If the answer was easy, then surely more coaches would deploy whatever strategy was the best. Unfortunately the answer isn’t easy. With an offense that is essentially choosing between different toxins — let LeBron roam and try to cut off the snake’s head from it’s body, and the best player on the planet could be pouring in the points. Yet if a team focuses all their energy on King James, they can fail badly and have both LeBron and Wade going. And who can forget about Bosh? Well some teams do, and Miami’s big man is ready whenever his number is called.
So which member of the Big Three impacts the Heat’s chances to win by scoring the most. This look into the correlation between Miami’s victories and each players scoring totals sheds some light on the issue. (Note: All 247 games in this sample were Heat games in where all three players were on the floor for at least 20 minutes to take out the potential variables that can be caused by other players taking up a larger share of the minutes.)
Correlation in 192 Regular Season Games
Correlation in 55 Playoff Games
Correlation in all 247 Games
The answer becomes more convoluted after this research than before. However certain things tend to make sense. In the playoffs, stopping LeBron becomes the biggest priority. His 0.335 mark in postseason games is the highest out of all the results. When James doesn’t score, the team struggles. This can be seen in the most in the finals series loss against Dallas, where LeBron tallied 8, 17, 21, and 20 in the four losses. All of those games were below his average. On the other end of the spectrum, the Heat have won 21 of their 26 playoff games when James scores 30 or more points. After late-April stifling, number six needs to be the priority, bar none.
Ironically, preventing James to score isn’t much of a concern during the regular season. His 0.002 correlation in these games is minuscule, but might not be due to the opposing team’s defense. LeBron is so consistent during the regular season that his point totals doesn’t affect the game much. He is going to score a lot regardless, but the stakes aren’t high enough to where we see him as intense as he was in that notorious game six against the Boston Celtics.
During these games, keying in on Dwyane Wade may be a more prudent practice. When Wade is playing well in regular season games you can feel Miami’s confidence as a team grow, and the numbers back that up. His 0.178 mark leads the team in the regular season. With LeBron playing at that steady level — for better, or even for worse — Dwyane is the linchpin and as he goes so does Miami. 0.178 doesn’t seem like an astronomical mark, but considering the Heat’s regular season win percentage since uniting these players (74.5%) it isn’t something to overlook.
The post season looks much different for Wade. 0.013 ranks the lowest for out of all the different possibilities, and a myriad of aches and pains during the postseason could explain things. Dwyane’s body always seems to be breaking down by the end of the year, and it is possible the team looks to rely on him less when that happens.
As for Bosh, he stays in the middle ground of scoring importance the entire time. The playoff number is nearly triple the regular season number, but the shortening of the team’s rotation in the postseason and the lower winning percentage in this situation could potentially make up for this ground. Chris affects the so many different facets of the game, and often scoring is part of that. However the impact is felt, he’s always going to be a huge part of the game.
So in the regular season, letting LeBron roam free isn’t the worst thing in the world. Theoretically, locking down Wade is the perfect formula for sneaking out a regular season win against the league’s scariest squad. Don’t let James get going if you want to make a run for the Larry O’Brien trophy though, or he will start barreling down the lane and reducing your chance to win swiftly.
A vision of mine has been how to track success of different NBA players taken in the draft throughout the years. I have wondered, “Who is the best player taken with the No. 13 pick in the draft? Can you draft a franchise player outside the top 10 picks? Is being a low-seed playoff team really the worst long-term result for a team? Will the Kings ever make the playoffs again?” As you can see, this has taken up quite some time, and are really important questions for me.
Thanks to basketball-reference.com, and their extensive database, I was able to create a database of information that helped visualize the information I was looking at.
Here is the result of my research, with some details:
I only have data from the years since the lottery was instituted. That means no Michael Jordan, as the lottery was instituted in 1985, the year after MJ was drafted.
All players are listed under the team that drafted them. Draft day trades weren’t accounted for, ie Jimmer Fredette is under the Milwaukee Bucks, despite being traded to the Sacramento Kings, but Kyrie Irving is under the Cleveland Cavaliers, because the Los Angeles Clippers had traded the pick prior to the draft.
If you notice something, comment below and I’ll see if I can fix it.
Play around with the filters, and see what you learn yourself. Here are some of the things that were most interesting to me:
Steve Nash is the most successful non-lottery pick since 1985.
The NBA tier of teams that are “mediocre,” meaning they make the playoffs, but don’t advance past the first round, have not yet produced many franchise players. These teams pick most often between 15-23, and only one player taken in those picks would be considered a franchise player – Nash. The most notable players so far are Nash, Mark Jackson, Shawn Kemp, A.C. Green, and Michael Finley. Players like Josh Smith, Zach Randolph, Kawhi Leonard, Roy Hibbert, and Ty Lawson may get there, but more time is needed.
Andre Miller has had a really great career, and no one has noticed. For comparison, Allen Iverson played 13 seasons, and finished with a win share of 99.0. Andre Miller is in his 14th season, and has a win share of 96.1. Miller hasn’t had the MVP’s, All-Star games, sponsorship deals, or Finals appearances, but steady consistency may end up in a tremendous career.
Steph Curry and Ty Lawson have nearly identical win shares with the same number of years experience. Their careers will be interesting to track, as they seem to have separated from the rest of the ’09 draft class.
Not including the franchise players from 2003, but 2000-2005 hasn’t exactly produced a lot of fantastic players. It may explain why the NBA players seem so young (at least to me.)
If you find something interesting, say so in the comments. I may update the table later, with information like “franchises played for,” and “All-Star game appearances.” If you have suggestions, again, please say so in the comments.
This year, for the first time, Hickory-High will be tackling the challenging of crafting season previews for all thirty NBA teams. Beginning today we’ll be rolling out these previews, one each day, leading up to Opening Night. This was a task of considerable size and complexity and it required the help of every member of our staff. The only guidelines given were that each writer approach team by staying true to their own style and the result is season previews of a difference sort. We hope you enjoy!
Earlier this year, Daft Punk released Random Access Memories, their first album in eight years, which would subsequently reach the No. 1 spot on album charts in 21 different countries. The album was a departure from their previous work – after revolutionizing electronic dance music in France in the late 90s and early 2000s with a hybrid of house and synthpop (an almost exclusively digital medium), they flipped the script on Random Access Memories, working primarily with analog instruments, and mimicking sounds and styles of the 1970s and 1980s. During production of the album, they collaborated with a number of artists who were influential during that time period, including Giorgio Moroder, Paul Williams, and Nile Rodgers.
The album received nearly unanimous critical acclaim, primarily for its ambition in exploring a variety of musical styles, many of which have been out of vogue for the better part of the last two decades. In an interview for a YouTube series titled “The Collaborators,” Nile Rodgers referred to Daft Punk’s ability to co-opt past musical styles for the modern era, remarking, “they went back to go forward.”
In doing so, he also perfectly described the current iteration of the Miami Heat.
Most analysts today seem to agree that Miami plays a decidedly new-school style. They play without a traditional big man. They care more about speed, quickness, and flexibility than they do about size. They value ball movement, motion, and pick-and-roll over isolation. They move the ball and then move themselves. They spend near-undue energy trying to create corner threes and take those shots away from opponents.
These are all very new-school elements of basketball. But with the exception of fighting tooth-and-nail over corner threes, they’re also all very OLD school elements of basketball.
Back in the early days of the NBA, and even before, in the BAA, NBL and college ball, the emphasis of basketball was not to pound the ball inside to a 7-foot behemoth who would back down his opponent and get a shot close to the rim. The only pro team that did that was Minneapolis, and that was because they had George Mikan, who was roughly the size of a Chevy Suburban. For most of the 40s and 50s, the stars of the league were players like Dolph Schayes, a 6-7, 195 pound “Forward-Center,” or Harry Gallatin, a 6-6, 210 pound player with the same title. The emphasis in those days was on short passes in quick succession, with many players cutting from different directions. In the earliest days of basketball (going back to the turn of the century), dribbling wasn’t even allowed, which would render post play completely irrelevant.
In those days, basketball consisted of throwing your five best players out on the court and letting the chips fall where they may. This is how Miami plays basketball.
The Heat are seemingly indifferent to the traditional notions of “positions.” Coach Erik Spoelstra has taken to referring to LeBron as his (painfully forced) nickname “1-5,” a play on LeBron’s ability to play any position on the court (and, I suppose by extension, the idea that no nominal position is able to describe him). There were multiple instances over their last two postseason runs where James was seemingly playing point guard and power forward at the same time – usually alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, with some combination of Shane Battier, Mike Miller, and/or Ray Allen.
This generally trend has been going on for a handful of years – the blurring of the lines between positions. It seems that point guard is the only truly “static” position, but the other four seem to blend into each other. Positionally, is there a difference between Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors? What about Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler? How about Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler? Many teams are starting to value flexibility over fitting pegs (players) into corresponding holes (positions), but Miami is on the cutting edge. All they need is one rebounder, two reliable ball handlers, and range shooting everywhere else. What “position” those players are is irrelevant.
Now other teams are starting to follow suit. Golden State has three wing players (Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson – Draymond Green could even be a fourth) with diverse skill sets who can be thrown together in seemingly an combination along with Stephen Curry and either David Lee or Andrew Bogut. Other teams like New York and Oklahoma City are shuffling rotations around to place emphasis on speed and skill, not size and strength. But Miami remains the pinnacle.
This trend going forward will be interesting to watch. As more and more teams go smaller, there will be teams like Indiana and Memphis who swing the other way – getting bigger and more physical (interestingly enough, Indiana and Memphis are two teams who do fit the “Five Best Guys” model; it just so happens that their Five Best Guys also fall between clear positional divides). But what will happen less and less (presumably, I hope) is teams deviating from their own style to match up with opponents. We’re headed for the NBA’s version of Thunderdome.
“These are my five guys. Those are your five guys. Let’s play basketball.”
This season, Miami is playing against history. In the moment, they don’t really have much to prove. They’ve won two straight titles and appeared in the Finals three straight years, and it’s not like they’ve been up against the 2002 Nets or 1999 Knicks – they’ve been playing truly elite competition. They’re trying to become just the fourth team in history to make the Finals in four consecutive seasons. Magic’s Lakers did it from 82-85. Bird’s Celtics did it from 84-87. Russell’s Celtics had ten consecutive trips from 57-66. LeBron’s Heat have a chance to do it this year.
I say they have a chance because this year’s postseason is going to be a [expletive deleted] free-for-all. The Pacers are a year older, a year meaner, and they get back Danny Granger. Derrick Rose is back from injury and about to go America all over everyone’s ass. The Nets were basically a 50-win team last year and added three postseason warriors in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry. The Knicks are still a high-variance team that can beat any team on any night. And that’s just the East.
Some might say that getting to the Finals this year is going to take (another) Herculean effort from LeBron. But that would be too reductive. It’s going to take a triumph of style for the Heat to reach the Finals again. Yes, the two go hand-in-hand, as playing with Miami’s level of flexibility would be impossible without a player like LeBron, but simply having LeBron isn’t enough. It takes a commitment to innovation, and a commitment to basketball’s roots.
Shot creation is a loosely defined term in basketball discussions that means different things to different people and in different contexts. But as a general matter, it describes the ability of a player to get a decent shot in isolation when set offensive plays break down or are blown up by savvy defenses. Shot creation, when defined this way, usually requires a certain baseline level of ball handling skill and speed with which to collapse the set defense all on one’s own or, alternatively, an ability to work efficiently from the post. The league’s best players are so overwhelmingly talented that, generally speaking, they are also the best at operating within these disorganized, talent-over-execution contexts.
I’ve often heard and read that the need for players with shot-creating, isolation skills increases in the playoffs as typically the defenses being played against are superior and, due to the extra time between games in the playoffs, those defenses have an ability to go with much more intensity in each game and also have a better chance to figure out exactly what it is their opponents wants to get and how to deny them. Certainly, the Miami Heat being the back-to-back champions of the league, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh‘s reputations on their own as isolation killers, would seem to indicate that the conventional wisdom of the need for multiple “shot-creators” is still present. What’s interesting to me, though, is that there’s plenty of evidence that this isn’t the only way to win, even in the playoffs. In fact, the Miami Heat of the last two years are actually a great example of the principle I’m exploring here. The Heat of the last two years didn’t really make use of Wade and Bosh’s isolation abilities in the same way as in their first season together.
LeBron has become the fulcrum of the Heat offense, with Wade and Bosh, despite all their talent and accomplishment, becoming primarily an incredibly dangerous off-ball cutter and spot-up shooter, respectively. Of course, that’s not all Wade and Bosh do. When LeBron has to take a seat, having those two is incredibly valuable in keeping the rest of the role player flotsam that makes up the Heat afloat, by being able to draw the primary focus of the defense. But LeBron only rests a very small amount so Wade and Bosh have, essentially, become the world’s most talented and overqualified role players. Bosh protects the rim on defense and stretches the floor, keeping his man from occupying the paint. Wade opens up space for shooters and LeBron’s post-ups by being so dangerous off-the-ball that defenders are forced to sneak a peek at him from time to time. Those peeks provide all the time LeBron needs to fire a precise pass to a corner three-point shooter, duck into the paint for a lay-in or dunk, or deploy any of the many other weapons in his seemingly ever-expanding toolkit.
The Heat play this way not because Wade and Bosh couldn’t still dominate games using their isolation skills, but because it’s the most efficient deployment of the team’s talents. There’s only one ball and LeBron is by far the Heat’s best option with the ball in his hands. He’s the best passer, the best scorer, and really, the best everything, the Heat or anyone in the league has. Surrounding LeBron with shooters and guys who can blow by defenders over-zealously closing out on the open looks LeBron creates is just the smart thing to do. In fact, it’s probably the smartest thing any team can do with its best player, provided that player is a good and willing passer (and if your team’s best player is not a strong passer that’s probably a pretty big problem with the construction of the team).
Going back a couple of years, the way the Dallas Mavericks beat the Heat, despite being clearly outclassed in overall talent, was to operate using a more efficient distribution method for shots and touches. While the Heat’s trio seemingly took a “okay, my turn to isolate” approach, the Mavericks used Dirk Nowitzki as the focus of the offense and surrounded him with shooters and guys who could dribble drive enough to get a shot at the rim or a wide open midrange shot. They had ball handlers, to be sure, in Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and J.J. Barea, but not anyone outside of Nowitzki that you would really call a shot creator. It didn’t matter. The floor was spaced, the ball moved, and the Heat for all of their defensive intensity and overwhelming talent, simply couldn’t stop the Mavericks.
Even this year, the Heat were six seconds away from falling to a team that they were clearly more talented than, the San Antonio Spurs. It seems weird to say that the Spurs, a team with future Hall of Famers Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan, was less talented than any team, but the Heat have LeBron and, due to his failing body and questionable decision-making, Manu Ginobili was, all things considered, probably a net negative for the Spurs with how he played in the Finals.
Still, the Spurs were right there and probably should have won it all. How were they able to accomplish that? Well, they had Tony Parker acting as their offensive hub, operating off the ball and on it, attracting defensive attention. Then, when Parker created opportunities, they moved the ball quickly, smartly, finding open shots from behind the three point line or at the rim. They managed to keep changing their offense, adding small little wrinkles to keep the Heat guessing just enough that, even with the advantages the playoff format confers on the defense, the Spurs were able to keep pouring in the points.
This understanding of how to best deploy and structure an offense is what is probably driving the three-and-D wing craze. Smart teams have come to understand that while it’s essential to have one or two star players who can act as the focal point of an offense, most players in the draft simply won’t be that guy. So looking for guys who can create their own shot and do it often, outside of the top half of the lottery, is probably the wrong play. If you’ve already got one of those offensive centerpieces, the much bally-hooed shot creator, getting a player who can make open shots, competently dribble drive past a hard close-out, and become a plus defender at their position on a cheap rookie deal becomes very enticing, and likely the smartest play.
Basically, while shot creation is very important for team construction, not everyone needs that skill. In fact, most players do not need to be “shot creators” to be useful, good players. A team probably only really needs one person on the floor, at a time, who is really excellent at isolating or “shot creating”, so long as they have a sound offensive system based on off-ball movement, penetration, and spacing, and properly execute that system. Aside from each team’s offensive centerpiece, inflating a player’s worth based on his ability to create shots in isolation is unwise. Having more overall talent, and thus more players with one-on-one skills, is nice, as the Heat can attest, but even the league’s most talented team needed to re-configure their offensive system to make LeBron the centerpiece and the lesser talents orbit around him in order to maximize their full potential.
For an interesting look at these same sorts of ideas, check out this post from Nima Shaahinfar, “BLUEPRINT FOR NBA SUCCESS: How to Build a Team Greater than the Sum of Its Parts.”
Hello again, Hickory High. Sorry I wasn’t around last week. I was in Istanbul. And the first thing I saw when I got out of the airport was a giant poster of Hedo Turkoglu, the Turkish Michael Jordan.
Hedo gets a pretty bad rap because we feel he hasn’t reached his potential. There were moments when he was in Orlando when it seemed like he could be a key player on a contender, but when he went to Toronto, he pulled a Vince Carter and begged his way out. His reputation hasn’t been the same since.
A big reason Miami and Boston have had success over the past few years is that they haven’t thrown money at guys like Hedo Turkogulu—and I don’t mean Turks. I mean guys who don’t become the players they should be. After the Decision, some people, including me, thought LeBron James might have been squandering his potential by teaming with two other stars, but that seems pretty silly now. Both these teams are full of guys who became the best players they could be.
So when the Heat and the Celtics meet Monday night, lets give thanks that Hedo Turkoglu will be nowhere near the game. He might be the best Turkish player ever right now, but Ersan Ilyasova is getting better every year.
Alright, let’s talk about the game.
Dwyane Wade has really picked up his game during Miami’s winning streak. He’s been the Heat’s leading scorer in the month of March, shooting 57 percent. His performance has kept Miami winning while LeBron James has come down from the ridiculous heights he reached at the beginning of the Heat’s streak. People like me have long prophecied Wade’s decline. But he’s still performing at a superstar level. It’s hard to say he’s losing his athleticism when he gets to the free throw line more than all but seven other guys in the league. It’s tough to call him old when he’s still one of the best defenders in the league. Until further notice, Dwyane Wade is still a great player.
As he ages, Dwyane Wade can look to Paul Pierce as an example of a star aging gracefully. Since he came into the league in the late 90s, Paul Pierce has been the Celtics’ best player. He’s had to take that role again with Rajon Rondo out. With Rondo out, he’s Boston’s best shot creator, passer and closer. In his past nine games, he’s averaging 20.2 points per game on 52% shooting. It might not be enough to salvage what would would be his worst shooting season in years, but he’s contributing in other ways—his TRB% of 11.1 would be a career high. He still gets to the line a lot—almost as much as Dwyane Wade, and he’s a big reason why Boston is one of the best defensive teams in the league. He’s had solid games against the Heat as well, notching a triple double in Boston’s January win. This is how you get old in the NBA.
What to Watch For
This is a classic offense-defense matchup. Though Miami has improved on defense, they’ve been winning all season with their scoring. A lot will depend on whether Kevin Garnett, who is injured with a strained left adductor, will be able to play. He’s still one of the best defenders in the league, and the Celtics will be hard-pressed to replace his ability and leadership.
The Miami Heat actually play at a pretty slow place, even slower than the Celtics. But no one turns a turnover into a basket faster than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The Celtics simply don’t have that kind of speed without Rajon Rondo. Both defenses are excellent at forcing turnovers, but it will be more important for the Celtics to be careful with the basketball.
Why Else Should I Watch?
This is one of the few real rivalries in the league. You can feel the animosity.
How to Watch
ESPN, Monday, 8 p.m. eastern
League Pass Bonus Game
Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies, Wednesday, 8 p.m. eastern. The rubber match between two western conference powers.
The trade deadline has passed. The guys on the roster will be there for the stretch run. There’s nothing left now but playoff positioning.
Did you know? These teams were inconsequential trade partners last week, one of many boring matches made during a lackluster trade deadline.
Miami traded Dexter Pittman, who plays in the D-League, and for Ricky Sanchez, who plays in Argentina. Luckiliy, neither of these players will matter when they play on Thursday.
But Tayshaun Prince will. The Grizzlies traded for Prince and Austin Daye at the end of January. Prince fills the small forward position formerly occupied by Rudy Gay. Neither of them has been very good this season. Prince shoots the ball better, but he’s not as athletic a defender as Gay. The biggest difference, and probably the most positive difference for the Grizzlies is that Prince doesn’t shoot as much. Gay led the Grizzlies in usage while posting a TS% worse than Tony Allen‘s. Prince isn’t a sniper, but he’ll cede more possessions to Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, which alone should boost the Grizzlies’ offensive efficiency. Other than that, Prince shouldn’t swing the Grizzlies’ prospects one way or the other, though he’s one of the least turnover-prone players in the league.
Prince will have the unenviable task of lining up across from LeBron James. What doesn’t he do for the Heat? He’s their most reliable and prolific scorer, their best defensive rebounder, their defacto point guard and their most ferocious defender. He’s having a career year shooting the ball. There are two players ever to have had seasons this great: Michael Jordan and himself, during his do-it-all Cleveland days. I’ve always been one of these people who thinks Jordan will never be topped. I still think I would take him first in my all-time fantasy draft, but I would have to think about it for longer than I ever thought I would.
What to Watch For
The Grizzlies don’t shoot well, and they don’t get to the line that often. What lifts their offense to mediocrity is their league-high offensive rebounding rate. Their leader in this category is Zach Randolph. The Heat’s lack of prowess at defensive rebounding has been touted as their biggest weakness, but they’re merely below average, not terrible. Still, they’ll have their hands full. As I mentioned before, LeBron James is their best defensive rebounder. He’s an extraordinary athlete, but I’m sure the Heat don’t want him expending too much energy keeping Randolph off the block—the Heat need to gang rebound.
Both these teams are excellent at forcing turnovers. With Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade, the court will be a dangerous place for ball handlers. The difference in this game might be how well each team protects possession. While both are excellent at forcing turnovers, Miami is more proficient at holding on to the ball. Memphis has to be careful. Although it won its first matchup against the Heat, Miami won the turnover battle and the rebounding battle—Wayne Ellington sunk the Heat with seven three-pointers. Ellington is in Cleveland now, so Memphis has to focus on their strengths.
Why Else to Watch
To see if anyone else hits seven three-pointers?
How to Watch
ESPN, Friday, 8 p.m. eastern
League Pass Bonus Game
Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets, Monday, 9 p.m. eastern. The Lakers will have to play out of their minds to make the playoffs. But they’re old, and the air is thin in Denver.
News day. And quotes. The first thing I saw walking into practice was Kent Bazemore jumping and hollering while David Lee looked on seemingly puzzled. In the foreground was Stephen Curry doing his usual shooting drills. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes were off to the side practicing free throws. But most importantly, Andre Iguodala was on t […]
It’s been an interesting week on the New York blogosphere, with hometown hero Jim Cavan pondering whether the Knicks should trade Carmelo Anthony over at Bleacher Report and friends Jared Dubin and netw3rk exchanging e-mails about whether or not to blow up the team (unclear on whether they mean that literally) at Grantland. Both pieces are well-written and e […]
I have seen the calls for my apologies. The demands that I come out and eat crow for predicting the Nuggets were clearly lottery team. The wonder at where I have been during the recent streak of great play. (For the record I was away for ten days for the holiday). But I have been […]
The Minnesota Timberwolves entered Saturday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks hoping to put the stop to a recent six-game-road-skid, which they did; 112-106. Vince Carter, unlike the team’s matchup earlier this month in Minnesota, was in-uniform for the Mavs, however, he would need to compensate for an inactive Jose Calderon — who was sidelined with […]
FINAL (8-9) 108 – 101 (9-9) Key Performers: J. Wall (WAS): 26 pts, 6 reb, 12 ast, 5 stl P. Millsap (ATL): 23 pts, 10 reb, 2 ast, 2 blk [FULL BOX SCORE] The Hawks once again found themselves in a second-half rut, but this time they couldn’t come back to take the victory as […]