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Friday, February 29, 2008

Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat's Hard Knock Life

"When my situation ain't improvin', I'm tryin' to murder everything movin'."--Jay-Z, "Hard Knock Life"

The Lakers beat the Heat 106-88 on Thursday but the game was such a mismatch that it almost is not even worth analyzing; the Lakers jumped out to an 18-4 lead in the first 6:16 and basically toyed with the Heat the rest of the way. You hear a lot of talk about executives and coaches who are doing bad jobs and players who are overrated but what is the deal with Miami? There is no way that this team should be this bad with a Hall of Fame caliber coach in Pat Riley plus Dwyane Wade playing alongside first Shaquille O'Neal and now Shawn Marion. Udonis Haslem and Jason Williams were starters on the 2006 championship team. Ricky Davis is a space cadet but he is also a bona fide scorer. There is some decent talent on the bench. Something very strange is going on with this team and if people are going to give various executives grief for certain moves then Riley has to be at or near the top of the list for losing Jason Kapono and James Posey--who continue to be productive players for playoff-bound teams--for nothing and then signing Smush Parker, who is on some kind of bizarre paid leave of absence.

Wade is putting up some decent individual numbers this season but anyone who understands basketball has to cringe when watching him play. He is careless with his dribble, his shot selection is erratic and his defense is just a rumor: all he does now is lunge half-heartedly at the ballhandler attempting to get steals but instead getting himself woefully out of position. He scored 0 points on 0-5 shooting with three turnovers as the Lakers built a 53-41 halftime lead. TNT analyst Reggie Miller made a great point, suggesting that if you swapped Kobe Bryant for Wade that Miami would have made the playoffs instead of having the worst record in the entire league. "Kobe Bryant is that brilliant," Miller concluded. Miami lost 26 of 28 games at one point and it is simply inconceivable that a Bryant-led team would do that. What is happening in Miami should make people have a greater appreciation for what Bryant did last season, when he posted the highest post-All-Star break scoring average in four decades while carrying the Lakers into the playoffs. Bryant was saddled with D-League-level point guard Smush Parker and a roster that was devastated by injuries, yet he kept racking up 40, 50 and even 60 point games, doing whatever it took for the Lakers to win. When Bryant dropped 60 on Memphis in a 121-119 win on March 22, 2007, Parker played 33 minutes as the starting point guard, Kwame Brown played 39 minutes as the starting center and the top player off of the bench was Shammond Williams, who is not even in the NBA this year. There is no question that this year's Heat has more talent than the depleted Lakers' squad that played alongside Bryant that night and for most of the second half of the season.

This is where the above Jay-Z lyric comes into play; if Bryant's situation "ain't improving," then he will drop 60 on your head and do whatever it takes to "murder everything movin'" on the other team--and then he will demand that everyone else on his team, from his general manager to his young center, step up their game as well. You could also see this last summer with Team USA. When Bryant signed on he brought a whole new level of intensity to the team; as Steve Kerr told me, before each game Bryant asked the coaching staff, "Who do you want me to take out?" When I said to Kerr, "That sounds like a sniper zeroing in on a target," Kerr responded, "Yeah--and he was serious." Wade simply cannot elevate his game or his team in the same fashion that Bryant can.

I realize that Wade is not 100% but there is a difference between being injured and being hurt: if you are injured then you can't play but if you can play then you are not injured. Bryant is playing with a jacked-up pinkie that needs surgery, so it's not like he's 100%, either. When the Lakers jumped all over the Heat at the start, Bryant shot 3-3 from the field and had five assists in that 18-4 run. He deflected or stole the ball from Wade so many times it looked like a big brother abusing his little brother in the backyard.

Bryant finished with 21 points, eight assists, one rebound, four steals and two blocked shots, one of them a left handed rejection of a Shawn Marion slam dunk attempt. Bryant shot 7-14 from the field, which is right in line with his .508 field goal shooting in the month of February. The numbers are coldly efficient but they are almost beside the point because the Lakers won so easily--if they had needed 40 points then he would have scored that many and if they had needed more rebounds he would have done that, too. Wade nearly matched Bryant's point total (18) but he shot just 6-17 from the field.

Bryant's tremendous passing skills are on full display now because he has Pau Gasol, a big guy who can actually catch and finish. It is very obvious how much Bryant enjoys feeding him the ball; if anything, Bryant is almost overpassing now. Gasol's impact on the Lakers has been immediate and obvious but it is important to remember that as the main guy in Memphis he made exactly one All-Star team and never won a playoff game. All the people who say that Bryant does not make his teammates better should really pay attention to how much Gasol is benefiting from playing alongside Bryant--and you can bet that it boosts Gasol's confidence to see Bryant passing up shots to feed him the ball. It really is beautiful to watch the on court interplay between Bryant and Gasol, two unselfish, multi-skilled players who have very high basketball IQs. On one play, Gasol set a screen for Bryant and then rolled to the front of the rim. Bryant caught the ball in the post, accepted the double-team and then fed Gasol a slick no-look bounce pass for an easy layup. As Grant Napear would say, "If you don't like that, you don't like NBA basketball."

Bryant's best pass of the night is not even recorded in the box score: after a steal, he fired a Pistol Pete-style no look, over the head, one handed half court laser to Luke Walton, who then got the assist with a behind the back pass to Lamar Odom, who motored to the hoop for a dunk.

Charles Barkley summed matters up nicely at halftime: "They can take the MVP trophy out to L.A. right now."

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:59 AM

19 comments

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19 Comments:

At Friday, February 29, 2008 3:11:00 PM, Anonymous Deighved H Stern MD said...

After enduring Smush Parker as a Laker fan, I was overjoyed when his contract finally expired. I was certain the team would improve, no matter who they replaced him with. I was almost as certain he would never play in the NBA again.

When I read that he'd signed with the Heat, I figured Pat Riley had finally lost his mind. I knew the Heat would definitely not be back this year, even if Smush never got off the bench. The guy is a complete cancer. Somehow, word of that fact never made it to Riley, but now he's paying Smush to stay away - his most valuable role on any NBA team.

Yes, Pat deserves to have his decisions inspected. Frankly, I thought everything he did was exceptionally short-sighted, and destined to hurt the team more in the long run than it helped them. That includes the trade for Shaq.

 
At Friday, February 29, 2008 6:54:00 PM, Blogger Elyse said...

Thank you. It makes me sick how often I hear "kobe doesn't make his teammates better."

This was a nice touch of realism. Lakers starting five last year? Lamar, Kwame, Smush, Kobe, and Luke.

Smush- being paid by the heat, the worst team in the league NOT to play.

Kwame- Last few games in memphis- another great team- DNP-CD. And he's backing up Darko.

He made them starters, and he got them to the playoffs in the west.

 
At Saturday, March 01, 2008 2:44:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I agree with most of your observations about Wade's game these days, but I think his lack of good health is a very big reason why he has been underwhelming. I want to see what he'll do next year in good health before I decide he's not on the same general level as the best in the game. Given his incredible performance in the 2006 Finals (which I think ranked up there with the best individual performances, but seems to have been forgotten about), I think Wade deserves the benefit of the doubt.

 
At Saturday, March 01, 2008 6:27:00 AM, Anonymous jeff said...

It's funny, because Wade is actually coming out looking worse for trying to be a good professional. I guess he should have sat out like Shaq due to his "injury" who somehow has managed to come out looking like a hero (to Phoenix) and a victim (of Miami).

Wade has stated that he is playing because he owes it to his teammates and the fans. Yet, he would have better protected his public reputation if he went the Shaq route, even though in Wade's case, the injuries actually are legitimate.

Are you seriously comparing Kobe's pinkie to Wade's knee and the nerve damage in his surgically-repaired torn shoulder? And while Wade wasn't good as good as Kobe even when he was healthy, do not try to pretend like he wasn't once something very, very special. Did you downplay the fact that Kobe was injured when Wade dominated him on national TV last Christmas? No, you blamed it on the injury and the Lakers' pick and roll defense, if I recall correctly.

And, no, not even the best player in the NBA could get Miami to the playoffs. One player can carry an offense. One player can NOT carry a defense. And the Heat don't have one.

 
At Saturday, March 01, 2008 9:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there any topic that can be discussed without Kobe being brought into it? :o)

 
At Saturday, March 01, 2008 10:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Deighved:

Riley will always get a pass on signing Shaq because the Heat won a championship. My take when Riley signed Shaq was that the deal was only worth it for Miami if the Heat won at least one championship. They did that--barely--so I can't contradict myself now and say it was a bad move. It was, of course, a risky move that carried a strong possibility of a significant downside and the Heat are living through that downside now. The subject of what would a team or its fans be willing to suffer in order to win a title is sometimes the subject of hypothetical discussion but this situation is a good case study. Riley gave up the chance to build a team around Wade-Caron Butler-Lamar Odom in exchange for taking a couple shots at a title with Wade-Shaq followed by the current rebuilding program.

 
At Saturday, March 01, 2008 10:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Elyse:

Most people don't seem to truly understand how bad of a team the Lakers fielded for significant stretches of last season because of injuries to frontcourt personnel and the "Smush Parker Experience" at point guard. I said before the season that just subtracting Smush was probably worth five wins. Adding Fisher was of course a great bonus.

 
At Saturday, March 01, 2008 10:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

Wade was great in the 2006 Finals and I praised him highly at that time. I even considered putting him in the elite group of current players who could potentially be "Pantheon-worthy." However, it is looking more and more like that Finals--specifically the final four games--was lightning in a bottle.

I don't know how hurt Wade really is but other stars are playing hurt and have played hurt in the past. Wade is healthy enough to take a lot of shots and rank among the scoring leaders. What he has not been able to do is have real impact on wins and losses. Kobe showed last year that he could take over games, usually by scoring, but also with defense and even rebounding and passing at times. I just can't picture a truly great player losing 25 of 26 games. Maybe it has happened before and I have forgotten about it or maybe this is just a fluke. Also, Wade looks terrible right now. His defense is an embarrassment and the rest of his game is out of kilter, too. I just don't believe that this is all the result of injuries; I think that he is simply not quite capable of doing what Kobe and LeBron do. My initial impression of him several years ago was that he is very talented but he is smaller than Kobe and LeBron and not quite as skilled in terms of shooting, passing and dribbling. I never believed that he was as good as Kobe and LeBron, though the 2006 Finals definitely gave me pause because I did not expect that kind of performance from him. We'll see if he can ever even get close to that level again.

 
At Saturday, March 01, 2008 10:56:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jeff:

As I indicated in the post, if Wade is injured then he should shut it down or the team should shut it down for him. If he is hurt then he is like most other stars in the NBA; none of them are 100% healthy, particularly by this time of the season.

I don't doubt that Wade is operating at less than 100% but I have no way of knowing if he is more or less hurt than Kobe (finger, elbow, periodic knee problems), LeBron (ankle, thumb), T-Mac (chronic back issues) and other top players.

In the game from last year that you mentioned, leaving aside Kobe's physical condition, the Heat repeatedly ran screen/roll plays to get Kobe off of Wade so that Wade could murder the terrible backline defense. In one on one situations, Wade did not beat Kobe. In contrast, this time around Kobe stole the ball from Wade like Wade was a child. Wade did have some special moments in the 2006 Finals and even in some earlier playoff series but he cannot live off of those moments forever if he wants to be considered an elite player now. His Finals performance has a permanent place in history, without question.

Kobe's knuckle was jammed down to the middle of his hand and the ligament tore with such force that it ripped away a piece of bone. It is a matter of public record that his doctor said that he should have surgery and should not play. As far as I know, Wade has been medically cleared to play, so yes, I am comparing Kobe's documented serious injury to his shooting hand to Wade's recovery from surgical procedures that he had last year; Wade is rehabbing, while Kobe has not even had a chance to heal yet.

Just for fun, click on the link in the post and check out the boxscore from Kobe's 60 point game. Then look at the Heat's roster, either the Shaq version or the current version with Marion. Do you honestly think that the Lakers--particularly in the second half of the season--had more talent than this year's Heat? Keep in mind that Bynum was hardly a force last year and that the Lakers' starting point guard--Smush Parker--cannot even get on the court for this year's Heat; that pretty much says it all. Give Kobe the half-Shaq that Wade had early or the full-Marion that he has now and the Heat would not be the worst team in the entire league.

 
At Saturday, March 01, 2008 11:01:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

My newest post (about Cavs-TWolves) does not mention Kobe :)

Since the context of the Wade post was the Lakers-Heat game, it would have been hard to ignore Kobe.

The reason that I bring up Kobe a lot is because he is the best player and thus a measuring stick for everyone else. I write a lot about LeBron and other players, but Kobe posts are the lightning rod for links and comments.

 
At Saturday, March 01, 2008 11:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Point taken, keep up the writing! :o)

 
At Saturday, March 01, 2008 1:21:00 PM, Anonymous jeff said...

My point is that Wade is coming out of this situation looking far worse for trying to do the best that he can in a very physically-diminished state. If he had said "screw this, I'm not playing for this crappy team" and sat out like Shaq did, then his reputation would be a lot more in tact. But, because he has tried to do right by his team and the fans, his status as an elite player is being widely questioned. Now that's irony, no?

 
At Saturday, March 01, 2008 7:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jeff:

I understand what you are saying but there is a question of context and also an issue of how the media covers things. The context with Shaq and Wade is that Shaq is an older player who has a history of missing a lot of games. Shaq has already established his credentials as a great player and the media has established that for the most part it gives him a pass for missing games and not being in shape. Other players don't have his credentials and also often don't benefit from such favorable coverage, so it is hard to say how Wade would be perceived if he were sitting out games.

Wade's claim to greatness largely rests on his performance in the 2006 Finals, a performance that was aided at least somewhat by Dallas' decision to double-team Shaq and make Wade beat them. Wade has been cleared to play after his surgeries and he is playing, so it does not really make a lot of sense to focus more on his injuries than the injuries that Kobe and other players have.

I'm not sure if Wade's reputation as a great player is suffering, unless you think that the take that I expressed in this post is the mainstream view about him; the mainstream media is probably grading him more on a curve now than I am.

 
At Saturday, March 01, 2008 11:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What you say is wrong. I am hurt and maybe even injured and yes I am not playing defense and yes my team stinks but your still wrong. Kobe bryant played on the 2004-5 Laker team who went 2-16 to finish off the season. His team consisted of Chucky atkins, Caron butler and Lamar Odom, as well as the great Kobe Bryant. The Lakers were 24-19 than finished off the season 10-29 and lost 16 out of 18 to finish off the season when Odom was injured. So tell me Kobe wasn't even hurt yet his team lost almost every game while in the playoff hunt. So you are wrong, Kobe has lost like the way I am. Say what you want but I need to get that first pick Cuz Pat Riley has no friggin clue on what he is doing.

 
At Sunday, March 02, 2008 1:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

wade is clearly great when healthy but he cant stay healthy. all that hitting the ground every play has caught up with now and he is laboring out there not able to do anything. he is showing people that e is no lebron as i always have said or kobe for that matter the heat should be better no question about it he is not playing up to par.

 
At Sunday, March 02, 2008 1:44:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Not to be pedantic, but 2-16 is not as bad as 1-24. More to the point, you left out some key facts. Odom was injured in the first of those 18 games and missed the last 17 games of the season. This is the starting lineup that the Lakers used in the last game of that season: Kobe (37 points), Sasha Vujacic (0-8 fg, 0 points), Chucky Atkins (23 points), Jumaine Jones (3-13 fg, six points), Chris Mihm (12 points). The reserves who saw court time in that game were Devean George, Brian Grant, Slava Medvedenko and Brian Cook. I'd much rather have Haslem, Ricky Davis, Jason Williams and the rest of this year's Heat than that motley crew.

It is important to remember that Caron Butler has steadily improved each season. He was not an All-Star level player at that time, just like Bynum is a big contributor now but was just taking up space last year. If Kobe had had the '07 Butler in '05 then obviously things would have been different.

Chucky Atkins averaged a career-high 13.6 ppg that season playing alongside Kobe, starting all 82 games, but Atkins has spent half of his career as a reserve.

It is also important to note that the Lakers changed coaches in midseason, going from Tomjanovich to Hamblen.

Despite the injuries (i.e., players missing games, not simply playing hurt) and turmoil, the Lakers went 34-48, a record that this year's Heat can only dream of matching. Kobe missed 16 games that year, mostly because of a severely sprained ankle.

 
At Thursday, March 06, 2008 6:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I compare Wade this year to Kobe in 04-05. Kobe's team only won 30 games and had a stretch where they lost 13 in a row.

He had Caron Butler and Lamar Odom with him for the ride, so whats his excuse?


His excuse is it was his first year without Shaq, he was only 26 years old and coming back from knee surgery (SOUND FAMILIAR?!?!?), and didnt know what it took yet.

He put up solid numbers but shot the lowest pct of his career and sure didnt "Murder everything moving".


He was the same age as Wade is now, with more talent on his team, with better health, and lost 13 in a row and was in the lottery on a 30 win team.

That was Kobe.

(Kobes numbers that year: 40 mpg, 26.5 ppg, 5.5 apg, 5.9 rpg, 4.2 turnovers a game, 43% field goals, and 23.2 PER...... Wade's numberst this year: 38.5 mpg, 24.6 ppg, 6.9 apg, 4.7rpg, 4.3 turnovers a game, 46% field goals, and 22.2 PER)


How about we look at Wade of last year?


Shaq missed the whole year up until Wade got injured, but he still had them above .500 and on the way to the playoffs despite only having a WAY past his prime Alonzo playing 30 minutes a night, Gary Payton (WAY PAST) playing 30 a night, then Posey (NO LAMAR!), and Haslem (Id rather have Luke any day).......


Wade was dropping 40 and 10 dimes on the regular. He led the NBA in Player efficiency Rating (#1 ranked player in the NBA, better PER last year than Kobe has ever had. And his defensive rating was a 99, which is GREAT.), and he was ABSOLUTELY CARRYING THE TEAM on path to the playoffs without Shaq!!!!



He sure aint the same this year, he is INJURED. He is NOT THE SAME PLAYER THAT HE WAS BEFORE.


He'll be back next year. THERE IS NO WAY IN HELL THAT A TEAM WITH THE PRE-INJURY VERSION OF DWYANE WADE WOUlD EVER LOSE MORE THAN 20 OUT OF 28 GAMES, OR EVER HAVE LESS THAN 30 WINS IN A SEASON! He is that special, it would just NEVER happen.

EVER!!!



But he did get injured, he isnt anywhere close to what he was before the injury, and he's only 25 years old.

Next year he'll be back to the player we saw last year and in the 2006 NBA Finals (Best performance by a wing since MJ). He'll be the guy that made all-defense, the guy that carried his team to a ring, the guy that was the #1 ranked player in the NBA on PER, and the absolute ASSASSIN in the 4th quarter leading his team. Dominating the game w/out dominating the ball, all within the flow of the offense, making his teammates better, dropping dimes left and right, and being unstoppable with the most explosive first step in the NBA.


You can count on that.



Wade is hurt, cut him some slack til next year. Then we will see the great player and special talent that we took for granted just a year ago.


He is the same age Kobe was in 05 when he led his team to the lottery with more talent around him, and put up VERY VERY similar numbers statistically. That was also Kobe's first year without Shaq, first year as the man, and he was coming off of knee surgery which really hurt his game....... all the same circumstances as Wade.


Wade will be back. In a flash. (As long as he dont get hurt again).

 
At Thursday, March 06, 2008 8:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I don't know where you got your stats, but many of your numbers are completely wrong. The 2004-05 Lakers won 34 games, not 30, and their longest losing streak was eight, not 13. That eight game losing streak included two sets of back to back road games and a stretch of four games in five nights. You also did not mention that in the middle of the season Rudy T quit as coach and Frank Hamblen took over. The Lakers were 24-19 with Rudy T but just 10-29 with Hamblen--and that eight game losing streak happened on Hamblen's watch.

In the first 27 games in 2004-05 (all of November and December), Kobe averaged 28.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg and 7.1 apg while leading the Lakers to a 15-12 record. Keep in mind, this is the first season without Shaq and without Phil Jackson (not to mention without Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Derek Fisher). At that point, Kobe was a viable MVP candidate.

Kobe sprained his ankle in January and he missed a total of 16 games during the season, most of them in January and February. The Lakers went 7-7 in those months when Kobe played.

Not long after Kobe came back, Odom got hurt and was out for the year. The Lakers sans Odom and with Hamblen coaching closed the year 2-15 (2-13 in games in which Kobe played).

The Lakers' start and overall record in no way resembles what Wade and the Heat are doing this season. Also, Kobe had less help. Butler was nowhere near the player he is now and in the last game of the season the Lakers started Kobe, Chucky Atkins, Vujacic, Jumaine Jones and Chris Mihm.

For most of this year, Wade has had either Shaq or Marion, plus some decent role players. Wade's record is 10-39 this season (the Heat are 1-8 without him). The Lakers were 28-38 in '05 with Kobe and 6-10 without him (keep in mind that the last 15 games with Kobe were without Odom and some of them were without Butler also). If Kobe had not been injured and missed 16 games the Lakers probably would have made the playoffs. I'm not even saying anything about games in which Kobe may have played while being less than 100%, just like I won't make that excuse for Wade this year.

Let's clear up a couple more things:

Wade has made the All-Defensive Second Team once. Kobe has made the All-Defensive First Team five times.

Wade was never getting 40 and 10 "on the regular"; a search at BasketballReference.com reveals that he has had two such games in his entire career. By the way, Kobe ranks third all-time in both 40 and 50 point games, trailing only Wilt and MJ in each category.

 
At Thursday, March 06, 2008 8:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Your remarks about last year's Heat are also incorrect. The Heat were a below .500 team until late February, when Shaq returned to action and Wade got hurt. Shaq led the Heat to a 16-9 record down the stretch to clinch a playoff berth. Check out my 4/6/07 post titled "Heat Continue to Sizzle Even Without Dwyane Wade" for details. Also, in my March 3, 2007 post titled "Why the Heat Won't Miss Dwyane Wade as Much as Most People Think" I predicted and explained why the Heat would do better with Shaq and without Wade than they did earlier in the season with Wade and without Shaq and my prediction/explanation turned out to be 100% correct--another example, quite frankly, of this site providing better analysis than many so-called "experts." If you check out that post you will find that in March I not only correctly predicted that the Heat would make the playoffs when many other people were writing them off I also said that the team best suited to beat the Heat in the first round was Chicago; the Bulls of course ended up sweeping the Heat.

 

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