Sunday, May 22, 2011

ECF Series Update: Where to from here?

So we're through two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the emotions have been pretty roller coaster for both sides. The Bulls dominated Game 1, which had Heat fans depressed and Bulls fans elated. The entire media apparatus jumped off the Heat bandwagon even as it was going down the highway at 70mph. It was truly a spectacle to behold. That reality was short lived, however, as Bulls nation came crashing down as the Heat won Game 2 and stole home court away. As if Game 1 never happened, the next morning everyone was back on the Heat bandwagon and all was right in my world. I was so distraught after Game 1 I left my house at 11pm and went and ran to vent my frustrations. After Game 2, however, I felt like this guy...

I felt like this guy! (And sadly I currently do, I don't want to talk about it)

Such is the world of sports, one minute you're elated and have everything figured out and the next you're tearing up and torturing your body to forget the pain of losing (Apparently, even Heat fans are soft).

Recap

There's not a lot to say about Game 1. The Bulls played virtually a perfect game. The defense was suffocating. Their OReb% was 41%. They shot 45% (9-20) from 16-23ft. And they shot 48% (10-21) from 3. The only shining light for the Heat in that game was it was very unlikely the Bulls could duplicate a performance like that. I'm not 100% positive about this next statistic, but someone from ESPN said that the Bulls shot 35% on first chance shots. I believe it. The Heat played fantastic defense for 20 seconds, then couldn't grab the rebound. The Bulls then were able to kick out for long 2s and 3s with no Heat player around. Of the Four Factors, the Heat and Bulls had virtually the same effective FG% and FT rate, but were demolished in offensive rebounding rate (41.3-18.8%) and turnover rate (11.8-18.8%). That's a recipe for disaster. As such, the Bulls were able to put up 87 shots to the Heat's 68, and take 5 more FTs. It's amazing the Bulls didn't win by more than 21.

Game 2 started out the same way as Game 1 (I almost turned the game off out of frustration). The Bulls had 7 ORebs in the first 6 minutes of the game. Luckily their offense was so terrible I'm not sure they could have hit water if they fell out of a boat. Fortunately for my health and well-being, the Heat held the Bulls to 10 Orebs the final 42 minutes, and pulled out a victory on the backs of a suffocating defense, a resurgent Udonis Haslem, and another masterful 4th quarter by LeBron James. The Bulls were still had a 33% Oreb%, which is right at their season average against the Heat. The big difference was the Heat were able to get on the offensive boards themselves with the help of Haslem and LeBron. Having a 29% offensive rebounding rate helped negate one of the Bulls' biggest advantages, and in my opinion was the biggest reason for the win on Wednesday night (Okay probably second biggest behind the Bulls shotting 34% from the field and 15% from 3).

Derrick Rose had a pretty Rosian (TM - John Eric Turner - all rights reserved) night in Game 2 with 21 points 8 assists and 6 rebounds on 7-23 shooting. Afterwards, Rose (which the media eventually parroted) said that he missed a lot of shots he normally makes, but is this true? I say, "No!" Rose is at his best when he's near the rim. Over the season he shot 60% at the rim on 6 attempts. He shot close to that in Game 2 going 2-4. The real reason for Rose's poor night was his midrange game and his 3 point shooting. On the season from 3-9Ft rose shoots 40% on 2 attempts. So he's not very good from this distance, and doesn't take those shots very often. On Wednesday he was 0-7. Okay so he's unlikely to go 0-7 in the future, but what this shows is that the Heat did a great job of keeping Rose away from the rim and forcing him into shots that he normally doesn't take. So I have to disagree you, Derrick. I don't think you were missing shots you normally make. The shots you normally make you weren't allowed to take.

Erik Spoelstra has won the coaching match up so far, not because he's been much better than Thibs, but because his team took home court away from the Bulls. At the end of the day, that's all that matters. Still I'm not sure how much credit Spoelstra really deserves for this. Sure he made some good defensive adjustments against the Bulls and his rotations for the most part have been solid, but he completely lucked into Haslem and for that I'm docking him points. I've been saying for quite some time now. If Haslem's going to play you need to play him every game regardless of how he's playing even if only for a few minutes because you never know when "it" will happen. "It" is when the switch goes off inside a player and they suddenly remember how to play basketball again. When they're mind and body catches up to the speed of the game. And when they aren't thinking about what they're supposed to be doing, they're just doing it. Well in Game 2, "it" happened for Udonis. The frustrating part is Spoelstra wasn't going to play him. He didn't play him in Game 1, mistake. And the only reason he saw time in Game 2 was because Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire picked up 2 fouls early in the game and Spoelstra didn't want James to pick up a second foul by playing PF. So in went Haslem, and the rest as they say is history. Both coaches have been less than impressive through two games with their stubbornness getting the best of both of them.

We talked about in the preview whether the Bulls would play PnR or Isolation. The answer: much more isolation. In the first two games the Bulls ran 15% of their plays in isolation and only 17% PnR. This was much lower than their playoff numbers (which going into the series was around 9% iso and 27% PnR. This should work out in Chicago's favor because Rose going isolation against Bibby is advantage Rose for all eternity, but it's not. The Bulls are only scoring .81ppp on isolations (.89ppp for Rose in these situatiosn) v .94 on pnr opportunities (1.05ppp for Rose in these situations). Now, why? My guess, and it's just that a guess, is because Rose is settling for jumpers more than he's taking Bibby to the rim. Conversely, it's possible that  Rose is being met by 3 more Heat defenders just before he gets to the rim (adding to that 0-7 from 3-9ft). Either way isolations have not been as fruitful for the Bulls as one would have thought going into the series. (Side note, the Heat have been terrible in Isolation so far this series with .56ppp. Terrible. LeBron is .67ppp and Wade is .50ppp. Even more shocking is that Bibby, Miller, and Anthony are all 0.0ppp in isolation situations. Okay that probably wasn't so shocking. As such, every time the Heat run isolation I lose a day of my lifespan. In addition for the Bulls, Deng is scoring .33ppp in isolation, he should probably stop that.)

What to look for the rest of the series

Udonis Haslem make a gigantic splash in a game many doubted he would even play (I'm sure you can add Erik Spoelstra to that list). Haslem's effect didn't show up in the +/- of the game, but it was there for all to see. When he entered the game half way through the third, the Heat immediately went on a 10-0 run. He had 9 points in the final 6 minutes of the 3rd including 2 monstrous dunks. It was wonderful to see, especially from a player who had only played 7 minutes in the last 6 months. The Heat need Haslem to be effective off the bench in Games 3 and 4. I think he'll live up to the hype in Game 3 with 4 days of rest and that Miami crowd feeding him adrenaline, but in Game 4 I'm not sure if he'll have it. He's definitely going to test his fitness level and the health of his foot in a game with only one day off.

Can the Heat either prevent the Bulls from getting offensive rebounds (a gambler's bet if there ever was one) or at least get their own offensive rebounds to negate the advantage? It's pretty obvious after the first two games that the Bulls are going to live and die on the glass. Their offense is terrible and the Heat's defense can strangle you. So the Bulls need to maximize their shot opportunities to get shots. For the Heat this means playing Haslem and Mike Miller as much as their bodies can handle. For the Bulls this means Boozer needs to be just good enough on offense to stay on the court so he can push people in the back (I mean get rebounds). I think the Bulls will be back to winning the rebounding battle in Games 3 and 4, but the Heat will stay just competitive enough to pull the games out.

Will the role players for either team show up on the offensive end? Kyle Korver, James Jones and Mike Bibby are all missing in action. I'm surprised that Korver struggled in Chicago, and I don't see his fate changing in front of a hostile Miami crowd (There's a reason the Heat are undefeated at home in the playoffs). I'd love to say that Bibby's shot will suddenly reappear, but his shooting 22% or so from 3 this playoffs. It's terrible. I'd rather Mike Miller shoot at this point, and that's saying something. Luckily Bibby has been playing pretty good defense this series, including a block on Luol Deng on a fast break in Game 2 (Seriously, how did the apocalypse not occur yesterday???). James Jones is the one player I think could break out and hit some shots, but I don't see him getting many minutes as long as Mikey Miller keeps rebounding. Still even 1 or 2 makes could be huge in the defensive struggles that are likely to define this series. This series will likely continue to be a battle of Rose v James/Wade... Advantage Miami..

Bosh had a huge game in Game 1, but was quiet on offense in Game 2. Look for the Heat to get him back involved in Game 3 and 4 with a bunch of PnRs. He's scoring 1.5ppp in those sets with most of them being wide open dunks. I'm not sure why they abandoned that for Game 2, but they did. It ended up working out for them as they won the game, but James and Wade aren't going to score 25+ on 50% shooting every night in this series. And taking as much pressure off them as possible is important. If the Heat and James don't get Bosh the ball in those PnR situations, I might fly to Miami and punch Erik Spoelstra in the throat.

Denouement

The first two games were exciting and boring all at the same time. I fully expect that to continue, but I'm not sure Bulls fans are going to be happy with the outcomes of the next two games. The Heat need to win both at home otherwise they risk needing to win a Game 7 in Chicago. The Bulls need to win a game or face the task of climbing Mount McKinley to win this series (climbing Mount McKinley might be easier). I think both games will be close, but the Heat will pull away in the 4th as is their M.O. in these playoffs. This is all speculation of course. I'm not a psychic. With the game later tonight, however, I do feel like this kid awaiting the goodies that will come in the near future...


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Bulls vs. Heat


Today is the day most of us have been waiting for since the start of the playoffs: Bulls vs. Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. I don't know about basketball fans in general, but as a Heat fan.. the butterflies are already here. I'm so amped up for this series the anticipation has interrupted my ability to sleep (If I can't sleep, I know LeBron can't UPDATE: As I'm writing this LeBron James himself shows everyone we're psychically connected.. Okay we're not.). I'm confident the Heat will pull out the series, but there's much more doubt than I felt going into the series against the Celtics. The Bulls are a pretty talented team, if maybe a little too deep and not top heavy enough to get it down this late in the playoffs. It should be a very competitive series, but possibly a little boring to those without a rooting interest. Now everybody and their siblings have written an article about what they think the keys are, regardless I'm going to throw another one into the fire! Well, let's get to it!

Hell, yeah!

I'm going to venture somewhat off the beaten path with my keys and sometimes venture down 42nd St in NYC. I think by now we all understand that Boozer and Bosh need to show up for their teams to have success. So I'm going to skip that one. The four keys that I'm going to be watching for are 1) Will the Bulls run isolation or pick and roll sets? 2) Can the Heat stay competitive on the defensive boards? 3) Which teams shooters will hit shots? 4) Which coach will win the battle of the rotations?

1) Will the Bulls run isolation or pick and roll sets?

According the Synergy Sports in the regular season, the Bulls ran isolation (iso) sets 9.1% of the time and ran the pick and roll (pnr) 19.4%. In the first round against the Pacers, the Bulls ran nearly the same percentage of iso (9.9), but slightly more pnr (22.7) Against the Hawks, however, they ran less iso (8.2) and much more pnr (26.3). It seems to me when looking at this that the further the Bulls go in the playoffs the more the Bulls are putting the ball into Derrick Rose's hands and asking him to make something happen. (Iso+pnr increased from 28.5% to 32.6 against the Pacers to finally 34.5 against the Hawks). The increased pnr calls haven't hurt its effectiveness though. They scored .88 points per possession (ppp) against the Hawks off pnrs vs. .85 in the regular season.

The reason this is important is because the Heat have been one of the best defensive teams against the pnr all season (6th best at .84ppp allowed) and that success has been turned up to 11 so far this postseason. The Heat have the 2nd best pnr defense during the playoffs yielding only .71ppp (#1 pnr defense was the NO Hornets, who played the Lakers who rarely run pnr sets. So I'd feel comfortable saying the Heat have had the best pnr defense in the playoffs.). Some of this is due to Boston not being a very strong pnr team, but the majority of it is Joel Anthony and Chris Bosh.

So here's the question the Bulls need to answer: Do we stick with the pnr, which seems to be working, and risk getting shut down by the the Heat's great pnr defense? Or do we increase our isolation sets?

If Mike Bibby is out there, running pnrs bails out the Heat defense. If the Bulls put Rose on an island with Mike Bibby, that spells disaster for the Heat. It will either lead to a foul on Bibby or someone will have to leave their man to help allowing the Bulls to get open threes or easy dunks/layups. At that point the Heat will either have to put Chalmers in or switch to a zone, which Spo will choose the former more than likely. The possibility for the chess match is what makes this an important key to watch for me.

2) Can the Heat stay competitive on the defensive boards?

The Bulls were the 4th best offensive rebounding team in the league at 29.4% (for context that's about 3.5% better than average). The Heat, however, were the 4th best defensive rebounding team at 75.5% (~2% better than average). This sounds like a great match up. However, it's much worse than Heat fans think. In the last two meetings between the Bulls and Heat, the Heat's defensive rebounding rate dropped to around 70%, while the Bulls offensive rebounding rate stayed about the same at 30%. The Bulls had 23 offensive rebounds in those two games. The Heat can't let that happen, and the Bulls need to make sure it continues. I'm not saying the Heat need to beat the Bulls on the boards, but they need to keep it close and limit the Bulls second chance opportunities. I believe they can do this, but I'm not super confident. I completely expect the Bulls to out rebound the Heat. I just want the Heat to keep it within 5.

3) Which teams shooters will hit shots?

In the regular season the Bulls spot up 20% of the time for .95ppp. In the playoffs however, they spot up 17.5% of the time for .97ppp. From 3pt range, Korver is shooting 47% and Bogans is shooting 49%. Those are issues for the Heat, and they haven't been very good at stopping perimeter shooters. 11th worst in the playoffs at 1.04 ppp allowed (In the regular season, however, they were #3 at .92ppp allowed. I'm going to chalk that up to playing the Celtics in round 2.) The Heat will allow Bogans to shoot threes and make him beat them, but they can't let Kyle Korver get going in this series. The man has ice in his veins, and has hit a few big threes against the Heat this season already.

The Heat aren't sitting as pretty as the Bulls. During the regular season, the Heat were lights out on spot ups #6 with 1.04ppp and it accounted for 22% of their offense. During the post season, however, they're still shooting a lot of spot ups with it accounting for 21% of their possessions, but they're only converting .93ppp. Needless to say, they've been struggling. They're going to need Bibby, who's shooting 23% from 3 in the playoffs, to wake up. He shot 45% in the regular season. What happened to that guy? It's like he woke up one day and forgot how to shoot. He can't defend.. If he can't shoot, why even bother playing him? I realize you need to play somebody minutes, but move Wade to point and play James Jones at the 2 more. Bibby can't be on the court and be a defensive and offensive liability. Chalmers and Jones, however, are both shooting at or near their season percentages, 33% and 44% respectively. All I'm going to ask from those two is to have confidence in their shots, regardless of whether it goes in or not. Just keep shooting.

The spot up shots, whether 3s, by Korver or Jones, or 2s, by Boozer or Bosh, are going to be super important. Both teams need to hit these shots consistently to open the floor up for their slashers. I'd say it's more important for Miami because Chicago will just pack the paint and force Wade and LeBron to shoot jumpers or run into brick walls. Whereas with Rose, he's quick and slippery enough to get through whatever walls the Heat can build in front of the rim if they Bulls aren't making shots, at least he can do this with more consistency than Wade and LeBron.

4) Which coach will win the rotation battle?

This battle is all Spoelstra versus Thibodeau. Both coaches are stubborn, and neither wants to change their rotations. So whichever coach is willing to adjust minutes/starters/halftime lineups quickest, will probably be the victor of this series.

The Bulls' players are very position specific. By that I mean, Noah almost exclusively plays the 5, Boozer the 4, Deng is their most versatile player he can play the 3 and 4, etc... That makes Thibodeau's job somewhat easy. His toughest decisions are who to play with whom, and when to play those line ups.

The Heat, however, are full of versatile players, but also lack very position specific players. This means the Heat can do a lot of different stuff, which can be both very good and very bad. Spoelstra has spent the better part of the entire season fiddling with line ups. Some of this is because of injuries. Some of this is because he's got a new roster and he's figuring out how the pieces fit. And somewhat related, some of this is just because he can. LeBron James can legitly play the PG, SG, SF, and PF possessions and can play C depending on the size of the opposing center. Wade can play the 1 and 2. Bosh can play the 4 and 5. This leads to a ridiculous amount of combinations that can work and be successful. Let's run through a few:

Wade/Jones/James/Bosh/Anthony

This has been the Heat's go to closing line up. The questions here are only who guards Wade and who guards Jones? How effectively can Derrick Rose guard Wade? How much will either player have left on offense when they're having to guard each other? Does Thib take a chance and put Rose on Jones instead to save him for offense? Probably, but Jones is 6'9 and Rose is 6'3. More chess moves to think about.

Chalmers/Wade/Jones/James/Bosh

This is the Heat's ultra-small line-up. They used it against the Sixers a bit in the first round. There's no guarantee they use it against the Bulls, but if they do, does Thibs match the Heat with a small line up? Or does he stay with his big line up. Staying with his normal line up would probably put Boozer on James Jones, since you don't want Boozer on James. Or conversely they could move Noah on James and Boozer on Bosh and put Deng on Jones. But I doubt this is ideal for them either. If they go small, their small line up wouldn't be anywhere near as talented as the Heat's small line-up. Thibs would have to pick his poison. Take the chance putting Boozer on James, where he gets torched defensively, or put him on Jones, where he sits on the 3 point line away from defensive rebounds. This does offer advantages for the Bulls on offense, however. Can James guard Boozer? Not sure, but he did an okay job on Garnett in their limited match ups. I'm just intrigued by the potential match ups this line up provides, and how Thibs would respond.

Rose/Korver/Deng/Gibson/Noah(Asik)

Thibs has used this line up to close a few games recently. What would Spo use against this? Does he go to his normal Wade/Jones/James/Bosh/Anthony line up? Or does he try to go unconventional and force Gibson to guard James or Jones by playing Chalmers/Wade/Jones/James/Bosh?

The coach who has the best answers to these questions will win the coaches battle, and that battle might be the most important of them all. We've seen Spoelstra resistant to change. It took him far too long to start Joel Anthony over Ilgauskas for instance. Every game in this ECF will be important, and any mistakes will be costly. Both coaches will have to make changes and make them quickly otherwise, it might end up being too late to make a difference.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Anyway, like them or not, these are my keys to the series and what I'm interested in watching for over the next several games. My heart wants the Heat to sweep, but, for the sake of non-Heat fans and cause I'm too rational, I think the Heat take it in 6 games. And move four wins away from another celebration like this....

Smells like victory!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Help me, Defense! And Why the Media Won't...


Since around the end of the third quarter of Game 6 of the Bulls v Hawks, the NBA talking heads around the world began to wonder, "Who on the Heat will guard Derrick Rose?" The retort that soon follows is often, " Well, who on the Bulls will guard LeBron James and Dwyane Wade?" These questions seem legitimate enough, but do they matter? My answer is: not really.

Everyone is well aware that basketball isn't a one on one sport. There are five guys on a team, and they have to play like a team to win. Sure one or two superstars can take over on offense and go 1v5 and score points, but defense is a five man game. A defense is only as strong as its weakest link. Does anyone think the reason the Cavs lost to the Celtics in the 2010 playoffs is because Paul Pierce locked LeBron James down in the series? I hope not. Paul Pierce is a good defender, but he's no Scottie Pippen. The reason LeBron struggled with the Celtics all those years is because of team defense or help defense.

Guarding perimeter players one on one in the 2011 NBA is virtually impossible. Once upon a time a defender had a chance against the Derrick Roses and Dwyane Wades of the world. Nowadays you can't put a hand on a perimeter player without getting a foul called. The only way to legally defend a player one on one is with incredible lateral quickness and luck, really. This is an incredibly daunting task for a player, which is exactly why no one is asked to do this. The best defenses in the NBA are played by the teams who are great at helping and rotating

Picking the Bulls because you don't think any of the Heat PGs can stop Derrick Rose is an asinine position to take. No PG in the league can guard Derrick Rose. He's simply too fast. Jeff Teague, the PG for the Hawks, just had a great series against the Bulls, where they couldn't keep him out of the paint. He even shot 55% from the floor against them. That's Jeff Teague! Am I to believe that Derrick Rose is a terrible defender? He's not the best in the league, but he's a decent defender. The point is if you're a good player, you're going to beat the guy who is guarding you. The question is, "Can you beat the help that will come afterwards?"

Check out this video by Sebastian Pruiti of the nbaplaybook.com (Truehoop Network) of the Heat defending Derrick Rose coming off a pick and roll.



If you want the full break down of the defensive match up go here, but from the video it's clear enough. Regardless of whether Bibby, Chalmers, Wade or LeBron guard him, they won't be doing it alone. This is not to say that who's guarding him doesn't matter. A super poor defender can put more pressure than necessary on help defense, which can eventually lead to problems, but people seem to pretend that Rose will dominate because Bibby can't guard him or Wade will dominate because Bogans can't gaurd him. These are nice stories, but it's not how NBA basketball works.

Now this gets me to the real reason I'm writing this post. (It only took me 750 words to get to my point. Terrible writing.) I'm not going to pretend to know everything about basketball. I'm not even going to pretend to be all that knowledgeable about the X's and O's of the sport. I do believe I have more knowledge of the sport than your average sports fan, but I'm very well aware that any college/NBA player is a Deep Blue of the basketball world compared to me. What I don't understand is: When I'm watching Inside the NBA, Sportscenter or reading a column from a beat writer of an NBA team, why don't I feel like I know much less than these experts? The reason we watch, read and/or listen to these people is because we want to learn something. We want their knowledge of what's going on. What I don't want is Jon Barry giggling because Derrick Rose crossed someone over. If I wanted that kind of insight I could watch the And1 Mixtape Tour and listen to the emcee scream "OOOHHH BABY!!" over and over. Conversely, this is why most people love listening to Chris Webber. When he's on television, he always seems to explain to you why a team or player did what they did. Sadly, it's refreshing, and it really shouldn't be.

So why is this? For once, I don't have a lot of answers. Just a few theories.

1) They're dumbing down the game for an audience they don't believe can handle the nuance it would take for real basketball analysis.

I think this is the case with the majority of the talking heads. You don't make it in the NBA or around the NBA without understanding at least the basics of the game. I've watched the youtube video of the Phil Jackson and the LA Lakers teaching the triangle offense to the Laker beat writers. (If you haven't seen this, you really should) I'm sure beat writers aren't basketball savants, but you can't make me believe that some form of osmosis doesn't occur when all you do is hang around basketball games, players and writers all the time. So even the beat writers have an advanced knowledge of the game, yet they perpetuate the lazy analysis. This obviously isn't the case with everyone, but it seems like far too common a problem.

2) They're just saying stupid stuff that even they don't believe for shock and awe value. (I'm looking at your Skip Bayless)

This theory pertains to the talking heads who know that help defense is more important than Rose v Bibby or Wade v Bogans, but care more about the narrative. These people are usually writers who want to write the story instead of analyze what's actually happening or going to happen. You'll never get a good sense of what's going on from these people, but you'll always enjoy reading/hearing what they have to say (as long as you don't care or know about what's actually happening).

Those are the two best theories I have. If you have some others, I'd love to hear them. All I really know is there's a lot of good basketball analysis in the media, but very little of it is coming from the mainstream.

Miami Heat: Whose team is it anyway?

(1/11/2011 - Harry How/Getty Images North America)
Well, Fellas, whose team is it? Inquiring minds want to know.

From the moment the words "I'm going to take my talents to South Beach..." spilled out of LeBron James' mouth, sports fans and pundits have been asking "Whose team is the Miami Heat"?

Ugh, not this again....

Several theories immediately came to the forefront of the public consciousness. 1) Dwyane Wade has won a title for the Heat. Therefore the team will be his. 2) LeBron is the best player in the league. Therefore, the best player on the team leads the team. 3) Neither of these players will be able to take a backseat to the other. Therefore, it's never going to work out. It took the Heat awhile to figure out how to make this dynamic work, but with the second round of the playoffs over the Heat have finally answered this question for all the world: The team belongs to Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

The answer seems so simple, yet so complicated and unconventional. It's understandable why some people couldn't comprehend this dynamic having success. We live in a world where for the most part teams and groups only have one leader. There's only one president in the USA. One mayor of a city. One commission of the NBA. Peyton Manning is the leader of the Colts. Derek Jeter led the Yankees through many championships. And most pertinent to the present conversation, Michael Jordan was the leader of the Bulls. The Heat are doing more than just challenging this convention. They're breaking down barriers that few thought they could.

At this point in the season, there's ample evidence to support this conclusion. And you need to look no further than the two series the Heat have played in the playoffs. In the series against Philadelphia, Wade was the dedicated closer, and it made perfect sense for that to be the case. One of the best defenders in the league, Andre Iguodala was matched up against LeBron for most of the series, while Wade was generally being defended by Lou Williams or rookie Evan Turner. These match ups were a ripe opportunity for Wade to take over at the end of the games. Sometimes the Heat ran the Wade/James PnR to get a switch on defense and have LeBron post up whoever Wade's defender was, but for the most part it was Wade who had the ball and making the decisions at the end of the games.

In the Celtic series both players had their moments. Game 1 was pure Wade domination. He led his team with 13 points in the 4th quarter and had 38 overall. Game 2 was classic LeBron James. He had one of the greatest games of his career with 12 points and 6 Rebounds in the 4th to finish off a 35 point game. Game 3 was an utter disaster for the Miami Heat. We'll just pretend that game didn't happen. In Game 4 LeBron was back at it again with an 11 point 4th quarter and stifling defense on Pierce to help force an overtime with which the Heat eventually ran away. Game 5, however, was probably the best example of the dynamic. The first half belonged to Wade, but he struggled late as he appeared to run out of steam. James, who told Wade at halftime that he'd have his back, did exactly what he promised. He scored 23 in the 2nd half including the last 10 points of the game to close out the series against the Celtics. In one telling moment within the final minute of the game, LeBron was at the top of the key and looked toward Dwyane in the near corner. Dwyane waved back to LeBron, motioning for him to finish what he started. Deferring. Trusting.

So what does all this tell us? Do we know who the Alpha of the Heat is? Absolutely. The answer is both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. They're doing what few people ever thought two superstars in their primes could do. Put aside their egos for the sake of winning. The Heat's closer on any given night is whoever has the best match up or is playing better. It's that simple. I realize it's tough for some people to come to terms with this idea. I realize some people don't want to accept it. And that's fine. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have not only accepted it. They've embraced it. For winning, that's all that matters.


(Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
"Hey Dwyane, look at how much fun winning is!"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ode to the '10-'11 Season

You think Joel Anthony can't shoot in games? I shoot worse in an empty gym!

I wake up at 7 pm. Realizing that I've slept through the first half of the Knicks v Celtics, I scurry to find the television remote. I wait impatiently as my TV takes it's sweet time turn as it always does (You'd think by 2011 televisions would have evolved to the point of turning on immediately, but I digress). The muscle memory of my fingers immediately finds the buttons for ESPN. Oh no, wrong station! My mind races to figure out what network as the game. TNT! Finally, success! And that's when it hit me. I'm completely addicted to the NBA at this point in my life. Every decision I make. Every social event I attend. It's all dependent on what's happening in the NBA that night.

I didn't always feel this way. There was a time in my life when I hated watching NBA games. Felt there was too much scoring. Too many inconsequential possessions. Sure, I kept up with the sport enough to know how the teams were doing and who the big players were, but I had no interest in making the NBA the Helen to my Paris or the Kelly Kapowski to my Zack Morris. Growing up I was always more interested in what I felt were more structured sports: football and baseball. To me basketball games always looked like ten guys running around with no real purpose trying to put a ball through a circle. I don't usually enjoy admitting when I am wrong, but I was wrong... So very wrong.

This was my first season to really watch NBA basketball. So what spurred my interest to make the NBA the object of my obsession? Those fourteen fateful words spoken on July 8th, 2010: “I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.” I might as well out myself early. I'm pretty big LeBron James fan (Sorry, everyone). Needless to say I was giddy with excitement (Pet peeve: Why do people say “needless to say” before they say something? If it doesn't need to be said, then why are you saying it? Also, why did I just violate my own pet peeve? I suppose these are phenomena mankind will never truly comprehend). The possibility of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh playing together on the same team had potential to be legendary.

Like a little kid on Christmas Eve, I couldn't wait for the season to begin. I wanted to experience every second of every game. I bought a League Pass Broadband subscription, and that was the end for me. Sure, it started with a Heat game every two or three days, but it as with any epidemic, it spread and spread quickly. Soon I was watching every game I could, scouring the web for as much content I could find, and reading some of the wonderful books people had written on the game. I've watched more NBA games than I care to admit this season, and I don't regret a single second of it. Of all the seasons to focus on basketball, I believe a picked the best season. From the Melo Drama to the roller coast that has been the Heatles, the Bulls' emergence, the creation of the monster that is Blake Griffin, the return of Chris Paul, the amazing trade deadline, and the debate (or lack their of) over the MVP award, it's been a wonderful five and a half months.

NBA basketball is a beautiful sport when you really pay attention to what's happening, but it's easy to see how the casual observer can get lost in the process. To the casual observer, the game is nothing but chaos. Five players on offense running around, while five defenders chase them. But to those who eat, drink, sleep and live NBA basketball, it's a choreographed ballet as wondrous and majestic as The Nutcracker or A Midsummer's Night Dream. With pick and rolls, hedges and traps, slip screens, and defensive rotations, NBA basketball is a marvelous dance that's choreographed and directed by the likes of Doc Rivers and Phil Jackson (Phil Jackson is easily the Rodgers & Hammerstein of our generation. Would anyone really dispute this? Also I'm confusing metaphors here, but just go with it.). 

It's a beautiful game when played well, and I've truly enjoyed making it my obsession for these past months. Let's all hope that we get to revel in all its splendor again next season.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Backyard Photo Blogging

Everything I've written so far has been about basketball. But to celebrate the beginning of baseball season, I thought I'd throw a curveball and write a different kind of post today. I've been pretty restless lately. I've had a few ideas for some posts, but just haven't had the motivation to put thoughts to digital paper. Instead of trying to force it, I broke out my camera to procrastinate some more! Yay, procrastination! Enjoy the photos. I'm going to start retro-blogging a road trip I took recently. So if you enjoy looking at pretty photographs, stay tuned.

Don't let that face fool you, he's vicious! Grrrr!

Yes, she really is as disinterested as it looks...

Lady Bug, Lady Bug, Fly away home!

Clich├ęd picture, but I love it nonetheless...

Below the jump are some more wonderful Lady Bug and rose photographs, if you're into that sort of thing... (and I am).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The myth of the Derrick Rose keystone

In architecture the keystone is the wedge-shaped piece that holds the stones together. Without the keystone the entire arch collapses and is just a pile of rubble. Why the architecture lesson? Well maybe people try to make this argument about the 2011 Chicago Bulls regarding Derrick Rose.

The argument goes "Without Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls collapse and aren't near the team they are with him."

I hear this argument a ton from Bulls fans. I've lived in Chicago. Yes, I know a lot of Bulls fans. Unfortunately for those making the argument, the facts just don't bare out that particular claim. Let's look at some numbers. (taken from Queen City Hoops on 3/16/11)



Now this might be hard for some believe, but look at those numbers it's hard to see how the Bulls collapse without Derrick Rose as their PG. Sure they aren't a top seed in the East, but their net differential when he doesn't play is +1.8, which projects out to a 46-36 record. That's a .561 winning percentage, which would be good enough for the 6th seed in the East right now. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the Bulls "collapsing."

Okay, well that's net differential. Let's look at a different data set. How about Wins Produced? Surely that metric will show Rose being the keystone to the Bulls. (data powered by NerdNumbers)



Okay so here we see that Rose has had a pretty good season. .182 WP48 means he's producing at a star level in the NBA (>.200 is star level; >.300 is superstar) (Yes, I realize he only has .182 and star is supposed to be .200, but that's within the margin of error.) He's also produced the most wins for the Bulls, but that's a little misleading since he's played twice as many minutes as Noah, who's the real wins producer on this team. Rose has produced 19.7% of this teams wins so far. If we project that out to an 82 game season that's 16 wins. That's pretty good. Okay, now let's project out the teams current win percentage of 72.7% to 82 games, which is 60 games. 60-16 = 44. So by the Wins Produced metric, the Bulls would be roughly 44-38. That's a winning percentage of 53.6%, which would be good enough, again, for the 6th seed in the East.

Now that's two different ways of looking at this. And wouldn't you know it both show Derrick Rose having about the same effect on the Bulls. Both say that they'd still be the 6th seed in the East this season with him. And both show that the Bulls wouldn't collapse without Derrick Rose on their team. That is all.

The Rose argument isn't as structurally sounds as this...