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Monday, June 13, 2011

Dallas' Lone Star Outshines Miami's Three Stars in the Clutch

The first line of Dirk Nowitzki's Hall of Fame biography now reads, "2011 NBA Champion/2011 NBA Finals MVP." Nowitzki slew the ghost of Dallas' 2006 NBA Finals collapse and silenced any whispers about his alleged shortcomings by authoring a great playoff run capped by an excellent NBA Finals and punctuated by yet another clutch fourth quarter performance in the Dallas Mavericks' championship-clinching 105-95 game six win over the Miami Heat. Nowitzki scored 21 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds--leading both teams with 10 points and four rebounds in the final stanza--as the Mavericks claimed the first championship in franchise history. Nowitzki earned the NBA Finals MVP by averaging 26.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg and 2.0 apg while shooting .416 from the field, .368 from three point range and a mind boggling .978 (45-46) from the free throw line but those numbers do not fully explain or properly quantify the way that Nowitzki controlled the series, particularly his repeated fourth quarter dominance in one of the most closely contested championship battles in NBA history; three of the six games were not decided until the final buzzer and Dallas won two of those contests as a direct result of Nowitzki's clutch play. Nowitzki totaled 62 fourth quarter points during the series, duplicating the combined output of Miami's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade; Nowitzki shot 18-35 from the field (.514) and 24-24 from the free throw line in those pivotal fourth quarters, while James and Wade shot 23-50 from the field (.460) and 11-14 from the free throw line (.786). The Mavericks are just the fourth team with one current All-Star to win a Finals series against a team with three current All-Stars (the 1994 Rockets, 1989 Pistons, 1975 Warriors and 1951 Royals are the other teams whose lone star outdueled an opposing trio of stars). The NBA has historically been a star-driven league and generally the team with the most star power prevails; ironically, when current Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle was a TV analyst he mentioned a formula for identifying contending teams (three All-Stars or two legit MVP candidates) that would have favored the Heat over the Mavs in this series.

Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant are very different players stylistically and are described very differently by most media members, so the following comparison will not likely be mentioned anywhere else but Nowitzki's 2011 NBA Finals performance is eerily similar to Bryant's 2010 NBA Finals performance; not only are their overall numbers very comparable (Bryant averaged 28.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 3.9 apg in the 2010 NBA Finals while shooting .405 from the field, .319 from three point range and .883 from the free throw line) but Nowitzki's 2011 game six closeout performance echoes Bryant's 2010 game seven closeout performance; both players shot poorly early as they tried so hard to carry their teams to victory and both players tallied 10 points and four rebounds in the fourth quarter to push their teams over the top. Some pundits tried to use Bryant's early game seven shooting struggles as an excuse to pump up Pau Gasol as a Finals MVP candidate but no such outcry was heard in favor of Dallas' Jason Terry even though Terry outshot Nowitzki from the field and from three point range during the series and even though Terry outscored (27-21) and outshot (11-16 versus 9-27) Nowitzki in game six; I mention this not to tout Terry as a legit Finals MVP candidate but rather to point out how inconsistent, biased and just plain ignorant so many of the NBA's beat writers/columnists/analysts are. It is correct to praise Nowitzki's fourth quarter performance in game six but it is also correct to praise Bryant's identical fourth quarter performance in game seven last year--when Bryant's team faced elimination, a fate that the Mavericks did not have to worry about just yet--instead of creating fairy tales about Gasol or Ron Artest being serious Finals MVP candidates (J.J. Barea had at least as much of an impact on this year's Finals as Artest did last year but no one in his right mind would say that Barea is a legit Finals MVP candidate).

Nowitzki's fourth quarter dominance provides some interesting data to consider regarding the ongoing debate about clutch play/clutch shots. I think that clutch shooting percentages are overrated due to sample size issues and the arbitrary definitions of clutch time that are used when compiling those statistics; Nowitzki's performance in the 2011 Finals supports my contention that it is far more important to be a clutch player than to hit arbitrarily defined clutch shots: a good portion of Nowitzki's clutch play during that series did not fit into the parameters that "stat gurus" use to define clutch shots (the two most common definitions that I have seen are shots made in the final five minutes when the margin is five points or less and "last second shots" that are, in fact, often little more than desperation heaves). For instance, none of Nowitzki's 10 fourth quarter points in game six would be defined as clutch shots according to "stat gurus," yet anyone who watched the game with understanding realizes that Nowitzki's 5-8 field goal shooting in the final 12 minutes played a major role in sealing the deal for the Mavericks.

The media focused on the challenges that the Miami Heat faced--including injuries to Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem and the self-inflicted backlash from "The Decision"--but the Mavericks overcame a season-ending injury to starting small forward Caron Butler and an injury to backup center Brendan Haywood that impacted Dallas' rotation of bigs during the Finals in addition to vanquishing three high quality playoff opponents prior to conquering the favored Heat in the Finals: Portland--the proverbial "team nobody wants to face"--the two-time defending champion L.A. Lakers and the young upstarts from Oklahoma City. The Mavericks are a true team in every sense of the word: they play hard, they play smart, they share the ball, they are tough-minded and they are very focused. Jason Kidd sets a tone of unselfishness, toughness and intelligence, running the offense to perfection while being an underrated defender, while Tyson Chandler anchors the defense in the paint, sets good screens and contributes hustle points. Jason Terry combines with Dirk Nowitzki to form a lethal one-two fourth quarter scoring punch and J.J. Barea dissects opposing defenses with his quickness, heart and shooting touch.

While the Heat supposedly established the paradigm for future contenders by assembling a trio of stars, the Mavericks built their squad around one star who stayed loyal to his original team; perhaps Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant--three confident yet humble stars who each have no desire to abandon their current squad to build a power trio with another team--will combine to lead Dallas, Chicago and Oklahoma City respectively to the multiple titles that the Heat (and their media sycophants) celebrated prior to the 2010-11 season.

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It is very important to praise Nowitzki and the Mavericks for everything they did right along the way to achieving their ultimate goal, because the mainstream media narrative about this series will likely focus not so much on praising the winners but rather on critiquing the losers; even worse, those critiques will likely be completely divorced from reality (a pattern established early on when various pundits created myths about LeBron James being Dwyane Wade's sidekick and when some "stat gurus" suggested that any team pairing James and Wade would be unstoppable regardless of the supporting cast surrounding those two stars). The Heat shined the spotlight on themselves the moment that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces with perhaps the gaudiest championship coronation that ever preceded actually winning a championship. Of all the stupid things LeBron James has said and done in the past year, the most egregious by far was when he declared--during that tacky preseason championship celebration--that once he and Wade got on the court together winning would be "easy." Winning a championship is never easy and expressing the idea that it would be easy reveals a lot about James' mindset and also explains why the game's most talented player so often comes up short in the biggest moments. A person who expects winning to be easy will often fail to play hard and neglect to do the "little" things that are, in fact, not so little at all; in game six alone, James missed three free throws, committed six turnovers and--most importantly--did not play with the all-out hustle and desire that the Mavericks exuded throughout the series.

A person's character--both his strengths and weaknesses--is revealed under pressure: James is a talented frontrunner who does not play hard all of the time; he has a sense of entitlement and a belief that things will be given to him without him putting forth 100% effort. The term "quit" has been used a lot in reference to James ever since his puzzling and disgraceful performance versus Boston in game five of the 2010 playoffs and James' advocates attempt to rebut that criticism by claiming that James' numbers--particularly his rebounding totals--prove that he did not quit; I cannot speak for other who accuse James of quitting but my observation about James is that his effort level waxes and wanes far more than any other superstar player I have ever seen: within a series and even at times within the same game it is clearly evident that sometimes James plays with a lot of energy and effort but on other occasions James drifts listlessly around the court. The James we saw versus Boston in game five last year and versus Dallas in game four this year looks like a totally different player than the James who absolutely smothered Derrick Rose in this year's Eastern Conference Finals; we know how well and how hard James is capable of playing, so it is very evident when he is not giving forth maximum effort.

Wade's effort level is much more consistently high than James' is but, make no mistake about it, James is Miami's best player--James proved this throughout the regular season and in the first three rounds of the playoffs; it is precisely when James ceased performing like Miami's best player that the Heat fell apart, losing the last three games of the Finals after taking a 2-1 lead. James is one of 56 players who played in the NBA Finals after averaging at least 25 ppg during the regular season; he is the 27th of those players whose scoring average went down in the Finals but his average declined by more (8.9 ppg) than anyone else's. James is not injured and the Heat did not suddenly retool their offense, so how else can one explain James' disappearing act except to state the obvious fact that he simply does not play hard all of the time?

The idea--propounded by Brian Windhorst and others--that James became fatigued from logging heavy minutes is just a poor excuse. Michael Jordan averaged at least 40.5 mpg in each of his 13 playoff seasons and he averaged between 41.7 mpg and 45.7 mpg during his six NBA Finals appearances; Scottie Pippen averaged at least 39.6 mpg in each of the six playoff campaigns that culminated in Chicago championships, topping 40 mpg in four of those runs. Kobe Bryant averaged more than 40 mpg in the playoffs in four of his five championship seasons, including 43.4 mpg in 2001 and 43.8 mpg in 2002. Playing heavy minutes and carrying a very heavy burden in multiple statistical categories comes with the territory of being an MVP level player on a championship team. That is why it was so idiotic to say that James "had" to leave a deep Cleveland team so that he could win a title and why it was so stupid to suggest that it would be "easy" for him to win multiple titles in Miami. Great players--whether they are on deep teams, talented teams or teams that are blessed with both depth and talent (in 2008 I explained the difference between being a deep team and being a talented team)--must play 40-plus mpg while being very productive and efficient in order to win a championship. Nowitzki averaged 40.3 mpg during the 2011 Finals and 39.3 mpg over the course of the entire playoffs.

Mike Wilbon insists that LeBron James is the most scrutinized NBA player ever--but Wilbon is old enough to know better. What about Wilt Chamberlain, whose feats--and perceived failures--were covered in great detail from the time that he played for Overbrook High School? What about Michael Jordan, who was repeatedly criticized for being too selfish to win a championship? What about Kobe Bryant, whose possession by possession decision making is subjected to ludicrous amateur psychoanalysis?

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Although understandable emphasis is placed on what happens late in a contest--the fourth quarter of a game, the seventh game of a series--history shows that game one winners ultimately capture a series over 80% of the time. My series preview concluded, "The Heat prance and preen and strut too much for my taste but they also play ferocious defense and they relentlessly attack the hoop in the transition game--and those latter two characteristics are why they will emerge as the 2011 NBA champions." Through the first three games of the series, that prediction seemed quite prescient as the Heat triumphed 92-84 in game one, narrowly lost game two 95-93 and then reclaimed homecourt advantage with an 88-86 game three victory. However, even though the Heat seemed to be in command there were some signs foreshadowing Miami's eventual collapse. Game two was rich with both irony and karma: the irony came early, while the karma arrived late (but just in time). James declared to his teammates in a pregame huddle that if they were not exhausted after the game then they had not played hard enough; it would have been ironic if ABC had immediately cut to footage of James quitting versus Boston in the 2010 playoffs. What are James' teammates thinking when a player who has become synonymous with quitting exhorts them to play hard?

After Dwyane Wade hit a right corner three pointer at the 7:13 mark of the fourth quarter to give Miami an 88-73 lead it seemed like the Heat were poised to take a 2-0 series lead. Naturally (for them), Wade and James celebrated this momentous occasion by acting as if they had just broken Bill Russell's record by winning their 12th NBA championship. The Mavericks then called a timeout and proceeded to outscore the Heat 22-5 to close out the game; except for an egregiously boneheaded defensive lapse by Jason Terry--who left Mario Chalmers wide open for a three pointer when the Mavs were up 93-90 with :24 left--the Mavericks completely outhustled and outexecuted the Heat down the stretch, capped off by Nowitzki scoring Dallas' final nine points while James and Wade combined to miss their final seven field goal attempts. Some Dallas players dismissed the idea that the celebratory antics of James and Wade motivated the Mavericks--and James and Wade haughtily refused to acknowledge the possibility at all--but Jason Terry and Tyson Chandler admitted that they did not appreciate how James and Wade carried on in front of Dallas' bench. While James and Wade are correct that many NBA players celebrate after made shots, the reason that people focused on this particular celebration is because the Heat have become infamous for brazenly displaying this kind of attitude, starting with the aforementioned overblown preseason celebration in which James declared that the Heat would win at least seven championships.

In a March 7 article titled Stumbling Heat Once Again Falter in the Clutch, I referred to the Heat's "clown car" offense, describing the way that their half court offense--particularly in crunch time situations--resembles clowns piling out of a car at a circus. That "clown car" offense returned with a vengeance down the stretch in game two and was prominently featured in the fourth quarter throughout the series. Watching James and Wade run the "clown car" offense provided a flashback to what happened when they played for Team USA on the bronze medal winning squad in the 2004 Olympics and when they "led" Team USA to a bronze medal in the 2006 FIBA World Championship; Team USA only returned to gold medal status in FIBA play when Kobe Bryant joined the roster as a defensive stopper (Bryant also sealed the deal as Team USA's crunch time scorer during the gold medal game versus Spain). It was hilarious to watch James and Wade be totally confounded by Dallas' zone defense in the NBA Finals--much like their Team USA squads were totally confounded by the zone defenses used against them by some FIBA teams. A major reason that Nowitzki came up bigger in the clutch than James and Wade is that Nowitzki is a more complete all-around scorer than his Miami counterparts--Nowitzki can post up or face up, his range is unlimited, he can drive in either direction, he can finish with either hand and he is a deadly free throw shooter but James and Wade do not like to post up, their shooting outside of the paint is erratic and their free throw shooting even at their best is not exceptional (during the Finals both players misfired badly from the charity stripe--.600 for James, .694 for Wade).

The turning point of the series took place in game four when Nowitzki overcame a 100-plus degree fever and scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter--including a driving layup that put the Mavs up 84-81 with 14.4 seconds remaining--as Dallas tied the series at 2-2. It is no coincidence that the momentum shifted precisely during the first game in this series when James clearly quit (an accusation I base not on numbers but on observable effort level at both ends of the court); after game four, some media members threw around words like "disengaged" and "disinterested" and "detached" to describe James' performance but those terms are just fancy ways to avoid bluntly speaking the truth: James is the most talented player in the NBA, there is nothing wrong with him physically and he quit during a pivotal playoff game. It was funny to hear Jon Barry--who must be the most incompetent NBA analyst who ever actually played in the NBA--declare that if James were still a Cavalier then we would know to expect a big performance from him in game five but that because James now plays for the more talented Heat it was not clear what he would do. Apparently, Barry forgot that James quit versus Boston in game five last year--but Magic Johnson did not let Barry (or James) off the hook, declaring, "I'm sorry, I can't go with that. I can't go with that. I played with two Hall of Famers myself and I didn't say, 'I've got to worry about what Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) is going to do. I've got to worry about what James (Worthy) is going to do.' I came out to dominate if it was a big game and we needed to win that game. He's got to come out with that type of mindset. Let Wade play his game. Let Bosh play his game. He's got to deliver. That's why he signed with Miami. He signed to win the championship. He wanted that pressure. Well, guess what--the pressure's on you. So deliver."

All of the deserved criticism James received for quitting in game four should not obscure the reality that even though Wade played hard throughout the contest he did not distinguish himself in the clutch, missing a key free throw at the :30.1 mark of the fourth quarter that could have tied the score at 81 and then fumbling a pass when he was the first option to attempt a potentially tying three pointer on the game's final possession. Neither miscue should be surprising--Wade is not a great free throw shooter and he has a tendency to be careless with the ball (during his career, Wade turns the ball over 20% more frequently than Kobe Bryant on a per minute basis). It seems like many people have forgotten that before LeBron James became Miami's best player this season Wade's Heat failed to win a single playoff series from 2007-2010.

Game four also included perhaps the most important of the many great coaching moves made by Rick Carlisle during this series; he replaced DeShawn Stevenson in the starting lineup with J.J. Barea, enabling Barea to go head to head with the defensively challenged Mike Bibby instead of facing Mario Chalmers. Barea was a non-factor in the first three games of the series but he played a key role in the final three games of the series; Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra finally countered Carlisle's move by putting Chalmers in the starting lineup for game six but by that time Barea was rolling and Chalmers could not slow him down.

Despite James quitting and the Heat collapsing in game four, the Heat were still in great position to win the championship: the heavyweight bout had been condensed to a best of three rounds fight--and if the Heat won the pivotal game five in Dallas they would have two opportunities at home to close out the series. Legends are made when championships are at stake and James supposedly came to Miami precisely for such moments but when the chips were down Nowitzki was the best player on the court while James compiled some decent boxscore numbers (17 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) but had no impact on the game's outcome at either end of the court: Dallas shredded Miami's vaunted defense--shooting 13-19 from three point range, just one short of tying the Finals record for most three pointers in one game (a mark set by both Orlando and Houston during the 1995 Finals)--while James and Wade shot 2-12 on field goal attempts from 15 feet or more. People can spin numbers and tell stories a lot of different ways but the truth is that neither James nor Wade is a reliable, consistent shooter outside of the paint--not on midrange jumpers, not on free throws and not on three pointers. Elite level competition tends to reveal one's flaws--James and Wade don't need to make those kinds of shots to lead the Heat to a lot of regular season victories but the ability to connect from outside of the paint is vital to loosen up an elite team's defense; that is what Kobe Bryant did throughout the Lakers' recent reign as three-time Western Conference champions/two-time NBA champions, including a masterful performance to close out the Spurs in the 2008 Western Conference Finals and a similarly brilliant effort to close out the Suns in the 2010 Western Conference Finals. A player who can operate out of a triple threat position with the ability to shoot, pass or drive greatly impacts an opposing defense; James and Wade are great drivers and excellent passers but they are streaky shooters. During the fourth quarters of the 2011 Finals we repeatedly saw Miami defenders helpless to stop Nowitzki because of his ability to shoot, pass and drive and we repeatedly saw that James and Wade could not deliver in the clutch because their inability to consistently make shots outside of the paint made it easier to defend them (Wade excelled in the 2006 Finals because the Mavericks bailed him out by fouling him and he made them pay by hitting his free throws but this time around the Mavericks played excellent defense without fouling). James and Wade are virtually unstoppable in the open court but neither one holds a candle to Bryant (or Nowitzki) in a half court set against an elite defensive team.

I don't know how badly Wade hurt his hip in game five but it sure looked strange when he fell out on the sideline like he had been shot by a sniper, then returned to the game playing like nothing was wrong, then sat out the first part of the second half and then again played like nothing was wrong. Joakim Noah said it best: the Heat are "Hollywood as hell." We saw it last year with LeBron James' elbow boo boo (the infamous alleged injury that never showed up on an MRI and never needed any treatment after the season) and we saw it back in 2007 when Dwyane Wade needed wheelchair assistance for a shoulder injury (an interesting sidenote in light of the debate about the relative values of James and Wade is that in 2007 I boldly predicted after Wade's injury that the team would not miss him nearly as much as most pundits suggested and I was 100% correct--the Heat moved up in the standings despite the shoulder injury that prevented Wade from walking). Needless to say, James and Wade are the last players in the NBA who should have been caught on camera mocking Nowitzki's cough--Nowitzki not only played through two obvious, legitimate physical ailments (a torn tendon on the middle finger of his left hand and the sinus infection that caused the aforementioned cough) but he repeatedly outperformed James and Wade in the clutch.

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In March I predicted that Chris Bosh and Erik Spoelstra "are positioned to be the two primary scapegoats if the team falls short of expectations." Erik Spoelstra did a very good job coaching the Heat; he installed a high energy defense to take advantage of his team's athleticism and he deftly managed the oversize egos/sensitive psyches inhabiting Miami's locker room. What exactly is Spoelstra supposed to do about the fact that his best player randomly stops playing hard for no apparent reason?

I have documented on many occasions that Bosh's pre-Miami resume dwarfs Pau Gasol's pre-L.A.resume and that Bosh's skill set is no worse than Gasol's. It is bizarre that the media not only blames Bosh so frequently when Miami loses but that the media brazenly mocks Bosh's manhood by suggesting that Miami's "Big Three" are really "Two and a Half Men." When the Lakers lose, Kobe Bryant is often criticized for supposedly not involving Gasol in the offense--despite the obvious fact that Gasol often hides from the ball and does not play with an appropriate level of aggressiveness. Bosh averaged 24.0 ppg in 2009-10 and he attempted 8.4 free throws a game (his fifth straight season averaging at least 8.0 FTA, a figure that Gasol has never reached during his NBA career) so it is patently false to assert that he is passive or that he does not have the ability to score in the paint. Why do we never hear Mike Wilbon, Jon Barry or other so-called experts ever say that the Heat should utilize Bosh's skills in the half court set? The James-Wade "clown car" offense frequently reduced Bosh to a glorified Horace Grant role as a weakside offensive rebounder/spot up shooter despite the fact that Bosh has demonstrated that he is capable of doing so much more than that.

This season not only exposed James' and Wade's flaws but it also clearly revealed the limitations of "advanced basketball statistics" and--with the marked contrast between how the media covers the Bryant/Gasol dynamic versus the James/Wade/Bosh dynamic--it showcased the ignorance, bias and hypocrisy that characterize much of the mainstream media's NBA coverage.

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After Dallas won the series, Rick Carlisle graciously praised the Heat and said that their time will come but I don't think that hubris combined with lack of effort and lack of attention to detail has ever been or will ever be a recipe for winning a championship, let alone for creating a historic dynasty. Nearly everything broke right for the Heat this season--Boston, Orlando, L.A. and San Antonio all faded from title contention just as the Heat hit their collective stride--but the Heat failed to win the title. I fully realize that the Heat could still eventually win multiple championships but their fans/sycophants/admirers should realize that it is also possible that 2011 represented the Heat's best opportunity to be a champion. It is obvious that LeBron James has the potential to be one of the greatest players ever and that he is fully capable of leading a team to a championship--but unless and until he changes his mindset he will continue to be not King James but rather a self-proclaimed king who has no legitimate crown.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:19 PM

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50 Comments:

At Monday, June 13, 2011 5:16:00 PM, Anonymous Gil Meriken said...

Hi David,

Do you think if it was Kobe on the Heat instead of Lebron, that the Heat would have beaten the Mavericks?

 
At Monday, June 13, 2011 5:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Gil:

Kobe Bryant won two championships with Pau Gasol plus a cast of role players so it certainly seems fair to suggest that Kobe could win a championship with a player whose skill set roughly matches Gasol's (Chris Bosh) plus a top five-six player (Dwyane Wade) and a cast of role players.

The reality is that--no disrespect to the Mavericks and how well they played--if LeBron had played as hard in the Finals as he did in the first three rounds then the Heat would have won the championship this season. Before the season began I was not convinced that the Heat could get past Boston/Orlando or L.A./San Antonio but when those teams fell by the wayside and then LeBron dominated Rose in the ECF I became resigned to Miami winning the title. I never imagined that LeBron would again quit--but the fact that he quit is as undeniable as it is inexplicable.

 
At Monday, June 13, 2011 5:37:00 PM, Blogger elreiec said...

once more, spot on David. i was thinking the exact same thing with kobe's game 7 performance last yr and dirk's game 6 (both of them shooting poorly), but teammates carrying them.

lebron now has 5 years on his contract. i know this is looking way far ahead, but do you think he'll ever be disciplined enough to learn a legitimate post-game (like kobe)? it's inexcusable for a 2x mvp going now on to his ninth year to not have one. plus, he never takes responsibility on his part for anything. he doesn't seem to have that same killer instinct and will like kobe and others.

 
At Monday, June 13, 2011 8:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you seen nbaplaybook.com's excellent video analysis of James' puzzling effort?

It wasn't mentioned, but to me, LeBron really looked like he was playing NBA Live and was desperately trying for an assist record.

He often passed to Bosh before the double team committed to him, resulting in turnovers and putting Bosh in trouble. Also, who the hell taught him to use a pick by dribbling backwards?

Even though his jumper was spotty, even though his free throw shooting is pathetic, the Heat still could have beaten, even swept the Mavs if LeBron played like he did during the Celtics/Bulls series.

I agree with you that his skill set is still incomplete, but in this series it wasn't a lack of skill that buried them, it was simply lack of heart.

Did Jason Terry's "he can't guard me" comment really unnerve him?!

I would love to hear what Pat Riley thought of his effort.

 
At Monday, June 13, 2011 9:37:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

I think the biggest surprises are Dirk's emergence as the best player on the court in this series and Miami's shocking lapses in defense and in ball security.

I'm not sure whether Lebron quit, played poorly or adapted an alternate offensive philosophy but you're not going to win too many games if you give the ball away with regularity and fail to get back on defense. Give a good shooting team too many uncontested shots and you're flirting with disaster.

 
At Monday, June 13, 2011 11:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Elreiec:

While Dirk and Kobe's teammates carried some of the load early in their respective closeout games--in part because both Dirk and Kobe command a lot of defensive attention--I think that the larger story/larger similarity is that Dirk and Kobe took over those games in the fourth quarter, posting the same stats (10 points, four rebounds--which obviously projects to 40 points and 16 rebounds over 48 minutes) and having the same huge impact in games that could have gone either way.

 
At Monday, June 13, 2011 11:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

No, I have not seen it. I watch the games and draw my own conclusions.

I agree with you that at times it seems like LeBron is more interested in padding his stats than making winning plays. That criticism was once made of Wilt but I think that it was unfair in that instance because Wilt tended to do what his coaches asked of him regarding his shooting/passing ratio; in contrast, LeBron clearly seems to be doing his own thing as opposed to following any rationally conceivable game plan (no coach is going to tell LeBron to passively camp out in the corner and shoot threes or to give up the ball without even exploring driving options).

The largest problem for the Heat is that LeBron quit for significant portions of the series (game four plus parts of other games). Another problem, which I mentioned when this team was first assembled, is that James and Wade do not have complementary skill sets; they both need the ball in their hands to be effective but neither is a reliable shooter outside of the paint. It is funny that Jeff Van Gundy--who I respect and who is usually on target--went from foolishly predicting that the Heat would win 75 games and never lose two games in a row to saying after the Finals that the Heat should trade either James or Wade because their skill sets are not complementary. My take has consistently been that the Heat have so much talent that they will always be contenders but in any given season there will be a handful of teams that are mentally and physically tougher; most of those teams fell by the wayside for various reasons in 2011 but the Mavs emerged to give the Heat the beating that I had earlier thought would come at the hands of the Celtics (pre-Perkins trade).

I would not go so far as to say that Terry's comment unnerved James but I think that it is quite interesting that less talented players are not afraid to very publicly challenge James in a way that they would never challenge Kobe, who once declared that if you shake his tree a leopard might fall out. The Mavs shook LeBron's tree and then cut it down but no leopards appeared!

I am sure that if Pat Riley would candidly say what he thought of James' performance it would not be suitable for printing in a family publication. While most of the ESPN/ABC pregame crew wandered all over the map and rarely said anything useful (in contrast to the excellent game crew and in contrast to NBA TV analysts like Kevin McHale and Greg Anthony), Magic Johnson was spot on when he first called out James to play better and then called out James for making excuses after game six instead of simply saying that he had let down the fans and that he would work hard all summer so that this would not happen again.

 
At Monday, June 13, 2011 11:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

Dirk has always been a great player but he has improved his inside game and in this series he filled the void created when LeBron decided not to try hard consistently.

Miami's defensive lapses partly relate to James' lack of effort (Jeff Van Gundy pointed out various occasions when James and/or even Wade--who played hard for the most part--did not hustle back on defense) at times but credit should also be give to the Mavs for being unselfish and for executing their offense very crisply.

When the Bulls won six championships, Jordan and Pippen took it upon themselves to contain small, quick guards like Mark Price and John Stockton but after smothering Derrick Rose in the Chicago series LeBron put forth a very lackluster defensive effort in the Finals; the play when Dirk drove for a key late hoop and LeBron did not even deign to swipe at the ball provides a quintessential snapshot of LeBron's lack of effort.

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 12:38:00 AM, Anonymous Gil Meriken said...

David,

I don't know that Lebron "didn't try", he simply lacked the skills to be more effective.

A few times when he tried to make something happen, the Mavs defense was so packed in, it resulted in offensive charge calls on Lebron. He had no counter to this defensive tactic, which would be a reliable mid-range game, a post game, or three-point shot.

He seemed to have solve this by making his threes before the Finals, indeed, he seemed unstoppable, but he couldn't count on it when he needed it the most, to the dismay of those would quote his statistical improvement and his % in comparison to Kobe's 3 point %. Which shows you the past stats are not what matter, but the actual skill set, and the reliability of those skills when you most need them.

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 3:38:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Gil:

I agree with you that LeBron's skill set is not complete and I have consistently contrasted LeBron's incomplete skill set with Kobe's complete skill set even as LeBron's superior athleticism enabled him to surpass Kobe in terms of regular season productivity but in the 2011 NBA Finals (and in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals versus Boston) LeBron did not consistently play with his normal energy and intensity at either end of the court. This is as obvious as it is inexplicable: even casual fans can tell that LeBron does not always play hard--which I think can justifiably be termed "quitting" considering LeBron's demonstrated abilities and considering the stakes at hand--but no one seems to be able to explain why LeBron quits. I hesitate to venture into psychoanalysis but my theory/hunch/educated guess is that what LeBron fears most is failure (I believe he actually stated this in an ESPN interview earlier this season) and at some level he is not sure that his best effort will be good enough to lead his team to victory so he quits as a defense mechanism: at some level he'd rather be accused of quitting than suffer the embarrassment (in his way of thinking/feeling) of trying his best and still falling short. I can't prove that this is what is going on in LeBron's head but it certainly fits in with why LeBron only seems to quit when his team is on the brink of perhaps defeating a very daunting foe but still needs a few more victories to do so (the situation he faced in game five versus Boston last year and game four versus Dallas this year). Why didn't LeBron quit versus Detroit in 2007? Cleveland's win over Detroit may have looked like an upset to the outside world but I had been predicting it since the start of the season and I think that LeBron was quite confident that he could lead the Cavs past the Pistons, perhaps more confident than he was about beating the 2010 Celtics or 2011 Mavs.

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 3:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Gil:

LeBron has marginally improved his free throw shooting and three point shooting from a statistical standpoint but the problem is that he is still a high variance player on those shots--he is not a consistently good shooter but rather someone who might make seven in a row or who might shoot 1-7. I know for a fact that LeBron has worked on his post up game dating back to his time in Cleveland--I witnessed firsthand (and described in one of my game recaps) how LeBron was working on a jump hook over his left shoulder on the left block and a left handed finger roll moving toward the middle from the right block. On the rare occasions that he posts up and looks to score those are still his go-to moves from those positions but he either lacks the confidence to use those moves regularly or else he simply does not like posting up for some other reason because he clearly does not spend as much time in the post as a player with his size and talents should.

I wonder two things about James:

1) How well will his game age? If LeBron does not add a consistent jumper and/or a post up game soon then his stats could take a George McGinnis-like plunge as soon as his otherworldly athletic ability declines to merely very good athletic ability. MJ could still average 20 and drop 40 as he approached 40 years of age and Kobe will be the same way if his balky right knee holds up but LeBron's time as an elite player may not last as long as some people expect.

2) How much help does LeBron need to win an NBA title? LeBron played for the deepest team in the NBA for two straight years, posted the best regular season record in the NBA in both seasons and did not win a title. This year LeBron played for the most athletically talented team in the NBA but lost in the Finals to a FIBA-style non-athletic (relatively speaking) NBA team that won by hitting jumpers, using a zone defense and outhustling their opponents. If LeBron can't win with the deepest team or with the most talented team then what kind of help does he need? I said it somewhat tongue in cheek last year but if LeBron had really been serious about sacrificing money/stats/ego to win a ring then he should have signed with the Lakers for the veteran minimum and given the Lakers the one thing that they most lacked: youthful athleticism. LeBron could have been the team's defensive stopper and assist leader and it would not have mattered if he disappeared in the fourth quarter because that is Kobe's time anyway.

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 5:15:00 AM, Blogger Craig said...

Hi David,

Excellent and thoughtful post, as always. What do you think of Dallas's championship chances in the next few years? They seem somewhat reminiscent of the 2008 Celtics: disciplined and well-coached, but many of their best players were already 30+ when they won their first championship. Boston was consistently a title contended up until, and possibly including, this year (I find it hard to believe they will seriously compete for the title next year, but it's possible). I would guess that Dallas will continue to be legit contenders as long as Nowitzki is still young enough to compete at an All-NBA level.

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 1:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Craig:

The Dallas team was built to win now, with several key players well into the 30+ age bracket. It is difficult to predict anyone's championship prospects at the moment because it seems likely that the NBA is headed into a long work stoppage that will not end until a new, fundamentally different CBA is created; until we know what the NBA's new financial structure will be--and when the next games will be played--I cannot make an intelligent prediction about who will be the next champion.

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 2:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

i still think miami could win two title in next 4 years. but it depends if lebron wants to win title or not. thats the question. he quit on team late agian so it had nuthing to do wit cleveland or miami. sumthin within lebron he has to get rid of if he can. he trys to hope the title jus gon come to him rather than give 100 percent. and goin to get him i never seen a great player purposely stop playin hard. this is very weird to me. he needs sychologist.

dirk been a great player that bcame all the way through now. but he not one of top 25 all time players to me top 30-35. best euro ever. but people overracting rite now he has a great resume but guys like frasier and bob mcadoo. and bobby dandridge could be made on that level too.

if lebron a quitter why does dan gilbert cry so much he and willams need to shet up. i understand cleveland fans on descion. but why is gilbert mad he quit on him wen he quit on miami too. so why would he want a quitter like lebron and why he still mad he left? that franchise is horrible.

wade and bosh played well and consistent throughout. until last couple games. if chalmers is starter they need a back up point. and a center to rebound a nene or samuel dalembert would be fine. and give them shot blocking.

j kidd deserved it marion butler and terry and dirk im not as cuban fan. but give dallas props on title. i dont see them repeating. but they are wit miami, boston. detroit. as other team to win title in kobe shaq duncan era.

lebron its on u wat are u gonna doo is my question?

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 3:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

Miami "could" have won a title this season if LeBron had played hard; Miami "could" win two titles in the next four years but if LeBron keeps quitting when things get tough then Miami will not win any titles.

Nowitzki is a top 25 player--he has a regular season MVP, a Finals MVP, a championship and perennial All-NBA status. Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all-time, followed by Bob Pettit and Kevin McHale, but a good case could be made to put Nowitzki fourth on that list ahead of Barkley, Karl Malone and Kevin Garnett. I don't think that ranking Nowitzki that highly is an overreaction at all; I think that Nowitzki was actually a bit underrated prior to winning this year's championship and now he is being appropriately rated as a legit top 25 player (top 10 is a bit too much, though I can understand why Coach Carlisle says that).

Dan Gilbert is upset because LeBron never recruited players to come to Cleveland, because LeBron ripped the Cavs' hearts out on national TV and because LeBron acted without any gratitude or class. The reason that Gilbert and every owner in the NBA wants LeBron is because LeBron is very talented and it is clear that if LeBron ever gets out of his own way he is capable of leading a team to a championship.

The Kobe/Shaq/Duncan era may have already ended (in terms of championships) but Dallas deserves a lot of credit for a great playoff run. I was not one of the fools who picked Portland to beat Dallas in the first round but I did not foresee Dallas winning the championship.

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 4:29:00 PM, Anonymous DJ said...

I don't think either LBJ or Kobe played better with Mavericks this series. I think the Mavericks played better than calling Kobe or LeBron playing bad.

I still think Heat gave their best while Lakers were swept.

LeBron and Kobe did not lose but Mavericks beat them. JKidd played good to stop them from being a scoring threat.

What about Durant in the WCF series Matrix played good D to stop Kevin.

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 6:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

DJ:

Kobe did not play in this series. Perhaps you meant Wade?

Wade, Bosh and most of the Heat players certainly seemed to give their best versus Dallas but the series turned in the final three games when James only sporadically played hard.

The Lakers being swept has nothing to do with what happened in the Finals; the Lakers had their own internal issues, so the fact that Miami won two games does not prove that the Heat played harder than the Lakers did.

In my article I gave full credit to Dallas for playing well throughout the playoffs but it must also be said that if LeBron had played hard consistently in games four through six then the series probably would have had a very different outcome.

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 7:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great read, I enjoyed it immensely and had many of the same thoughts regarding Dirk and Kobe's game 7 performances.

RE: this quote

"The reality is that--no disrespect to the Mavericks and how well they played--if LeBron had played as hard in the Finals as he did in the first three rounds then the Heat would have won the championship this season."

Lebron has never played hard when it counts, so to me the "what if" argument is invalid. If, on the other hand, we have a history of Lebron stepping up when it counts, I would agree with you 100%.

As it is, Lebron is a disappearing act for the ages, and this may speak to what truly seperates the greats from the amazing-could-have-beens or might-have-beens.

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 8:16:00 PM, Anonymous Jase said...

Can't resist the gratuitous shots at Wade, even though he did more than enough to win. If it's Tuesday, it must be 20 second Timeout....

Wade's averages for the series:
26.5/7/5/55%/1.6 stls/1.3 blks. His all-time Finals averages 30.6 ppg/7.5 rebs/4.5 asts/50% shooting.

Wade did his job. For a #1 option, he had a great series. For a 1a option, he had an outstanding series. And for a presumed 1b option, he had an amazing series!

Bosh did his job too, as did Chalmers. The Heat lost because LeBron James didn't do his job. Forget about superstar performance, his performance wasn't even adequate for a sidekick. If he played a little bit better than the Heat would have had enough margin for error that Wade's human moments wouldn't have made a difference.

Now, of course, Wade played poorly against the Bulls, but there was a big difference. He stepped up huge to help James when it was winning time in Games 3, 4, and 5 in spite of playing bad games. On the other hand, James played poorly against the Mavs but couldn't offer up any clutch help to Wade.

Mr. Friedman, as someone who has lurked on your board periodically, I have to say you have a case of pathological disrespect for Dwyane Wade. You need to get adjusted to a fact, sir. Dwyane Wade is going to be one of the best players who ever played this game. Already you are starting to hear and read references to him as the 3rd best SG ever.

He carries career averages of 25.4/5.1/6.3/48.5% shooting. You know how many shooting guards in NBA history have better cumulative averages than that? Two: Jordan and West.

His numbers get even get even better in the playoffs, and I already listed his NBA Finals averages through 12 games. On top of that, he's an NBA champion, a Finals MVP, a seven time all-star, two-time 1st team All NBA, 3-time second team, and one-time 3rd team as well as 3 time 2nd team all-defense (Compare that resume to the entire career of, say, Clyde Drexler).

But, like I said I've lurked on your blog enough that I do understand what drives your pathological disrepspect. Fear. Wade is a threat. He's already the 3rd or 4th best at his position ever, and he may just be coming for the guy at the #2 spot....

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 8:56:00 PM, Anonymous JackF said...

@David
Now I see why Players and Coaches around the NBA consistently hold kobe in high esteem. Coaches put him every year on the 1st team alldefensive and allNBA teams. The stat geeks call it criminal yet the coaches are proven right in the end. All the stat geeks said that The HEAT were going to dominate the NBA and win a championship yet again they are proven wrong again.

on Heat: I've watch the finals yet i don't think i have seen one instance where Lebron or Dwade set a pick for eachother when one of them had the ball. why is that? they never moved without the ball unless they knew the it was coming to them.

on Lebron: I can't explain the way he played. I got no words for it. The ironic part is that the Heat could have beaten the Mavs if Lebron hadn't wait the last 5 minutes of a couple of games to become agressive. In at least two games The heat had a lead but they Heat force-fed lebron the ball in the last 5 minutes. The Mavs ended up winning both those games.

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 9:18:00 PM, Blogger ChowNoir said...

David,
I'm curious as to why you were "resigned to Miami winning the title"

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 10:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

LeBron played brilliantly against Chicago and Boston in this year's playoffs; LeBron smothered 2011 regular season MVP Derrick Rose so thoroughly that it was like watching a big brother beat his little brother in the driveway and LeBron also provided a lot of clutch scoring in those series. LeBron's overall playoff career has actually been quite good but it is obviously marred by the way that he blatantly quit against Boston in 2010 and against Dallas in 2011. It is very hard to explain how LeBron played in those series, because we have seen that LeBron is more than capable of rising to the occasion in the playoffs; LeBron is not Karl Malone, a great regular season player whose scoring average and field goal percentage plummeted in the postseason.

After LeBron quit versus Boston and then fled to Miami I felt like I would never again pick his team to beat a top notch team in the playoffs but watching how he performed against Boston and Chicago made me change my mind by the time the Finals rolled around. I am mystified that LeBron quit yet again; if LeBron had tried really hard but shot 8-30 from the field that would be excusable but LeBron just quit and that is not only inexcusable but it is inexplicable for a player with his ability who has performed well in other playoff series.

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 10:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jase:

You did not cite one specific example of a "gratuitous shot" against Wade so there is no way for me to respond to your complaint. I have repeatedly called Wade one of the top five-six players in the NBA, which is hardly a disrespectful thing--let alone a "pathologically disrespectful" thing--to say about a member of the 2011 All-NBA Second Team.

Nowhere in this article did I suggest that Wade failed to do his job or that he has performed poorly during his Finals career but I understand that you must be a big Dwyane Wade fan who wants to use the comments section to provide some "free advertising" for your favorite player; so be it. I'll add to what you wrote by mentioning that Wade has now played more than 10 Finals games, so his stats are "official" by NBA standards and thus he ranks among the top 10 scorers in Finals history.

I spent a substantial portion of this article explaining that LeBron "did not do his job" so I am mystified that you did not start your comment by expressing your agreement with my basic premise. Your tone is so angry and hostile yet your basic take on the series is the same as mine.

Wade may very well be the fourth best shooting guard in pro basketball history behind MJ, Kobe and West but Wade has a lot of work to do to move up on that list. Wade is hardly a "threat" to me in any sense; I'm not on that list, so he is not threatening my place in history! I guess what you meant to say is that you assume that I am a big MJ, Kobe or West fan and thus am concerned that Wade will displace one or all of those guys. Dr. J is my favorite player, not those three shooting guards--and from an objective, analytical viewpoint I don't think that anyone has to worry that Wade is a "threat" to surpass Dr. J in the Pantheon nor to move past MJ, Kobe or West in the shooting guard section of the Pantheon. Wade is too turnover prone, too inconsistent in the midrange, long range and free throw games and too much of a gambler--albeit a spectacular one at times--defensively to supplant MJ, Kobe or West, each of whom is more fundamentally sound and complete than Wade.

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 11:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

So many things broke right for the Heat--the Celtics and Magic broke up their teams, the Lakers and Spurs got bounced early, injuries affected Chicago's frontcourt rotation--and yet they still could not win the championship. Most of the "stat gurus" have been saying for years that James and Wade are the two best players in the NBA by far and that if they played together they would be unstoppable but what we found out this season is what I have been saying all along: while James and Wade are certainly talented they are not complementary to each other and thus a team built around them will be very good but hardly a juggernaut that will just cruise to multiple titles.

James and Wade do not like to play off of the ball and that is why you rarely see them setting screens for each other. Lakers' fans know that on one of the few occasions that James set a screen for Wade it led to a key bucket in a Miami win over L.A.

I'll tell you something even more ironic: LeBron left the Cavs to join a star-studded team but the team that beat the Heat in the Finals is essentially like the team he left! The Mavs have one current All-Star, several former All-Stars, a bunch of gritty role players and a defensive-minded coach--the exact recipe that the Cavs used to post the best record in the NBA in 2009 and 2010. If LeBron had stayed in Cleveland and recruited one star to join him then the Cavs would have had as good a chance as anyone to win a championship; the Mavs proved that, contrary to the excuse LeBron and his sycophants made for "The Decision," you don't need three stars to win an NBA title (actually, the Lakers showed that as well but many so-called "experts" have convinced the world that the Lakers are a stacked team).

 
At Tuesday, June 14, 2011 11:03:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Chownoir:

I do not like the way that LeBron quit, the way that he handled his free agency process or much of what he has said/done in the past year; it has led to a domino effect (Melo, DWill, with Dwight Howard and Chris Paul next in line) that will result in a long NBA work stoppage and it lacks class and humility. Thus, while my analysis is objective as a fan of the game I do not want to see the Heat win. I felt before the season that the Celtics, pre-trade Magic, Lakers or Spurs would take out the Heat and then when the Bulls became a great defensive team I thought that they had a shot to beat the Heat but when all of those teams fell by the wayside I became resigned to Miami winning; I just did not think that the Mavs could beat the Heat and I expected the Finals to pretty much play out the way the first three games did--tightly contested but in Miami's favor. Then LeBron quit and the rest is history.

 
At Wednesday, June 15, 2011 1:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

lebron mindset is key if they are goin back to championship or not. well see i guess he needs to get away do sumthin to get himself together.

i got dirk like 29-33 i dont have him top 25 and i dont kno why carlisle would even think top 10. but top 30 is rite. he in the area of top 25. so me and u aint far off. i guess kg and kidd would be in that area as well. the power forward thing. its complicated i didnt see most of them play i would have him sixth behind barkley malone hayes tim kg maybe mchale. but u could make a case for 4 i suppose.

i dont like gilbert i think hes a childish owner needs to get over the fact that lebron didnt want to play in cleveland why he didnt recruit other players. i rather be in south beach then cleveland both teams were goin to be good i think he liked destination better. he not from clevland he is from akron. my grandma reminds me that she is from lima. the history of cleveland sports is not lebron fault. he decided to play wit friends and leave. the fans should of been mad at descion that wasnt a gud thing. i think lebron people wass wrong go on national tv and announce ur free agency destination come on.

 
At Wednesday, June 15, 2011 6:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who finds more similarities between James and Elgin Baylor than Wilt? Baylor the unstoppable oversized and athletic forward who never won a ring.

 
At Wednesday, June 15, 2011 8:20:00 PM, Blogger Efueshe said...

Kelly Dywer is at it again @__@. He actually said that Kobe is in the same tree as LeBron because they both lost this year, after "analyzing" something that Kobe might have said to LeBron, after winning the 2010 Championship,: "Go ahead and get another MVP, if you want. And find the city you want to live in. But we're going to win the championship. Don't worry about it." He even had the nerve to say that Kobe failed just as badly as LeBron did, as though Kobe's talent just languished behind the three point line for 3 consecutive fourth quarters. As a fan who doesn't have a blog, or really a voice beyond the commentary of articles, what can we fans do to possibly get him off of Yahoo! Sports? I just want some fair, intelligent analysis of my favorite sport. Are there any writers that you recommend I get my daily dose of basketball from besides here?

 
At Thursday, June 16, 2011 12:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

I don't know how you came up with 29-33 instead of 28-32 or something else and I don't think that there is a hard and fast, scientific way to precisely rank Dirk; I would not put him in the Pantheon right now but I would put him in the next group of 15 or so players.

Elvin Hayes was a great player but not the playoff performer or shooter that Nowitzki is; Hayes was a better rebounder and defender than Nowitzki, though.

Dan Gilbert would probably be better off saying less and letting other people criticize LeBron but--except for guaranteeing that Cleveland would win a championship before LeBron--Gilbert has not actually said anything that is untrue (and even that could turn out to be true or, at the very least, not untrue if neither one wins a championship).

 
At Thursday, June 16, 2011 12:13:00 AM, Anonymous Ray said...

Hi David,

I've read your work for a long time now and I wanted to say that its refreshing as a fan of the game to see someone take an analytical but mainly objective stance on these topics. Its become increasingly hard for me to watch ESPN and read the recaps from other sites. Everyone seems to have some biased opinion that they pass off as journalism. You provide solid reasoning and facts and I'm a big fan of the site. I wish more analysts would take this approach.

 
At Thursday, June 16, 2011 12:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

If you are just looking at productive forwards who never won championships then you could compare LeBron to Barkley, Karl Malone or Elgin Baylor but I don't think that LeBron particularly plays like any of those guys. There is some superficial similarity with Baylor in that he was an all-around player who was athletically ahead of his time at the small forward position but Baylor never quit the way that LeBron has in the past two playoff seasons. Right now, LeBron is in a category by himself--and not in a good way.

 
At Thursday, June 16, 2011 12:22:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Efueshe:

I don't pay any attention to what Dwyer says. He is an idiot who writes poorly and the only thing that would be surprising is if he crafted a well written article that makes sense. I have no interest in trying to rebut his nonsense.

If you are interested in trying to persuade Yahoo to get rid of him--a noble, though perhaps futile pursuit--then I would suggest contacting Yahoo's sports editors directly to express your dissatisfaction with his incompetence. Better yet, if you know of other like-minded people then you all should contact Yahoo en masse. Failing that, stop clicking on his articles; that gives him page views and convinces Yahoo that he is a valuable commodity.

Sadly, there are few writers who currently provide consistently good NBA analysis on a regular basis; I am completely dissatisfied with the nonsensical drivel emanating from ESPN, Slam and Yahoo so I pretty much have to write the commentary that I would like to read!

 
At Thursday, June 16, 2011 12:26:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Ray:

Thank you. Sometimes I feel like I am one of the last people carrying the banner for traditional journalism based on objectivity/top level writing skills--sort of like Obi Wan Kenobi being one of the last Jedi after Darth Vader wiped most of them out--but I certainly appreciate that I have a devoted, intelligent audience that is seeking out those very qualities that are so sadly lacking at ESPN and other media outlets.

 
At Thursday, June 16, 2011 12:39:00 AM, Anonymous bball said...

david,
i agree with ray, you do provide a thorough analysis of what occurs in a basketball game. keep up the good work. i especially enjoyed reading your "scout's eye view of the game" article, a very informative piece. to respond to ray's question about other knowledgeable nba writers, i would say charley rosen for fox sports and david alridge for nba.com. they also provide insightful analysis on a consistent basis.

 
At Thursday, June 16, 2011 4:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bball:

Thank you.

I agree with you about Rosen and Aldridge; they are rare exceptions.

 
At Thursday, June 16, 2011 1:09:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

How ironic this year's finals was. And you're right on target that it was much easier for the heat to win a title this year than at least the past 3 years. All the other contenders had major problems, and the mavs cashed in to get to the finals, as did the heat to get to the finals. But, then, while you have to give the mavs a lot of credit for winning, they weren't exactly a daunting opponent for the supposedly great heat, with 3 top 10 players. I firmly believe that bosh, who was at least a very near top 10 player for a few years before this year, still is, but I like you, David, am very perplexed how awful the heat, mainly james/wade, incorporate bosh in the offense.

I'm tired of the excuses that james makes for himself and the excuses that most of the media make for him. He has yet to show the mental fortitude or ability to carry a team all the way to the title. He can do it for a few series, as he's shown many times, but not all the way. And the fact that he's had teams each of the past 3 years that were clearly good enough to at least seriously contend for a title, and he more or less quit in big games, no matter how talented of a player he is, at no time can I say he is the best player in the nba. Maybe for the reg. season, but there's still more ball after the reg. season.

It's weird, but I would take the 09or 10 cavs over this year's mavs team. So much for a supposed lack of help.

And not surprising, we're all used to it with the media. But, Kobe gets bashed for 6-24 in game 7, though he still came up big in that game and he had a very good finals overall against a very good defensive team, but I haven't heard much criticism about Dirk, though he had 2 woeful shooting games, granted he had the flu for one of those, but still. If Kobe goes 6-19 with the flu, the media would be all over him, for trying to do too much when he's not 100%.

 
At Thursday, June 16, 2011 3:37:00 PM, Anonymous JackF said...

@David
Sometimes i just can't stand the national media. they claimed that Lebron didn't have any help in Cleveland when any objective analyst could tell them that Cleveland was one of the more balanced team in the nba the past 2 years. They had tough defenders, 3 point shooting, great interior defense and rebounding. In miami lebron has 2 of the top 10 players in the NBA playing with him yet they still failed. I just dont get the over-reliance on stats nowadays. Dallas had a great team: a superstar who performs in the crunch, great perimeter defense, athletic slashers, good post defense and rebounding, and great 3 point shooting. You don't need stats to tell you that this is a championship team.
Every year when we get around the playoffs, its always the same thing: Time to crown King and once that fails, the excuses start.

 
At Thursday, June 16, 2011 5:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

You are right on target. The only thing I would add is that when we say that the "media" is biased, ignorant and hypocritical it is important to be specific and that is why I have consistently called out the worst offenders by name:

1) Henry Abbott is a LeBron-loving, Portland-rooting, biased fool who has been given a prominent platform by ESPN. He blindly worships "advanced stats"--particularly those created by Dave Berri--and he does not apply the same standards to LeBron that he does to other stars (most notably Kobe).

2) Kelly Dwyer is a hack who Abbott relentlessly hyped up until Yahoo foolishly brought Dwyer in to be their main basketball blogger. Dwyer claims to watch about 30 hours a day of basketball yet has no understanding of how to analyze the sport--and he writes in a pretentious style that is also littered with grammatical errors.

3) Bill Simmons can be very entertaining at times but he is a non-stop Boston homer and thus is incapable of writing objectively about any of Boston's rivals. Simmons has been touted as a basketball expert yet he has repeatedly bashed the coaching acumen of Doc Rivers, one of the sport's great coaches and leaders.

4) Slam consists of a bunch of suburban kids who front like they have some kind of street credibility and the magazine/website favor "style" over substance. Their website cranked out one of the most idiotic basketball articles of the past several years (which is really saying something): a John Krolik piece--that I refuted in depth--declaring that the Lakers' game seven contest versus Houston would be the biggest game of Kobe's career.

5) Mike Wilbon has been a very good general sports columnist for decades but ESPN has miscast him as a basketball expert; he and Jon Barry--perhaps the least informed, least analytical former player ever to get airtime as a basketball commentator--seem to be obsessively focused on how many times Kobe Bryant shoots the ball, as if some kind of magic formula exists ensuring that the Lakers will always win if Kobe is smart enough to shoot X amount of times but that the Lakers will always lose if Kobe shoots more than X amount of times regardless of any other factors. Wilbon and Barry always blast Kobe for not involving Pau Gasol in the offense but I have yet to hear them say that James and Wade should perhaps consider getting Chris Bosh involved in Miami's offense.

There are many other examples as well but those are the most annoying ones because each of them is featured so prominently. Sadly, the airwaves, the print media and the internet are dominated by ignorance, bias and hypocrisy.

 
At Thursday, June 16, 2011 5:59:00 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

I re-watched Game 6 on NBA TV a couple nights ago and I was amazed at how much I saw LeBron just lollygagging on defense in the fourth quarter, just standing around not guarding anybody. Supposedly he was guarding Jason Terry for much of that time, but he played several feet away from Terry, ostensibly to be a "free safety", but I never saw him helping on a Dallas player.

Similarly, at the end of Game 2 when Nowitzki hit the game-winning layup against Bosh, LeBron could have helped to obstruct Dirk, but he stood in the corner (again, half-heartedly guarding Terry) not doing anything.

I can't imagine Jordan or Bryant acting like that.

I think Miami should have involved Chris Bosh more in the offense, but on the other hand, Dallas has a big, strong, and agile center in Tyson Chandler who can help onto Bosh, or switch onto Bosh for single coverage, without fear of leaving Miami's other big— because Miami also has Joel Anthony on the floor. I think this made Bosh's life difficult. Miami would be very strong if they get a good center (and not the AARP crowd of centers they currently have on their roster).

 
At Friday, June 17, 2011 12:05:00 AM, Anonymous boyer said...

Thanks for clarifying about the main culprits here better. Unfortunately, most of these guys are employed by major sports companies.

My biggest problem with most of these guys, and most of the smaller beat writers for that matter, is that they honestly think they're experts themselves and in most cases know more about the game than most GMs. Granted, some GMs suck, but while I myself think that I know a lot about the game, I'd be kidding myself if I thought I could elevate talent better than any GM. Now, it's a lot easier identifying a top 5 talent than a 250 talent.

Unfortunately, most of the arguments in the NBA boils down to kobe vs. lebron. With that being said, I wholeheartedly agree that abbott/dwyer/etc. do not treat kobe by the standards they treat lebron, which makes it so hard to read most of their articles, and so very frustrating. I don't care who you like or dislike, we all have our opinions of players, but I just want every player to be treated the same. But, I'm with you David, in that I can identify with players like kobe, durant, and rose, and duncan, in that these guys basically only care about winning. I like that durant said he didn't care about dirk having a chance for the title after the mavs beat the thunder, and dirk's one of nice guys, too.

I always love when you mention something similar to Dwyer claiming he watches 30 hours of basketball out of everyday. It's so idiotic that that guy says stuff like that and then his writing highly suggests he doesn't know a thing about the nba, that it makes me laugh every time, so a very slight positive out of dwyer's writing, I guess.

Right on about simmons. I think he's more about humor than anything else, and he tries to be unbiased, kind of, so I give him a slight pass. When he pulls out his list of the greatest players of all time according to him, it's kind of funny to me. That thing that bugs me the most is that he blames kobe for not winning a playoff series from 05-07. I guess he forgets that walton, smush, and kwame were starting with kobe, and those 3 guys quickly faded into the sunset after 07.

Totally agree about Wilbon and Barry. I guess from what you say, it's not really Wilbon's fault that he covers the nba on espn, but he is not a good analyst. Barry just amazes me, he comes from a rich basketball family, but really seems clueless most of the time. I do like the nba.com guys, but I don't get that channel, so I rarely see them.

But yea, the other thing that you mentioned that is so perplexing is that Kobe is the first one blamed with Pau is supposedly not involved in the offense much, and then when bosh isn't involved in the heat's offense, bosh gets blamed. Why does the media love wade and james so much more than kobe? I guess I could live with that, if they actually treated each the same, but they obviously don't. At least the nba was covered this past season, even if most of the media is a bunch of idiots, better than not being covered at all, which is a high probability for this next season, unfortunatetly.

 
At Friday, June 17, 2011 1:26:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bhel Atlantic:

As I explained in this article, when I say that LeBron "quit" I don't mean that he did not try at all but that his effort level varies more widely than the effort level of any MVP caliber player I have ever seen before: sometimes LeBron tries very hard and is very active while other times he is inexplicably passive at both ends of the court.

One could debate the strategic merits of utilizing Bosh more or less frequently but my larger point is that many members of the mainstream media blatantly apply two different standards regarding Bryant/Gasol and James/Wade/Bosh: if someone believes that the ball should always go in to the post first then that person should favor the ball going in to both Gasol and Bosh; if someone believes that the best player should have the ball most of the time then that person should want Bryant and James to be the first option. However, it makes no sense to blast Bryant for supposedly not passing to Gasol (a charge that is demonstrably false anyway) and then to give James and Wade a free pass for largely ignoring Bosh for most of the season. Barry and Wilbon are at the top of the list regarding this particular form of hypocrisy but they are not the only ones who use this double standard.

 
At Friday, June 17, 2011 1:41:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

my dad seen them all play he says hayes is better than dirk. plus u rip wade for doin nuthin since 06 but dirk did nuthin since 06 till this. im jus saying top twenty or twenty five too me is too high for a guy who had two long playof runs in 11 years. thats ur opion tho i dont agree but u have ur right.

gilbert needs to not worry bout bron no more.


the heat may look to grab oden or a dalembert to get a shot blocking presence.

 
At Friday, June 17, 2011 1:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

Dwyer literally did claim to watch about 30 hours a day of basketball and then got very snippy when I obliquely referred to this ridiculous assertion: Dwyer wrote (in one of his articles) that he watches several complete games a day, plus segments of various games that he records: if you add up everything that he claims to watch it totals more than 24 hours a day! He sent me some nasty emails trying to simultaneously justify his claim while also saying that he had not in fact made the claim (i.e., he bragged about how much basketball he watches yet said that I had misrepresented what he had written about his viewing habits). Dwyer is completely tone deaf to the reality that (1) boasting about watching that much basketball is even more pretentious than his unreadable writing style, (2) no one really cares how much basketball he watches and (3) it is truly pathetic to be as bad an analyst as he is if he actually does watch that many games. Perhaps Dwyer is good for some unintentional comedy but when you remember that he gets paid to be an "expert" and that some people may actually believe that he is an "expert" the humor fades; I find his work unreadable and I have not read it in quite some time, though 20 Second Timeout readers seem to feel compelled to keep telling me the latest idiotic thing that Dwyer's malfunctioning brain has dumped on to the internet.

While it may not be Wilbon's "fault" that ESPN has assigned him to the NBA beat, he could do a better job of informing himself about the intricacies of the sport. It is interesting that if you listen closely to Wilbon and then listen closely to Jeff Van Gundy during the game telecasts you will hear Van Gundy frequently criticize members of the media for various foolish pronouncements that strikingly resemble things that Wilbon has said--but Van Gundy never calls out Wilbon by name. For instance, when Wilbon and Barry criticized Kobe for supposedly "not trusting his teammates" Van Gundy opened a game telecast by going on a rant about how Kobe has a very "appropriate" level of trust regarding his teammates (who were not playing very well at that time). I'd love to strap Van Gundy into a lie detector and force him to say what he really thinks about Wilbon's qualifications as an NBA "expert."

You make a good point about Kobe being wrongly criticized for not winning a playoff series from 2005-07; Simmons and the Wilbon/Barry duo never mention that Wade not only failed to win a playoff series from 2007-2010 but Wade also presided over one of the worst collapses ever experienced by a championship team, as the Heat lost in the first round in 2007 and then had the worst record in the league in 2008.

Kwame Brown and Smush Parker never started a playoff game before or after playing with Kobe and I doubt that they ever will again--and I am confident that they will never both be starting for the same playoff team. The way that Kobe carried those guys not only to the playoffs but to the brink of upsetting a championship-caliber Phoenix team is one of the most amazing accomplishments in NBA history. Kwame and Smush should not even be rotation players on a playoff team, let alone starting at the two most important positions.

 
At Friday, June 17, 2011 1:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

Hayes was definitely a better college player than Nowitzki :)

Seriously, though, one could make a good case for either guy; I'd take Nowitzki over Hayes for the reasons I stated.

I did not rip Wade for not winning anything from 2007-10; I ripped Wilbon, Barry and others who criticize sections of Kobe's playoff career out of proper context but then ignore the even bigger holes in Wade's playoff resume. However, I did rip Wade for his role in Miami's collapse from 2006-08; the Lakers had a tough 2011 season by their high standards but they were trying to do something that had not been accomplished in over 20 years (make a fourth straight trip to the Finals) and they did not totally flame out the way that the 2007 Heat did--and I seriously doubt that the Lakers will have the worst record in the NBA next season (if there is a next season).

 
At Saturday, June 18, 2011 12:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bottom line with James:

1.) The greatest players in NBA history show up in the clutch, and James for the most part cannot do that - for whatever reason. Is it nerves? Is he deferring to Wade because Wade is the real leader? Does he lack a killer instinct? Who knows, but I'm not sure it matters: He just can't do it and that's why he'll go down as one of the most wasted talents in league history.

2.) His skill set isn't that great. He doesn't shoot threes great, he doesn't move around enough off the ball, his mid-range is decent at best, and he has no post game, which is a tragedy. He relies mainly on his athleticism and that's going to be exposed by the best teams in the league.

3.) James was and is mainly interested in becoming the greatest player for the sake of status - not because that's what you should aim for in principle. MJ, Bird, Kobe, Duncan, etc. all wanted to win for the sake of winning - it drove them. LeBron wants to win for the sake of his icon status. He's simply not driven to win, and you can never fake that.

 
At Sunday, June 19, 2011 4:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree with the general thrust of what you said but I disagree slightly with some of the specific points that you mentioned. I don't think that James defers to Wade per se nor do I think that Wade is Miami's leader; the core issue is that neither player is particularly effective without the ball, so unless the Heat can score in transition the best case scenario when they play an elite team is that one of those two guys gets hot (the worst case scenario is that neither guy gets hot and that Bosh is ignored).

The puzzling thing about James is that he has shown that he is capable of producing in clutch situations: to cite just a few examples, consider his performances against Detroit in 2007, the big plays that he made during Cleveland's run to the 2009 ECF and his play versus Boston and Chicago in this year's playoffs. Karl Malone was a great regular season player who consistently performed well below par in the postseason but that is not the case with James; James has generally been a very good playoff performer but he unquestionably quit versus Boston in 2010 and versus Dallas in 2011. The big mystery is why he did that. I offered my theory in an earlier comment in this thread.

James' skill set is incomplete for the reasons you mentioned but his athletic ability, his prowess as a a scorer in the paint and his passing skills still make his overall skill set formidable--it is a stretch to say that his skill set "is not great." James has essentially been the most productive regular season player in the NBA for the past three years and it would not be possible to do that with a subpar skill set.

I agree completely with your final point. As a scout said to me earlier this season, Kobe is interested in winning championships while LeBron is interested in building his brand.

 
At Sunday, June 19, 2011 9:28:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

I think when people in general talk about james's skill set, it's more or less in reference to other all-time greats. Compared to guys like kobe, jordan, and other greats at wing positions, james' skill set is rather weak. If the opposing team takes away his driving ability, which most teams can do, he is greatly limited.

It does seem that when his all-world athleticism starts to leave him, he will have a sharper decline than most players, but there's time still for him.

I think the pressure got to him a lot more these past years, especially since he's had the deepest team and best reg. season team and then the most talented team, but yet failure each time. His desire to win just for the sake of winning isn't where it should be, if he is going to actually win.

 
At Sunday, June 19, 2011 10:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

I agree with you that if James does not broaden his skill set to include some non-athletic skills then he could face a steep decline once he hits 30 or so--and the same thing applies to Wade as well. The worst case scenario for James and Wade is that their careers follow the trajectory of George McGinnis, who was ABA co-MVP in 1975, an NBA All-Star as late as 1979 and a washed-up bench warmer in 1982.

 
At Thursday, June 23, 2011 6:07:00 PM, Blogger hokwei said...

Sometimes when I think of Lebron I'm kind of reminded of Derrick Coleman. Not in terms of style of play, but rather in terms of wasted talent. I always felt that Coleman had the talent to be one of the best big men ever. He had a vast array of skills and talent, but he wasted them. James strikes me as similarly wasting his talent. How does someone who stands 6-9 270 not have any semblance of a post game? How does someone who shoots as many free throws and threes not become a true threat in those areas? I think my biggest issue with James is a sense of disappointment that he simply doesn't maximize his talents. That and the fact that the next time he takes any credit for his team's loss will be the first.

 
At Saturday, June 25, 2011 3:07:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

hokwei:

It's funny that you mention those things about Lebron James, because I feel Kevin Durant is facing similar issues, at least as a basketball player. How is it that a guy who is 6-9, has a wingspan of 7-5 and was a superb inside scorer and rebounder in college has no post game and rebounds at a worse rate than Antoine Walker? Why does he insist on shooting wild threes and contested 20-foot jumpers when he could shoot higher-percentage shots or pass it to a teammate?

I think part of the reason Durant doesn't get the same amount of flak is because he isn't as talented as Lebron and thus is subject to lower expectations. However, some lessons Lebron can learn from Durant is to accept responsibility for his actions, speak out only when necessary, and refuse to crown himself as the "King" before he's won a single championship.

 

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