Posts Tagged ‘Miami Heat’

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.

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 Heat – Most Difficult 3Peat Ever?

January 24, 2014

Right now, at just about the halfway point of the 2014 season, the Thunder, Spurs, and Pacers are all top 25 all-time teams by the Simple Rating System, a one number team rater that factors in margin of victory and strength of schedule. This is by no means a perfect estimation of a team’s ability to win, but as you can see in the below table, it captures something that picks up on many of the greatest teams of all time.

Miscellaneous
Rk Season Tm G W L W-L% MOV SOS SRS
1 1970-71 MIL* 82 66 16 .805 12.26 -0.34 11.91
2 1995-96 CHI* 82 72 10 .878 12.24 -0.44 11.80
3 1971-72 LAL* 82 69 13 .841 12.28 -0.63 11.65
4 1971-72 MIL* 82 63 19 .768 11.16 -0.46 10.70
5 1996-97 CHI* 82 69 13 .841 10.80 -0.11 10.70
6 1991-92 CHI* 82 67 15 .817 10.44 -0.37 10.07
7 2007-08 BOS* 82 66 16 .805 10.26 -0.95 9.31
8 2012-13 OKC* 82 60 22 .732 9.21 -0.06 9.15
9 1985-86 BOS* 82 67 15 .817 9.41 -0.36 9.06
10 1985-86 MIL* 82 57 25 .695 9.04 -0.35 8.69
11 1993-94 SEA* 82 63 19 .768 9.09 -0.41 8.68
12 2008-09 CLE* 82 66 16 .805 8.93 -0.25 8.68
13 1990-91 CHI* 82 61 21 .744 9.10 -0.53 8.57
14 1966-67 PHI* 81 68 13 .840 9.44 -0.94 8.50
15 1990-91 POR* 82 63 19 .768 8.68 -0.21 8.47
16 1969-70 NYK* 82 60 22 .732 9.09 -0.66 8.42
17 1999-00 LAL* 82 67 15 .817 8.55 -0.14 8.41
18 2013-14 SAS 42 32 10 .762 7.86 0.54 8.40
19 2006-07 SAS* 82 58 24 .707 8.43 -0.08 8.35
20 1986-87 LAL* 82 65 17 .793 9.30 -0.98 8.32
Rk Season Tm G W L W-L% MOV SOS SRS
21 2013-14 IND 41 33 8 .805 9.05 -0.76 8.29
22 1961-62 BOS* 80 60 20 .750 9.24 -0.98 8.25
23 2013-14 OKC 43 33 10 .767 7.26 1.00 8.25
24 1972-73 LAL* 82 60 22 .732 8.54 -0.36 8.16
25 1996-97 UTA* 82 64 18 .780 8.79 -0.82 7.97
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/24/2014.

Glaringly absent from the list are the two time defending champion Heat (currently ranked 235th all-time). This is not necessarily a nail in the coffin of the Heat. The last three teams to three-peat did not make the top 25 either – 1993 Bulls, 1998 Bulls, and 2002 Lakers. However, no other teams from those seasons made the list. 2014 Miami looks to be up against stiffer competition than these other teams, at least midway through the season. There’s a lot of time for these three 2014 juggernauts to slip out of the top 25 and for Miami to right the ship and make it higher up the list.

Assuming that the current rankings hold relatively static through the rest of the season, at least for one or two of these teams, what is the prognosis for the title this year? Well 14 out of the 22 teams in our top 25 who are not currently playing won the title. Of the 8 teams that failed to win the title, half of them lost to teams ranked higher in the top 25, so they didn’t underachieve, they just got beat by higher ranked teams. The remaining four squads that failed to win are:

2013 Thunder – Lost Russell Westbrook in round 1 of the playoffs.
1994 Sonics – Possibly the worst 1 – 8 upset in NBA history.
2009 Cavaliers – Epic fail against an inferior Magic team. LeBron James put up impossible stats.
1973 Lakers – Knicks kicked their butts in a revenge Finals meeting.

That’s one injury excuse, one major collapse, one minor collapse, and one that just got beat in the Finals rematch. The good news for Miami fans is that the 2013 Heat, 1994 Rockets, 2009 Lakers, and 1973 Knicks who won the title those four years also don’t show up on this list. If that Pacers, Spurs, and Thunder keep up their dominant play throughout the regular season, there’s still a 4 out of 22, basically 20% chance that someone will beat them. Heck, it’s very probable that of the Spurs and Thunder, one will eliminate the other. But that still leaves the Heat to go through Indiana to get to the winner of the match-up (you know, assuming many things fall out right for all four teams). Three-peating is never easy, but it should be especially tough against this level of competition.

2014 Team Profile – Indiana Pacers

January 17, 2014

I’ve been looking forward to this profile because I love the construction of this team and the way they play ball. The Indiana Pacers have thus far been the winningest, most defensively dominant, and overall best team in the league. I think this is basically in keeping with projections. Some prognosticators thought that a healthy Chicago Bulls team adding former MVP Derrick Rose back to the mix with an improved Jimmy Butler could surpass both Miami and Indiana in the East, but the more conservative view had the Pacers as the front runners for the regular season record. The surprise has been just how far in front of the Heat and most of the Western Conference powers the Pacers have pulled.

Statistically the Pacers have jumped the Spurs as the team with the best Simple Rating System score factoring their strength of schedule and margin of victory numbers. What’s really impressive about that distinction is that Indiana has had the third easiest schedule in the league. Their margin of victory is so great (over 10 points per game) right now that the relatively weak schedule wasn’t enough to undermine their lead on the rest of the league. In fact the Pacers’ MOV is super-elite, top 5 since 1980 behind only three Michael Jordan / Scottie Pippen Bulls teams and the 2008 Celtics with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and directly ahead of both Larry Bird’s 1986 Celtics and Magic Johnson’s 1987 Lakers. This doesn’t guarantee anything in the playoffs, but it’s awfully good company to keep.

The Pacers are basically an average offensive team. They are exactly league average in points per possession, slightly above average in effective field goal percentage and slightly below average in offensive rebounding, turnover rate, and free throw rate. However, on the other side of the ball, the 2014 Pacers are one of the all-time great squads. They lead the league in defensive rating (points allowed per possession), opponent effective field goal percentage, and defensive rebounding percentage. That is to say that they allow the fewest made baskets and the fewest offensive rebounds on a per possession basis. Their advantage in opponent eFG% is really impressive. The separation between the #1 Pacers and #2 Thunder is greater than the separation between the #2 Thunder the #13 Bobcats. The Pacers also rank top 5 in lowest opponent free throw rate. There’s no easy way to score against them.

How does Indiana manage such an impressive defense? First and foremost they have great defensive players. All of their starters are big and physical at their positions. They have great wing quickness with Lance Stephenson and Paul George and tremendous rim protection with Roy Hibbert. George Hill is a lanky point guard defender with great fundamentals and discipline, and David West is a tough power forward who can hold position and has great anticipation and quick hands. Schematically they play a locked in man-to-man system with conservative hedging principals that allows them to shrink the lane (again they are both quick and big) while remaining close enough to contest three point shooters. They have a few different strategies for dealing with pick and roll actions including forcing the dribbler baseline into help from the bigs, strong show and recover from the screener defender, and even the occasional late clock switch to force the ball handler to shoot over a big. They don’t gamble for steals, and as mentioned in the stats, they completely dominate the defensive glass (top 5 all time).

Offensively, they don’t get a lot of easy points. They aren’t a fastbreaking team or a big time three point shooting team, and they don’t get to the line at a high rate. But they do run a nice pick and roll into other actions, and they have good one on one scorers all over the floor. Their size allows them to operate in the post from basically every position, not the most efficient method, but a reliable option to get a shot up and get back on defense. Paul George and Lance Stephenson are both developing into dynamic attacking wings, but without a great penetrating point guard, they will continue to lag behind the more aggressive offenses in today’s drive-and-kick dominated league.

The projections for the Pacers are excellent. The East is so weak that, barring some remarkable recovery by the Knicks or Nets, they should be able to pencil themselves into the Eastern Conference Finals. They have addressed the major issues they had last year, primarily their bench which was very thin and has been bolstered by the recovery of Danny Granger and the additions of Louis Scola and C.J. Watson and their propensity for unforced turnovers. The one major concern I still have for Indiana is their lack of offensive explosiveness. We know that the Miami Heat can ramp up the defensive pressure and unleash LeBron James to go on big runs and play better than their average regular season team stats indicate. I’m not sure if the Pacers have that same ability to raise their game when it matters. Still they have to be considered a top 4 or 5 contender league-wide right now, and the MOV numbers put them in company with some of the best teams of all time.

Should LeBron Shoot More?

January 15, 2014

There’s a big hullabaloo going on about a comment LeBron James made referring to a Kevin Durant box score where KD shot 30+ field goal attempts. James essentially said that he’d like to know how good a scorer he would be right now if he had the green light to take contested shots. His exact quote was:

“I’m not much of a forced-shot guy. But there are games where I have it going, and then at the end of the game, I’m like, damn, I shot just 12-for-16? Why don’t I get up at least six or seven more? I definitely notice it.”

We’ve covered in this space the way that the Heat are built to maximize LeBron’s efficiency with a cadre of three point shooters to space the floor and keep double teams at bay, a commitment to pressure defense and transition scoring, and no big men clogging the lane with help defenders. LeBron is playing in a set-up not unlike Shaquille O’Neal with the Lakers but he’s supplementing his one-on-one basket attacks in the post with easy fastbreak dunks. Also he makes his free throws. It’s abominably efficient.

However, if LeBron shoots the ball too much more, he might actually undermine that carefully constructed floor balance and spacing. If the defense believes LeBron will force more contested shots, they would send more help defenders. Right now they can’t leave the shooters because they know James prefers to pass the ball.

Obviously there’s a balance to be reached. There are certain games where the Heat could use more scoring from LeBron. If he’s shooting 80% from the floor and only gets 15 shot attempts in a loss, then maybe a couple of contested shots from LeBron would have been better than leaving those possessions in the hands of Mario Chalmers or Michael Beasley. But right now LeBron is conserving energy, and he has the one-on-one scoring ability in his back pocket for the tough defenses in the playoffs.

I’m more interested in just how efficient Kevin Durant could be playing in the Heat system. How good a shooter would Durant be if he only took the 16 best shot attempts available to him every night? Would he be shooting 60% from the field?