teams.

The move has been favorably received. Why not right? Best case scenario Miami becomes unbeatable, worst case it’s just an end of the bench roster spot burned.

I’m not as enthused.

Because James Jones, Rashard Lewis and Joel Anthony are on guaranteed deals next season, if they’re not waived that’s already 3 roster spots to players the Heat shouldn’t want to play. Thus the opportunity cost of Oden’s roster spot, is likely a player nearing on, if not in the rotation. Norris Cole, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem are also not stellar options in the rotation and can be replaced by the right signing. If the Heat signed a big like Chris Wilcox, Ivan or Anthony Tolliver or a perimeter player like Daniel Gibson, Beno Udrih, Delonte West, Mike James, Daequon Cook, Ronnie Brewer, it would not be a surprise if they were in the rotation in the playoffs, before even accounting for the possibility of an injury bringing them into play.

The Heat still have 2 roster spots open after Oden to sign players like the above, such as to replace Mike Miller’s shooting and live body on the wing – but it’s clear that Oden taking a roster spot, means a free agent is left out.

It may not seem like a world changing difference for Chris Wilcox to be called on in a playoff game instead of Joel Anthony, or for Daniel Gibson to replace Norris Cole’s minutes if more productive, but what if it is? The Heat needed every point against the Spurs to defend their title. A few possessions the Heat’s last three wins in the Finals going the other way would’ve changed the result. And the 9th and 10th players in a rotation can make that small difference.

As for his health, it’s a clear longshot. He has to go from a player whose health has prevented a GP in nearly 4 years, to his health staying at least afloat for the next 9 or 10 months until the end of the 2014 playoffs. Whether he can play in November or January is irrelevant to the Heat, only if he’s healthy at the end. There’s a chance Oden is there in the playoffs, but it’s a hail mary throw with a much greater chance of being batted down. In the Heat’s position there was nothing wrong with a 3 yard shovel pass instead.

A problem for the Heat is that becoming a lot better next year may not be worth more than becoming a little better, if in both cases it leads to the title. But becoming a little worse could mean everything if it costs them the title. So is taking the risk of becoming a little worse for the chance to be a lot better, really worth it for the Heat? It would be for the Dallas Mavericks, for whom the upside of Oden could bridge the gap to contention. But for the Heat it may be jumping at a massive upside they don’t even need. You don’t get a bigger trophy for easily winning the title than narrowly winning it.

Oden is a more fun and exciting signing than a player like Chris Wilcox or Ivan Johnson, but I’d side against it being the smart signing. But I’m cheering for Oden to make this post look foolish.

Written by jr.

August 7, 2013 at 10:39 pm

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NBA Finals Thoughts

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Miami Heat

Miami Heat (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

When predicting the Finals or previous rounds, I try to take a perspective of “How would you feel about this match-up if you’d heard about it before the playoffs?”, meaning not to fall prey to overreacting to previous rounds. Clearly most would have greatly favored Miami going into the playoffs over San Antonio or anyone else.

With that said, the Spurs defense has impressed me far more in the playoffs. The Spurs have not been able to win games “ugly” and with defense in the playoffs for years like they did against Memphis and Golden State and now they can. The development of Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter has brought the Spurs defense back to relevance. On the other hand the Heat’s switch to a smaller lineup phasing Joel Anthony out of the lineup, has prevented them from consistent elite defensive results. If the Heat were a shut-down defensive team the Pacers series would’ve been much shorter because like the Grizzlies, the Heat could’ve just exposed the Pacers flawed offense. Although at times the Heat defense stepped up such as in Game 7, overall I trust the Spurs defense more.

One of the reasons the Grizzlies went down so easily to the Spurs is predictability. The Grizzlies leaned far too much in 3 players in Mike Conley, Jr., Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol. The Popovich defensive game-planning were able to key on them. The spacing, passing and off ball play of the other Heat players aside from Lebron, will make it difficult to push the Heat into the flat offensive gameplan they want them to.

The Spurs players’ production has largely been expected compared to regular season play. However the Heat have had different production. Wade and Bosh have been worse, Chris Anderson has been better, and Battier hasn’t been playing. The Heat with Wade and Bosh playing back at regular season level can make a step up as a team compared to what we’ve seen. The biggest way they get worse is if Lebron’s play drops off. For the Spurs to step up their play it’d be by Manu upping his play, albeit he’s been off all year.

If the Heat role players match the Spurs’, the Heat likely win the series just because of Lebron. Lebron and equal help probably doesn’t lose. The way the Heat lose is either Lebron disappoints like in 2011 or he gets no help. The Spurs need to decide whether to shut down the Heat role players while letting Lebron do what he wants, or trying to stop Lebron.

Although it’s unfair, if Lebron loses the Finals twice in three years at his apex as the favorite and with home court advantage it will be hard to live down. Nevertheless making 3 straight Finals puts the Heat in a rare and proud class. I see the Heat losing next year. This Heat team reminds me of the 2010 Lakers where making the Finals 3 straight years was showing on them. Even if they grinded out a 2nd title, that run showed signs of how it’d end the following year. The reason the Heat losing the 2011 title hurts them so much is that their window would never run into infinity with their big 3 running into double digits for seasons played, which is usually when players decline. As superhuman as he is, even Lebron’s prime may end sooner than people believe. Lebron has played over 36,000 minutes in the regular season and playoffs combined and is set to tack on 3000-3800 a year from now on. Normally 40,000 thousand is a dangerous number for when players start to slip. Put it this way, if Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison retired right now, Lebron would pass them by the end of next season with minutes played similar to this season. He’d take about 2 seasons to catch Steve Nash and 3 seasons to catch Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce if they all retired now. Like recent Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, Lebron will likely be a fantastic player deep into his 30s, but the apex version of Lebron racking up MVPs, may only last 1 or 2 more years, with 3 seeming the absolute max.

Admittedly I don’t have a great feel for who wins this series. I don’t feel the matchup favors one team or the other. So I’ll predict this – The first two games in Miami are split. San Antonio wins 2 of 3 at home, which leads the Spurs to have a 3-2 lead going back to the 2 games in Miami. From there it’s probably a toss-up whether San Antonio closes out the series or if Miami wins back to back at home.

Prediction: Miami in 7 games

I pick Miami because of home court advantage favoring them in the 7th game if they get there and because of the greatness of where Lebron’s game is right now.

Written by jr.

June 6, 2013 at 1:08 pm

A few NBA playoffs thoughts

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I had a few things to do the last few days, so I didn’t put up a proper playoff prediction article. My thoughts on the playoffs are hardly interesting. I see Miami over New York in the Eastern Conference Final and Oklahoma City over San Antonio in the Western Conference one, then Miami taking out Oklahoma City in the Finals. In the 1st round the only lower seed I took was Golden State over Denver, but David Lee’s season ending injury puts a hitch in that.

A few brief thoughts:

– I have a hard time seeing OKC beating Miami in the Final if they meet. Miami’s athleticism defensively is perfectly built to defend OKC’s dribble drive offense, whereas their ball movement can pick apart the Thunder’s athletic style of defense. I see the best way to beat Miami, is spacing out their defense with 3 point shooting like the 2011 Mavericks did. Defensively I suspect perfect positioning as essential to defending them. This all points to the Spurs as a great fit to challenge them, but also the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Final.

– Despite all the red flags such as Vinny Del Negro and too offensively orientated a roster, the Clippers are my Finals/title darkhorse. The Clippers played at a 59 win pace with Paul in the lineup and that Paul played 33.4 minutes per game and Griffin 32.5 is encouraging, as both those numbers can be supercharged upwards in the playoffs. Furthermore I believe Chris Paul is one of the 20 most talented players of all time and historically, players and talents on that level, are the guys who’ve written the rules of what works in the playoffs. A player of Paul’s talent on his best team to date, should be feared.

– I’d be selling stock on Denver instead of buying if I could. The Nuggets are a flawed halfcourt team due to a lack of skill polish and shooting. This is one of the all time George Karl teams and that includes why his teams largely have underwhelmed in the plaoyffs.

– Other than Miami/Milwaukee and Oklahoma City/Houston, Brooklyn vs Chicago looked like the biggest mismatch even before the blowout first game. Tom Thibodeau would get my coach of the year vote for winning 45 games with this team, but in the playoffs teams cannot escape their talent and the Bulls just don’t have enough going offensively, especially from the guard position. The Bulls are a team that needs to shut down teams defensively to win and the Nets in particular have the individual talents to make that very difficult.

– I could see every game in Oklahoma City/Houston being a double digit win for the Thunder. Oklahoma City is perfectly engineered to guard the Rockets, since the two things the Rockets like to do is dribble into the paint, which is death against the Thunder’s athleticism and rotations – and to create points in transition and of course a team can’t outrun the Thunder. I see the Rockets offense shriveling up and dieing in this series.

– Knicks/Celtics going into the series, felt like it’d either be a blowout for the Knicks or the Celtics winning. I’d argue the way to guard the Knicks is to let Melo shoot as much as possible, while covering the 3pt shooters. Either Boston traps the Knicks into this heroball box, or the Knicks move the ball and rain 3s on their defense, leaving Boston’s inferior offense too much to catch up.

– The Lakers can’t guard the Spurs ball movement. Their perimeter players are too slow to get to those 3pt shooters. As great as the Spurs are, the Thunder and Heat are simply awful matchups for them because they have the rare speed and length needed to rotate to that ball movement and throw the Spurs off their game. If the Thunder don’t make the Finals, I see the Clippers or Grizzlies taking them out, not the Spurs.

Enjoy the playoffs!

Written by jr.

April 21, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Great expectations: Of Wilt Chamberlain’s career and the importance of this Miami Heat playoff run to NBA history

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Miami Heat

Miami Heat (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Two of the most important years in NBA history are 1967-1968 and 1968-1969, where Bill Russell’s Celtics won their 10th and 11th titles in his 13 year career. Most impressive though is who they beat. In 1966-1967 Wilt Chamberlain had his finest regular season and playoffs, as the Sixers went 68-13 and then ripped through the playoffs, including beating the 8 time defending champion Celtics in 5 Gs. After toiling on Warriors teams with lacked the supporting talent of Russell’s Celtics for the first half of the 60s, the trade to the Sixers in ’65 quickly evened the odds. By 66-67 the Sixers had more talent than the Celtics with a rogue gallery of stars like Hal Greer, Chet Walker, Billy Cunningham, Luke Jackson surrounding Wilt. Wilt also scaled his scoring back to increase his passing, defense and efficiency to finally use his talents to full value. Although the Celtics by the late 60s had a very talented team themselves with the aging Russell and Sam Jones, plus John Havlicek, Bailey Howell among stars, the shellacking in 67 to Philadelphia’s super-team was thought to be the end for their dynasty by most reports. Now that he had the right support, coach in Alex Hannum and know how to play the right way, it was Wilt’s league to own. Which is why after a 62 W season and a 3rd straight MVP by Wilt in 67-68, the loss to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Final blowing a 3-1 lead, is particularly devastating to his legacy. The opportunity came to own the league and the Sixers didn’t put their foot on the gas. The next year Wilt is traded to the Lakers to join Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, culminating in a Game 7 loss in the Finals to the Celtics in Russell’s last game, arguably the most important game in NBA history – and losing it meaning one more black mark in Wilt’s career, albeit he went on a title with the Lakers in ’72. Wilt’s individual greatness is so immense, that even 2 titles in his career is looked at as a slightly disappointment. Largely it comes down to 68 and 69 and what he couldn’t achieve even when handed the best supporting talent. He didn’t max out in career success.

The Miami Heat and Lebron James’ career are at their apexes. Heading for 65 or 66 wins on the backs of a 27 game winning streak, with Lebron’s 4th MVP on the way and arguably his greatest regular season. The Heat are stacked. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are still playing at a star/superstar level and the IQ and shooting of players like Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Ray Allen make them an impossible guard. The Heat have been a masterpiece of spacing and ball movement around their stars the second half of this season. If the Heat go on to win the title this year, it will be a season of legend – the wins, the streak, Lebron’s individual greatness. Together with the 2010-2011 title nobody will be able to doubt the Miami Heat big 3 experiment.

Yet when greatness is on the table to take, as the 68 Sixers proved, leaving it on the table leaves as big a historical mark. The Heat would have lost the title twice in 3 seasons, if not in the Finals those 2 years. Lebron would have gone into the playoffs with the title favorite in 09, 10, 11, 12 and 13 and only gone 1-4. As unfair as it is, since no champion should be disrespected – the expectations for Lebron are so great, that losing again would bring back the demons and criticisms that he carried after the 09, 10 and 11 losses.

Because of the season the Heat have had, the streak, Lebron’s amazing year, how in sync this supporting cast is – it’s championship or bust for the Heat and if they bust, it will be a historic moment that haunts the face of this core for the rest of history. Make no mistake about it, even though the Heat got their title in 2011, the pressure only slightly less this year. The narrative and history can turn on the Heat in the wrong direction. The stunning season Lebron and the Heat have had is a double edged sword, because it creates among the greatest of expectations. The moment is the Heat’s to seize and if they don’t, history won’t take it easy on them.

Written by jr.

April 16, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Beware the Unconventional Swordsman: Why I still see the Knicks as the biggest threat to the Heat in the East

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Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

“There are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.”

– Mark Twain

With the Miami Heat on a 27 game winning streak and up 12.5 games on 2nd place in the East, the first 3 rounds of the playoffs in the East looks like a mere formality. After Miami the rest of the East are the Seven Dwarves. Who of the group of Indiana, New York, Brooklyn, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston and Milwaukee can possibly beat this Heat team – and this legend in Lebron James, at their absolute apex? Can they even get more than 1 game against the Heat?

Some are selling themselves on the Pacers or Nets or the Bulls if Derrick Rose returns as a threat, but my overwhelming choice for the “Maybe… if… perhaps” threat to the Heat, is the New York Knicks.

True, the Knicks are only 11-8 after the all-star break and are both old and badly injured. They’re wilting and barely holding onto their division lead and a top 3 seed. The Knicks are not a sexy choice right now.

My case starts with going back to the 2011 Mavericks, the only team to beat these Heat. My theory for why the Mavs pulled this off – and as I predicted before that series – is because of how weird they were to play. The Heat’s stellar athletes were forced to chase 3 point shooters around the perimeter, instead of using their athleticism to protect the paint. Of course this was added to defending Dirk’s spread/post offense at the 4, hands down the most unconventional player to guard in the league. Adding to this, defensively the Mavericks used not freakish athleticism, but intelligence and a coaching bag of tricks. The Mavericks were the opposite of the Heat. Instead of blinding athleticism and slashing, they used skill and shooting. Instead of physically dominating teams defensively, they relied on formation and positioning and weird tricks like sticking Jason Kidd on Lebron. If the Heat were Superman, a supernatural physical force of powers – then the Mavericks were Batman, a hero with no superpowers but incredible intelligence and an array of gadgets. In 2013 with the Heat playing like this, I suspect having a shot comes down to being Batman, not an inferior version of Superman.

The Knicks this year has been built very similarly to the 2011 Mavericks. On both teams Tyson Chandler manned the middle at C, with elite efficiency and positional defense. Carmelo and Dirk play the stretch PF and center the team’s offense. Then on the perimeter, the teams lack great penetrators but a group of perimeter shooters. Instead of driving into the paint against Miami’s swarming help defense, they will wait on the perimeter for shots to open up. The Heat’s athleticism is much less dynamic on defense, when it’s chasing 3 point shooters instead of blocking penetrating.

Another model for the East’s Seven Dwarves to follow is the 2009 Magic, who shocked the 66 win Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Like the 2011 Mavericks, the Magic were a weird team, defined by it’s 6’10+ 3 point shooting combo in Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis flanking Dwight Howard at C. The Magic rained 3s on the Cavaliers, too short to cover those shots. The 2009 Cavaliers were flawed, but playing an untraditional team did not help matters.

In the above Mark Twain quote, the Indiana Pacers are the 2nd best swordsman in the East. They are as fundamentally sound as can get, the play the “right way.” The Heat have no reason to fear the Pacers, their straight laced fundamentals also makes them less likely to play over their heads. But the Knicks are the unconventional swordsman. By relying on the 3 pointer if they get hot and players like Jason Kidd, JR Smith and Steve Novak start hitting from the outside, no amount of athleticism chasing them on the perimeter will be able to stop those shots from going in. Defensively they are old but smart and will try to positionally block off the Heat.

Finally, the Knicks have all too much reason to be confident against the Knicks. Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd have already beat them. JR Smith is the ultimate “irrational confidence” player, to quote Bill Simmons. Carmelo Anthony is good enough to believe he can be the series’ best player. Players like Iman Shumpert, Kenyon Martin, Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Novak are also far from lacking in balls. The Knicks have also had success against the Heat this season to boost their belief.

I’m far from betting against the Heat in the East this season. But it’s no lock. Nothing is a certainty in the NBA. If I had to pick one team to “shock the world”, I’m taking those weird, unconventional swordsman New York Knicks.

Written by jr.

March 27, 2013 at 4:46 pm