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Monday, March 07, 2011

Stumbling Heat Once Again Falter in the Clutch

The Miami Heat built a 12 point lead versus the Chicago Bulls but once again collapsed down the stretch, losing 87-86 after both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade missed last second shots. Derrick Rose poured in a game-high 27 points, added a team-high five assists and scored eight fourth quarter points in a performance that may have clinched the regular season MVP (voters seem to be unduly swayed by what happens in hyped up, late season nationally televised games, which is not to diminish the fact that Rose is a legitimate contender for MVP honors). The Heat fell to 0-3 this season versus the Bulls and they have now lost five of their last six games overall, including four in a row. Three fourths of the way through the regular season, the Heat most assuredly are not who the "stat gurus" thought that they would be: not only have the Heat failed to win even one game against the league's top four teams (by current won-loss records), they have a losing record versus plus-.500 teams and they have performed atrociously in close games.

It is foolish to overreact to one game or even to a stretch of games during the regular season; we have seen teams struggle for long periods of time only to perform brilliantly during the playoffs (the Boston Celtics pulled that off just last season). The only good thing about hearing Mike Wilbon repeatedly say that the Chicago game was a "must win" for Miami is that this gave Wilbon less time to harp on his bizarre belief that the Lakers would be better off if their best player shot the ball less frequently. Miami's loss to Chicago hurt the Heat in terms of playoff positioning but it did not eliminate them from the championship chase and therefore was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a "must win."

However, in the course of 63 regular season games the Heat have certainly shown us enough to draw some preliminary conclusions about their team and about their three stars. Let's start where I left off near the end of my early season article about the Heat titled Lukewarm Heat on Pace for 47 Wins:

I have made this point many times but it simply cannot be overstated (particularly since the mainstream media largely refuses to acknowledge it): Pau Gasol was not considered an elite player prior to joining the Lakers but teaming up with Kobe Bryant has transformed him into a likely future Hall of Famer. Gasol's skill set has not changed much (he added some strength after the 2008 NBA Finals so that he could better hold his ground in the post) and his statistics are essentially the same except for increases in field goal percentage and offensive rebounding (thanks primarily to Bryant drawing double teams and creating easy opportunities for Gasol) but Gasol is perceived differently now because he is more comfortable playing one on one as the second option as opposed to carrying the burden of attacking double teams as Memphis' top option. If you believed the narrative that the "stat gurus" have constructed about James and Wade then you had to think that James and Wade would have an even more dramatically positive effect on Bosh, whose pre-Miami career was more effective and much more decorated (five All-Star selections, one All-NBA selection, seventh in 2007 MVP voting) than Gasol's pre-L.A. career (one All-Star selection, no All-NBA selections, not a single MVP vote)--but this has not been the case at all. Gasol arrived in L.A. in a midseason trade and instantly bonded with Bryant but James, Wade and Bosh play like strangers despite having a complete offseason to figure out their roles; even with Wade missing the preseason it still should not be that difficult for the supposedly two best players in the NBA to figure out how to effectively utilize a player as talented and versatile as Bosh. Gasol is a better passer than Bosh but otherwise their skill set strengths and weaknesses are quite similar: they are both lithe, lanky, agile big men who like to face the basket on offense, who gather rebounds based on their length/mobility more so than their strength/size and who can be pushed around by physical defenders.

It is funny to watch Pau Gasol be "promoted" to mythical best big man in the NBA status while Bosh is "demoted" to some minor figure, because neither statistics nor the "eyeball test" support either of those contentions. Last season, Chris Bosh averaged career-highs in scoring (24.0 ppg), rebounding (10.8 rpg) and field goal percentage (.518). Bosh joined the Heat as a perennial All-Star entering his prime; Gasol joined the Lakers as a one-time All-Star who had yet to win a single playoff game. James and Wade are generally considered the top two players in the league by "stat gurus," while Kobe Bryant barely cracks the top five--yet after Gasol teamed up with Bryant in the middle of the 2008 season the two players immediately jelled and the Lakers made the first of three straight trips to the NBA Finals. In contrast, James and Wade have had almost an entire season with Bosh but are still trying to, in their words, "figure out" how to play well together; James and Wade are putting up numbers that are comparable to their career averages, while Bosh is playing exactly the same minutes per game that he did last season but his scoring and rebounding numbers have plummeted to their lowest levels since his second and first seasons respectively. This is not just a matter of fewer touches, because Bosh's field goal percentage has dropped from .518 last season to .485 this season. It is very interesting that Wilbon and other media members repeatedly say that Bryant does not feed Gasol the ball enough but I have yet to hear anyone seriously suggest that perhaps James and Wade are not properly utilizing their perennial All-Star big man. If James and Wade are pass-first players who are much more efficient and unselfish than Bryant--the story that has been repeatedly told for years--then why has Bosh languished in Miami while Gasol has flourished in L.A.? Something just does not add up. It seems like James' media darling status at ESPN grants him a pass from meaningful criticism on most of their platforms, while Wade's lone championship earns him similar status across the board; Bosh and Coach Erik Spoelstra better hope that things turn around quickly for the Heat, because otherwise they are positioned to be the two primary scapegoats if the team falls short of expectations.

*****

Prior to this season, a lot of people foolishly compared the 2011 Heat to the great Chicago Bulls teams of the 1990s but the reality has been a lot different. Playing with James and Wade has transformed Bosh from a rising star into a glorified Horace Grant: the Heat station Bosh on the weak side and ask him to defend, rebound and make open jumpers when James or Wade deign to pass him the ball. The Chicago-Miami analogy that many people employed cast Wade as Michael Jordan and James as Scottie Pippen but I never accepted the notion that Miami would be "Wade's team" because Wade had been there first and/or because Wade has already won a championship; I refuted that idea in It is Wrong to Call LeBron James "LePippen":

The fact that Wade was in Miami first does not make James a "sidekick" any more than Moses Malone was Julius Erving's sidekick for the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers; Erving won the 1981 MVP as a 76er, Malone won the 1982 MVP as a Rocket and Malone won the 1983 MVP (while joining Erving on the All-NBA First Team) as the Sixers rolled to the championship.

It not only is silly to call James a "sidekick"--at least until we actually see what roles James and Wade fill for the Heat--but it makes no sense to supposedly denigrate James by comparing him to Pippen. Scottie Pippen did not elect to leave a team in his prime years to join a team with an established star who was his own age (the "crime" that the "LePippen" chanters are charging James with committing); in fact, as mentioned above, Pippen embraced the challenge of being the lead guy after Jordan retired. Teammates and opponents alike laud Pippen's versatility and unselfishness. Regardless of how many awards James wins and how much money he accrues he should hope and pray that when his career ends he will be as well respected by his peers as Scottie Pippen is.

James is leading the Heat in minutes, scoring and assists and he ranks second on the team in rebounding; James, not Wade, is the player who invariably handles the ball when the team goes into a set play at the end of a quarter or down the stretch when the game is close. In fact, what happens at the end of close games is not that Wade becomes Jordan and James becomes Pippen; what actually happens is that James tries to be Jordan but fails, while Wade waits behind the three point line doing a John Paxson/Steve Kerr imitation.

Why does James end up with the ball in those late game situations? The answer is simple: James is the best player on the team. The coaching staff knows it, James knows it and the other players know it. The problem is that James still does not have a complete skill set, nor does he have the ability and/or willingness to actually run an efficient half court offense in such situations. Skill set differences really matter; the detailed analyses that I have provided for years explaining why Kobe Bryant is the most complete player in the NBA explain more about the differences between the Heat and the Lakers than the nonsense spewed by "stat gurus" or the biased shrieking of various commentators who have obvious axes that they repeatedly grind. James has been a more productive regular season player than Bryant for the past couple seasons as an aging Bryant has reduced his minutes and dealt with some nagging injuries but the weaknesses in James' skill set--lack of a consistent jumper not just from three point range but also from the midrange area and the lack of a consistent post up game--crop up when James is faced with crucial late game situations and/or when James has to play against an elite defense during a playoff series (those two situations are actually quite similar, because in both instances teams load up to protect the paint, something that elite teams can do for an entire series but that even lesser teams can do for a few late game possessions).

Remember when the "experts" kept criticizing Cleveland Coach Mike Brown for his supposed lack of offensive creativity and blamed him for often just having James go one on five? A whole lot of nonsense was written about John Kuester being the Cavs' offensive guru when the team's offensive productivity improved--yes, the same John Kuester who is running such an innovative offense as Detroit's head coach. The reality is twofold: one, Coach Brown is a defensive-minded coach who nevertheless presided over a steadily improving Cleveland offense; two, it is becoming increasingly evident that when the Cavs deviated from their successful five man offense this was not Coach Brown's choice but rather James' choice, because this season when the Heat enter crunch time James demands the ball and then dribbles around until he decides to shoot or pass. When James did that in Cleveland, Coach Brown received the blame but now that the same thing is happening in Miami we either have to conclude that Coach Spoelstra is running Brown's "offense" or that James simply does whatever he wants to do in those situations. After one of Miami's many late game debacles, TNT's Charles Barkley joked that Coach Spoelstra should be fired for drawing up such a bad play; it was clear that the Heat had in fact freelanced and not done whatever the Coach had asked them to do.

The Heat's problem is not that James has the ball in these situations; the best player should get the ball, either immediately or after running some action (depending on how much time remains on the shot and/or game clock). The problem is that the Heat do not run any off of the ball action to force the defense to do something other than load up in the paint. Neither James nor Wade are great outside shooters, yet the Heat's "go to play" is for James to get the ball at the top of the key while Wade and the other three players spot up; Wade is not a catch and shoot threat and James is not a major jump shooting threat, so the defense's task is easy: don't let James dunk the ball. If James or Wade could either post up or make a shot coming off of a screen then both players would be viable threats no matter who has the ball. That is why anyone who is clamoring for Wade to have the ball instead of James is missing the point; it makes no more sense for Wade to dribble around aimlessly while James spots up then it does to have James dribble around aimlessly while Wade spots up.

Shooting percentages on last second shots can be a misleading statistic because this invariably involves a small sample size--and a sample that is likely contaminated by last second heaves that do not provide much evidence of a player's true clutch prowess. What really matters is the ability to control a game down the stretch. If the Heat had just lost a few games after James, Wade or someone else missed some 35 foot heaves at the buzzer then there would not really be a problem to discuss, because last second heaves are low percentage shots; the Heat are losing close games because their half court offense down the stretch is not very effective: the Heat's biggest failure--for which James must receive a significant amount of the blame, because he is the team's best player and the ball is usually in his hands--is their inability to execute effectively on offense in the last few minutes of close games, not just that James and others have shot poorly in small sample size of last second shots. The Heat have repeatedly blown double digit leads because their half court offensive execution is pitiful, particularly in the fourth quarter; the missed last second shots are just the final blow, not the primary problem. Henry Abbott's repeated attempts to "prove" that Kobe Bryant is not a great clutch player look even more ridiculous after nearly a full season of watching LeBron James and Dwyane Wade team up to look like clowns piling out of a car at the circus every time the Heat are in a close game; last season we saw Bryant repeatedly nail game-winning shots--shots that ultimately lifted the Lakers to the top seed in the West instead of potentially being the seventh or eighth seed in that competitive conference--but, more significantly, we have seen that throughout his career he can take over games for extended stretches, including playoff games against elite defenses. We are still waiting to see James and/or Wade demonstrate a similar capability after assembling their South Beach Super Team and proclaiming that they are going to win not one, not two but multiple championships.

*****

The most obvious characteristic of the Heat--an even larger and more important issue than their well documented problems in close games--is that they are a frontrunning team: they beat up on the league's weak teams but fold when they face any real resistance. In that regard they take after their leader and best player, LeBron James: to cite just one example, recall what happened to Team USA in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship (as I recounted in
Greece Shreds Team USA's Defense, Wins 101-95):

Team USA took its biggest lead, 33-21, after a Joe Johnson three pointer early in the second quarter and, according to an Associated Press report, LeBron James told his teammates on the bench, "They don't know what to do."

However, when Greece made their run and took over the game, James could not be found saying (or doing) anything. Contrast that with what happened in the gold medal game of the 2008 Olympics: Team USA took a 58-44 first half lead over Spain but when Spain rallied to cut the margin to 93-89 in the fourth quarter, Coach Mike Krzyzewski knew who had to close the deal--and it wasn't LeBron James: Kobe Bryant made the key plays down the stretch.

I would be the first person to say that FIBA basketball and NBA basketball cannot be directly compared but my point is that James thrives when he can dominate lesser competition but when the opposition is not intimidated by his physical prowess he sometimes seems to lack a backup plan. James misjudged the Greeks; they were not intimidated by Team USA and they proved it. James and the Heat look unbeatable when weaker NBA teams turn the ball over and let James and Wade throw alley oop lobs to each other--but when the opposition looks the Heat dead in the eyes and punches them in the mouth (metaphorically speaking) the Heat panic (during the game) and look for excuses (after the game).

"Real talk" has become a popular catchphrase, so here is some "real talk" about the Heat:

1) The 2010 Cavs were a better, more complete team than the 2011 Heat; if we could put both teams in a time machine and have them meet in a seven game playoff series the Cavs would win. This is something that "stat gurus," biased commentators and many fans may never accept but even though the 2011 Heat have more top level talent they are a flawed team, while the 2010 Cavs had a deep, well balanced roster and they were an outstanding team defensively and on the glass (the 2009 Cavs were probably even better than the 2010 Cavs but that is another story).

2) When evaluating LeBron James' impact on team success the correct comparison is not between the 2011 Cavs and the 2010 Cavs--two teams that have vastly different rosters and different head coaches--but rather between the 2009/2010 Cavs and the 2011 Heat; the popular storyline is that James left Cleveland because his supporting cast was weak but anyone who believes that to be true must explain why the 2011 Heat are on course to win fewer games than those supposedly flawed Cleveland teams. It cannot simultaneously be true that James singlehandedly led Cleveland to 61-plus wins two years in a row but yet is struggling to guide the Heat to 60 wins; if James can singlehandedly lead a team to 60-plus wins then he surely would be doing so now--and the reason that he is not doing so is that team success in the NBA involves more than just throwing stars together.

3) Even though the Heat are a flawed team, the fact that several of their games versus top teams have been close indicates that it is possible that they can make some adjustments and perform better in the playoffs. Right now, the Heat look a bit worse than I expected them to look but I would not be surprised if they find their way to the Eastern Conference Finals before being eliminated by the Boston Celtics. The Heat should never, ever be compared with the 1996 Bulls or other truly great teams but--despite their problems--they cannot simply be dismissed as a playoff threat.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:16 AM

37 comments

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37 Comments:

At Monday, March 07, 2011 6:41:00 AM, Anonymous JackF said...

@David
Great article again. What do you make of Coach Spoelstra revealing that some Heat players were crying in the Locker room? I think it was a really bad idea of revealing that because it confirms what the world thought of the heat: That they aren't tough enough!

I always thought Wade should have gone to Chicago because Thibodeau is a great coach and The bulls roster was waiting for a player like Wade.
For all the talk about Kobe, the "all eyez on me" or "me against the world" mentality is something that Kobe would strive on.
All the antics during the summer kinda put a bullseye on them. Everybody is targeting them.

 
At Monday, March 07, 2011 7:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

It seemed like an odd thing for Coach Spoelstra to say but I did not see the entire press conference so I don't know if that quote was taken out of context. I tend to think that he probably should not have said it, if for no other reason than that some people will make a bigger deal out of it than it really is. Larry Bird cried after Indiana State lost the NCAA title to Michigan State but that did not stop him from winning three NBA championships. I really don't care who cried in the Heat locker room; the primary issue concerning the team is their half court execution in pressure situations (late in games when the score is close or any time in games versus elite teams that shut down the Heat's transition game).

It is interesting to speculate about how good the Bulls might be if Wade had signed in Chicago; I am not sure what ripple effect that would have had on the composition of the rest of the roster or how well Wade's skill set would mesh with Rose's.

I agree with you that, despite their protestations to the contrary, the Heat hardly seem to enjoy being cast as villains. I don't think that, deep down, James, Wade and Bosh are really bad guys and that is why they are uncomfortable in that role (which is not to ignore the reality that their own actions/statements are why they have been cast, by some people, as bad guys). The whole thing reminds me of the VH1 Behind the Music episode about MC Hammer; MC Hammer's friend Diamond Ken recalled when MC Hammer tried to be a "gangsta rapper" and Diamond Ken asked, "How can you go from 'We got to pray just to make it today' to 'Pumps and a Bump'?" James, Wade and Bosh have always tried to cultivate good images but in the wake of the understandable backlash to the "Decision" and to their initial Heat press conference/celebration they have tried to take on a bad boy role but that persona just does not fit them very comfortably.

 
At Monday, March 07, 2011 12:11:00 PM, Anonymous Charliegone said...

David, great article.I've noticed that the Heat are not a very strong team mentally. Do you think it's the pressure of not living up to the hype that, well, they pretty much put on themselves?

 
At Monday, March 07, 2011 7:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Charliegone:

I think that the (self-imposed) pressure may be affecting the Heat to some extent but the larger problem is that James and Wade have complementary skill set strengths and weaknesses (a point that I have repeatedly made since the Heat assembled this roster last summer). When James isolates Wade is reduced to a bystander and vice versa. The Heat have to figure out a way for all three of their top players to be involved when the Heat face good teams and when the Heat are involved in close games that become half court oriented in the final moments. If the Heat's proposed "solution" amounts to simply giving the ball to Wade and turning James into a spectator then the overall results will not change, even if Wade hits one or two game-winners; reducing two All-Stars to spectators for substantial portions of games is not a long term winning strategy.

 
At Monday, March 07, 2011 7:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are other factors that affect Gasol/Bosh's performances other than playing with Kobe/James/Wade.

First of all, Bosh is not "languishing" in Miami.
Any team would love to have a third wheel capable of 18 ppg on 48% shooting who can also grab 8 rpg.

Gasol is the clear 2nd option while Bosh is the 3rd. It would be more fair to compare Bosh's production relative to other all-stars turned third-wheels. KG and TD come to mind. TD's FG% is way down. KG has always been more comfortable as a "sidekick" offensively (see 2004). Besides, Bosh is getting more shot attempts than Gasol. It's not like they're completely ignoring him.

As for offensive rebounding, Gasol's improvement is attributed to having a pair of physical tag-team partners. Odom is a better rebounder than anyone on the Heat. Bynum likes to park himself in the paint. Big Z loves to crash the board himself too, but he spends most of the time outside the paint.
These are huge factors that do not get enough attention. The "Kobe factor" is minimal, although in fairness, LeBron seems to like stealing rebounds from teammates.

Lost somewhere in the media hype is the fact that their coach is a rookie. I don't know the statistics but I think experienced teams usually fare better in close games.

 
At Monday, March 07, 2011 7:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree with you that there are other factors than just the difference between playing with Bryant and playing with James/Wade but I disagree with the way that you prioritized those factors, particularly in the context of my longstanding criticism of the "stat guru" perspective regarding evaluation of NBA players and teams.

According to many if not most "stat gurus," LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are the two best players in the NBA. The "stat gurus" and their media sycophants have also created a narrative stating that James and Wade are efficient, unselfish, pass-first players while Bryant is a somewhat inefficient, selfish player. If those depictions were completely accurate, one would expect that pairing James and Wade with Bosh also in the mix would produce a dominant team--and, indeed, that is what just about everyone predicted before the season (except for me--I predicted that the Heat would be very good, but not great, and that they would not make it to the Finals, let alone win the championship).

The season is not over and the playoffs have not even begun, so naturally the Heat could still win the championship--but three fourths of the way through the regular season the Heat sure seem to be performing a lot closer to my expectation than to the expectations of the "stat gurus." Why is that happening? That is the primary question that I attempted to answer in this article.

You say that Bosh is "not languishing." That is true if you compare Bosh to random power forwards around the league--but Bosh is not a random power forward: he is a perennial All-Star entering his prime and coming off of his best season, yet playing with James and Wade has resulted in his worst output since his second year in the league. Somehow, despite their stated willingness to sacrifice their stats, James and Wade have largely maintained their career averages while Bosh has been transformed into Horace Grant (who was a very good player, but not a perennial All-Star).

Saying that Bosh is the third option while Gasol is the second option just begs a lot of questions. As the third option, Bosh should be getting plenty of high percentage opportunities and his efficiency should be up even if his scoring average goes down. Think about the players on the original (and only) Dream Team: their scoring averages went down but their shooting percentages were astronomical. Look at the field goal percentages of players who team up with Kobe (I am thinking primarily of Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Ariza and Shannon Brown; Artest has always taken random shots, so he does not benefit as much as he should): the double-teaming that Kobe draws leads to high percentage scoring opportunities for his teammates. James and Wade do a lot of non-productive dribbling, leaving Bosh to subsist off of table scraps instead of getting more high percentage scoring opportunities in the rhythm of the game. For years, the Lakers have killed elite level teams with screen/roll plays involving Bryant and Gasol; the Heat should be deadly using James or Wade in screen/roll actions with Bosh but James and Wade don't play that way: they want to handle the ball on their own, one on one, and they only want to make passes that they think will lead directly to assists (Kobe makes passes that lead to the assist pass).

Once in a while, the Heat throw Bosh a bone by featuring him for a quarter or two and then it is back to Horace Grant-mode.

 
At Monday, March 07, 2011 7:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Word count restrictions forced me to break my reply into two parts.

Duncan and KG are older, declining players, so their situations are not at all analogous to Bosh's or Gasol's.

Players do not generally become much better offensive rebounders as they get older, particularly after they have established a base line performance for several years--but Gasol's offensive rebounding and his field goal percentage immediately improved after he joined the Lakers. That is not all because of Bryant but a significant portion of it is. Just watch the difference between how Gasol is defended when Bryant is in the game and when Bryant is not in the game--or read some of my Lakers' game recaps from the past several years in which I gave detailed accounts of specific play sequences that illustrate this.

Spoelstra is not a "rookie"; he is a third year head coach who previously spent several years as an assistant with the Heat being groomed by Pat Riley. Spoelstra is widely respected in NBA circles. He is not why the Heat are struggling; the Heat are struggling because James and Wade have complementary skill set strengths and weaknesses and those weaknesses are repeatedly being exposed by good teams, particularly in close games.

 
At Monday, March 07, 2011 10:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

they need to get more out of role players. too much pressure on big 3. especially wade and james. miller bibby house james. big z got to give them sumthin. u cant win wen 9 players give u 20-30 points every game.

give the ball to wade late in games and let him create or take jumper. lebron jumper is more inconsistent than wade. and agianst good teams u dont bull to basket. wade is better late in games than bron even tho. even tho bron is better player.

bosh is playin well as third wheel i believe. he gets the ball alot especailly in spot up and iso on the key situations. he wasnt gon average 24 12 for miami and wade and james keep there averages for there career. so i dont think gasol and him is fair comparison.

the 2011 heat vs 2010 or 2009 cavs is irrelevant all 3 look to fail wen it counts. but i think the 2011 heat will fair better than the previous two i still think they gon make it tough or can beat boston in 7 game series in east finasls i think there goin to eventually turn this around goin to playoffs. and play better. and still got a great chance to win the ring this year this my team with lakers im sticking with them.

 
At Monday, March 07, 2011 11:13:00 PM, Anonymous j said...

Good points, David, and Anonymoys 7:27's comments are seriously undercut by his plainly ignorant remark that Coach "Spo" - as Lebron calls him - is a rookie coach.

 
At Tuesday, March 08, 2011 4:04:00 AM, Anonymous khandor said...

David:

re: "Why does James end up with the ball in those late game situations? The answer is simple: James is the best player on the team. The coaching staff knows it, James knows it and the other players know it."

----------------------------------

IMO, the opinion I have about the topic which you've raised in this quote is shared by the likes of Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, etc.

Although LeBron James may be heralded by the uninformed masses as "being a better basketball player than Dwyane Wade" ... principally, because LBJ's simple game stats are perceived to be superior ... this is not an accurate reflection of reality, since D-Wade is actually the superior basketball player in the minds of authentically elite level head coaches, like these men, who fundamentally understand how the game is played at its highest level in a way that the uninformed masses do not.

What I've said since the summer is now materializing with the Heat:

i. If Lebron James develops as the leader of this season's Miami team, then, unfortunately, for the Heat, they will fail to maximize their ability as a team;

however,

ii. If Dwyane Wade actually re-asserts his control of this season's Heat team, as it AUTHENTIC leader ... and, in this case, its best basketball player ... then, Miami will have a much better opportunity to maximize their ability, as one of the best teams in the league this year.

Your answer to this question is, in fact, wrong.

Although Lebron James, and countless others, might happen to "think" that he is the best basketball player on the Heat team this season and, therefore, somehow, deserves to have the ball in his hands at the end of close games, both, he and those who share his "opinion" just happen to be wrong ... and what's going to be truly interesting to see is just how his teammates and coaches - and, even, perhaps, James himself - are now going to react once they fully realize that what they initially thought about James was WRONG and that Dwyane Wade is actually the best player on their team.

This year's Heat should be closing games with the following unit on the floor in the following roles:

1. Chalmers [weak-side spot up shooter/driver];
2. Wade [primary ball-handler];
3. Miller [weak-side spot-up shooter/driver];
4. James [weak-side rebounder or Picker, small-#4/PF]; and,
5. Bosh [post-up player on the right block].

If the Heat do this the rest of the way, then, they will likely finish with the best w-l record in the East this season.

If not ...

Cheers

 
At Tuesday, March 08, 2011 4:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

LeBron cannot use his supporting cast as an excuse; he went to Miami specifically because he felt that he was upgrading the quality of his supporting cast. He is now playing with a top five player and a top 15 player, plus several established veteran role players.

Neither LeBron nor Wade are consistent jump shooters. LeBron is taller, bigger, stronger and at least as quick as Wade, so LeBron is better suited to get off a shot in a late game (or any other) situation--but the real problem is that Miami's half court offense largely consists of LeBron dribbling around until he decides to shoot or pass; switching to Wade doing the same thing will not change the result.

The 2009 and 2010 Cavs both earned the top overall seed in the playoffs. The 2009 Cavs advanced to the ECF, while the 2010 Cavs lost to the eventual Eastern Conference champions. It is unlikely that the Heat will finish with the best record in the East or match the 61 wins posted by the 2010 Cavs. Since the Heat have not been able to win a single game against an elite team it is difficult to share your optimism that the Heat will advance to the NBA Finals; it is certainly possible--I agree with Pat Riley and others who say that the Heat have enough talent--but the Heat do not play championship level basketball.

 
At Tuesday, March 08, 2011 4:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

Thank you. Perhaps Anonymous just made an imprecise word choice--he may have meant that Coach Spoelstra is inexperienced. In any case, the main things that undercut his arguments were the points that I described in my response.

 
At Tuesday, March 08, 2011 4:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Khandor:

We already had this discussion before, so I am not going to give an in depth reply; I stand by what I said last time: the mere fact that you have repeatedly said something does not make it true. I have already explained in depth why LeBron is a better basketball player than Wade and you have yet to offer any refutation other than pointing out that you have repeatedly disagreed with me.

I made several predictions about the Heat before the season began and so far they have all come true:

1) LeBron has clearly been established as the team's best player/number one option. He leads the team in the key categories that I mentioned in the article and he is the primary initiator of the offense.

2) The Heat are on pace to win around 60 games and finish with a top three seed but they have not been a dominant team--contrary to popular expectations--and they have been repeatedly bullied by the Celtics.

3) Chris Bosh came to the Heat with a better pedigree than the one that Pau Gasol had prior to joining the Lakers but playing alongside James and Wade has not elevated Bosh's productivity or efficiency.

4) There is little evidence to support the contention that the Heat, as currently assembled, are a more legit championship contender than the team that LeBron left--and if LeBron had committed early to Cleveland, thereby increasing the likelihood that the Cavs could have added a second star to their already deep roster, then the Cavs would have once again been a 60-plus win team this season.

Regarding your proposed late game lineup for the Heat, I don't have a major problem in general with the five players you selected--but the devil is in the details: are the Heat on offense or defense, are they initiating a play out of a timeout or on the fly, are they leading or trailing, how many timeouts do both teams have, etc. There could be situations in which Bibby should be on the court or possibly James Jones, the reigning three point shootout champion.

While there certainly could be occasions in which Wade should be the primary ballhandler I disagree with your contention that this should be Miami's default mode. What team primarily gives the ball to their second best player in crunch time situations? I am a Scottie Pippen fan more than a Michael Jordan fan--though I like both players a lot--but I understand why Phil Jackson generally put the ball in MJ's hands in end of game situations; Pippen did many things as well or almost as well as MJ but MJ had a more complete offensive repertoire. At least Pippen was as big as MJ, though; Wade is about half a foot shorter than LeBron and does not have any skill set advantages to compensate for that significant difference. What the Heat need to do is to make sure that Wade and the other players are positioned so that they are viable threats if/when LeBron is trapped; it is senseless to station Wade as a spot up shooter behind the three point line: Wade should be cutting back door or popping to the left elbow for that midrange jumper he likes to hit off of one dribble.

 
At Tuesday, March 08, 2011 9:56:00 AM, Anonymous khandor said...

David:

Everything which you wrote in your reply is dependent upon your perception of:

"Lebron James, as Miami's best player, because he has the ball in his hands so much at the end of the Heat's games."

What you've mistakenly done is set up a circular argument which reinforces your own opinion, to wit:

1. It only makes sense for the Heat to have the ball in the hands of their best player at the end of games.

2. Lebron James has the ball in his hands at the end of games for the Heat the vast majority of the time.

3. Therefore, Lebron James MUST be considered the Heat's best player.

As you see, this is a fallacious line of reasoning ... since, you've also said elsewhere that:

[paraphrasing on my part]

Lebron James is a player that simply, and repeatedly, "breaks off" the called plays of the Heat - as he did when he played for the Cavaliers and Team USA ... before the arrival of Kobe Bryant - to dribble the ball incessantly at the top of the key in isolations that are largely unproductive when he ignores his teammates.

What Dwyane has already shown in his career to-date, however, is that ... contrary to popular belief, perhaps ... he is a different type of player than this, when he has the ball placed in his hands coming down the stretch of close NBA games, in terms of being able to:

i. Finish plays himself;

and,

ii. Facilitate open shots for teammates;

as he did successfully for the World Champion Miami Heat team of 2005-2006.

D-Wade is, in fact, the best player on the Heat, not Lebron James ... and, not because its me who says so repeatedly but, rather, because if you ask the great coaches in/around the NBA today, this is what THEY WILL say:

i.e. i. Kobe Bryant is still the most skilful player on the planet, and it isn't even close; ii. D-Wade is the 2nd best player on the planet, when it comes to closing out games effectively for his team, regardless of what the "stat geeks" might think; iii. Mr. James is a marvelous physical specimen who is almost impossible to stop from scoring when he has the ball in transition and is moving like a run-away-freight-train with a fairly high degree of basketball skill and a solid b-ball IQ ... but he is still without the knowledge of what it takes to be able to win a series of important games against high level competition, by effectively playing the game WITH his teammates and coaches, as just one part of a greater whole, as THAT team's so-called leader.

D-Wade was the leader of the Heat's title-winning team in 2005-2006.

Kobe has been the leader of the Lakers' title-winning teams, since the departure of Shaq, as well as for the Redeem Team.

LeBron has NEVER ever been the leader of a title-winning team, anywhere. Period.

Authentically elite levle coaches tend to trust most something that has actually happened at least once, if not countless times, before. :-)

As you've said before ...

We can always just agree to disagree about this topic. :-)

Cheers

PS. re: the inddividual roles for House, Jones, Dampier, Haslem, etc., when closing games for Miami this season ... Of course there are isolated situations when one or more of those players would be on the floor instead of a player or two in the 5-man unit I suggested above. This does not nullify the correctness of what I said, however, re: the overall effectiveness of the combination of five players I identified in my comment as the single best one for this year's Heat team.

 
At Tuesday, March 08, 2011 4:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Khandor:

You have incorrectly stated my position. My position is that LeBron James is Miami's best player because he is equal to or superior to Dwyane Wade in every skill set area and James is also bigger, stronger and at least as quick as Wade. Those are the reasons that James has been established as the Heat's leading scorer, leading playmaker and primary initiator of the offense, both through the course of games and also in late game situations.

Other than your assertion that Wade would be less apt to break off plays than James--an assertion which you did not prove or even offer any evidence to support--you did not challenge, let alone refute, that James is equal to or superior to Wade in every skill set area (I trust that you will not assert that Wade is bigger and stronger than James).

The reality, as we have seen this season, is that in the instances when Wade has run the offense (usually when James is not in the game), Wade generally does the same thing that James does--dribble around aimlessly until he decides to shoot or pass. A major difference between James and Wade is that when James attacks the hoop and crashes into people he delivers the blow, whereas when Wade does this--because, again, he is smaller and not as strong--he tends to be the one absorbing the blow. This not only explains why James has emerged as the team's primary offensive initiator but also why Wade tends to be more banged up and miss more games than James does.

Both James and Wade are capable of finishing plays and initiating plays for others. We saw James do this throughout his Cleveland career, leading the Cavs to the 2007 NBA Finals, the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals and the best record in the league each of the past two seasons, winning two MVPs along the way.

What many people may not realize--including, apparently, you--is that Wade has not been out of the first round of the playoffs since 2006, when his slashing game was greatly aided by the presence of a still quite forceful Shaquille O'Neal in the paint. Wade and the Heat have won exactly four playoff games in the past four seasons!

In 2007, the Heat turned in one of the worst performances ever by a reigning championship team that had not been broken up, culminating in an embarrassing first round playoff loss.

I agree with your praise of Bryant, who is still the most complete player in the league even though age and nagging injuries have put a minor dent in his regular season productivity.

I have yet to hear any elite level coaches assert the point of view that you have stated regarding the Heat. Team USA Coach Krzyzewski put Wade on the bench as a sixth man throughout the Olympics and put the ball in Kobe's hands down the stretch in the team's one competitive game (gold medal contest versus Spain); I suggested earlier in the season that the best thing for the Heat might be to bring Wade off of the bench to anchor the second unit or at least have him on the court less frequently with James because their skill sets are not complementary. Of course, I realize that due to egos it is not very likely that Wade will be offered (or accept) such a role.

 
At Tuesday, March 08, 2011 10:05:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

One thing I don't get is why the Heat don't just kick it out to the open guy at the end of the game, whether that is Mario Chalmers or James Jones or Eddie House. If you give the ball to just one guy, dribble the clock out while everyone else just stands still and have the guy either shoot or pass at the last second, you're not going to succeed very often - whether that person is Wade or Lebron or Kobe.

Looking at the old Chicago Bulls videos, they did a great job of moving the ball around in end-of-game situations and we didn't see four guys stand around watching Michael take the last shot. Heck, even in Cleveland Lebron was known for getting the ball to the open guy for the last shot.

I'm not sure whether this goes down to coaching or we have two uncoachable ball-hogs on the Heat. Either way, we're seeing the same results. I fancy ANY NBA team's chances in stopping the Heat down the stretch unless they do something about this problem.

 
At Wednesday, March 09, 2011 3:07:00 AM, Anonymous khandor said...

David:

IYO ...

Is emotional toughness a skill?

Is emotional stability a skill?

Is the ability to play WITH teammates a skill?

Is willingness to stick with a gameplan a skill?

Is coachability a skill?

Is decision-making a skill?

Is fearlessness a skill?

Is Leadership a skill?

Thus far:

* Lebron James has NOT been established as THE leader of the Heat by the likes of Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh, or the rest of their players.

* Lebron James has only been established as THE leader of the Heat, in his own mind, and by different members of the media - like you - and an assortment of other NBA fans/observers.

The Heat's poor performance following their championship season was not attributable to the poor performance of D-Wade; it was attributable to the stunning run of injuries they sustained and the drastic roster changes which were made for a variety of different reasons.

The chief reason Coach K used D-Wade off the bench for the Redeem Team is because when you have Deron Williams/PG on your team and Kobe Bryant/OG, then, the proper role for Dwyane Wade, in a 12-player team, is coming in off the bench, as the best back-up OG in the world.

 
At Wednesday, March 09, 2011 5:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

DanielSong39:

There is a reason that I said that Miami's offense at times resembles clowns piling out of a car at the circus. In both cases--Miami's offense, stumbling clowns--we see confusion, poor spacing, people falling over each other and hilarity (at least if you are not a Miami fan). I think that the next generation of DVRs should come with an option that automatically records the fourth quarter of any close Miami game so that the DVR owner never misses the chance to see Miami's clown car offense in action.

It is very interesting to watch NBA TV's Kevin McHale break down Miami game film and show how Coach Spoelstra designs good plays for those situations but that James or Wade break off the plays to either shoot long threes or else dribble in place for so long that they ultimately have no choice but to barrel to the hoop and hope for the best.

What a lot of people still don't understand or believe is a point that I made repeatedly last summer: even though Wade is the best individual sidekick that LeBron has played with (other than Team USA or All-Star Games, of course), the Cavs had a better, deeper and more balanced team than the Heat currently have. I said that LeBron may never again play for a 66 win team or a team that wins 60-plus games in back to back seasons; those things are hard to do. Dan Marino made it to one Super Bowl early in his career and never got back even though he set almost every important passing record (marks later broken by Brett Favre). The Cavs had a deep rotation of bigs, they had shooters who knew how to space the floor and they had a defensive-minded coach who put each player in a good position to succeed at both ends of the court.

LeBron seems to think that he does not need to be coached and that if he can simply hand pick a few talented teammates then he can win not one, not two but multiple championships; the result so far is a star studded roster that has yet to beat a top four team and even struggles to beat any team that is above .500.

 
At Wednesday, March 09, 2011 6:03:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Khandor:

All of the things that you listed are skills, though the skills that I was referring to relate to shooting, rebounding, passing, defense and so forth. Even expanding that list to include the items you mentioned, you still have not proven that there is any area in which Wade is superior to LeBron (they are equal or at least close to equal in some areas but I honestly cannot think of anything that Wade clearly does better than LeBron).

You confuse listing items and mentioning the names of certain people with actually proving a point. While some people may believe that Wade is more "clutch" than LeBron in late game situations, even that is not provable either statistically or by the "eye test." I have made it clear that I think it is more important to be able to dominate a game for a stretch of time as opposed to hitting last second shots--the sample size of which is inevitably small and thus not statistically significant--but James has both hit plenty of "clutch" shots during his career and he has also displayed the ability to take over games for extended stretches. The Heat's problem is that even though they have two great players those great players do not have complementary skill sets. Thus far, LeBron generally has the ball when the game is tight and Wade becomes a spectator; the Heat will not do any better if that situation is simply reversed, as we saw last night when Wade handled the ball more frequently than he usually does and was the Heat's leading scorer yet the Heat still folded down the stretch at home versus Portland. Yes, this was just one game--a small sample size--but it provided a pretty good indication of what will happen if the Heat follow your proposed solution of giving the ball to Wade instead of LeBron (I suppose that you may counter that the Heat still did not use the five man unit you suggested and that is a valid point to some degree, though irrelevant to the larger point that I am making).

The Heat need to develop a half court offense that includes more player movement and more ball movement. They also need to give the ball to Bosh more frequently in the low post, an area from which he scored quite effectively as a Raptor. It is hilarious that Mike Wilbon and Jon Barry endlessly call on Kobe to pass more to Bosh and yet LeBron's team is falling apart (for the moment) even though LeBron not only has his own Gasol (in Bosh) but also has a top five player.

 
At Wednesday, March 09, 2011 6:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Khandor:

Word count restrictions forced me to split my reply into two parts.

The funny thing about this is the "stat gurus" used to insist that if LeBron had Kobe's supporting cast he would lead a team to 70-plus wins--yet now LeBron has more talent around him than Kobe (not more depth but more talent) and the Heat look like they will not even get 60 wins.

As for the 2007 Heat, injuries played a part but that team had all of their key players on opening night when they were blasted 108-66 by the Bulls and they had all of their key players when the Bulls swept them in the first round.

Then there is the not so insignificant matter of how Wade and the Heat performed in the 2007-08 season, as I described in an article titled Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat's Hard Knock Life. The Heat went 15-67 that season, including 10-41 when Wade played; at one point, the Heat lost 14 straight games and won just one game out of 25 with Wade in the lineup. I saw Kobe Bryant push, pull and drag a team with Kwame Brown at center and Smush Parker at point guard to 45 wins and a Western Conference playoff berth, so I am pretty sure that there is no conceivable combination of teammates you could saddle Bryant with that would result in 1-24 with a 14 game losing streak. Honestly, it is mystifying that most people act like that portion of Wade's career--the 2007 debacle followed by the 2008 collapse--doesn't exist or is not relevant, yet we hear endless psychobabble about Kobe supposedly shooting too much or not shooting to prove some kind of mythical point.

Don't get me wrong: Wade is a great player, one of the five best players in the NBA--but he is not better than Kobe (despite what the "stat gurus" say) and he is not a better player, leader or teammate than LeBron James (despite the fact that you keep saying otherwise).

We agree that Coach K put Wade in the proper role on Team USA--but if Wade had been the best player on that team then he would have been in the starting lineup. He is not a better shooting guard than Kobe or a better player than LeBron. When LeBron and Wade are in the game together the player who does not have the ball should be on the move, not spotting up--and the Heat should consider splitting LeBron and Wade up more often, using Wade to be a "mini-LeBron" for the second unit much like Pippen used to anchor the Bulls' second unit. If Wade is as good as you say, then playing him for 10, 15 or even 20 mpg with four bench players should instantly make Miami's supposedly deficient bench at least serviceable.

 
At Wednesday, March 09, 2011 11:17:00 AM, Anonymous khandor said...

David:

Agree and disagree on several points.

1. Wade is superior to James in each of the skills I listed above.

2. On occasion you confuse listing certain "stats" as being "proof" for something's rightness, which is simply not the case at all, since it really does depend on what someone is trying to say with the use of those stats, or not.

3. In a sense, it can be disingenuous of you to make a claim that the use of stats - "advanced" or otherwise - in basketball is fraught with difficulties [given the inherent dynamics of the game itself], for developing "certitude" about different "perceptions" - when it comes to evaluating the worth of players accurately but then, also, ask for statistical based "proof" in return from others who make observations which are different/opposite from yours.

i.e. in a type of having your cake and eating it, too.

A simple and accurate respone to your observation would be that:

The proof which you've provided on occasion for your opinions about the game isn't really proof at all, either.

e.g. since even "hard" stats like rebounds and fg%, etc., are subject to an array of different situaional factors which are simply not accounted for by the numbers themselves ... as for example, Player B who shoots a lower fg% against consistently good defense, may well a "better" shooter than Player A who shoots a higher fg% but against a lower calibre of consistent defense.

4. re: "Thus far, LeBron generally has the ball when the game is tight and Wade becomes a spectator; the Heat will not do any better if that situation is simply reversed, as we saw last night when Wade handled the ball more frequently than he usually does and was the Heat's leading scorer yet the Heat still folded down the stretch at home versus Portland."

i. Until Wade is consistently the one Heat player with the ball in his hands at the end of close games you will not know whether he is capable of getting the job done for this version of the Heat, in comparison with the failure rate that James has had to this point.

ii. You're correct ... the Heat did not go with the specific line-up that I suggested so it is not a relevant point of comparison at this point.

iii. Until Mike Bibby is no longer in the Heat's end-of-close-games line-up they are going to struggle big-time, at the defensive end of the floor and in terms of rebounding.

e.g. check the actual play-by-play for the loss against Portland and you should be able to see what I mean [i.e. Miami should have finished with Chalmers, Wade/primary ball-handler, Miller, James and Bosh vs Portland; not with Mr. Bibby on the floor, as he negatively effects their entire defensive scheme without bringing enough offensive/rebounding advantage to the table to justify his inclusion coming down-the-stretch of close games, except against specific offense-only teams]

5. re: "The Heat need to develop a half court offense that includes more player movement and more ball movement."

Agreed.

6. re: "They also need to give the ball to Bosh more frequently in the low post, an area from which he scored quite effectively as a Raptor."

Agreed.

[I will need to break-up my comment due to the word limit, as well]

 
At Wednesday, March 09, 2011 11:18:00 AM, Anonymous khandor said...

[hopefully, my comment will get spliced properly ... ]

7. re: comparing the actual NBA talent level of the Lakers and the Heat

PG, Fisher > Bibby
OG, Kobe > Wade
SF, Artest < James
PF, Gasol > Bosh
C, Bynum > Dampier
-------------------
PG, Blake = Chalmers
OG, Brown = House
SF, Walton [or Barnes] = Jones
SF, Barnes [or Walton] < Miller
PF, Odom > Anthony
-------------------
HC, Jackson >> Spoelstra

IMO, whoever says that the Heat are a more talented team than the Lakers this year would simply be wrong.

8. The Heat did not have "all" of their "key" players when they failed miserably following their championship season, in both of the situations you've identified above. Of course, an observation like this depends on who it is someone thinks all the Heat's key players were, in the first place ... and, I'm pretty sure that we do not agree about who those players were.

9. Don't get me wrong, either.

Kobe is still the best player in the game.

Wade is a better player than James and, simultaneously, not a better than Kobe.

James is a vastly superior player to many others in the game today, but, IMO, he is not a vastly superior "basketball" player when compared to the likes of Kobe, or Wade, or Garnett, or P-Gasol, or D-Will, or Duncan [even at his advancing age and declined production, given the other skills areas I've identified earlier, etc.], or CP3 [when 100% healthy], or Billups, or Nowitzki, D-Howard, or Ginobili, or even R-Allen, P-Pierce, Nash, C-Anthony, etc.

10. Wade was not the best player on the Redeem Team ... Kobe Bryant was.

Since Kobe and Wade play the same position, however, Wade had to take a back seat to Kobe.

James is currently the best Small Forward in the world. There is no need for James to take a back seat to anyone else, at the SF position ... which is why he was a "starter" for the Redeem Team and Wade was not.

11. Shifting Wade to the 2nd unit is not the answer for this version of Heat.

The correct answer lies in:

i. Installing Chalmers as their main PG;
ii. Using Wade as their main OG;
iii. Using Miller as their main SF;
iv. Using James as their main PF;
and,
v. Using Bosh as their main C;
vi. Using House/Bibby as their back-up PG;
vii. Using Jones as their back-up OG-SF;
viii. Using Haslem as their back-up PF;
ix. Using Anthony/Ilgauskas/Howard/Dampier/Magloire as their back-up C;
x. Re-installing Wade AND Haslem as their unequivocal LEADERS, once again; and,
xi. Holding their players accountable whenever they attempt disrupt what the TEAM is trying to accomplish as a whole, and specifically targeting L-James when he has lapses in this all-important area.

Cheers

 
At Thursday, March 10, 2011 12:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris

In his article today, John Hollinger said this about the Heat's struggles:

Miami's playbook also has been criticized, occasionally from within the locker room, but so was Cleveland's, and I suspect the way LeBron James plays is a huge part of it. His patented pick-and-backup-to-the-midcourt-line play isn't a coaching call, it's James bringing everything to a screeching halt when he sees an isolation opportunity. This hardly seems like an optimal use of the players around him, but the fact remains that he has done this to great effect in the past, producing strong offensive results with far less accomplished sidekicks in Cleveland.

 
At Thursday, March 10, 2011 5:36:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Khandor:

1-3):

I would think that at this point you know better than to even suggest that I am basing my evaluations of James versus Wade purely (or evenly mostly) on stats. It is in fact you who is making assertions without providing any supporting evidence (I don't mean just stats--evidence can be specific game sequences, detailed observations, etc.).

I don't want to get sidetracked into an in depth discussion of Wade's performance during the 2007 and 2008 seasons but I bring those seasons up because Wade's performance casts serious doubt on your assertions regarding his effectiveness as a leader and in the other subjective departments that you mentioned. As I have said before, Wade presided over perhaps the worst decline ever by a championship team that was not broken up (i.e., 1969 Celtics with Russell retiring and 1998 Bulls with MJ, Pip and Rodman not returning are two examples of championship teams that were broken up the next year). I cannot picture any realistic set of circumstances in which Kobe Bryant in the prime of his career would "lead" his team to a 1-24 record over a stretch of games, particularly just two seasons after winning a championship; Bryant did much better than that with a terrible supporting cast during the 2005-2007 seasons.

Again, I don't mean to bash James or Wade; they are both among the top five players in the game today. My point is simply that from a tangible standpoint--size, strength, shooting, passing, rebounding, defense, etc.--there is no category in which Wade is clearly better than James. As for your beliefs about Wade's intangible qualities, I don't see great evidence to support saying (1) he is better than James in those areas and/or (2) that even if Wade may be marginally better than James in one of those areas that this slight advantage for Wade overrides Wade's disadvantages in the other areas.

4) I agree that the Portland game is a small sample and, as I acknowledged, Miami did not use the lineup that you proposed so this was not a true test of your hypothesis. However, it did provide one piece of evidence supporting one of my contentions, namely that it does not matter whether it is LeBron or Wade who does the aimless dribbling: the Heat will not be successful in the long run against good teams with what I like to call the "clown car" offense (because the poor spacing, chaos and ensuing hilarity of Miami's half court offense reminds me of clowns stumbling out of a car at the circus).

Bibby is not in the game for defense or rebounding; if he is in the game then the Heat should run sets in which he screens LeBron's man and then fades behind the three point line. Otherwise, you are correct that Bibby should be on the bench--but I don't agree with your apparently categorical statement that Bibby should never be on the court in late game situations. As I said in a previous comment, which lineup the Heat should use is somewhat dependent on the situation. For instance, Phil Jackson once explained that in a pure catch and shoot situation he would give the ball to Kukoc over Pippen (MJ was retired at the time) but in a situation when the Bulls had more time on the clock he would give the ball to Pippen to create the best shot possible (for Pippen or for someone else). Similarly, in some situations Bibby should be on the court and in other situations he should not be on the court.

 
At Thursday, March 10, 2011 5:36:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Khandor:

5) and 6) We agree, so no further comment is necessary.

7) I think that we are talking about two slightly different things. What I mean by "talent" is how many top level individual players a team has, regardless of position; what I mean by "depth" is that a team has multiple players at each position who are at least capable of playing 15 solid minutes if necessary. The Heat have James and Wade (top five players) plus Bosh (probably top 15, certainly top 20-25), while the Lakers have one top five player (Kobe), one top 15 player (Gasol) and, arguably, no one else in the top 35 (so much is said about Odom being a "snubbed" All-Star, but that is ridiculous--the next guy in line would have been LaMarcus Aldridge and there are a few other guys I'd take before Odom just in the West, let alone the East). The Heat have more top level individual talent than the Lakers. The Lakers have more depth and they have better roster balance, with the only somewhat weak position being pg (particularly on defense) but in the playoffs the Lakers will mask that problem at key times by putting Kobe on the opposing pg (as they did versus OKC last year).

I am not convinced that Gasol is a better or more talented player than Bosh but I am convinced that Gasol will be more productive because he is playing with Kobe while Bosh is playing with James and Wade; this is something that I mentioned/predicted quite some time ago as a refutation of the "stat guru" way of thinking that says that James and Wade are more unselfish than Kobe and that they "make their teammates better" in ways that Bryant does not. James and Wade have turned perennial All-Star Bosh into Horace Grant (no disrespect to Grant, who was a fine player, but James and Wade are dribbling around padding their stats instead of maximizing what Bosh can do).

8) I addressed this in 1-3 and I do not want to turn this thread into a discussion about the 2007 and 2008 Heat; if you think that going 1-24 less than two years after winning a championship shows that Wade is a great leader and has other intangible qualities that you assume that LeBron lacks then we will simply have to agree to disagree on that count.

9) James is stubborn about certain things but he is so physically gifted and so versatile that he is still more valuable than most of the guys you listed. I can picture James being the best player on a championship team; I cannot picture Gasol being the best player on a championship team. The 2004 Pistons were an aberration, similar to the 1979 Sonics--we could probably have a long argument about who really was the best player on those respective teams; those teams favored depth over pure talent (by talent, again, I mean having one or more top five players, like the Lakers did early in this decade or the 76ers did in 1983 with Malone and Erving, winners of the previous two MVP awards).

10) We agree that Kobe was the best player on the 2008 version of Team USA.

11) Haslem may not return this season, which poses a significant problem for your proposed rotation. I think that your proposed starting lineup is a good change of pace unit--much like the Cavs used LeBron at the 4 sometimes--but I disagree that Bosh should be the primary center and LeBron the primary 4. Bosh, like Gasol, can play center at times or in certain matchups but he is best suited to playing power forward.

Haslem cannot be a main leader while he is in street clothes. If he returns, he can have a Derek Fisher-type role as a good, hard working player who is highly respected but--for better or worse--a team's best player is the team's de facto leader and LeBron is this team's best player.

I agree with your last point that all players should be held accountable when they act in ways that are not conducive to team success--but it seems that trying to do this cost Mike Brown his job in Cleveland, so we will see what happens in Miami.

 
At Thursday, March 10, 2011 5:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Chris:

Maybe Hollinger has a good point and maybe he actually interviewed Spoelstra (I say maybe because I did not read the article in question, so I honestly don't know)--but most media members who start criticizing a team's coaching/"playbook" are idiots who do not have a good understanding of NBA strategy and have not spoken to the coach to find out what the "playbook" actually says. Charles Barkley joked that Spoelstra should be fired after LeBron bricked a three in a late game possession; the point is that Barkley realized that this was not the play that Spoelstra drew up. NBA TV's Kevin McHale did a good job breaking down several Heat film clips and showing that Spoelstra put the Heat in good sets with multiple options but that LeBron or Wade tended to break off the plays to freelance. I don't think that Spoelstra's strategic acumen is the problem (and I think that most beat writers and columnists could not coach their way out of a paper bag with a bazooka); the problem, as I have repeatedly said, is that James and Wade have the same strengths/weaknesses, so when one guy is overdribbling the other guy is a bystander. It looks great on a spreadsheet to put LeBron and Wade on the court at the same time but if neither one is willing/able to move without the ball then what results is the "clown car" offense.

 
At Thursday, March 10, 2011 10:37:00 AM, Anonymous khandor said...

David:

re: "8) I addressed this in 1-3 and I do not want to turn this thread into a discussion about the 2007 and 2008 Heat; if you think that going 1-24 less than two years after winning a championship shows that Wade is a great leader and has other intangible qualities that you assume that LeBron lacks then we will simply have to agree to disagree on that count."

IMO, it took tremendous leadership skills and ability on Wade's part to simply "tow the company line" and not "completely blow a gasket" as the Heat went into the tank those years you mentioned, while playing with a less-than stellar line-up that was decimated by injuries and the roster turnover which Pat Riley decided was necessary for their team to re-tool down-the-road ... the positive results which we are only seeing bear fruit now.

IMO, it takes a good deal of character to endure what Wade has endured in Miami the last several seasons, after he was first seriously injured and his team began to decintegrate around him. Instead of bolting to another organization, out of frustration, he chose to regroup, adjust and stay-the-course.

This is what REAL leaders do.

 
At Thursday, March 10, 2011 4:40:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Khandor:

I remember those years a little differently, as I described in the "Hard Knock Life" article I mentioned in a previous comment: Wade played somewhat out of control and he did not seem to be bringing the most out of the talent that surrounded him (which, however "decimated" you may think it was, still exceeded the "talent"--and I use that term loosely--that surrounded Bryant circa 2005-2007).

Wade may not have "blown a gasket" but he certainly expressed displeasure to Riley, whereupon Riley asked Wade to commit to re-signing so that the team could build around him. Wade demurred and Riley essentially said, "Shut up and play" (that is not a direct quote, but rather the essence of the message). Riley dealt with Wade a lot differently than the Cavs dealt with LeBron; the Cavs tried to appease LeBron even though he would not commit to the team, whereas Riley told Wade that he either needed to commit to the team or simply be quiet and let Riley run the team how he saw fit.

Wade's comments this year--about the world being happy because the Heat are losing or (earlier in the season) that the Heat were the best 5-4 team in the league--do not impress me regarding his leadership. Kobe's consistent messages in times of trouble are (1) We (the Lakers) don't care what the world thinks of us and (2) When we play poorly I (Kobe) will point blank say that we stink and I will confront my teammates in practice to make it clear that this is unacceptable. I can't imagine Kobe saying that the Lakers are the best 5-4 team in the league and I can't imagine him whining that the world doesn't like him or his team.

So, we are left with what I have been saying all along: LeBron is the team's best player and there is no evidence that Wade has some magical intangible qualities that make him more qualified than LeBron to be the team's leader. Just to be clear, Wade is a top five player in the NBA and from that standpoint alone he certainly is a leader on his team but "The Guy" is LeBron.

 
At Friday, March 11, 2011 1:57:00 AM, Anonymous khandor said...

David:

The point I'm trying to make is a bit more subtle and perhaps difficult to convey properly.

1. Thus far, James has conducted himself as if HE perceives himself to be the Leader of this Heat team.

2. Thus far, the Heat team, as a whole, has not responded in a completely positive way to the type of "quasi" leadership skills which are part of James's personality.

3. If the Heat are going to reach their maximum capacity this season, IMO, it will be with Wade as their authentic Leader, and not James.

4. If Wade is incapable of exercising this degree of leadership for this year's Heat team, and instead continues to defer to Mr. James, as "the controller" of Miami's play in close-late-game situations, then the Heat are not going to get past the other her top teams in the East to reach the NBA Finals.

5. If, OTOH, Wade is capable of exercising this type of leadership for this year's Heat team, then, their chances of making it to the NBA Finals will be much better than with James in this same role ... since, in the past, Wade has already been able to Lead his team to the championship when the overall talent level of his teammates has been similar to what exists on this year's version of the Heat, which is not something that James was ever able to do for the Clevland Cavaliers.

 
At Friday, March 11, 2011 2:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Khandor:

Before the Heat-Lakers game on TNT, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley had an interesting discussion about this. Smith essentially said what I have been saying, namely that James is the team's best player, he always has a matchup advantage and therefore he is the team's leader/player who should generally handle the ball in late game situations. Barkley somewhat contradicted himself; on the one hand, he noted that when he arrived in Phoenix and a reporter asked if the Suns were Kevin Johnson's team because Johnson had been there longer Barkley angrily replied that the Suns were Barkley's team because he was the team's best player--but then Barkley said that Wade should stop deferring to James and assert himself as the team's closer (even though Barkley had repeatedly insisted that James is the best player in the world, which--by Barkley's own definition of terms in Phoenix--would mean that James is/should be the Heat's leader).

James and Wade are two of the top five players in the NBA. They both have leadership qualities and are both capable of being finishers/running the half court offense--but something will be out of whack if the team's second best player ends up handling the ball most of the time and is considered to be the team's leader.

LeBron led the Cavs to the 2007 NBA Finals, the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals and the best regular season record in 2009 and 2010; his resume as a leader for the past several years is better than Wade's, point blank. Wade had one great playoff run--with Shaq drawing double teams so Wade could play one on one--and really has not done much since then other than put up individual numbers. Is it your contention that because Dallas blew a 2-0 lead in the 2006 NBA Finals Wade is therefore a better leader than LeBron, despite everything that LeBron accomplished in the past several seasons? That just does not make much sense.

 
At Friday, March 11, 2011 11:21:00 AM, Anonymous khandor said...

David:

re: "Wade had one great playoff run--with Shaq drawing double teams so Wade could play one on one--and really has not done much since then other than put up individual numbers. Is it your contention that because Dallas blew a 2-0 lead in the 2006 NBA Finals Wade is therefore a better leader than LeBron, despite everything that LeBron accomplished in the past several seasons? That just does not make much sense."

That is not quite "my contention." :-)

The best [most effective?] basketball which the Heat played against the Mavericks in the NBA Finals was NOT when Shaquille O'Neal was on the floor with D-Wade.

In fact, if you go back and watch the videotape of those games, or review the Play-By-Play data, what you should be able to see is that ...

The best basketball the Heat played during that entire playoff run actually occurred whenever Shaquille O'Neal was ON THE BENCH, rather than on the floor with D-Wade.

The Heat won that year's NBA Finals, primarily, because of:

1. D-Wade's ability and Leadership, as the focal point of His team, when he has a collection of solidly talented teammates around him, working in conjunction with one another [i.e. filling specific roles], under the direction of a terrific coach;

and,

2. Pat Riley's ability to make the correct adjustments - i.e. pre-, in- and post-game - as one of the best NBA head coaches of all-time.

There are very good reasons why both the Dallas Mavericks and the Philadelphia 76ers were incapable of closing-out an NBA Finals after leading 2-0 - i.e. by losing the next 4 games in a row - and it has nothing to do with either team "blowing it", per se.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of Miami's championship-winning season, there was also a heavy price to pay for constructing a team that looked like this:

PG, Jason Williams [injury deterioration]
OG, Dwyane Wade
SF, Antoine Walker [age deterioration]
PF, Udonis Haslem
C, Shaquille O'Neal [age deterioration]
--------------------
PG, Gary Payton [age deterioration]
G-F, James Posey
C, Alonzo Mourning [age/illness deterioration]
--------------------
G, Derek Anderson
G-F, Jason Kapono
F, Shandon Anderson
C, Michael Doleac

and was not built for sustaining long term success in a sound way.

 
At Friday, March 11, 2011 2:21:00 PM, Blogger West Coast Slant said...

David, let me be clear. I agree with everything you’ve written. Especially the part about Wade’s leadership ability (or lack thereof), how his Heat team was a far better cast than Kobe’s 2005-07 group (case in point: I remember thinking Laron Profit’s season-ending injury during the 05-06 season was such a huge blow to the Lakers that season) and that Lebron is the superior player.

However, I tend to agree with Khandor in regards to who should be handling the ball in crunch time. I’ve got to go with Wade as well. I say this because you’ve established that Lebron’s abilities in breaking down a defense and passing are better (if only slightly) than Wade’s, but that his physical gifts are superior in every category (save perhaps speed). Therefore, he should be a far more imposing screener (due to his size and strength), a far better roller and diver to the hoop thanks to his otherworldly hops, and a far better offensive rebounder for those same reasons. He’s also a better three-point shooter than Wade, so if he sets a pick and then fades out beyond the arc, it’s much more likely that he’ll be able to hit the shot.

If all things are close to equal in terms of their ability to break down defenses, but everything else favors one over the other, doesn’t it make more sense to slightly downgrade one area, in order to greatly benefit in several others? At the very least, it opens up more options.

Of course, I also think Lebron’s an ego-maniac who has yet to learn how to do “dirty work” (same with Bosh, despite his workman-like run during the 2008 Olympics), the reason why I prefaced my whole argument with the word “should.” Lebron should be a better screener. He should be a better roller and diver. And he should be a better rebounder. He’s never had to do those things before, because the Cavs were built to do all of those things for him while he got all of the highlights—breakaway dunks, last second shots, racking up assists by passing to a bevy of deadly three point shooters (who spaced the floor), and those breakaway blocks everyone raves about. It’s not like he can’t learn how to do those things, but he needs to practice and commit himself to doing them.

 
At Friday, March 11, 2011 3:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Khandor:

We know that Wade was the 2006 Finals MVP and I doubt that anyone questions Riley's greatness as a coach but there were more factors involved in Miami winning that championship than just Wade and Riley (without even getting into the somewhat questionable officiating).

I watched those Finals games and I wrote about them here. O'Neal was no longer the consistently dominating player that he had been earlier in his career but he could still pose matchup problems when single covered: in Miami's closeout game six victory versus Detroit in the 2006 ECF, Shaq had 27 points and 16 rebounds and in two other games in that series Shaq had at least 21 points and at least 12 rebounds. Shaq was an established commodity at that time, while Wade was still a player who was proving his worth and this affected how the Mavericks set up their defense in the Finals. Shaq did not put up overwhelming numbers in the Finals (13.7 ppg, a team-high 10.2 rpg, .607 field goal shooting) but that was partially because the Mavs had to pay extra attention to him, opening up driving lanes for Wade. Shaq averaged 35.2 mpg, including 47 minutes in Miami's pivotal game five overtime win (18 points, 12 rebounds, .667 FG%), so I reject your attempts to minimize Shaq's impact on the series either statistically or in terms of Dallas' defensive scheme.

The Heat must have aged/deteriorated very rapidly in the summer of 2006, because on Opening Night just months after winning the championship they got blown out 108-66, setting the stage for perhaps the most precipitous collapse ever experienced by a championship team whose roster was not overhauled.

 
At Friday, March 11, 2011 3:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

West Coast Slant:

I don't think that Khandor is saying that Wade should be the Heat's leader because LeBron sets (or could set) better screens; Khandor is talking about something else entirely and I disagree with him both about the relative greatness of the two players and about their relative leadership skills.

As for the specific prescription that you recommended for the Heat to use in crunch time, LeBron can indeed be an effective screener--as he showed last night with a (moving) screen that literally sent Kobe sprawling and freed up Wade for a crucial late game basket. Using LeBron as a screener may be the best option in certain matchup situations but, in general, I don't think that the Heat should use either LeBron or Wade as screeners on a consistent basis. What the Heat should do is put the ball in LeBron's hands, use Bosh as a screener who then rolls to the hoop (as opposed to spotting up for jumpers) and have Wade cutting back door while the Heat's three point shooters spread the floor to punish help defenders.

I realize that most people are going to focus on the final two minutes of the Heat-Lakers game but the way that the Heat put themselves in position to win was by using LeBron, Wade and Bosh in the fashion that I just described; that is the best way to make each of the "Big Three" a threat to the opposing defense. LeBron is bigger than Wade, he can see over the defense better and he can better absorb contact, so in general the Heat should prefer to have the ball in LeBron's hands. As Kenny Smith put it, Wade has a matchup advantage 90% of the time but LeBron always has a matchup advantage. Another example would be my favorite team, the 1982-83 76ers: Julius Erving's "office" in the half court offense had always been on the left block--and he was still quite effective there even at the "advanced" age of 33 (making the All-NBA First Team that season)--but when Moses Malone joined the team Moses set up shop on the left block and Erving operated more from a faceup position. That is not to say that Erving never went to the block but when two players are vying for the same spot the best player (at that stage of their careers) gets that spot. LeBron and Wade may be the two best penetrators in the game but LeBron is #1 and Wade is #2, so that role should go to LeBron. As I have said before, if the Heat feel that their bench is weak then they should use Wade with four bench players for extended minutes, which would solve both that issue and also the issue of LeBron and Wade potentially getting in each other's way early in the game.

We will see if Miami's "new" offense (i.e., using Bosh as a perennial All-Star should be used instead of relegating him to a weak side, Horace Grant role) is a permanent change or just a one game phenomenon because the Heat were very hyped up to end their long losing streak while beating the two-time defending champs.

 
At Friday, March 11, 2011 6:27:00 PM, Anonymous khandor said...

David:

IMO, there were different reasons for the Heat to have played badly in their first-game loss to Chicago in the 2006-2007 campaign.

1. The deterioration in the game of some of their key players.

2. The roster changes which you've described, thus far, as being insignificant, and which I would characterize as highly significant:

Pos, 05-06 vs 06-07

PG, J-Williams vs G-Payton */^
OG, D-Wade vs D-Wade
SF, A-Walekr vs A-Walker ^
PF, U-Haslem vs U-Haslem
C, S-O'Neal vs S-O'Neal ^
----------------------------
PG, G-Payton vs C-Quinn *
G-F, J-Posey vs J-Posey
C, A-Mourning vs A-Mourning ^
----------------------------
G, D-Anderson vs R-Hite *
F, J-Kapono vs J-Kapono
F, S-Anderson vs D-Wright *
C, M-Doleac vs [PF] Simeon *

* - New player [or role] from prior yr
^ - Age/physical/skill deterioration

especially, for a team that was not a "really" dominant force, in the regular season, at least, when they won the NBA Title the year before;

3. The proverbial "chip" which the Bulls had on their collective shoulder from the way their own season had ended the previous year, by losing to the Heat in the 1st Round of the Playoffs, i.e. it was a rather big "revenge" game for Chicago and much less-so for Miami, which is rarely conducive to the reigning champs playing particularly well to open their next season, :-);

4. The poor attitude of certain members of the Heat team that specific season.

When you then take the 2007-2008 season out of the equation entirely for D-Wade, based on his injuries, what you see is that the Heat have actually performed higher than expected with the mediocre rosters that Pat Riley has put together, around Flash, and that the primary reason each of those Miami teams even reached the 42+ Win plateau at all, was due to the consistently solid-to-terrific play of D-Wade and U-Haslem [i.e. the authentic leaders for the Heat].

 
At Saturday, March 12, 2011 1:02:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Khandor:

I understand completely what you are saying; I just disagree with you, for the reasons that I have stated here (and in many other articles that I have written regarding James and/or Wade) and I don't feel compelled to get into an endless back and forth regarding this issue. I think that Wade's poor performance in 2007 and 2008 is an underreported story, while you think that there are mitigating circumstances. Meanwhile, back to the subject at hand--the focus of this particular article--LeBron James is a better player than Dwyane Wade currently, LeBron James is bigger and stronger than Dwyane Wade and LeBron James is no worse than Dwyane Wade in the various intangible categories that you mentioned. Therefore, LeBron James is in fact the Heat's best player and primary leader. TNT's Kenny Smith agrees with my assessment, while TNT's Charles Barkley inclines toward your point of view.

I don't think that either of us is going to persuade the other to switch sides at this point, so we will simply have to watch how this season and the subsequent seasons unfold and then draw conclusions.

 
At Saturday, March 12, 2011 6:38:00 AM, Anonymous khandor said...

Thanks, David.

As I said in my blog entry yesterday ...

http://khandorssportsblog.com/wordpress/2011/03/11/david-friedman-and-khandor-discuss-recent-goings-on-with-the-miami-heat/

... IMO, you are one of the best basketball writers in the business and it's always a pleasure to exchange ideas about the game on your blog. Keep On Truck'n :-)

 

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