Posts Tagged ‘Dwyane Wade’

Chris Bosh – Honesty is the best policy

September 29, 2014

Chris Bosh has always been an open and entertaining interview, but more than anything I love how candid and honest his responses are. Case in point, in an interview with Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald, Bosh responds to a question about the team’s championship aspirations:

“Right now it’s easy,” Bosh said Sunday. “Everybody is supposed to win a championship, everybody wants to win a championship right now, everybody is undefeated, but when those back-to-backs come and those long road trips come, it’s going to be a big-time challenge.

“And especially those nights when you’re going to have to put the extra effort for the team and to lead them in a certain way that I wasn’t doing before. It’s going to be hard.”

And when asked about the whether he gave great defensive effort with the Raptors as compared to with the Heat:
“I thought I was, but I wasn’t.”
And finally in response to a question about his effort output with the increased minutes he expects to play in the absence of LeBron James:
“I’ll try to give the same effort and the same energy,” Bosh said. “But it’s going to be … that’s another question mark. I’m going to have to really find a balance between [offense and defense] to make sure I’m continuously being effective on both ends.”

He could have given pat, copout answers to any or all of those questions, but he didn’t. How much easier to just say, “Yes, our goal is to win it all. Yes, I played hard defense in Toronto. No, I don’t think it will be a problem to give max effort for a few more minutes a game.” But he told it like it is. It is going to be a real challenge for him to take on a leadership role after four years of following LeBron and Dwyane Wade. Those Raptors really didn’t play consistent intense defense. He is going to have to adjust to a larger usage and minute burden. I like that.

Are the 2014 Cavaliers Championship Material?

September 29, 2014

One practice down, and LeBron James is already letting us in on how he expects the team offense to run. He expects it to run through Kyrie Irving. That is to say, Kyrie will play the point, and LeBron will get to work off the ball more than he did in Miami where he split shot-creation duties with Dwyane Wade and certainly more than he did in his last stint with the Cavs where Mike Brown’s lack of an offensive system put the results of every possession squarely on James’s tattooed shoulders.

This is good news for everyone involved. Kyrie is not necessarily best-suited to spending all game making entry passes to James and Kevin Love in the post and then playing a purely catch and shoot role. He’s too dynamic with the dribble to be confined to a Derrick Fisher role. And for James, this means he will get to be a finisher rather than a creator. His assist numbers will likely decrease, and his shooting efficiency may drop some as he won’t be in position to pick and choose his spots as much as he has been in the past. However, his energy reserve for end of game should be much increased. I recall when Phil Jackson instituted the triangle offense and moved the ball into Scottie Pippen’s hands, it had a detrimental effect on Michael Jordan’s efficiency and box score totals, but it also saved him the gas to close games for the Bulls on a more regular basis which I would say contributed to their championship success.

What should we expect the offense to be if it is not a steady diet of LeBron and Love on the blocks? New Cavaliers coach David Blatt is a master of Euro-ball, so we can probably assume that the majority of plays will involve heavy doses of pick and roll. He can set the floor a number of ways and run a lot of different off ball action to free up wing shooters while the primary pick and roll action happens thanks to the mobility of presumed starting shooting guard Dion Waiters and the outside shooting ability of both James and Love. If Kyrie runs a side pick and roll with James while Anderson Varejao and Love set a staggered screen for Waiters curling from the baseline to the top of the key, the defense has to a lot of bad choices to make.

Irving and James cannot be defended without a hedge or an outright double team from on of the other defenders. Kyrie is too good with the ball, and James is too big and athletic, especially at the small forward position. The defense can send Varejao’s defender to help, drop Love’s defender onto Andy, and hope Dion’s defender catches up to him before he gets a wide open shot, but then it’s a swing pass to Love in the corner for an open three pointer. The defense could drop Varejao’s defender to help on the pick and roll and just abandon Andy as the only non-shooter, but that leaves him to cut to the rim for a dump down pass or uncontested offensive rebound. It’s rough, and it’s a lot easier to set up than the synergies that formed in Miami because the pieces fit in more traditional ways.

Setting baseline screens for LeBron off the ball would also be interesting, because he’s likely to have a massive size advantage, and if they can use Kyrie’s dribble attack as misdirection, they could probably hit James with unstoppably deep post position. All in all the offense ought to be very tough because of all the shooters, passers, and ball-handlers available.

Defense on the other hand could be an issue, but we won’t know until we see how they line-up. Kyrie looked decent as an on-ball defender in the World Cup, but he hasn’t had good defensive numbers or habits in the NBA. Love is another player who has not historically been a good rim defender or a one-on-one stopper. James is an All-D regular with the ability to lock up multiple positions, and Andy is a solid position defender as well. The team’s biggest weakness projects to be big guys with post games. However, Al Jefferson, Brook Lopez, and Chris Bosh are probably the only players in the East capable of really taking advantage of that weakness, and none of their teams are expected to contend due to a lack of overall talent or an inability for key players to stay healthy.

I’d expect the Cavs to play a sort of late 80’s / early 90’s style where they pace the game to take advantage of their superior talent and then try to lock down teams for a few minutes at the end of each quarter to really build separation. Danny Ainge told Bill Simmons in a podcast that he felt the 1986 Celtics had a defense on par with the 2008 Celtics but that they didn’t focus as much energy on all-game defense. They exerted themselves more on offense and then locked down on defense selectively. By the numbers the comparison isn’t close. The 2008 team is up there with the mid-90s Knicks and early 2000s Spurs as one of the best defensive teams of the 3 point era. That said, the ’86 Celts were the best defensive team in the league that year (Jordan still dropped 63 on them in the playoffs), and that mentality of playing faster and allowing your offensive dominance to shine most of the game and then really focusing on getting stops, especially turnovers, in short bursts is tried and true. The Celtics did it. The Lakers did it. The Bulls did it. These Cavs could do it too. Maybe.

Eastern Conference – Post LeBron and Lance Signings

July 18, 2014

Is it possible that I haven’t written an article since the before the end of round of one of the playoffs? All things are possible through our faith in LeBron, hallowed be his essay. But putting faith aside, I’ve had a crazy summer and am coming back with a vengeance today (possibly followed by another 3 month absence).

Let’s catch up on the things we’ve missed:

Spurs = incredible. Should be favorites to repeat until we see some kind of improvements among the Thunder / Clippers / Surprise WC Contender. Tim Duncan did not go to some other super-duper star level with this 5th championship. He was already there. Anyone who doesn’t view Tim as a top 10 player all time isn’t paying attention.

Heat flaws that we detailed during the season did come back to bite them just a bit in the Finals. Less aggressive defense than the last two years. More turnovers. Poor rebounding. Too much reliance on only taking excellent shots (layups, free throws, open threes), and when a good defense finally took those things away, they just weren’t used to taking tough contested shots (particularly James who could have been more assertive with his midrange game against a sagging Spurs defense). On the other hand, if Bosh and both PGs hadn’t gone ice cold from beyond the arc, the whole series might have been different.

Also a 4 time MVP and the consensus best player in the league just changed teams of his own accord and left the best team in the East for the 2nd time in 5 years. This is a bizarre league sometimes. I want to take the rest of our time in this post to consider the Eastern Conference in the wake of the dissolution of its 4-time Finals representative.

LeBron James bolting for Cleveland completely disrupts the power dynamics in the East. Everybody outside of Miami is proud of LeBron for making this family / community decision and bringing his market growing powers to a city in need of a boost. I concur, but I’m a little disappointed that this Heat team won’t get its best chance to make it 5 straight NBA Finals, which hasn’t happened since Bill Russell’s Celtics.

The Heat, who managed to keep Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, still have a ton of talent (particularly if Wade can pick up his shot attempts without killing what was a career best year for shooting efficiency), and depending on how they revamp their system, might actually remain a contender to make the Finals. I genuinely think that 2011 team could have made and possibly won the Finals with Luol Deng instead of LeBron and an upgrade at center with the rest of LeBron’s salary. That was four years ago. This team’s chances hinge entirely on what Wade has left in the tank. If he can go back to being a 2400+ minute, 30%+ usage first option creator, they have a strong chance to make it to the Finals. If not, I don’t see it happening.

However, another transaction from a top East team has cleared the way for basically anything to happen. The Indiana Pacers lost Lance Stephenson, who was pretty clearly their second best player and the one guy with the most potential to join Paul George as cornerstones for the future. Lance was Indi’s most creative pick and roll player, most aggressive slasher, and a great wing defender who played two positions and even provided some back-up point guard skills. Without him the Pacers could slide back to the pack, and with the Heat a huge question mark as well, there has to be a lot of hope among the other teams out East.

Chicago is the default favorite in many expert opinions (Vegas has the Cavs) based on the signing of Pau Gasol and the return of Derrick Rose. I need to see both of them perform at a high level before I’ll get excited about them and this team in general. The rotation is interesting. Rose and Kirk Hinrich at the guard spots, Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell and the rookie Doug McDermott at the wings, and Gasol, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson up front. They need to stay healthy or add a little depth, but they sound terrific on paper. The offense can’t be any worse than last year, and if the defense holds, they stand to improve. But Rose has to show us what he’s got before we can put them ahead of the pack.

Cleveland by virtue of LeBron is immediately a Finals contender. People who are concerned about his fit with this relatively young team need to relax. James can fill any skill gaps. We got used to him operating in that Hakeem Olajuwon mid-post, but if the Cav shooters aren’t up to spacing the court for him, he can do other things. Put him in a high pick and roll / pop set with Kyrie Irving, and good things will happen. Let him set a strong down screen for a curling Dion Waiters, and force the defense to switch a guard onto him on the block or leave Waiters open on the wing. He’s a man-mountain with all the skills the modern NBA has to offer. He’ll fit. Especially if they pull a trade and bring in Kevin Love to clear up that big man shooting issue.

Atlanta is interesting because people are probably not paying enough attention to their under-the-radar All-Star center pick up of Al Horford. This was a very well-coached team with great chemistry who competed at both ends last year, and they were missing their best player for most of the season. They are the Chicago of the South East division with much much much better shooting and not as much continuity and defensive dominance. Okay. They are nothing like the Bulls. But they are getting their best player back from injury, and they do have the potential to make a huge leap this season.

Washington lost Trevor Ariza, which I think will hurt them because he was doing a really good prime Bruce Bowen impression for them with more athleticism to boot. My main man Paul Pierce has lost a step and isn’t up to defending guards any more which means Bradley Beal and John Wall will have to guard their position every night instead of handing off the best opposing perimeter player. This is a very solid team with a spectacularly talented point guard and solid players at every position. Depth could be an issue, but they will be a tough out in the playoffs.

Toronto stayed the course, holding onto all the chief assets from last year’s run. They should be better with more experience together. Kyle Lowry was a top 4 guard in the East last year and may be again, and his back up is very solid as well. I don’t know if the overall talent level is high enough (what positions do they “win” against say the Wiz or Cavs?), but they have continuity and they compete hard, so in the upheaval of the Eastern Conference, you can’t write them off completely.

The Nets are headed downhill unless they get a remarkable return to form (from five years ago) from Deron Williams. That is really their only hope for getting better after losing Pierce.

The Knicks are looking to 2015 and don’t even want to be great next year. I keep hearing from New York representatives that Andrea Bargnani is going to have a bounce back year, and I keep asking myself “bounce back to what?” Hasn’t the mystique of being a #1 pick worn off yet? Carmelo Anthony came back, and they picked up Jose Calderon for a respectable PG presence. Those two factors coupled with the institution of a system offense by Derek Fisher might be enough to make the playoffs, but they aren’t contending.

The one other playoff team from last year that looks to be improved is Charlotte. The HORNETSNOTBOBCATS picked up Lance Stephenson which adds a lot of strength and versatility to their wing rotation. They can roll out Lance, Gerald Henderson, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with each playing in the low thirty minute range. That could make for some very nice perimeter defense and very shaky shooting. Losing Josh McRoberts will hurt as he was a legit 6’ 10” and could pass and shoot out of the high post. They need to find another complementary big to pair with Al Jefferson. Speaking of Big Al, he needs to come back healthy and repeat his excellent performance from last season. If Kemba Walker continues his upward trajectory, and they can plug a couple holes, this is a very solid team. Probably not a contender, but who knows. If Lance makes a leap, they could be a threat. Maybe. Unless Lance does something insane and Michael Jordan clubs him to death with a Brand Jordan 7-iron.

2014 NBA Awards and Playoff Predictions

April 18, 2014

Dear beloved readers,

If I could properly apologize for the two month gap in top notch basketball coverage content that my hiatus has left in your lives, rest assured, I would. But no amount of codified remorse could ever make up for my lapse. All I can do is offer you the most exhilarating, thrill-ride of a season wrap up, you’ve ever encountered. Brace yourselves for awards, playoff predictions, and whatever else pops into my head. I don’t want to oversell it, but it’ll probably be better than the NCAA tournament and all four rounds of the NBA playoffs combined.

2014 NBA Awards (Not predictions – how I would vote)

Season MVP: Kevin Durant – I don’t even see an argument here. The Thunder are the second best team in the league by record and by statistics, and the only better team, the Spurs, spreads the wealth too thin to have a real MVP candidate this year. Durant leads the league in scoring, PER, WS, and WS/48. The Thunder are a top 6 in both ORtg and DRtg. KD produced the most and did it efficiently for a great team. That’s the MVP.

MVP Runners up: LeBron James, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Tim Duncan

DPoY: Joakim Noah – He held it down all season long. Chicago is the second best defense behind Indiana, but unlike the Pacers, the Bulls start and give big minutes to a number of sub-standard defensive players. Noah carries the weight that they can’t at the defensive end.

DPoY Runners up: Roy Hibbert, Andre Igudala, Tim Duncan, Serge Ibaka

6th MoY: Ray Allen – This is going to be an unpopular pick because his stats are a career worst, and maybe he should be disqualified since he started so much in place of Dwyane Wade, but the dynamic that Ray brings to the Heat offense is an overlooked aspect of their team greatness. Lots of good shooters stretch the floor, but Ray draws so much attention with his movement and the cross screens he sets for James and the perimeter guys, that it totally warps team defensive concepts. The Heat employs two big minute line-ups with +4 point differential. Wade is only on one. James is only on one. Ray is on both.

6th MoY Runners up: Manu Ginobili, Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford, Vince Carter

CoY: Gregg Popavich – He’s simply the best, better than all the rest, better than anyone, anyone I’ve ever met. Seriously. Pop has been ahead of the curve for a decade. He and RC Buford together are this generation’s Red Auerbach. Pop’s masterful manipulation of his team’s minutes, and his ability to adapt his system to the talents that come through to get the best out of everybody sets him above the pack.

CoY Runners up: Jeff Hornacek, Tom Thibodeau, Doc Rivers, Rick Carlisle

MIP: The entire Phoenix Suns team. It’s hard to pick. Green maybe? Dragic? Let’s go with the Dragon. Goran Dragic.

MIP Runners up: Gerald Green, DeAndre Jordan, Markieff Morris, Reggie Jackson

RoY: Michael Carter-Williams – I don’t care if the Sixers were one of the worst teams we’ve ever seen. That was management’s decision, and the players were not put in a position to be able to compete. MCW was the best rookie by the numbers averaging 16 ppg with 6 boards and 6 dimes. I’m not sure if projects to have the best career, but he did the most this season.

RoY Runners up: Victor Oladipo, Mason Plumlee, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Kelly Olynyk

All NBA
First Team:

G – Stephen Curry
G – James Harden
F – Kevin Durant
F – LeBron James
C – Joakim Noah

Second Team:

G – Chris Paul
G – Tony Parker
F – Blake Griffin
F – LeMarcus Aldridge
C – Dwight Howard

Third Team:

G – Goran Dragic
G – Paul George
F – Kevin Love
F – Tim Duncan
C – Al Jefferson

All-Defense

First Team:

G – Andre Igudala
G – Tony Allen
F – Tim Duncan
F – Paul George
C – Joakim Noah

Second Team:

G – Mike Conley
G – Lance Stephenson
F – Jimmy Butler
F – Serge Ibaka
C – Roy Hibbert

Playoff Predictions

East Round 1:

PACERS def Hawks 4-1
HEAT def Bobcats 4-0
NETS def Raptors 4-3
BULLS def Wizards 4-2

West Round 1:

SPURS def Mavericks 4-1
THUNDER def Grizzlies 4-1
CLIPPERS def Warriors 4-3
TRAILBLAZERS def Rockets 4-3

East Round 2:

PACERS def Bulls 4-3
HEAT def NETS 4-3

West Round 2:

SPURS def Trailblazers 4-1
THUNDER def Clippers 4-2

East Finals:

HEAT def Pacers 4-2

West Finals:

THUNDER def Spurs 4-2

NBA Finals:

HEAT def Thunder 4-3

I’ve been predicting a Heat three-peat all season, and I still think it’s going to happen (Wade’s knee permitting). They just have another level they can go to, and I’m not sure that any of their would-be dethroners can say the same. I do think the Spurs would win a repeat of last year’s finals, but I don’t believe San Antonio would beat OKC to get there simply because of the match-ups involved. That said, Miami matches up very well against the Thunder and takes them out of their defensive schemes by going small, so that’s sort of a rock-paper-scissors that falls out in the Heat’s favor. LeBron wins his 3rd consecutive Finals MVP to join only Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal.

2014 Team Profile – Miami Heat

January 8, 2014

We’re deep enough into the season for me to have a feel for how most of the teams, or at least the good teams, are playing, and so it’s time to introduce a new feature here at Double Dribble: Team Profiles! I’m going to write a piece on how each team is playing, strengths and weaknesses, and projections. And I’ll start with the champs.

I’ve written a lot about LeBron James this season, but I haven’t written too much about the defending champion Miami Heat. After last night’s victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, the Heat’s record stands at 27-8, tied for 2nd place overall in the league and 2nd in the East behind the Indiana Pacers. They are 4th in margin of victory just ahead of the Portland Trailblazers, 2nd in points per possession just behind the Trailblazers, and 9th in points allowed per possession behind the Toronto Raptors. They have had one of the easiest schedules in the league so far (they are in the East), but you can’t blame them for that.

Overall this isn’t a bad position for the Heat to occupy. LeBron James is playing his lowest minutes per game of his career. Dwyane Wade is sitting out the second game of back to backs (the team is 4-4 without Wade and 23-4 with him). They are a veteran, two time defending champion that is conserving its strength for the playoffs.

BUT, you knew there was a “but” coming, the Heat do seem to be distinctly more vulnerable than they did last year in two areas. First and most obvious is on defense. 9th overall in points per possession isn’t terrible, and they do lead the league in turning the opposition over (which helps them achieve their league leading eFG% on offense). However, they are allowing opponents to shoot 51.5 eFG%, 2 points above league average and ranking in the bottom 8 overall. At the same time they are a little below middle of the pack in defensive rebounding. So not only do they allow teams to shoot a high percentage, but they don’t dominate their defensive glass either. Their league leading ability to cause turnovers is the only thing keeping them from falling out of the top 10 defensive teams completely.

The other issue facing the Heat is trouble maintaining offensive possessions. The Heat currently have a 14.7% turnover rate which is the 7th worst in the league. Last year they were above average, ranked 13th best in the league. A high turnover rate isn’t a killer necessarily. Indiana is 5th worst in league in turnover percentage. However, the Pacers help to offset their turnover issues by playing the best defense in the league dominating the defensive glass (3rd in the league). They give it up on offense, but they control their defensive glass. The Heat are a mediocre defensive rebounding team and dead last in offensive rebounding. Overall they remain a net plus in possessions per game thanks to their high steals rate; however, they are a net minus in “plays” per game because of all the offensive rebounds they allow.

The danger, as I see it, is that their high level of play is mostly dependent on incredible shooting and turning the opposition over at an extremely high rate. These two factors are likely to be difficult to maintain in the post season. Better defenses will make it harder to get clean shots off, and more cautious opponents will be less likely to turn the ball over so much. Last season the Heat’s effective field goal percentage dropped 3.6% from the regular season to the playoffs, and while their opponent turnover percentage increased, it increased from a more reasonable 14.8% to 15.6%. The Heat’s opponents are currently turning the ball over at a rate of 17.2%. It seems highly unlikely that a rate so high could be matched in the post-season much less increased.

The good news for the Heat is that the Eastern Conference is so bad right now that they might not even be challenged until the conference finals. The other possible good point for the champs is that they are more committed than ever to their small ball style. Yes the lack of size and complete abandonment of the paint on offense is the reason they recover less than 18% of their missed shots and the reason that their defensive efficiency isn’t what it once was, but their ability to limit their offense to nothing but shots at the rim and three pointers is predicated on the spacing provided by going small.

With no weakside big man near the rim, it’s very difficult to hedge towards the post, and it’s a long way to come to double team. There’s a reason LeBron James is scoring 25 points per game on 16 shot attempts and a reason that the team’s eFG% is 56.6, 3 points higher than the runner up Spurs and 7 points higher than the league average. Teams have not figured out how to deal with a monster like LeBron in the paint and defend the perimeter at the same time. It’s like the Shaquille O’Neal / Kobe Bryant Lakers if O’Neal could make free throws and got fastbreak points. The Pacers and Spurs both played LeBron straight up last year with help only in situations where it was prudent, and it almost worked. Do they have the guts to do it again knowing that there’s rarely a Chris Anderson or Udonis Haslem on the court to help off of? If they do, will it work any better than it did last year? If Wade is healthy in the playoffs, then it may be a moot point, because teams that game plan for James will be susceptible to one-on-one attacks from other players.

The other trick that the Heat have in their back pocket is simply a reserve of energy. The Heat’s best offense is created by their very aggressive defense, and that defensive style is very energy consuming, pressing in the back court, trapping and recovering on post scorers, and blitzing pick and rolls. So they don’t go all out all the time. This means that in a given quarter or a given playoff game, they have the ability to play at a higher level than their season average indicates. Their chief competition does not have the ability to kick it up to the same gear that Miami does. I have a bad feeling for the Pacers that they may learn the same lesson that the 1993 Knicks and 1998 Jazz learned. Having a better regular season than the champs is not the same thing as playing eye to eye with the champs. From what I’ve seen so far this season, I’d say the Heat are in good shape to repeat as Eastern Conference champs and NBA Finals winners.