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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Advice for the Cleveland Cavaliers

At the halfway point of the 2015-16 NBA regular season, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the class of the Eastern Conference but they are far from being a championship team. After the Cavaliers lost to the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 NBA Finals, we heard a lot of noise--at least some of which came from the Cavaliers themselves--about how much different the result would have been if Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love had been available. It is fair to assume that the Warriors took notice of those comments. On Christmas Day, during the first of two meetings between the teams this season, the Warriors proved that they could beat the Cavaliers playing a grind it out style game, prevailing 89-83 at home. Irving and Love started for the Cavaliers and combined for 23 points on 9-31 field goal shooting.

In the much anticipated Martin Luther King Day rematch in Cleveland, the Warriors raced to an early 12-2 lead and never looked back, hitting the Cavaliers with their worst home loss in a game during which LeBron James played, 132-98. James--as he has done a puzzling number of times in big games during an otherwise stellar career--was oddly passive and disinterested, posting a quiet stat line of 16 points, five rebounds and five assists in what was supposed to be a statement game. Irving and Love scored 11 points on 4-16 field goal shooting.

Meanwhile, reigning regular season MVP Stephen Curry blistered the nets with 35 points on 12-18 field goal shooting--including 7-12 from three point range--in just 28 minutes before sitting out the entire fourth quarter. Curry could have scored 50 points easily if necessary, which is just one of many reasons that statistics have to be placed in context when they are used to compare players. Andre Iguodala, who earned the 2015 Finals MVP in part because of his role in limiting James' efficiency during the championship series, scored 20 points off of the bench, Draymond Green flirted with a triple double (16 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds) and Klay Thompson added 15 points.

Too much should not be read into one regular season game. I well remember that the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls--one of my favorite teams of all-time and one of the greatest teams of all-time--lost 104-72 to the New York Knicks. Two months later, the Bulls smashed the Knicks 4-1 in the playoffs en route to winning the championship.

However, this particular Cleveland loss highlighted some things about the Cavaliers that should not be blithely dismissed. Any team or person can have a bad day but not all bad days are created the same; some bad days reveal some problems/issues that may be glossed over until adversity strikes.

Cleveland Coach David Blatt and his star player LeBron James did not ask for my advice but I will provide it anyway:

1) Committing flagrant fouls and knocking over opposing players does not prove that you are tough; it shows that you lack discipline

You show toughness by playing hard, playing smart and playing through pain. Focus on the game plan and put the team's success above your own individual glory/agenda. Those are the traits of championship teams. Look at the difference between the New England Patriots and the Cincinnati Bengals. It can be summed up simply: "Dumb gets you beat every time." The Bengals blew a playoff game against their archrival the Pittsburgh Steelers because some of the Bengals players got so caught up in fake toughness and personal agendas that they lost sight of the main goal: win the game.

What does this have to do with the Cavaliers? When the game with the Warriors was up for grabs, the Cavaliers did not play hard or smart and they lacked focus to such an extent that they committed a five second violation, which is rarely seen in the NBA. Then, when the game was out of reach, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert started committing hard fouls. Smith got ejected after making no effort to get around a screen. Even James got in on the act, throwing Curry to the court in the first half. Those kinds of plays do not win games and do no prove that you are tough; they just prove that the other team has gotten into your head to the point that you are so frustrated you can no longer focus on the game plan.

2) Kevin Love seems uninterested in playing good defense; Kyrie Irving may not be able to consistently play good defense

One time when former Georgetown Coach John Thompson was commenting on an NBA game he made the very cogent point that Dirk Nowitzki was athletic enough to accomplish all kinds of things on the offensive end of the court and thus he was athletic enough to at least play competent defense. That was early in Nowitzki's career and Nowitzki eventually became a solid defender as he led Dallas to the 2011 NBA title. Nowitzki never became a great defender but he learned how to move his feet better and at least use his size to bother opposing shooters.

Love has the skill set to be an outstanding offensive player, so he has the necessary tools to be at least an adequate defender but far too often he looks disinterested at that end of the court.

Irving has improved on defense and at times he uses his quickness/athleticism to make some good individual defensive plays--but he lacks size and does not seem to have a strong base; the Warriors repeatedly went into the post with whichever player Irving was guarding. Irving's defensive effort is better than it used to be but he is not likely to grow, so unless he develops a better base and learns how to prevent taller players from getting good post position he will always be a defensive liability to some extent.

Therefore, it is up to the coaching staff to figure out how to either motivate Love and Irving to contribute more on defense or else put those players into defensive schemes/matchups that minimize their deficiencies.

3) The Cavaliers do not maximize the talents of their players who are not named LeBron James

It is often said that James makes the players around him better. It is certainly true that James makes his team better; James is a productive scorer, rebounder, playmaker and defender. However, it seems like the players around James have to give up parts of their games to fit in with him. Chris Bosh was a 20-10 guy before playing with LeBron James but when he played with James he was often relegated to being a three point shooter. Similarly, Kevin Love's game has regressed since he joined the Cavaliers to play alongside James. Despite all of the talk about how selfish Kobe Bryant supposedly is, consider how many players had the best seasons of their careers playing alongside him, ranging from the sublime (Shaquille O'Neal and Pau Gasol) to the ridiculous (Kwame Brown and Smush Parker).

How many players have had career-best years playing alongside LeBron James? The number is rather small and I am not sure why this is the case. There are undoubtedly many factors involved and I do not mean to suggest that this is all James' fault or even mostly James' fault--but James is clearly a prodigious individual talent and it does not seem like he is going to win championships at the level that Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan did. Many players had the best seasons of their careers playing alongside those guys. Jordan and Bryant had to fight the "selfish" tag, while Johnson and Duncan are lauded for their unselfishness; there is more than one way to get the job done but each of those players got the best out of their teammates while also playing at a high level individually. James almost seems like a modern-day Wilt Chamberlain; James is the best athlete in the NBA (or he was during his absolute prime) and he is going to own a boatload of records when he retires but his tally of two titles (the same number that Chamberlain won) is surprising considering that he was the consensus best player in the league for several years in a row and that he was blessed with very good supporting casts during those seasons.

4) The Cavaliers cannot beat the Warriors playing small ball

Even without Irving and Love, the Cavaliers took a 2-1 lead over the Warriors in the 2015 NBA Finals. Then, the Warriors decided to go small--inserting Iguodala in the starting lineup--and Blatt panicked, going small by slashing the minutes of center Timofey Mozgov. The Warriors went small because they were trailing in the series and could not match up with Cleveland's big lineup. The Cavaliers should have stuck with what worked in the first three games of the series; the Cavaliers may have lost no matter what they did but they had zero chance of winning by playing small ball against a team who has more good small players ("small" being a relative term, as we are talking about players who range from 6-3 to 6-8) than the Cavaliers do.

I guarantee you that if a fantasy matchup could somehow be arranged between the current Warriors and the 1980s Showtime Lakers there is no way that Lakers Coach Pat Riley would bench Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to play small ball. Obviously, Mozgov is no Abdul-Jabbar but the point is that basketball is about matchups and when you have a big guy who can score in the paint you force the other team to guard him, especially when the other team prefers to play small.

Since the Warriors are being compared to the 1995-96 Bulls, I will take this opportunity to throw in my two cents: the 1996 Bulls would beat the Warriors in a seven game series because Jordan and Pippen would be the best players on the court at both ends of the court. The Bulls would not shut down Curry but they would not let him score an efficient 30 points, either. I think that Chicago Coach Phil Jackson would keep Luc Longley in the game to be a post up threat but the Bulls could play small against the Warriors for at least part of the game: a small ball lineup of Jordan, Harper, Pippen, Rodman and Kukoc is a far cry from the small ball lineup the Cavaliers trotted out in the NBA Finals.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:48 AM

77 comments

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77 Comments:

At Tuesday, January 19, 2016 7:00:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David.
Thank you for another great analysis.

It seems to me that Mosgov is falling out to the Cleveland rotation all together at this point, so Blatt seems committed to a smaller lineup for most of the game. Cleveland is a good team that can be great at any given moment due to Lebrons talent, but I do not believe that Love was the answer for their question and Kyrie, though great, has been fragile his whole career.

I don't see them as having the opportunity to win it all as they had last year, indecisive coaching cost them a title.

In my opinion they should have kept Wiggens, but then Lebron would have been forced to play more Power Forward, which was actually the position he played alot when he won with Miami.

I always look forward to reading your commentary, it is definitely a big notch above what we get on mainstream sports media sites. Keep up the good work.

z

 
At Tuesday, January 19, 2016 1:06:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

David: The Wilt Chamberlain-Lebron James comparison is actually something I've thought about a lot and considered mentioning here in one of your posts on James. As you said, James has a trait of being too passive or a space cadet during big games that Chamberlain was also accused of having. They're also both the best athletes and regular season performers of their era, but have a history of underperforming in the playoffs. Both of them also specifically underperformed specifically in the playoffs with star-studded "super teams" that should have accomplished far more than they actually did (1969/1970 Lakers, 2011/2014 Heat). I think Chamberlain was a more skilled and accomplished player and has more of an excuse for not winning more titles than he did considering he was going up against Russell's Celtics and very talented Knicks teams but I think interesting parallels are there.

I thought James should have won the MVP last year and this year he is putting up numbers that are not far off from his previous MVP year numbers but Curry is obviously MVP caliber this year. I didn't quite think Curry was 100% MVP quality last year but he has done an excellent job of shutting me up thus far.

 
At Tuesday, January 19, 2016 9:12:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

I usually agree with you about Lebron, but I wonder if you aren't too high on the caliber of his early Cleveland teams. While they had many gifted role players- including a few borderline All-Stars at various points- he never, except for four years in Miami, played with another top 20 guy (depending on your feelings about Kevin Love this may or may not be accurate this year and last; I think his defense inadequacy keeps him out of the top 20), but everyone with those monster title counts- Jordan/Kobe/Magic/Kareem- generally had at least one other All-NBA level guy with them for those runs. When Lebron had that, he made four consecutive Finals and won two of them; if he still had a Pippen/Pau/Magic to hang out with, or if he'd had one in Cleveland, he'd likely have more rings.

I think the more apt comparisons may be guys like Doc, Oscar, or Barry, who were enough to singlehandedly turn their teams into title contenders, but often lost to teams with more A-list stars.

There is perhaps a third category for guys like Duncan or Hakeem who rarely if ever had another top 20 level star, but generally had 3-4 top 50 level guys, but that's beside the point I'm trying to make.

I also think there's no way for Cleveland's current roster to meaningfully contend. They can't play championship level offense without Love and Irving on the floor, and they can't pay championship level defense with them. Barring a major leap from either, while I agree the coaching could be better, I don't think there are any coaching adjustments that can elevate this roster to the level of GS/SA.

I'm not even really convinced they can beat the healthy versions of Chicago, Miami, or Atlanta in a 7 game series.

 
At Tuesday, January 19, 2016 9:36:00 PM, Anonymous Bill Smith said...

Hi David
Great analysis as always. It seems to me that there is a need for stronger leadership at Cleveland and most of this responsibility must be shouldered by Blatt and Lebron.

1. This is bush league basketball - a strong willed coach would not allow this to happen. They need to re-focus this frustration into playing harder in the game. They could have fought back and made it a competitive game, or at least not embarrassed themselves. They didn't.

2. Agree that Lebron/Blatt and the coaching staff need to motivate Love, but also think that motivation has to and should come with within. I'm personally don't think it is the best tactic, but I suspect that when Lebron is passive in a game like yesterday's, he's sending a message to the rest of the team that he needs them to step up and contribute. If Love/Kyrie were able to have a big game yesterday that would have done wonders for their confidence. The fact is that Love is missing open shots and not being aggressive. His defense has never been great, but he's not even trying. Defense is largely about effort - as you have stated, Dirk became a serviceable defender.

3. I partly disagree with the reasoning behind your measurement of Lebron's success in making his teammates better. The ultimate benchmark for success is team success and I would say that Lebron does maximise the production of his teammates in the 07 and 2009/10 Cavs in terms of wins. You could say the same of the Miami and Cavs 15 teams. I don't think it's an accident that the teams he plays on are instant contenders. He has been the best player on his team for nearly his entire career so it is natural that statistics wise, his teammates may not produce the numbers that they would on other teams - Bosh naturally saw a reduction in his 20/10 stats. However, he did win 2 championships and had a very good chance of winning 2 more. It's a side effect of Lebron being unquestionably the best player on his team - he has always been that and still is. It will be interesting to see if that changes in his later years.

4. I agree that last Finals the Cavs should have stayed the course and kept Mozgov in and that it probably cost them a championship. However I thought the Cavs did a decent job on the Warriors on Christmas Day - their strategy put them well within striking distance. They missed a ton of open shots (~30%FG from memory) and if a few more them went down I'd say a lot of the pundits would be looking at the Cavs differently.

 
At Tuesday, January 19, 2016 11:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pau grouped with Pippen and Magic? That's interesting. 1x AS and 0-12 in playoffs in 7 seasons in MEM. James had many quality guys around in his first stint in CLE, including all-nba defender Varejao coming off the bench. He had the deepest team in the league for several years. CLE was the best team in the league for 2 straight years, and hands on favorite to win it all in 09 and 10. The best team they faced in the East during those 2 years was the Howard-led Magic. I mean come on, CLE shouldn't have had that hard of a time making 2 finals, let alone 1. The 09 team won 66 games. Only 3 teams in nba history have failed to win the title when winning this many games.

And nobody has ever single-handedly won on their own. Everyone needs at least some help. And Oscar's teams did almost nothing in the playoffs until Kareem joined him. Love was an all-nba player before joining James. Irving is a big-time PG as well. James has more than enough help. His team is very talented and very deep. Curry might have more help currently, but Curry has also been better than James in each of the past 2 regular seasons and last year's playoffs.

The East is better overall this year from top to bottom, but no other contenders have emerged yet. In fact, ATL is worse, and they were the only even fringe contender in the East last year. James has had the luxury playing in the much weaker East for his entire career. This is something very important to remember. He would've had a very hard time even making 1-2 finals total if his teams were in the West. James' teams have underperformed many times in the playoffs, and that's primarily because of James' subpar performances, not his teammates.

 
At Wednesday, January 20, 2016 3:10:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Obviously Pippen/Magic are much better than Pau, but the context of my comment was All-NBA level guys. Lebrun's early Cleveland teams did not have anyone at Pau's level, let alone anywhere near Magic's or Pippen's.

 
At Wednesday, January 20, 2016 10:23:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

James' first stint in Cleveland, he had some average/above average players around him and he made those guys teams seem better than they really were. How many other superstars could have lead those cavs teams to 66 wins and 61 wins going deep into the playoffs.

And James didn't underperform all of the times in the playoffs in Cleveland in his first stint.
In the 2007 finals, yes, he did not perform well.
Look at how he performed in 2008. 2009 James had one of the greatest seasons and playoffs ever for a player that came up short.

People act as if James made Wade and Bosh worse players. People already knew those guys would put up inferior numbers.
Yeah bosh was a 20ppg plus scorer in Toronto but he only led his team to the playoffs twice I believe.

Kevin Love put up great numbers in Minnesota, but his teams never made the playoffs.

I don't understand how people think he ruins players.

Gasol only being a one time all star prior to teaming with Kobe is not an indicator of how good he was or wasn't. Most agree he was best suited as a second option on a contender.

 
At Wednesday, January 20, 2016 2:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

Thank you.

I think that injuries are a factor in Mozgov's reduced role overall but I also think that Blatt overreacts to Golden State's small lineup as opposed to focusing on his team's strengths.

James played power forward for Miami and went inside because he respected Spoelstra (and Riley). There is little evidence that James respects Blatt and little evidence that Blatt is doing anything to win his respect. When Doug Collins coached the Bulls and Phil Jackson was one of the assistants, Jackson made some comment in a coaches' meeting about Jordan needing to be more unselfish. Collins felt uncomfortable challenging Jordan directly but Jackson had no such qualms--and soon Jackson was the head coach.

Great players respect coaches who challenge them, if those coaches have credibility. I am not sure that James considers Blatt to be credible nor am I sure that Blatt is comfortable challenging James.

 
At Wednesday, January 20, 2016 2:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Keith:

I agree that Chamberlain had more legitimate reasons for "only" winning two titles than James has. Also, it is worth noting that Chamberlain's "super team" featured three past their prime stars, while James' Miami super team featured three stars in their primes.

I thought that James should have won the MVP last year but that Curry was a valid choice based on the best player on the best team theory. Curry is without question the MVP this season.

 
At Wednesday, January 20, 2016 3:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I agree with Anonymous that there is no way that Gasol should be grouped with Pippen and Magic.

James' early Cleveland teams did not have name brand stars but they were legitimately 10+ players deep and they won 60-plus games multiple times despite resting players after clinching the best record. Danny Green and Shannon Brown, who later became rotation players for championship teams, could not even get on the court for those Cleveland teams--and don't buy the nonsense that those guys got vastly better later on or that the Cavs were too dumb to use them. I stood courtside with Cleveland GM Danny Ferry during that era and watched the Cavs' inactive players work out during that era and we talked about how good those guys were even though they were not getting any playing time. The Cavs had a big, deep frontcourt and a solid guard rotation as well.

In Miami, James had two future Hall of Famers plus a nice cast of role players. James finally won two championships in Miami but he also was outplayed in two Finals by lesser players like Kawhi Leonard (who is emerging as a star now but was not one then) and Jason Terry.

You may be right that Golden State would beat Cleveland no matter what Blatt does but that does not absolve Blatt from the responsibility of maximizing his team's chances to win. You often attribute the Lakers' success to Jackson more than Bryant. Do you think that last year's Cavs would have lost in the Finals with Jackson on the bench instead of Blatt?

Chicago, Miami and Atlanta may be able to push the Cavs but I cannot see any of them beating Cleveland in a seven game series unless James quits or Blatt calls a timeout at the end of close game when his team is out of timeouts.

 
At Wednesday, January 20, 2016 3:08:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

Just realized I forgot to throw in my two-cents for 2015 Warriors vs. 96 Bulls.

I think it depends on ruleset; the '96 Bulls were not built for the current era, and would struggle to score against modern defenses due to their paucity of viable three point shooting and the modern ruleset enabling teams to really load up in the paint. I also think the Warriors would take more advantage of Rodman's shoddy free throw shooting than 90s teams did, as the "hack a whoever" strategy was still in its infancy. For that matter, in today's somewhat wussier NBA, I'm not sure that Rodman's play style would be viable; he may find himself in nigh-constant foul trouble.

That said, playing in '96, the Bulls would destroy the Warriors for similar reasons. The old-school hand check rules would dramatically limit Curry's penetration, and enable Chicago to play him tighter on the perimeter, and the old illegal D rules would similarly benefit Chicago and limit GS' off-ball freelancing.

Other factors:

*I'd take the Warriors bench over the Bulls bench in either era.

*Nobody can guard Jordan, but the Warriors could at least throw a few different looks at him with Thompson, Iguoudala, and maybe Draymond.

*It would be interesting to see who Pippen and Jordan guarded, and when. I believe both are capable of shutting down most Warriors, but the Warriors simply have so many weapons.

*I don't think Longley was a sufficiently dangerous offensive presence to matter much; Draymond can and does guard guys like that just fine. He would have value as a rebounder, though.

 
At Wednesday, January 20, 2016 3:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bill:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It seems like we mostly agree.

Regarding James making his teams better, I agree but it is odd that he does so at the expense of his teammates' stats more than his own. Julius Erving took fewer shots to welcome Moses Malone into the fold. Isiah Thomas took fewer shots when the Pistons surrounded him with better talent. James is pretty much going to score 25-30 and dominate the ball no matter what. Maybe that is ultimately a good thing but the benefits are at least worth questioning considering that he has been the best player in the league for many years, he has had great supporting casts and he only has two championship rings.

 
At Wednesday, January 20, 2016 3:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

AW:

I don't think that James "ruins" players but I think that James is very focused on making sure that he posts certain individual numbers. Sacrificing shots is for the other guys, not him.

James had some strange playoff games during his first run in Cleveland. He clearly quit during the 2010 Boston series and he had some other games in which his numbers looked good but he really did not impact the outcome of the game in a meaningful way. Pippen had a playoff game versus Indiana in which he scored four points and was the most dominant player on the court; James has had games in which he posted triple doubles that looked good on paper but really were not that effective. This concept is hard to explain and may sound absurd to "stat gurus" who are convinced that Harden is an MVP caliber player and that Anthony Davis had an all-time great season last year but there is more to basketball than just accumulating individual numbers.

 
At Wednesday, January 20, 2016 3:20:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

Again, I was grouping Pau with Pippen/Magic under the category of "All NBA" players, that's all. I've already clarified that.

I don't disagree that James' Cleveland teams were extremely deep, I just contend that they did not have the kind of deadly #2 option that Jordan/Kobe/Kareem's teams all had. Depth matters, but most years stars matter more. Look at basically all of Kobe's Finals teams; very few of them were more than four or five deep, but with a top two of either Shaq/Kobe or Kobe/Pau, that mattered a lot less.

I do not disagree with any of your comments about Miami, but in a four year span Lebron made four Finals and won two titles. It's difficult to ask for more than that. Only Russell, Shaq, and Jordan have won three titles in four years as their team's best player; it's tough to go that deep year after year after year.

I do believe the Cavs were going to lose in the Finals last year no matter what. Once Golden State figured out how small they could go against them, the roster simply wasn't equipped to compete. A case could maybe be made that a better coach could have ended the series before then (or at least gotten out to a 3-0 lead), but I think it's a tall order to ask a team whose second best player is Tristan Thompson or whoever to beat the virtual All-Star team that was the Warriors. There is perhaps an argument to be made that over the course of a season Jackson would have gotten Love/Irving to play defense, but given that both were injured in the Finals I'm not sure that matters in this hypothetical.

I don't expect Chicago, Miami, or Atlanta to be healthy in the playoffs, so it may be a moot point, but I think all three are more complete two-way teams, and all three have better coaching (though Miami's offense remains a head-scratcher). Miami may trade Whiteside in the next few weeks which may remove them from that category (or not; the advanced metrics don't seem to think he actually matters that much to them; I remain skeptical).

I just don't think Cleveland can field a viable two-way team in a playoff situation. They're a regular season force, but they lack the lineup options that great teams have.

Also, you can never rule out Lebron taking games off or Blatt making a dumb call.

 
At Wednesday, January 20, 2016 3:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even in a weaker conf., one player isn't going to accidentally win 66 and 61 wins in consecutive seasons by himself. CLE lost to ORL in 09. Who was Howard's best teammate? 2x AS PED abuser Rashard Lewis? And ORL had to go with Rafer Alston as their starting PG because Jameer Nelson was out for the season. James certainly had enough help to win this series.

And then in 10, he loses to 50-win BOS by basically quitting during the series, while getting outplayed by Rondo. Enough with the excuses. James has had plenty of help for almost his entire career. Sure, Pau was better than any of James' teammates in 09/10, but not by much, and this is too easy of a copout. And Pau has never been close to being an elite player. But, this is kind of moot, since James couldn't even make the finals out of the East those 2 years, and didn't play against LAL. Despite him winning the 09/10 MVPs, Kobe clearly proved he was the best player those 2 years. And more times than not, when the best player has even a slim chance, he gets it done or comes very very close. This is the case with Kobe, but not James.

Nobody said he didn't underperform or underachieve every year, but it's happened a bunch of times already. He did great to get to finals in 07, but let's put it in perspective. His 50-win team beat a 53-win DET team to make the finals, and he was clearly the best player in the series. Yes, kudos to him, but not very farfetched to assume. DET was never the same after 05 either. And then he stunk it up in the 07 finals, being just the 3rd best player in the series. You can't blame your teammates for that.

And did he really do so great in 08? CLE underperforms and only wins 45 games. They beat a 43-win WAS Jamison-led team in 6 games with a hobbled Arenas. He then helps CLE take BOS to 7 games, which is great from a team perspective. Yes, that was a defensive struggle series. But, he didn't play particularly well overall, only shooting .355. And Ray Allen was playing like a 12th man and was basically worthless in the series. Allen found his game in the finals that year; otherwise, BOS probably doesn't win the title.

If James plays even like his average self in the playoffs from 07-10, he could've extended the 07 finals to at least 6-7 games, made at least the ECF in 08, and made at least the finals in 09/10. Most people forget all of this stuff, and give him a pass for all of it. It's just not the case.

 
At Wednesday, January 20, 2016 3:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bosh, Wade, and Love were all all-nba players before joining with James. Pau wasn't before joining with Kobe. And it's not just these players. Almost everyone played their best basketball with Kobe, but so many didn't with James. Not saying he ruined them, but everyone thinks James is an unselfish while Kobe is selfish, and this just isn't true. In fact, it's the opposite if anything.

David was too quick to name Love an elite player. Love was/is good, but never elite. Yes, important to remember he never made the playoffs in MIN, but he didn't really have much to work with, and it was in the West, not East, big difference. James' best teammates have to sacrifice much of their own games when playing with him. Kobe's best teammates not only don't have to do this, but they actually thrive moreso while playing with him

Really about Pau? So, being a 1x AS in 7 years while going 0-12 in the playoffs indicates he's a top 5 or 10 player according to you? And even if he was a fringe top 10 player with Kobe, he's still a very weak #2 historically. Pau may have had a slight edge over James' #2 during his first stint in CLE, but James had a huge edge in #3-#10. And we all know about Shannon Brown by now. He could barely find the court in CLE in 08 or anywhere else before 09, and then he comes to LAL and is #6-#7 man, and is actually needed to contribute. After playing 3 seasons in LAL from 09-11, he played a total of 152 games over the next 4 seasons in the nba, primarily as a bench player still for non-playoff team PHO. He's still only 30, and is currently out of the league.

 
At Wednesday, January 20, 2016 8:00:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Clarifying again, because apparently it's still coming across wrong. The three main things I was trying to get across about Pau:

1) During his LA years he was an All-NBA level player
2) During his LA years he was a top 20 player
3) Lebron's early Cleveland teams did not have All-NBA to top 20 level guys on them, but almost every title team ever had at least two guys that could be described that way. Many had 3.

I in no way meant to imply that he was as good as Pippen or Magic; I listed him alongside them only because, like them, he was the second best player on title teams captained by a guy who won a whole bunch of titles. Not sure how much clearer about this I can be.

 
At Wednesday, January 20, 2016 10:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right about #2, maybe #3, and kind of about #1, but so what? Any # of players could've been Kobe's #2, and they would've won. Kobe's casts were outplayed by opposing teams' casts in the playoffs so often, even during their 3 straight finals, I've lost count. And Pau was only an all-nba player 3x out of 7 years with LAL. And that's primarily because he joined Kobe and a good team. He wasn't even an AS the previous 2 seasons before LAL. James still had plenty of help in 09/10. Yes, he played great offensively in 09 series vs. ORL. But, defensively? Did he do everything possible to win? Did Howard outplay him? Sure looked like it, or pretty close.

You really think that if Kobe was on that 09 CLE team that he would've lost to ORL? Mo Williams was an AS in 09 and Varejao made an all-nba defensive team one year. It's unfortunate James' backers still think he had no help these years. Did Howard have more help in 09? If you somehow believe this, it's barely at best. His best teammate was fringe AS Lewis, and he was playing without Nelson in the playoffs. Before Pau arrived in 08 after Bynum finally got his act together and started playing like a competent C before he got injured(but still not an AS level), LAL was playing like a contender. Kobe didn't need anywhere near as much help as James has throughout their careers. You can make the #2 guy argument if CLE had played LAL maybe since Pau was better than Williams though James' cast was still better than Kobe's, but not against ORL in 09. And same goes for 2010.

Sure, Rondo/Pierce/KG made the AS team in 2010, but were any of them top 20 players? Probably not, and none of them made any all-nba teams. That BOS team wasn't a great team by any stretch, but they played hard. And when a team plays hard, no matter if it's against a much superior team, they will have a chance, especially if that other team(2010 CLE) is soft and doesn't give full effort(James). This is primarily why the 2010 Finals was close. Kobe's cast, particularly Pau, were very soft at times. Rondo outplayed James in their playoff series. If James plays hard, even very poorly by his standards, CLE wins that series. They most likely make the finals, and could've very well won the title. If James plays his butt off in the playoffs every game and does everything possible to win, then it's a different story, but that's not what happened.

 
At Friday, January 22, 2016 12:56:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree with your analysis of James' supporting casts, particularly this part:

"James has had plenty of help for almost his entire career. Sure, Pau was better than any of James' teammates in 09/10, but not by much, and this is too easy of a copout. And Pau has never been close to being an elite player. But, this is kind of moot, since James couldn't even make the finals out of the East those 2 years, and didn't play against LAL. Despite him winning the 09/10 MVPs, Kobe clearly proved he was the best player those 2 years. And more times than not, when the best player has even a slim chance, he gets it done or comes very very close. This is the case with Kobe, but not James."

I also agree with this:

"Bosh, Wade, and Love were all all-nba players before joining with James. Pau wasn't before joining with Kobe. And it's not just these players. Almost everyone played their best basketball with Kobe, but so many didn't with James. Not saying he ruined them, but everyone thinks James is an unselfish while Kobe is selfish, and this just isn't true. In fact, it's the opposite if anything."

Regarding Love, I predicted that he would be a much better NBA player than the overhyped O.J. Mayo and I was clearly right about that. In 2011 I picked Love as the Most Improved Player and placed him on my All-NBA Third Team. I ranked him fifth in the 2012 MVP race after a season in which he averaged 26 ppg and 13 rpg while lifting Minnesota from a league-worst 17-65 record to a 26-40 mark in the abbreviated 2011-12 campaign. I put him on my 2012 All-NBA Second Team because I selected the team strictly by position and he was the third best forward behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The Cavs are not utilizing Love correctly but even at his best in the best possible system I never thought or said that he was an elite player like LeBron, Kobe (at that time) or Durant. I put five guys on my (unofficial) MVP ballot because that is how the ballot is structured but I never suggested that the fifth guy was in the same class as 1,2 and 3. In fact, I often make the point that in my estimation there are usually fewer "elite" players in the league than most people say. For instance, right now I would say that there are four (Curry, James, Durant, Westbrook), which is about as many as there can be at any given time. Love was never in that group but in 2011-12 he was very productive. In my 2014-15 season preview I said that Love could be a top 10 player if he was healthy and motivated but that his defense is questionable. In my 2015-16 season preview I made no reference to Love being a top 10 player, let alone an elite player.

Bottom line: I don't recall ever touting Love as an "elite" player, so I am not sure what basis you have for criticizing me for allegedly doing so. Love is valuable as a scorer-rebounder-passer but he is a poor defensive player and I can't see him being the best player on a championship team so he does not fit any definition of "elite" that I employ; the few players who I tout as "elite" are typically very good at both ends of the court or transcendent at one end while being at least adequate at the other end.

 
At Friday, January 22, 2016 1:18:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

The Bulls-Warriors comparison is fun. The Bulls ranked first in scoring and third in 3FG%, so I think that you are vastly underestimating their capabilities on offense.

The Bulls could use their regular starting lineup and punish Golden State inside with Jordan, Pippen or Longley posting up (depending on how GS matched up) but the Bulls could also go small with Rodman-Kukoc-Pippen-Jordan-Harper; that small lineup could switch every pick and featured four outstanding defenders plus one long-armed, smart player who could get steals and was more comfortable guarding finesse players than power players. The Bulls would have put Harper on Curry and switched every screen. The Bulls could win with Harper scoring six, four or even zero points, so he could use all of his energy to harass Curry.

When Harper rested, the Bulls could put Pippen on Curry. Pippen's long arms, quickness and ability to play full court pressure defense against point guards is unlike anything Curry has ever faced; Curry would be challenged even under today's rules and he would have been really challenged under the 1996 rules.

Of course, the Bulls could also put Jordan on Curry. Another option would be to have Jordan and Pippen blitz Curry to make him give up the ball and then have the other players rotate to whoever was left open. The Bulls were much more relentless defensively than the teams that the Warriors are picking apart in today's game.

 
At Friday, January 22, 2016 10:47:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Ehhhh.... the Bulls shot well from 3, but on extremely few attempts (by today's standards), and what I was chiefly getting at with that was that playing any of Harper/Rodman/Longley- let alone 2-3 of them- allows GS to cheat on defense and pack the paint, somewhat complicating Jordan/Pippen's options to drive/post. Golden State's D *kills* teams that have even one offensive non-threat; most of Chicago's lineups have at least two.

I disagree that Longley posting up is a viable option against Golden State, unless there is a switch of some kind that leaves him guarded by someone other than Green/Bogut. While there are a few big guys who can punish Green inside, Green does a better-than-decent job on guys like Zach Randolph, Deandre Jordan, Pau Gasol, and others. I don't see Longley lighting him up.

I do think that Chicago could pretty adequately go small against Golden State, I'm just still not sold on their ability to score enough with Rodman and Harper's men cheating off them to take away everything Jordan and Pippen want to do, and I think GS just attacks Kukoc on the other end with that lineup.

Pippen on Curry is a great idea and would no-doubt annoy Curry, but GS would just run them off screens until it forced a switch, or until Bogut grabs Pippen's elbow on the sly while Curry jacks up an open jumper. Chasing Curry around 3-4 screens per possession might also wear Pippen out a bit over the long stretches.

Also worth noting, while Jordan was obviously an all-time great defender, guys like Reggie Miller and Drazen Petrovic- speedy lights-out shooters who ran off a lot of screens- definitely had their nights against him. Thompson's very much in that mold. At a more macro level, Chicago's defense was designed to neutralize the Ewings/Shaqs/Malones/Mournings of the world that dominated the 90s; but GS doesn't work that way. You said above that Curry's never seen anything like Pippen's D (I'd contend that Kawhi Leonard's D is kinda the poor man's version, but that's not the point), well, Chicago never saw anything like GS's offense. GS on the other hand probably understands how the Triangle works, given that their coach played in it.

I feel pretty strongly that GS's bench is much stronger and much deeper than Chicago's. I'll happily take Iguodala/Livingston/Speights/Barbosa/Rush/Ezeli over Kukoc/Kerr/Wennington/Simpkins. Chicago can play their starters more minutes, but I think that leads to a fresher GS in the 4th.

That all said, Chicago probably can count on 60-70 points from Jordan/Pippen's scoring/creation. I just don't know where they're getting the other 25-35 points they need to win (and that's giving their defense enough respect to say they're keeping GS well below their usual).

Also, please remember that I'm only contending that GS would win under the current ruleset. Take away their ability to pack the paint and empower Chicago to play more physical defense and it goes the other way.

 
At Friday, January 22, 2016 11:05:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

On James-

Let's look at the wider point I was making instead of getting bogged down with Pau specifically:

What title team's second-best guy was worse than the second-best guy on Cleveland in 07-10? 2011 Mavs? I'd take Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler both over anyone on those Cleveland teams. '94 Rockets? I'd take Otis Thorpe before I'd take Mo Williams, and I'd be right to do it. '79 Sonics? Jack Sikma was pretty damn good. '77 Blazers? Mo Lucas gave you 20/11 and played his ass of on defense.

The best case might be Duncan's '03 Spurs team, but even there I'd take '03 Stephen Jackson's two-way play over anybody on those Cavs teams, and even the corpse of David Robinson is probably still better than Ilgauskus or way-passed-his-sellby date Shaq.

My point was that we're kinda picking on Lebron for not winning with the type of team that literally no one has won with. It's fair to criticize him for not winning another one in Miami- but on the other hand, almost nobody wins 3 in 4 years. Jordan did it, Russell did it, the stacked Magic/Kareem/Worthy Lakers did it, and the Shaqobe Lakers did it. That's it. As awesome as Spoelstra/Wade/Bosh were, would you really take them over Red and Russell's cast of All-Stars? Would you take them over Phil and Pippen/Rodman/Harper/Kukoc? Over Riley and Kareem/Worthy/Cooper/Scott/Green? Over Phil, Kobe, and *varying LAL 3rd banana goes here*?

And even then, he's now alone with Russell as the two guys who made 5 consecutive Finals as the best player on their team.

I don't think you're wrong to question if Lebron's a little overrated. I think he is. I don't disagree that he gets weirdly passive sometimes. But I don't think attacking his title count is the way to make that case, because nobody's won more than he has with the same kind of support.

PS: Cycling back around the Pau, let's forget the Top 20/All NBA stuff, and allow the ludicrous premise that he was only good because he had Kobe with him. Would you honestly take anyone on those Cleveland teams over even the Memphis version of Pau putting up 20/9 and shooting 54%?

 
At Friday, January 22, 2016 11:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wasn't criticizing about Love predictions. And maybe I remember wrong, but I remember you talking about him being a top 5-7 and probably elite player, but you were still on the fence about him. Maybe less than 5 elite players each year, but 5-7 is about right usually. Sure, the top 1-2 players might be clearly better than the 3-7, but 3-7 still might be deserving of elite status. I just never saw Love being in consideration of being elite. Granted, maybe only Kobe or even James possibly could've elevated MIN to the playoffs, but 26-40 isn't good. If that team has a big-time player on it, then they should be better than that.

The 4 players you mentioned this year look clearly as top 4 so far. Paul might be overrated, but he also deserves mentioning. Griffin has been out for awhile, and Paul has kept LAC an elite team, if not even better. Actually, didn't realize this, just checked. But, LAC is considerably better without Griffin this year. They are 17-13 with him, 10-2 without him.

Westbrook/Durant are great, and even in a stacked West, only 1 Finals appearance so far, that's not very good. Westbrook put up amazing stats last year, but couldn't even make playoffs, and Durant still played 30 or so games. I've often heard MVP candidates, 1st team all-nba players, and players who lead their teams deep into the playoffs are worthy of being considered, and while every player/situation is different, I pretty much agree with that, though you seem to not agree with that stance anymore for certain players. And while the general notion of being the 'best player on a championship team' is reserved for elite players usually, this has often not been the case in recent years. Leonard/Parker in 2014, Dirk in 2011, Pierce in 08, Billups in 04. All good players, but none were playing like top 5 or elite players in the years that they won their titles.

I think Davis was elite last year, but not this year. He's been injured some. I don't think if you replace him with James or Curry or whoever, that NO would make the playoffs though. Curry's doing awesome, and was the MVP last year, and now looks he'll get the reward this year probably. CLE had some injuries in the finals last year, but James also didn't play his best and he still had help though. But, does GS win the title without even just Iggy playing phenomenal defense and more than adequate offense? I don't know, but their chances are much less likely. Curry has a ton of help. Injuries are factors and should be taken into account, especially when someone is injured often, like Rose for example.

 
At Friday, January 22, 2016 11:36:00 AM, Blogger Keith said...

Agree with David. I think people are christening the Warriors a bit too soon. There's still an entire half of a season left and a championship to win before they can be compared to the 96 Bulls. We can't even be sure they'll achieve 70 wins yet.

Overall, the 96 Bulls would be fielding the two best overall players on the court with Jordan and Pippen. They also had excellent shooters in Kerr, Buechler, Randy Brown, Kukoc, and of course Jordan and Pippen and sometimes Harper could hit the open three. The 96 Bulls had the greatest perimeter defense of all time and the only way to best them would be to have an utterly dominant front court which the Warriors don't have.

 
At Friday, January 22, 2016 1:38:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Forgot to comment on this:

"The Bulls were much more relentless defensively than the teams that the Warriors are picking apart in today's game."

Possibly. The average pace in '96 was about 92 possessions (the Bulls played 91) per game, which would be 29th in the league today. It would be more difficult for the Bulls to maintain that level of intensity- particularly given their relatively thin defensive bench- against the Warriors (just a hair under 100 possessions per game) even before factoring in their extremely pass-heavy offense. You can mock current defenses as much as you like, but the Warriors offense is leaving world-class athletes worn out and exhausted by the end of the game as often as not; I don't think most of the Bulls (except Jordan and perhaps Pippen) were athletically meaningfully superior to the average 2016 NBA player.

Also worth noting that the cream-of-the-crop teams of '96 mostly played a much more deliberate style, and one of the only teams that didn't- Seattle- gave the Bulls more trouble than anyone else did (albeit not enough trouble).

It's certainly true that Jordan/Pippen/Harper/Rodman were relentless, but they also weren't being run off screens at nearly the rate they would be against GS.

For what it's worth, if anything, league-wide offenses were a little better and defenses a little worse in '96, which I was surprised to learn. Seems too noisy a stat to read much into, but I thought it was interesting. The Bulls allowed just a hair under 102 points per 100 possessions, which would be the third best defense in the league today. They scored 115.2 per 100, about a point better than the Warriors' 114.3. My argument, to some extent, lives and dies on the assumption that packing the paint against Pippen and Jordan would lower that number.

It's also probably worth clarifying what we're arguing here. In an individual game the Bulls' lesser depth is much less of a factor than across a playoff series. I'd take the Warriors in either scenario, but I'd feel much better about taking them in a series than in a one-off game.

I'm really curious to see how the first Warriors/Spurs matchup goes, as the Spurs are set to be a historically great defense (their current D-RTG is 6 points better than the '96 Bulls and I believe is on pace to be the best defense since the 70s; for reference 6 pts in '96 would have been the difference between the first ranked Bulls and the league average). If even they struggle to slow the Warriors attack I'll be even more confident suggesting that even mighty Chicago would have trouble with it.

 
At Friday, January 22, 2016 4:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, you're missing a lot what I'm saying. The bottomline is that James had the best team in 09/10 and failed to make even one finals. Also, he only had made 1 ECF at that. You're getting bogged down with the #2 guy too much. But even at that, you fail to recognize that 2009 ORL and 2010 BOS both didn't have some great #2 guy either, and James's casts both of those years were plenty good enough to beat both of those teams. Almost all of James' playoffs failures have to do with his subpar performances instead of the perceived lack of help he had.

James is getting too much of a free pass, and I won't give it to him. The teams he's losing to in the playoffs in 09, 10, 11, and 14 weren't great teams and didn't have these great #2 guys. Plus, he's getting outplayed by role players or borderline role players at times(Rondo, Terry, and Leonard, even Iggy). Leonard looks like a true star, but he still hasn't even made one AS team.

Often depends on the year. There were no elite teams in the league when the Sonics won. Duncan's 03 Spurs were still the best team in the league. LAL was undermanned, and outside of Shaq/Kobe, complete garbage, plus Shaq cost them a better seed, and they had to win 3 playoff series on the road in the West just to make the finals. Couple all of that with trying to make 4 consecutive finals, not happening. DAL was good, but SA had plenty enough. Finley was a good player, but not exactly a great #2 guy. 49-win NJ was an easy finals opps. SA should've won and they did. Plus, obviously Duncan was better than Dirk, and that was the main difference.

James had more than enough help to win at least 3 titles in 4 years in MIA. His casts were better than anything Shaq or Kobe ever had. And 2011 is completely on James. He quit during the finals and Terry outplayed him. You can't blame his cast or anything else that year for that? And then he's outplayed by Leonard in the 14 finals. It's one thing if prime Kobe or prime Shaq outplays you, it's entirely another thing if Rondo, Leonard, Terry, and Iggy outplay you. This isn't a coincidence, this is a trend, and I don't believe in coincidences either.

MIA almost certainly wins in 11 if James plays hard. Maybe they don't win in 14 if he plays like he knows how to, but MIA would've been much closer to winning.

Let's see, with James having the best team or top 2 team in the league for 7 consecutive years, he wins 2 titles. Kobe's teams have only achieved a #1 seed 5x. You could probably say they were the best team in league only from 00-02. While Kobe had Shaq and Shaq had Kobe, their overall casts weren't that great. Now, CLE is probably 3rd-4th best team right now, but they're almost guaranteed of making the finals. One injury even to a bench player like Iggy, and CLE is setup to win the finals. But, again, what conference are they playing in? They have another easy route to the finals. Sure, it's not 'easy', but relatively speaking playing in East, it is.

Again, Pau was better than any of James' teammates in 09/10. I already said that, though not that much better and certainly not so great were he's taking over games by any stretch. I think Kobe's casts in 09/10 were setup to mesh well with him and better than James' casts in 09/10 would've. But, I'd say the same for James as well. However, I'd say James' casts were better, and that Kobe wins at least one title if not most likely 2 in 09/10 with James' casts.

 
At Friday, January 22, 2016 6:41:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Anonymous-

I really don't think we care about the same things, and it makes our arguments pretty fruitless. Your posts seem to indicate that you put a much greater emphasis on All-Star appearances, regular season record, and total titles than I do. I find all three of those metrics to be extremely noisy.

I also disagree with a lot of your base premises. Here are some of them:

*I believe that Gasol was miles better- not just in LA- then whoever you'd like to pick from the '10 Cavs. He was very nearly a 20/10 guy while being an above average passer, a high percentage scorer, and while certainly a soft and slowish defender, he at least had long arms and could change shots around the rim.

*I believe that, without Tim Duncan, the '03 Spurs miss the playoffs. Everyone else on that team was at that point below average for their position on offense, and in the case of Parker/Ginobili/Rose, on defense as well. Yes, they were the best team in the league... because that particular season, Duncan was by orders of magnitude the best player in the league (+Pop).

*I do not agree that Kobe would have won with those Cleveland supporting casts. I also don't think that Jordan or Erving would. I'm not sure that I think anyone could, though perhaps a dominant two-way player who was also an elite rim protector could have had a puncher's chance (basically the peak-season versions of Duncan, Olajuwon, Wilt, Shaq, Kareem, or Walton). Even then, I'd bet heavily against it.

*Relating to the above, I think quality of #2 option, and to a lesser extent #3, is much more important than overall depth. The Shaq/Kobe Lakers teams are a pretty good commercial for this. The Cavs had a whole bunch of guys I love if they're my fourth or fifth best player, but nobody I like as my third.

*I think winning consecutive titles is more difficult than you seem to, and I think Lebron deserves quite a bit of credit for making Finals in five consecutive years.

*I do not necessarily disagree that he underperformed in '11; I merely think that by any reasonable metric his Miami tenure has to be considered a success. It is true that if he had played much better, they probably would have won. However, if *any player who has ever lost in the Finals goes here* had played much better, they would have won, too.

*I'm not sure what was going on in Boston, and I agree that his performance in that elimination game was abominable. I am not, however, convinced that he could have eliminated the Celtics (or eventually the Lakers) even with complete effort.

1/2

 
At Friday, January 22, 2016 6:42:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

2/2

*I think you're dramatically underrating that Celtics team, who had four All-Stars and were arguably an injury away from winning the title that year.

*I also think you're underrating that Orlando team. Similar to Cleveland, it didn't have anybody I love as a #2 guy, but it was deep and sported the apex versions of Lewis and Turkoglu (both of whom I'd be comfortable with as a #3 guy). Moreover, it featured peak- scratch that, PEAK!!!- Dwight Howard, and was extremely, extremely well-coached. I'm not sure that Lebron was meaningfully better than Howard in that specific season, and his supporting cast and coach was/were certainly less impressive than Orlando's.

*I do not disagree that Lebron is overrated. I do disagree with the arguments here being made about why.

*I disagree with basically everything you seem to believe about the '14 Spurs. I also think that the loss of that series had a lot less to do with Lebron's performance than the awful performance of basically all his teammates; incidentally, that series is probably the best counter-argument to the "Lebron makes his teammates better" case.

*I disagree that Terry "outplayed" James. I also disagree with calling the versions of Terry/Rondo who appeared in those series "role players." Regardless of what the rest of their careers look like, in those series those guys played like superstars. The inability of the Cavs to defend the guard positions (sometimes desperately resorting to throwing Lebron on much smaller/faster guards) is part of why they couldn't win (see also: Parker torching them in '07).

If you'd like to debate some or any of those points individually, I'm game, but if your arguments revolve around All-Star appearances or regular season record, I don't think we're going to get anywhere as those things frankly just don't matter much to me.

 
At Friday, January 22, 2016 11:06:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

It seems in alone here but I don't think in a single game the 96 bulls stand a chance against the Warriors. Not because the Warriors are as historically great (we aren't there yet), but because the game has evolved so much in 20 years. The Warriors will have the benefit in this game of knowing everything about the Bulls, the Bulls won't have this advantage. The Bulls schemes would be completely inadequate to deal with the Warriors offense. Would any big follow Green out to the 3 point line consistently?

I think relative to their time the Bulls were greater, but put them on the court today against the Warriors and they lose, I have no doubt. If they were developed in this era though, as in MJ came out of college in 2004 etc I think the Bulls take it.

I think the Bulls would destroy the 60s Celtics in a similar engagement. I don't mean this as disrespect I just think modern players have too big an advantage. The game keeps evolving and so do the players, physically, training wise, tactics etc

Wrt Lebron I really like him as a player. I agree with David he has under achieved though and I don't think he has been as valuable as Kobe has to his team. Swap Kobe I tot any of those Cleveland/Miami flameouts and I just can't see Kobe not winning at least one of those series.

 
At Saturday, January 23, 2016 3:00:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Andrew-

You make a good point about Chicago/GS. In these comparisons I tend to automatically assume that both teams have access to the same amount of intel about one another at the bare minimum, and that the "old" team has access to modern statistics/knowledge of the game, at least. But perhaps that is a silly assumption for these hypotheticals.

I maintain that Chicago would win in any case under the '96 ruleset, however, since the Warriors are just as much not built for that NBA as the Bulls are not built for the current one.

As for Lebron, the only series he lost that I think Kobe would have been more likely to win is the Dallas series (Kobe's (then) superior range would minimize Chandler's defensive impact on him, and his ability to guard guards would have made a big difference, and he would not have been as passive).

He would have been able to do nothing about Howard's interior dominance in '09, however, and in fact Cleveland would likely have gotten waxed on the boards without Lebron (who had nearly a quarter of their total rebounds). Lebron put up 38/8/8 over 6 games on nearly 50% shooting over the course of the series; Kobe's never had as statistically dominant of a series, it seems unlikely to me he'd have one against SVG's defense (his stats against the same team that same year: 32.5/5.5/7.5 on 42%). Having Pau & Odom helped keep Howard from controlling the paint when the Laker played them, and Pau/Odom were much more qualified for that job than the '09 versions of Big Z, Big Ben, or Varejao, as evidence by Dwight putting up 10 fewer PPG against the Lakers on about 15% lower shooting.

The '10 Celtics, similarly, I think would have beaten the Cavs with Kobe instead of Lebron, given that they very nearly beat Kobe's Lakers. Whether or not Kendrick Perkins' injury swung the series is an open question, but at the bare minimum that were good enough to beat a Phil Jackson team with Kobe/Pau/Odom/Bynum three times in six games; do you really think they'd do any worse against a Mike Brown team with Kobe/Varejao/Mo Williams/Ilgauskus? Kobe's stats against Boston in the Finals: 28.6/8/3.9 on 40% shooting, and he'd have faced considerably more help defense near the rim on a team without a serious interior scoring threat. He also traditionally puts up his best numbers in the Triangle, which Cleveland most certainly did not run.

2011 is your case, though it is worth noting that the Mavs absolutely waxed Kobe's Lakers that year, to the tune of a sweep. That Mavs team was freakin' good. While the Lakers certainly had bigger problems in that series, the Mavs did a very good job on Kobe, holding him to 23/3/2.5 on 45%. Lebron's #s against them while he was being "passive": about 18/7/7 on 48% shooting. Reasonable men can differ over whether you'd rather have the ever five points from Kobe or the extra four rebounds and 4.5 assists from Lebron, but the moral of the story is that the combination of Shawn Marion on the perimeter and Tyson Chandler inside took them both off their game.

Nobody was beating the 2014 Spurs or the 2015 Warriors. Even prime Kobe would have struggled against those defenses D, particularly with no offensive help. He also wouldn't have solved the problems of SA controlling the glass or GSW completely running CLE off the floor when they went small.

Again, it's fair to call Lebron overrated. But I don't think attacking his win/loss record is the best way to do it. I also don't think it really does either guy any favors to say Kobe would have done it in his place, because the evidence just isn't there, and Kobe generally had a tough time against those exact same teams.

 
At Sunday, January 24, 2016 4:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I tend to agree with Anonymous in the Kobe v. LeBron thread but I have written so much about that topic that there is not much more for me to add to that discussion right now.

Regarding '96 Bulls v. '16 Warriors, teams did give open shots to Harper and Rodman and that did not hurt the Bulls because the Bulls were smart enough to take the shots that they wanted. As coaches often say, sometimes you are open for a reason. Harper would shoot (and make) enough to keep defenses honest but Rodman seemed almost allergic to shooting; he just kept working the offensive boards and providing extra shots for Jordan and Pippen. I agree with you that the Bulls would destroy the Warriors under '96 rules but am not sure why you think that the Bulls would be at such a disadvantage in today's game; everything about today's game that favors the Warriors would favor the Bulls at least as much. Jordan had his toughest times (relatively speaking) against physical teams like Detroit, New York and Miami. Who on the Warriors is going to play Jordan tough physically? Even if someone on the Warriors wanted to do so, the current rules don't permit it. Jordan scored over 40 ppg against the Suns in the 1993 Finals and he could top those numbers under 2016 rules playing against the Warriors.

Sometimes I forget that the '96 Bulls played 20 years ago, so this is ancient history to a lot of people. I am a Cleveland Browns fan, so when I was rooting for Bernie Kosar in the 1980s the Jim Brown era of 20 years previous seemed like a million years ago because it was before I was even born. I have a different perspective about the 1996 Bulls than many younger fans might have. I watched almost every game that the '96 Bulls played and I honestly have a hard time picturing any team beating them in a seven game series. The teams that could give them the most trouble would not be teams like the Warriors that play small but rather teams that featured dominant Hall of Fame big men in their primes--but the Bulls faced Shaq and Patrick Ewing without too much trouble. Prime Kareem would have been a challenge, as would have Malone when paired with Erving-Toney-Cheeks. I don't think that the Bird Celtics would have matched up well; Parish was not a physically dominant center, Rodman could have done a solid job on McHale and Pippen would have caused Bird problems at both ends of the court (well, Bird would probably have been assigned to Longley but could McHale really guard Pippen 25 feet from the basket?).

The matchup that fascinates me and features several of my favorite players is '83 Sixers vs. '96 Bulls. Erving-Pippen would be fun, Jordan-Toney would be closer than people might think, Cheeks would be a handful for Harper and Rodman-Bobby Jones would be interesting--but what would the Bulls do with Malone, a scorer-rebounder who could hit his free throws? The '83 Malone was better than '96 Shaq and better than any version of Ewing.

 
At Sunday, January 24, 2016 5:18:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

My argument is not about Kobe/Lebron overall- I have Kobe ranked a spot or three higher all-time- but against the argument that Lebron has not won as many titles as he could/should have. I think that argument is perhaps valid about 2011, but only 2011; the other years Lebron lost, I do not think the primary reasons for his losing had much to do with his play, nor do I think that most/any other great perimeter player would have won in the same scenarios.

As for Bulls/Warriors, my thinking for the Warriors winning under the current rules is as follows:

* The Bulls could not adequately space the floor; yes, they shot well from 3 but this was mostly a product of extremely judicious 3 taking; they made roughly 6 per game, and Rodman/Longley/Harper were not expected to make them. Against the Warriors, only Pippen/Jordan/Kerr/Kukoc would be guarded beyond 16 feet, and playing both Kerr and Kukoc at the same time against the Warriors would be defensive suicide.

* Against the Warriors, Rodman would be forced to guard either Green or Barnes out at the 3, dramatically limiting his rebounding, and would be routinely fouled on offense, rendering him largely unplayable. His defense would still have value, but dragging him away from the hoop and turning him into even more of an offensive liability makes it difficult to play him big minutes.

*Additionally, Rodman's defensive style would likely lead to near-immediate foul trouble. If he modifies, he loses at least some of his effectiveness.

* Longley cannot play against the Warriors' best lineup. Neither can his backup. Rodman and Harper are maybes. OTOH, the Warriors can play all their best guys against basically any Bulls lineup, and present at least some resistance to Pippen/Jordan with Thompson/Iguodala.

* The Bulls shorter bench makes it more dangerous for them to play at the Warriors' pace, especially given the above.

* Modern illegal D rules make it much harder for Pippen/Jordan to get the ball where they like it, and make it nigh-impossible to get to the rim in half-court sets given the aforementioned spacing liabilities.

*Hand-check rule means Curry can get into the paint basically at-will off the PNR, and that's where the Warriors feast on corner 3s that 90s teams weren't nearly as adept at creating.

*Kerr knows the Triangle better than any coach Phil had to coach against. I still think CHI has a coaching advantage, but it's much smaller than they're used to.

*I think the only defensive option for CHI is to put Jordan/Pippen on Curry/Thompson, and that that creates mismatches in GS's favor with Barnes vs. Harper; Harper spent his whole career guarding smaller players, I'm not sure how he'd do giving up 2 inches and however many pounds.

*The Curry/Draymond PnR remains virtually unguardable against non-Rodman bigs, and I don't know that Rodman can play in the modern NBA.

*I question the ability of anyone but Jordan/Pippen to score against GS.

*Only Pippen and Jordan, ultimately, are viable at both ends of the court against GSW under a modern ruleset, and great as they are, I don't think they're enough.

Regarding the Bulls vs. the 76ers, I believe the 76ers to be the best NBA team of all-time, and would confidently bet on them against Chicago. I think that they win the rebounding battle, I think that even Pippen can do little defensively against Erving (based on his performance against the similarly excellent Bobby Jones), I think that Toney's one of the few SGs ever Jordan cannot easily overpower physcially, and I think that Bobby Jones can largely neutralize Pippen's scoring, leaving the onus too heavily on Jordan.

 
At Sunday, January 24, 2016 5:25:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Counter-argument for Bulls vs. 76ers basically must assume that Rodman can stop Malone, and I just don't buy it. NOBODY could stop early 80s Malone. Great as Rodman was guarding bigs, Shaq still scored 27 PPG on 60ish percent shooting against him in '96 playoffs, and Malone was at least that good (+ could make his FTs). Penny + Dennis Scott =/= Erving + Toney + Cheeks.

Just don't see Chicago being able to guard enough of Philly's weapons at the same time, and totally see Philly making life difficult for Jordan/Pippen on other end.

 
At Sunday, January 24, 2016 3:51:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

One more point whiskey-Nick forgot to make last night:

Zone defense is legal in the modern NBA, and it's got a track record of mucking with Phil's triangle. The 2010 Suns- of whom Kerr was the GM- nearly swung the series against LAL behind it, and all of the Warriors' best eight guys are better defenders than four of that Suns teams' starters. That Lakers team also had more shooters than the Bulls. The antidote for zone D is traditionally to space the floor with shooters, but I think GSW would be happy to get into a three point shooting contest with Chicago, especially since 3pt rebounds make for the best fast breaks.

You can make the argument that Pippen/Jordan are much more dangerous than Kobe/Gasol and I would not disagree, but zone defenses have even proven effective against Olympic USA teams (to the point that they started consciously including guys like Michael Redd and Kevin Love to counter them). The best part of Zone D- especially against a team with guys like Rodman you can completely leave alone- is that it neuters the driving game of guys like Jordan/Kobe/Lebron/Wade/etc.

That Chicago isn't built to deal with it isn't a defect- it was illegal at the time. The '96 Bulls are a perfectly constructed roster for 1996. I just don't think they're quite as perfectly constructed for 2016.

 
At Monday, January 25, 2016 12:06:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Nick, again history and evidence would prove you mightily wrong about Pau.

If Duncan was best player in 03, which I disagree with, it's barely over Kobe.

James did win 66 and 61 games in 09/10 with that 'supposed' weak cast which almost everyone was praising/predicting to win it all, and rightfully so, since they were the best team in league each year. Nobody could win this many games on their own, not even Jordan or Kobe. And CLE didn't have to worry about any substantial injuries come playoff time. LAL winning each year had no impact on CLE losing each year, since they didn't play each other. Whatever weight your #2 guy argument would have, it's completely moot because of this.

I'm not underrating anyone. BOS was only a 50-win team in a weak conf. If James plays hard, CLE wins in 5-6 games in 2010 vs them. And Allen wasn't an AS. Pierce/KG/Rondo all probably wouldn't be AS if in West either. They were still good and played hard, but hardly a great team.

I see you have to change your argument some for ORL now. ORL wasn't deeper than CLE. And they weren't more talented either. And Nelson was injured. Howard might've been at his peak, but James was in his prime, too.

It's a lot more than stats, Nick. James' stat lines almost always look better than Kobe's, but his play isn't. Kobe absolutely dominated the 09 finals. James did play well in 09 ECF, but did he outplay Howard? Even if so, not as much as Kobe did in finals.

And the fact that BOS came so close to beating LAL in 10 finals speaks volumes to how much you overrate Pau and Kobe's casts. Nobody on BOS was even remotely as good as Kobe that series.

Let's just look at 08-10. It's hard to say any of LAL's opps in 08 had worse casts than Kobe's, and all of them had solid #2 guys. SA/BOS certainly had better casts. In 09, Mcgrady is hurt, and Yao barely plays in 2nd round vs LAL. Kobe dominates HOU, and LAL barely hangs on to win series in 7 games even with these key injuries to HOU. DEN/ORL each certainly have better overall casts than Kobe's in the final 2 rounds. Durant has better cast in 2010 1st round, and so does Nash in WCF. At times, PHO's bench outplays LAL's starters. Rondo's cast in 2010 finals certainly outperforms Kobe's. Even if you disagree with some of this stuff, which I'm sure you will since you love to belittle Kobe as much as possible, almost every opp's cast LAL faces from 08-10, matches up very well if not most of the time better. The difference is that Kobe is the best player on the court at all times. Soak this last statement in, because that's what it boils down to usually.

 
At Monday, January 25, 2016 2:15:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

(Part 1)

Anonymous-

As usual, I find myself fatigued. This is my last round with you on this one. I'll do my best to make it a good one.

"If Duncan was best player in 03, which I disagree with, it's barely over Kobe."

Kobe probably wasn't even the best player on his own TEAM in '03. Also how good Kobe was that year has nothing to do with my actual point, that Duncan's supporting cast was hot garbage and they only won so many games, and the title, because Duncan was a killing machine that year. You like to say that he had the "best team" that year; I vehemently disagree. That team's probably not making the playoffs without him. Nobody on it could really create their own shot very well, and Parker/Ginobili were defensive liabilities. Jackson was less of a nut job than usual, but still definitely a nut job (and not a very efficient one, either). Robinson was still a real NBA player, but he was also fossilizing before our eyes. Bowen was D & 3s and literally nothing else.

"James did win 66 and 61 games in 09/10 with that 'supposed' weak cast which almost everyone was praising/predicting to win it all, and rightfully so, since they were the best team in league each year. Nobody could win this many games on their own, not even Jordan or Kobe. And CLE didn't have to worry about any substantial injuries come playoff time. LAL winning each year had no impact on CLE losing each year, since they didn't play each other. Whatever weight your #2 guy argument would have, it's completely moot because of this."

I don't think you understood my #2 guy point, then. Also, listing regular season win records continue to leave me cold. Regular season win totals are influenced by all sorts of things, like injuries, schedule strength, and how easy to scout a team is. Dallas once won 67 games and got waxed in the first round, while Houston once won the title from the 6 seed.

James' teams did very well in the regular season, in large part because Mike Brown's a solid defensive coach, and it takes planning and effort to beat his schemes. He also did have a *decent* supporting cast; he just didn't have a championship caliber one, and CLE didn't have enough offensive weapons to adapt in the face of playoff defenses.

Ultimately, it's historically basically unheard of to win a title without at least 2 All-NBAish level players; in cases where it does happen, namely Houston '95 and Dallas '11, the #2 guys (I'd say Thorpe and Chandler, but reasonable men can differ) are still better than Lebron's #2 guys, and the next few guys (Horry/Maxwell/Smith or Kidd/Marion/Terry) are also awesome. This being the case that Lebron somehow failed by not winning a title on a team whose second and third best guys were Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao doesn't really scan for me.


 
At Monday, January 25, 2016 2:15:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

(Part 2)

"BOS was only a 50-win team in a weak conf. If James plays hard, CLE wins in 5-6 games in 2010 vs them. And Allen wasn't an AS. Pierce/KG/Rondo all probably wouldn't be AS if in West either. They were still good and played hard, but hardly a great team."

I still don't care about win totals. I still think you're underrating them; they were up 3-2 on the eventual champs before losing their starting center and being out rebounded by 13 in each of the next two games. (in the first five, they usually lost the rebounding battle by about 1). Additionally, Rondo guarded by Mo Williams is basically an MVP candidate, putting up series splits of 20.7/6.3/11.8 on 54% shooting. You can't switch Lebron over to him, either, because that leaves Mo either chasing around the then greatest shooter who ever played the game in Ray Allen, or the recent Finals MVP Paul Pierce (who scored 5 fewer PPG per game and made 10% fewer shots in that series than he did in the rest of the playoffs; Lebron was the one guarding him).

Mind you, I'm not arguing that Lebron shouldn't have played harder. He absolutely should have. It just probably wouldn't have mattered enough to swing the series.

"I see you have to change your argument some for ORL now. ORL wasn't deeper than CLE. And they weren't more talented either. And Nelson was injured. Howard might've been at his peak, but James was in his prime, too."

I just flat out disagree here. Lewis and Turkogl were the third and fourth best players in the series, and Stan's system was better than Mike's. I don't know how you argue that Lebron could have/should have done more in that series; he just got beat by a team, a coach, and a player that were firing on all-cylinders. There was nobody on Cleveland who could slow Dwight down; there was on LA. That's the difference.

"It's a lot more than stats, Nick. James' stat lines almost always look better than Kobe's, but his play isn't. Kobe absolutely dominated the 09 finals. James did play well in 09 ECF, but did he outplay Howard? Even if so, not as much as Kobe did in finals."

Kobe played awesome in the Finals. Dwight played shitty. If Dwight had put up the same numbers against the Lakers as he did against Cleveland, Orlando would have easily won that series, but he didn't, because LAL actually had the personnel to stop him. It makes no sense to credit Kobe for outplaying the guy when James (according to you) didn't since the only reason he outplayed him was because unlike Lebron, he actually had teammates who could guard the SOB. Unless you're trying to tell me that Kobe's the one who shut down Howard?

"And the fact that BOS came so close to beating LAL in 10 finals speaks volumes to how much you overrate Pau and Kobe's casts. Nobody on BOS was even remotely as good as Kobe that series."

Is your Boston hate a Lakers fan thing, or what? This team was basically the same team that ran roughshod over the league in '08, and they were a fluke injury away from (probably) winning their second title in three years. They started three Hall of Famers, and Rondo at his APEX, and had a decent if unremarkable bench. They were freakin' good.

That said, I don't disagree that no one on Boston was as good as Kobe in that series. But Rondo wasn't playing like a video game character in that series, LAL actually had a low post scoring threat (Pau's #s against BOS: 18.6/11.6/3.7. Grandpa Shaq's #s against BOS: 13.5/5/1), and an actual offensive system. Kobe's absolutely reason #1 (or 2, depending on how you feel about the Perkins injury) LAL won that series, but there were other reasons. If Cleveland had pulled it off, it'd have had to have been all Lebron, and that wasn't gonna happen. Take Pau away and jack up Rondo's #s and Kobe doesn't win either.

 
At Monday, January 25, 2016 2:15:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

(Part 3)

"Let's just look at 08-10. It's hard to say any of LAL's opps in 08 had worse casts than Kobe's, and all of them had solid #2 guys. SA/BOS certainly had better casts. In 09, Mcgrady is hurt, and Yao barely plays in 2nd round vs LAL. Kobe dominates HOU, and LAL barely hangs on to win series in 7 games even with these key injuries to HOU. DEN/ORL each certainly have better overall casts than Kobe's in the final 2 rounds. Durant has better cast in 2010 1st round, and so does Nash in WCF. At times, PHO's bench outplays LAL's starters. Rondo's cast in 2010 finals certainly outperforms Kobe's. Even if you disagree with some of this stuff, which I'm sure you will since you love to belittle Kobe as much as possible, almost every opp's cast LAL faces from 08-10, matches up very well if not most of the time better. The difference is that Kobe is the best player on the court at all times. Soak this last statement in, because that's what it boils down to usually."

I don't recall claiming that Kobe always had a better supporting cast than his opposition; he usually didn't. In fact I'm on record on this site saying he had some of the weaker championship supporting casts ever (though Duncan gets my vote for *the* weakest in '03), and he deserves credit for that. But my whole point is that Lebron did *not* have a championship supporting cast. In the entire history of the NBA, nobody has won a title with a supporting cast similar to Lebron's early Cleveland teams, because it's basically impossible to win a title when your team cannot either score in the paint, protect the rim, or stop opposing PGs from eating your lunch. It becomes even harder when your team's entire offense revolves around the play of a single dude to create for everyone else. Now, you can win a title with one of those weaknesses. Maybe even two. But in our 60ish years of NBA basketball, we haven't seen a team like that win. Not once. Not ever. Not with Kobe or Jordan or Erving or anybody else, because those guys won their titles on reasonable teams that were built properly and featured at least one major difference maker in their supporting cast (and usually more).

And that's my point. My point is not that Lebron is better than Kobe (he isn't), or that Lebron shouldn't have played harder against Boston and Dallas (he should have). It's that saying he left a bunch of titles on the table ignores the evidence. If he won those titles, he'd have been doing so with the sort of supporting cast that has never, ever won titles, which seems to me an unreasonable thing to expect of a guy.

You wanna attack Lebron? Attack his effort. Attack his reticence to play in the post, where he's basically unstoppable. Attack the idiotic things he says basically whenever somebody sticks a microphone in his face. Attack his whining after anybody breathes on him (although be careful there, as Kobe did that, too). Attack his suddenly mediocre perimeter shooting. Attack the fact that his CLE teammates don't really seem to like playing with him. Attack his politicking. Attack his "when I feel like it" rebounding.

There are plenty of reasons to tear the guy down. May as well use the ones that are actually valid.

 
At Thursday, January 28, 2016 6:17:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

Nick F,

I believe LeBron led those Cavs teams in 2009 and 2010 to overachieve. I think he made those guys around him look better than they really were.

In 2009 LeBron most likely had the best regular season and playoffs combined for a superstar who's team came up short of winning.LeBron was magnificent in 2009.

Many people talk about howbLeBron leaving in 2010 wasn't the only reason why Cleveland was bad the next season. They talk about how some other players left. If Cavs kept the same team from 2010 minus LeBron heading into 2010-2011 I don't think it would have made a difference. They were screwed once he left. I don't know how many other players you could have put in LeBrons' spot those two years and they still win 66 and 61 games and being considered good enough to win it all.

I agree about Duncan's cast in 2003 was crappy. Perfect example of a player making a team look better than what it really was.

 
At Thursday, January 28, 2016 8:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I agree with you about '83 Philly versus '96 Chicago.

Regarding '96 Chicago versus '16 Golden State, you make some valid points but I believe (1) Chicago's defense would be more effective versus Golden State that you suggest (for one thing, the Bulls' ability to effectively switch everything on the perimeter is unmatched by any team that the Warriors face in today's NBA) and (2) Chicago ran the Triangle more effectively than the 2010 Lakers and the Bulls had MUCH better personnel.

Regarding LeBron's first stint with the Cavaliers, even if we accept your premise that the Cavs were not good enough to win the championship--a debatable proposition, to say the least--that still would not excuse LeBron from trying his best and it is clear that there were many games in which he did not exert maximum effort. If LeBron had tried his best at all times, who knows what kind of impact that would have had not only directly in particular games but also in general in terms of the team's morale? Guys like MJ and Kobe drive their teammates to do their best. LeBron does not always do that.

 
At Thursday, January 28, 2016 11:04:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

AW:

There is a lot of revisionist history about LeBron James' first stint with the Cavs. It is important to remember that, at or around the same time that James left, the team also fired the GM and the Coach, in addition to changing around the majority of the roster. Therefore, a simplistic statement such as "As soon as LeBron left Cleveland, the Cavs completely fell apart because he was carrying the entire team by himself" is incorrect. That statement is not exactly what you asserted, though you came pretty close to that.

It is useful to recall how the 2010 Cavs were described and perceived just prior to the start of the playoffs. I wrote an article about this subject shortly after the Celtics upset the Cavs: Don't Believe the Historical Revisionism About the Cavaliers

Here are some highlights from that article:

During Cleveland's round one, game one victory over Chicago, Jeff Van Gundy declared, "To me, Cleveland is a far superior team to what they had last year--the ability for (Antawn) Jamison to spread the floor more, (Shaquille) O'Neal can get centers in foul trouble and provide an offensive rebounding presence. I think they have a much better team this year."

Mark Jackson then said, "I agree with you. I think the reason why, you look at the versatility--they can throw out multiple lineups and guys can play multiple positions. It allows them to match up with different teams when you talk about playoff basketball."

Mike Breen later added, "(General Manager) Danny Ferry has done an unbelievable job in terms of assembling the players around LeBron James and this bench--it's like a good bullpen in baseball: if you need a lefty reliever to go up against a lefty batter, you've got it; if you need a tall wing player to go up against a quick wing player, you've got it. They've got an answer for everything that the opponent throws at you."

 
At Thursday, January 28, 2016 11:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

AW:

I concluded the article thusly: "It is indisputable that the Cavs have significantly upgraded the talent surrounding LeBron James since he led the team to the 2007 NBA Finals and yet they have regressed in terms of postseason success. Some people argue that this means that the Cavs must add even more talent to their team but I think that at this point it is fair to ask how perfect of a scenario LeBron James needs in order to win a championship. It is so tiresome to hear 'stat gurus' proclaim that if James played for the Lakers they would go 80-2 and win the championship every year while if Kobe Bryant played for the Cavs their record would be much worse than it has been with James; leading a team to a championship is about more than just posting gaudy individual numbers: it is about doing whatever your team needs you to do in crucial situations--and it surely is not about wandering around passively behind the three point line while your team gets blown out at home in a crucial playoff game. There is no way to really know what would happen if Bryant and James 'traded' supporting casts (though I think that the 'stat guru' take on the matter is nonsense), but I can guarantee you this: if Kobe Bryant had a teammate--any teammate, from an All-Star to the 12th man--who played as listlessly as James did in game five Bryant would get right up in his face and demand more from him. Bryant feuded with Shaquille O'Neal not about the nonsense that the media liked to focus on but rather because of O'Neal's lax training habits and Bryant has not hesitated to confront any of his current teammates when their effort and/or toughness has been lacking. Bryant's style may not win points with the media and its value may not be quantifiable but it produces championship results. LeBron James likes to declare that he is a no excuse player but Kobe Bryant does not have to say that because with the kind of effort he puts forth he knows that he will not have to make any excuses."

We saw a similar scenario in the 2015 Finals. LeBron put up gaudy numbers and the Cavs had a 2-1 lead but what happened in game four?

LeBron James is a great player but the suggestion that he has not had sufficient help around him to win more than two titles is very questionable--and the only thing that could have resolved those questions is if James had played his heart out in the swing games of those series but still lost. Then, we would know for sure that James at his best could not have won with the supporting casts he had--but James has been bizarrely passive in several of the most important games of his career, so I am not going to blame his supporting cast when it is obvious that James could have done more than he did. The best player sets the tone for the team and the tone that James sets is that he plays hard when he feels like it and he listens to the coach when he feels like listening to the coach. If his teammates emulate those bad traits to any extent, James only has himself to blame.

If it is true that the Cavaliers as currently constructed cannot win a championship, then who is to blame? James is the de facto GM and Coach and he is clearly the best player. With this particular team, even if James plays hard all the way through the playoffs (which would not be typical) he still will deserve a lot of blame if the Cavs don't win because he put this group together.

 
At Thursday, January 28, 2016 11:55:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

"Regarding LeBron's first stint with the Cavaliers, even if we accept your premise that the Cavs were not good enough to win the championship--a debatable proposition, to say the least--that still would not excuse LeBron from trying his best and it is clear that there were many games in which he did not exert maximum effort. If LeBron had tried his best at all times, who knows what kind of impact that would have had not only directly in particular games but also in general in terms of the team's morale? Guys like MJ and Kobe drive their teammates to do their best. LeBron does not always do that."

I don't mean to excuse Lebron phoning it in, and I think I've been clear there. My objection is to the "Lebron should have won more titles" argument, which I just don't think is realistic. I don't think prior to last year his teams had real morale problems, and I think all of his Cleveland teams have had serious roster construction holes. I understand the perception of the 2010 Cavs, but I disagree with it. By that point, Shaq and Antawn Jamison were no longer impact players (and could not meaningfully protect the rim), and the roster was poorly equipped to stop guards; Anthony Paker and Mo Williams do not a lockdown perimeter duo make.

I've been keeping my distance from the "Lebron is the coach and GM" argument because it's a bit too speculative for my tastes; it's clear Lebron has some influence, but it is not demonstrably clear how much, how aggressively he uses it, or whether he has any more/less influence than the various other great players who have put on their GM hats (Magic, Shaq, and Kobe among them). I would contend, however, that even if he is *completely* running the Cavs, that the fault is primarily with those who *should* be running the Cavs. The job of the GM and the coach is to manage the players; if they're allowing Lebron to steamroll them to the degree you believe, then they've got no one but themselves to blame if/when a guy who never spent a day in college fails to build them a winning basketball team/system.

That said, I find the on-the-court stuff much more interesting, and I just don't see how the Cleveland roster, as currently constructed, can play elite two-way basketball in the playoffs. I think if either Love or Kyrie is your second best offensive guy, you need some All-Defensive level talent around to cover for them (look at SA: Tony Parker is an has always been a completely garbage defender, but playing him alongside both Tim Duncan and Stephen Jackson/Bruce Bowen/Kawhi Leonard mitigates that somewhat; it is not a coincidence that the longest gap between SA Finals appearances came between the apexes of Bowen and Leonard). Even if they never make the Love trade, I still don't think they're a true title team (though in that scenario they have a brighter future).

Frankly, and this is perhaps veering off topic, I think they should move both Love and Kyrie at their earliest convenience; Kyrie for Chris Paul is a trade that makes sense for both teams and at least a call worth making, and given the way they misuse Love- mostly just as a shooter- trading him for someone like Channing Frye or Ryan Anderson in conjunction with a few younger guys/role players/picks would only help them.

 
At Friday, January 29, 2016 1:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

The Cavs during LeBron's first stint definitely had morale problems. Look at the tape of the last game of the 2010 Cle-Bos series. Mark Jackson commented near the end that the entire Cleveland team looked like it had given up, not even fouling to try to extend the game. LeBron quit and then the rest of the team followed suit. It was disgraceful, one of the worst things that I have seen in the NBA. LeBron's game five performance, which I saw in person, was the most puzzling/shameful performance that I have ever seen by a great player in person. All of us on press row were baffled by what we saw.

There is pretty convincing evidence that LeBron left Miami and came back to Cleveland because he preferred running the show in Cleveland to having Riley running the show in Miami. LeBron made some comment about Miami being his equivalent of going to college. LeBron went there for four years, won two championships and now he thinks that he is not only the best player on the planet but that he also knows as much as Riley as a GM and Coach. LeBron believes that he has "graduated" college and now can dispense his wisdom in Cleveland. We'll see if he is right, but whatever happens next in Cleveland--good or bad--is primarily his responsibility. If he leads the team to a championship, I will praise him just as I did after each of his Miami titles.

Regarding the capability of Cleveland's roster to win a championship, the Cavs were up 2-1 in last year's Finals with game four at home--and they obtained that advantage sans Love and Irving. They have since added Mo Williams and Richard Jefferson to the bench. So I am not buying that the team lacks enough talent. Love has enough athletic ability to grab double digit rebounds and to play on the perimeter or in the post offensively, so he can be at least an adequate defender if properly motivated.

I doubt that the Clippers would take the fragile Irving for Paul, even with Irving being the younger player. If the Cavs could get enough for Love they probably would trade him but it is not clear what the market for Love is right now.

****************

I don't want to turn this thread into a rerun of our previous Dragic conversations but the last time we discussed him I suggested that we wait until December or January and then see how my analysis/predictions look. I predicted that Dragic would average around 14 ppg and be Miami's fourth best player. I also said that Isaiah Thomas was at least as good, if not better, and could very well emerge as an All-Star. Thomas was selected by the coaches as an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve and Dragic is performing even worse than I expected, though his play had perked up before he got hurt. There is no evidence that his career year was anything other than that: a career year that was somewhat of a fluke and is unlikely to be matched again.

I suspect that you will counter that Miami is not using Dragic correctly--but Spoelstra has won two championships as a coach. He is probably at least a borderline HoF candidate. I doubt that he does not know how to use Dragic. Dragic is what I have always said he is: a good, solid NBA player.

 
At Friday, January 29, 2016 3:29:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Let's talk Dragic first.

First, I fully admit that I did not expect him to come into the season out of shape. Prior to this season, his work ethic has been beyond reproach, but he took too much of the summer off to be with his pregnant wife, and that affected both his play in the early parts of the season and quite possibly his role.

Second, I also overestimated the willingness and ability of certain Miami players to play to Dragic's tempo; only Johnson, Green, and Winslow really seem either willing or able.

Third, I set right at the start that his individual numbers paint only a small part of the picture. He's a guy who creates opportunities and sees the floor well; generally his teams thrive on offense when he plays and suffer when he doesn't, regardless of his scoring or assists.

Fourth, and not the point, but Dragic's improved a bit defensively this year. The Heat are among the best defensive teams in the league after being crappy last year, and some of that's on Goran, especially since the rest of the starters were there last year.

That all said, it's obvious Miami is misusing Dragic. His offensive value primarily in transition and the pick and roll; Miami rarely gets out in transition, and they do not run many pick and rolls for him. It's somewhat similar to Love's situation in Cleveland; if you take a player away from what he does well, obviously he will not do as well.

Spoelstra probably is an HOF coach, and I know you have no respect for most journalists, but everyone from ESPN to the Miami sentinel to the various Heat blogs have been decrying the misuse of Dragic. If you are correct that Spoelstra is using him properly, you are the only one who sees it besides Spo himself. Being in the HOF does not make you infallible, and I bet you every coach in there has at least a few players they wish they'd used differently in retrospect.

Pt 1/2

 
At Friday, January 29, 2016 3:32:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Additionally, the Heat have been markedly better with Dragic doing more/Wade doing less. Here's some evidence;

MIA record with Dragic: 22-15
MIA record with Wade: 23-20
MIA record Dragic/no Wade: 1-0
MIA record Wade/no Dragic: 2-5

Those sample sizes aren't huge, but they do suggest that Dragic has quite a bit of impact on whether the Heat win or lose.

The Heat are 10-7 when Wade's usage % is under 30 (and 2 of those losses are in games Dragic missed). They are 15-14 in games where his usage is about 30%. Not all, or even most, of those possessions should be shifted over to Dragic necessarily, but that's largely the difference; Dragic moves the ball around, Wade doesn't. The Heat do much better when they're running actions and keeping guys moving, and they suck when Wade pounds the rock for 15 seconds.

The team as a whole shoots about 1.5% when Dragic is on the court than off it. With Wade, they shoot a little under a percent worse. Their O-RTG is 4 PP100 better with Goran than without (high among starters). It's .4% better with Wade than without. The opposing team scores 1.7 fewer PP100 when Goran plays (low among starters), and a whopping +5.5 when Wade does. The Heat are a net 5.5 PP100 better with Goran (high among starters). With Wade, they're a net 5 PP100 worse (worse among starters).

The Heat beat their opponents by 2.7 PP100 (best among starters) with Goran, and lose by 1.9 with Wade (4th among starters). Considering they play about 75% of their minutes together, the difference is actually much larger than that.

And, keep in mind, that's with Goran playing crappy for the first two months. You limit that to just January and it gets dire.

The Heat are actually much better with Winslow in Wade's place; neither can shoot, but Winslow at least plays awesome defense, and Miami has enough other- and less predictable- offensive options to survive.

Wade used to be awesome, but now he's in the same category as Melo or Harden; gaudy individual numbers that hurt his team.

Chubby Goran didn't shoot well, but he's been on fire since losing the babyfat, and his season efficiency numbers are already better than Wade's despite some pretty abysmal three point shooting (though he's over 50% in his last 9 or 10 games).

The Heat's best player is Chris Bosh. But their second best player is probably Goran Dragic (don't say Whiteside to me; they're actually better on defense when he sits, in part on account of his complete lack of second effort). The sooner they figure that out, the better they're gonna do. If they don't, well, that's a bummer for them, a bummer for Goran, and a bummer for fans of good basketball. As it is, their offense is nearly unwatchable.

So, sure, in conclusion Goran's individual numbers aren't fancy. But the team wins more when he plays, scores more when he plays, and allows fewer points when he plays. All available evidence suggests that the Heat are a great team when he plays. This scans with similar numbers from last year in both Miami and PHX, as well as the year before. Goran stimulates the offense and busts his ass on defense, regardless of his scoring. Wade loafs on D and stagnates the offense, according to both statistics and the eye test.

The real truth is that Wade is a veteran, beloved by the fans and the organization, with an ego to satisfy. He's gonna get his way. But it's not the best way for that team to play basketball.

 
At Friday, January 29, 2016 3:40:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

As for Cleveland, I'll keep this a bit shorter.

"Regarding the capability of Cleveland's roster to win a championship, the Cavs were up 2-1 in last year's Finals with game four at home--and they obtained that advantage sans Love and Irving. They have since added Mo Williams and Richard Jefferson to the bench. So I am not buying that the team lacks enough talent. Love has enough athletic ability to grab double digit rebounds and to play on the perimeter or in the post offensively, so he can be at least an adequate defender if properly motivated."

You're assuming it's possible to properly motivate him. The team that got up on GS was very strong defensively without Love or Irving, but ultimately lost in six games because they couldn't score enough. I do not think Mo Williams or Jefferson move the needle, as both are similarly offense-only players.

Generally, you can win a title playing 1 one way player at a time, perhaps two if one is offensive and the other defensive, but it is nearly impossible to win with a roster of one-way players. Lebron James- and to a much lesser extent Thompsen and Mozgov- are the only two-way players on Cleveland. Love, Smith, Jefferson, and Irving cannot guard anyone, and Shumpert cannot score. Mozgov and Thompsen can do some damage on the offensive boards and set good picks, but are otherwise similarly offensively inept.

Perhaps in a down year this Cleveland team would be good enough to win, but against super-teams like the Warriors (who feature at least 6 two-way players and a historically great offense), and the Spurs (who start 4 two-way players and a historically great defense) I don't see how a team that has only one elite two-way guy has much chance. Perhaps if GSW/SA suffer some injuries and are hobbled- or replaced by SA or LAC- then Cleveland can win, but it strikes me as ludicrous to suggest they're talented enough to beat a healthy GSW or SA as currently constructed.


Re: Paul/Irving

Perhaps. I think that they know Paul's only got two-three years left, and they've already expressed doubt about their core. Getting a younger, looser PG to play alongside Blake and Deandre makes sense, but the injury issue is a fair concern. Still a phonecall I'd make if I were Cleveland, though, and I'd probably be willing to throw in a pick (if they have any left) to get it done.

Agree that the market may be diminished on Love, which is why I suggested trading him for role-players and prospects rather than an elite guy; since they're using him as a role player anyway, they can pillage somebody without a major on-court dropoff.

 
At Friday, January 29, 2016 5:41:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

More Dragic stuff because I just discovered Basketball Reference has a lineups section (used to have to wait a year for 82 games):

4 Man combos:
Dragic features in 5 of the top 6 Miami 4 man combos (team high again) including #1 (#2 is the same lineup with Udrih in Dragic's place, though it's still 7 points worse (the same as the gap between #2 and #8)). Wade is in 3 of the top 6 (starting with #3), though he does appear in the worst 5, and all but one of the combinations featuring a negative point differential (the one he doesn't appear in is the other four starters, who play most of their combined minutes with... you guessed it, Dwyane Wade!).

3 Man combos:

Dragic appears in 3 of the top 4 (team high), and 4 of the top 7 (also team high!), and 6 of the top 10 (2nd to Bosh) including #1. Wade appears in 3rd, 5th, and 10th best combos. He does however appear in 5 of the 7 lineups with a negative differential (team high!). Dragic is in 3 of those, lowest of all starters.

2 Man combos:

Dragic is in the top 2 (obviously team high) and 3 of the top 6 (which are all basically mismatches of Bosh/Dragic/Winslow/Green). Wade shows up for the first time at #9, though rest assured he and Deng are the worst pairing the Miami Heat have.


Basically, the Heat are at their best when playing Bosh/Dragic/Winslow/Green/anyone. This makes sense, since it's a lineup perfectly set up to play fast, and butcher people out of the pick and roll. Green's a defensive minus, but adequate to cover most team's 3rd best perimeter scorer. More specifically than that, the team seems to be at their best when it's:

1) Not pairing Wade with more than one other non-shooter (Deng/Winslow/Whiteside)
2) Keeping Bosh/Dragic together (the most versatile PnR option the team has).

Winslow can't shoot and Green's still below average- if improved- defensively, but they can sorta cover for each other at those wing positions. Neither Wade nor Deng can space the floor anymore, nor is either much of a defender at this point in their careers.

Deng is probably the most useless of the Miami starters, and should probably be moved to the bench where he can hopefully beat up on second units.

That all said, the biggest problem with Wade is the *way* he plays offense, as discussed above. This lineup data supports that hypothesis. The guy needs to either return to the roll he played on their title teams (off-ball terror and defensive pest) or embrace a Ginobili type roll, because all of the available data suggests that Wade-as-primary ball handler is the worst of all the Heat's options.

 
At Friday, January 29, 2016 11:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I don’t have the time or inclination to engage in an extended conversation about Dragic but I am glad that we have the opportunity to revisit the subject at the season’s halfway point. I will respond to what you wrote and then give you the last word (if you want) before we revisit the subject after the season.

My contention is that Dragic is a very good point guard but not an elite one. Your contention, as I understand it, is that Dragic is one of the best point guards in the NBA (and the best pick and roll point guard) based on his personal efficiency and the efficiency of the offenses of his teams.

I note for the record these facts:

1) Dragic has never been selected as an All-Star by the coaches (or fans).

2) He made the All-NBA Third Team once, after a season in which he averaged 4 ppg more than he has in any other season and 8 ppg more than his career average. In the absence of other evidence, I deem that season to be a fluke. By definition, it is a fluke (unless he repeats that performance again for a season, which seems unlikely).

3) Dragic’s scoring, assist, rebounding and shooting numbers across the board this season almost exactly match his career averages. I actually thought that he would do a bit better since he is in his prime but the reality is that his career averages are inflated by his one fluky career year, so a 12 ppg/5 apg season is a bit above average for Dragic if we don’t count his one fluky career year.

Regarding your points about (1) Dragic’s alleged impact on Miami and (2) his alleged misuse, I say that if a team does worse sans a given player, it could mean that player is really good, it could mean his backup is really bad and it could mean some combination of the two. I have no doubt that Miami is better with Dragic starting at pg than with one of his backups starting at pg but I am not convinced that the stats you cited prove that Dragic is an elite point guard. Also, since Wade has hardly missed any games your comparison of Miami sans Dragic with Miami sans Wade involves sample sizes that are too small to tell us anything meaningful.

Let’s look a bit deeper at the games Dragic has missed this season. Dragic missed one game in December—a one point loss to Detroit in which his replacement, Beno Udrih, played well—and Dragic missed eight games in a row before returning tonight against Milwaukee. Miami went 3-5 in those games but those losses include @ the Clippers, @ the Thunder and @ the Raptors. Most recently, the Heat won two in a row without Dragic, including a road win @ Chicago. Take out the road losses to top notch teams--games Miami probably would have lost even with Dragic--and Miami is 3-3 without Dragic, which is not great but not shocking for a team that does not have a great backup point guard.

A coach cannot “use” just one player; he has to set up a whole rotation that makes sense. That is what Spoelstra is trying to do; the reasons that he is using certain players a certain way could have to do with conditioning, matchups, team chemistry and other factors that may not be obvious at first glance. You may not like how he is using Dragic but Spoelstra is trying to get the best out of his entire roster. In a perfect world, maybe Dragic should handle the ball more and run more pick and roll actions--but he has to play with the other four guys on the court, something that he knew before he signed with Miami and something that Miami knew before signing him.

 
At Friday, January 29, 2016 11:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

(I had to break my comment into two parts because of Blogger's word count restrictions)

It was predictable that Wade would be the primary ballhandler (in fact, that is exactly what I predicted when we discussed this before the season). Wade is a better player than Dragic and a proven champion. Wade can be given a lesser role in deference to LeBron James but it makes no sense to give Wade a lesser role in favor of a career 12 ppg scorer who came into camp out of shape and whose one career year would be a subpar season on Wade’s resume. If Miami had an elite point guard like Curry or Westbrook, then that player would handle the ball more and Wade would take a lesser role.

Before Dragic left Phoenix, you contended that Hornacek is a bad coach who is misusing Dragic, while I argued that Dragic would be used pretty much the same way by most other coaches. You asserted that once Dragic landed in Miami he would be set loose upon the Eastern Conference and become an All-Star who transformed the Heat back into a championship contender. For whatever reason, none of that has happened and Dragic's stint in Miami has gone almost exactly the way that I predicted it would. In fact, the guard who left Phoenix and became an All-Star for a playoff contender is Isaiah Thomas, not Dragic, an outcome that I believe I predicted in one of our conversations.

 
At Saturday, January 30, 2016 12:04:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Ok, I'm happy to leave it after this for a while as well.

1) Agreed. He probably should have been in '14, but that's the only year.

2) The scoring was commensurate with an increase in usage, and the following decreases were similarly on pace. Dragic is a somewhat odd player in that his FGAs seem to have little to no impact on his FG% (whereas most players see their FG% dip as they take more attempts). Whether he is taking 10 shots a game or 20, he remains a consistently efficient scorer (though his 3pt % has been all over the map this year).

3) I disagree that his year was fluky, and I disagree that his performing poorly in the last month or two of this season; when given the ball, he performs well. He simply doesn't get the ball as much in Miami as he did in PHX as they have so many other weapons (though they struggle to use most of those). His per possession numbers are still excellent, and his on/off impact is the most dramatic among Heat starters; you may contend that this is because he has poorer backups than other players, but considering Bosh has been mostly replaced by Amare Stoudemire and Udonis Haslem, I find this argument rather uncompelling. Since he also leads all starters in net RTG- which has nothing to do with backups, and is merely a measure of nets points for/against when he is on the court- it seems quite likely that he's having a pretty significant impact. No other player correlates as strongly with their success except for Justise Winslow.

Now, Winslow benefits from the "plays against bench guys" factor, so net-RTG between he and a starter is a bit less apples-to-apples than Dragic vs Wade (more on that momentarily), but the reason Winslow's number is so high is a simple one:

Dwyane Wade has become an atrocious defensive player (while Winslow is a very good one), and Wade, despite gaudy individual numbers, no longer correlates with a significantly positive offensive performance for his team.

Pt 1

 
At Saturday, January 30, 2016 12:12:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

We'll get back to the big picture stuff in a moment, but the core premise of yours I most disagree with is that Dwyane Wade is- this season- a plus player, let alone better than Dragic. He is absent from the Heat's best combinations, and he is present in almost all of their worst ones. He is surviving on reputation alone, and all you need to do to understand that is watch a Heat game or two; the offense stagnates when he plays as opposing teams leave him alone outside of 16 feet off ball, and he renders the offense predictable when he plays on-ball. HIs PnR with Whiteside is effective, and he has some Paul Pierce-ish "old man" game in isolation situations, but he is no longer a game-changer.

There is basically no statistical evidence that Wade helps his team win. Lineups featuring either Green or Winslow in his place alongside the other starters outperform the starting lineup, and basically any lineup featuring he and Deng produces negative results. With a terrible defensive impact (the Heat's team D-RTG w/ Wade on the court is worse than with any other player), no ability to space the floor, and diminished effectiveness as a scorer, he's become more of a liability as a starter than a virtue. His decent-ish individual numbers hide that from laymen, but as one of the first guys on the "Harden's not actually helping you win" bandwagon, you of all people should understand why that doesn't matter.

It is a small sample size but worth noting that Miami's single best win of the season- a 24 point win against the Mavericks (not an elite team, but as good as anyone else the Heat have beaten)- came with Wade coming off the bench and feasting on second units without neutering the starters.

Dragic scores less than Wade, yes, but he does so on much fewer shots and playing outside of his strengths. Dragic's USG% is just under 2/3s of Wade's, and consequently he scores just slightly over 2/3s as much (again, this is with his slow start; since December he's waxing Wade on a per-possession basis). He also has a much more positive impact defensively; opposing players shoot 4% worse against him than their season averages, the team's overall D is just under 2 pts better 100 with him while Wade allows opposing players to shoot their average % (despite usually being hidden on the least threatening perimeter player) and the team allows more PP100 with him than with either of his replacements (including Gerald Green).

At this point, Wade is a better rebounder than Dragic. He scores more, but does so less efficiently. He hurts the team's defense more than any other player, while Dragic helps it, and most of the other players see their best production in lineups with Dragic and their worst in lineups with Wade. Additionally, Dragic is enough of a three point threat that teams at least have to cover him on the perimeter (making it easier for everyone else), while they actively ignore Wade (making it harder).

Tell me again why in 2016 Wade is the better player?

Pt 2.

 
At Saturday, January 30, 2016 12:19:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, you can whine and moan and give James a free pass all you want. But, if James doesn't consistently play hard the entire time while stop coasting even when he's not quitting, then he certainly cannot expect any of his teammates to do the same. His teams have been ridiculously stacked for 8 straight years now. He is also mainly responsible for his Cavs' rosters in each of his stints with CLE, so the blame/success should fall completely with him. You can nitpick all you want about his teammates' deficiencies, but he has more than enough talent and depth around him to win. He still doesn't realize that one needs to bring the intensity all the time.

Maybe it's a bit unfair to James, but this is what he wants, and he still is one of the all-time greats. But, when we compare him to the 2 premier mid-size players in nba history(Kobe and Jordan), he has almost no case to even be considered better than either, individually or team-wise. He is almost capable of doing anything he wants, but he isn't always willing to. Jordan, Kobe, and Russell are the 3 players that come to mind who were willing to do anything possible to win, though Russell's abilities limited him in many areas, so he had to basically focus on defense and rebounding.

Maybe titles shouldn't be so black and white, but it's also the journey to the title that is worth noting. James has had a lot of stinkers in the playoffs, which he has nobody to blame but himself. I don't think you realize how much of a choke job 2009 was. Again, only 3 teams in nba history who have won at least 66 games have failed to win the title. And his 2010 team was probably even better. We're not even talking of winning even one title, which should be a given for supposedly the greatest player according to many at the time who also had a great cast, we're talking about just making one finals appearance over those 2 years or 2 ECF. He also had the best cast each series in 2011. And Dirk was sick and didn't even play that well, and DAL still wins. You have little Jason Terry punking James in the 4th quarter almost every game. Taking everything account, yes, it is reasonable to expect James to have won at least 4 titles by now, if he's anywhere as good as the majority of people make him out to be, especially since he basically has a free pass of making the finals in the weak East, at least 2011 and either 2009 or 2010.

He finally got his act together in 2012/13 with a lot of help from Wade/Riley, and SA messing up in game 6 of 2013 finals. Do you remember Wade yelling at James during 2011 finals? That's pretty telling. He plays so listlessly at times still. Leonard, who wasn't even a star yet, outplayed over last few games of 2014 finals. James maybe best player in 2015 finals, but he's running out of gas at times, and Iggy's outplaying him over large stretches of the series. But, CLE still should've won, even without the supposed lack of help according to you. James certainly could've done more in game 1's OT loss. But, still up 2-1 after 3.

And like I said before about Dragic, make one AS team and then we'll talk. He's just another decent nba player, who seems to train with Shawn Kemp during the offseason. After his breakout season, yea, one could reasonably expect him to keep that level of play up for a few years maybe, but so far, that's not the case. Even if you're right about him being misused which isn't based on any evidence, he could still play a lot better, which he hasn't yet. If MIA can't make at least the finals with Dragic as their 4th best player, then he's nowhere near as good as you think he is.

 
At Saturday, January 30, 2016 1:09:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Now, Wade mostly out of the way, let's get back to Dragic. Here are the things you were right about:

1) Miami is using him in a similar (albeit slightly better) capacity to how PHX used him last year.

2) His individual #s are not great (though since mid December they've been All-Star-ish).

I admit to being surprised by the 1st; frankly, Dragic or no this team is seriously underachieving and I am beginning to doubt Spoelstra. He seems oblivious to which lineups of his work (Deng/Wade is a disaster, and Bosh/Whiteside are usually better apart), he tends to coach away from the hot hand, and the Heat have no offensive system to speak of. Despite starting 4 former All NBA players and a 60%ish big man, his team is ranked 26th in the league offensively.

The second I've oft-argued is not the point with Dragic. Never mind that the stats that actually factor in context (Net RTG, on-court/off-court, lineup data) all love him, he's not scoring enough... because he's setting up everybody else. Not only does he lead MIA in both assists and hockey assists (he's also their most efficient perimeter scorer, but never mind that for now), but his penetration (and especially his PnR play) creates defensive compromises and mismatches that open up opportunities for other players in a way that Wade no longer does. Teams don't need to double Wade these days, and he can't directly punish them when they do, but Goran routinely gets into the paint drawing 2-3 defenders and/or creating mismatches, then passes the ball back out, usually to the corner. This often won't lead to a direct assist, but the defense is now scrambled and therefore easier to attack (this is why basically every member of MIA sees their best #s with Dragic, but not with Wade).

MIA is 26th in the league on offense. When Dragic plays, they jump to about 6th. When he sits, they drop to 27th; that's only one spot, but only because the Nets/76ers/Lakers are openly tanking (the gap between 27 PHX and 28 Brooklyn is the same as the gap between 11 and 26).

Statistically, he correlates the strongest with their success (Bosh is second), Deng and Wade the strongest with their failure. That's probably not a coincidence.

When he first came to Miami, I predicted he would goose their offense (I'm right; they're great when he plays), and that his #s would rebound (I'm wrong; Spoelstra's enjoying watching Wade tank their season). I assumed their defense would stay about the same or improve (it's improved a bit, but I didn't anticipate Wade turning into a human traffic cone; all their best defensive lineups, however, include Dragic).

The biggest thing I was wrong about, though, was assuming Wade would still be better than Dragic. If you dig up that thread, you'll see me say as much. I assumed Wade would still try hard on D, I assumed he would be smart enough to realize that Dragic isn't of nearly as much value off-ball, and I assumed that he would remember he won two titles playing off-ball. I was wrong on all counts. I also wrongly assumed Deng wasn't totally cooked. I assumed Spoelstra would ride the Dragic/Bosh PnR into the ground (he hasn't, but it kills when he runs it). I also figured they'd get out in transition more (a little, but way less than I thought).

Basically the only thing I was right about was Dragic's impact, really. The team's top 7 on both sides of the ball with him and bottom 10 on both sides without. Incidentally, teams that are top 7 on both sides of the ball are generally considered title contenders. Teams that are bottom 10 are generally considered tanking.

 
At Saturday, January 30, 2016 1:10:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Assuming Spoelstra doesn't fix his offense/move Deng or Wade to the bench/make a big trade, I suspect at the end of the season our arguments will be much the same:

David: Dragic's #s are nothing special.

NIck: It's not about his individual #s and never was, but he provably makes the team and the individual players on it much better when he plays.

It's odd that you can't seem to see my side of this, frankly. You've talked at great length about the opportunities great players create for their teammates, but you seem blind to the way Dragic empowers the Heat offense, even when the data's right there in front of you. Much like in PHX, everyone's playing their best ball when they're out there with him, and their worse when they're not.

You're also weirdly blind to how bad Dwyane Wade has become.

A little more on Spo:

1) Most of MIA's best lineups (performance wise) are smallball lineups with only one of Bosh/Whiteside. He almost never plays small.
2) Wade is shooting .225 from 3, but keeps shooting them. He more or less ignores defense. Nothing has been done about either of these.
3) Luol Deng is awful this year, but still starting.
4) The Bosh/Dragic PnR is one of- if not the- best plays Miami has. Naturally, they barely run it. Dragic averages about 5 PnRs per game (couldn't get individual #s, estimate 2-3 with Bosh). In 2014 (for a team that won more games than this one looks likely to), he ran about 21 per game. His usage is down, but it's not *that* down.

HOF or not, none of that makes any sense to me.

A bit on Isiah:

Thomas is certainly having a great year... for a coach that understands exactly how to use him. Unlike Goran, he's being put in a position to succeed; he's surrounded by good defenders (though his team is still much better defensively when he sits), he has the green light to shoot (though his efficiency is still dubious), and he is empowered to completely dominate the ball. I'm quite confident that if you traded he and Goran, Boston would improve on both ends while Miami would completely fall apart.

A bit on Hornacek:

Is anybody still claiming he knows what he's doing? We've had about 6 former players throw him under the bus in the last 18 months, his team's among the worst in the league, there's two separate civil wars currently going on in his locker room, and he's accomplished absolutely nothing without Goran.

 
At Saturday, January 30, 2016 1:14:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Anonymous-

Show me again where I said Lebron was as good or better than Kobe or Jordan? I remember saying the opposite. I also don't remember excusing his half-assed play, though I do remember condemning it.

I'm through arguing whether or not his casts were good enough with you. I feel i've made my case adequately. So has NBA history.

My comments on Dragic above. He's playing fine, he's just in the wrong system. He's also MIA's 2nd best player, not their fourth, and two of their five starters are actively hurting the team at this point, so a Finals appearance this year is pretty unlikely unless they fix their system.

 
At Saturday, January 30, 2016 1:26:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

One last point of clarification.

When we first started talking about Dragic in 2014, I maintained he was a top 3 PG. With the ascendance of Curry and Wall, he's not that high anymore even in a best case scenario. But I'd still rather have him than the Kyrie Irvings/Damian Lillards/Tony Parkers of the world.

He is, however, a system guy, and would really benefit from playing in a PnR system, with some spacing, on an uptempo team. Perhaps in a year or two we'll get to see him do that again, once Wade realizes he's not Wade anymore, and Winslow becomes their big swing star.

 
At Saturday, January 30, 2016 8:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody has ever won on their own, not Jordan, not Kobe, nobody. You cannot win 66 and 61 wins in consecutive years, even in a weaker conf., by yourself. I'm pretty sure nba history supports me there. It's amazing, but all James has had to do is just play hard consistently and stop coasting, no matter if he still played poorly, and he'd have anywhere between 1-5 more titles. And you cannot make 6 finals in 9 years, even in a weaker conf., without substantial help. Now, if James' teams played in the West, he'd have far fewer finals appearance, probably lucky to have 1-2 even, possibly more. So then, your arguments might hold a little more weight, but that's not the case.

This is what I don't get about Dragic. He's made 1 3rd team all-nba, and still has 0 AS. And what makes you the expert about Dragic that nba coaches don't realize? He comes to MIA last year, and while MIA had some injuries, he can't even elevate them to the playoffs. And now Dragic is somehow better than either Wade or Bosh, according to you. Other than a few advanced stats which mean almost nothing usually, nothing really supports Dragic's supposed greatness in your eyes. There's no possible way you'd be able to coach better than any NBA coach, including Spoelstra. Unless a team is absolutely awful and/or has few playmakers that aren't that good to begin with, no team is going to let Dragic take full control. If they do, they're going nowhere. He's a quality player, but definitely not an AS player.

 
At Saturday, January 30, 2016 9:27:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Anonymous-

I'm not interested in another extended back and forth, but here's my response to your recent Dragic comments:

"He comes to MIA last year, and while MIA had some injuries, he can't even elevate them to the playoffs."

They'll make the playoffs (barring an extended Dragic or Bosh absence, at least). Probably the 6 seed, maybe higher.

"And now Dragic is somehow better than either Wade or Bosh, according to you." Actually, I said Bosh was better. He is better than Wade these days, though.

"Other than a few advanced stats which mean almost nothing usually, nothing really supports Dragic's supposed greatness in your eyes."

Actually, on/off court numbers are pretty reliable. Go look at your other favorite players; they all kick ass at them, most likely. Lineup data is hardly an advanced stat, either, since it's basically just "net points when whoever plays".

Also, the most basic stat of all- wins- suggests he matters quite a bit. Their only two wins w/ Wade without him came against Brooklyn (bleh), and a Chicago team missing Noah, Dunleavy, and playing Rose only 13 minutes. Also Mitotic was playing with an extremely inflamed appendix. Neither of those is exactly a quality win.

"There's no possible way you'd be able to coach better than any NBA coach, including Spoelstra."

Never said I would. But that doesn't mean we can't question them; every commentator does.

"Unless a team is absolutely awful and/or has few playmakers that aren't that good to begin with, no team is going to let Dragic take full control. "

I mean, the Suns turned a team full of scrubs over to him and won 48 games in the West. Likely would have made the playoffs if he'd been able to play another two games. Miami may not win that many in the East with the ball in Wade's hands, even with Bosh and Dragic-centric lineups killing it.

"He's a quality player, but definitely not an AS player."

AS is hardly a meaningful designation. This year, for instance, Kobe Bryant, Isaiah Thomas, and James Harden are All-Stars but Tim Duncan, Al Horford, Dirk Nowitzki, Kemba Walker, and Pau Gasol are not.

OTOH, he did make an All-NBA team, which is quite a bit trickier (6 guard spots among 30 teams, as opposed to 6 guard spot among 15).


Look, the guy's not gonna be a big-time scorer on a team like this, and that's fine. But their offense is way, way better when he's running it than when Wade is. Wade's #s, even, are better when he plays with Dragic. It doesn't make sense to have a guy like Goran- who's one of the best guards in the league at forcing defenses into tough choices and bad switches- and have him stand off-ball.

Wade needs to become a willing cutter again; it's telling that the team's offense is often better with Winslow, who's nowhere near the scorer or passer Wade is, simply because Winslow is a willing cutter off the ball. What they're doing right now is getting bad results, and in fact worse results than Dragic's PHX team. The defense isn't the problem, so they need to change up the offense. Giving the ball to the team's best creator seems like a pretty natural fix.

It also wouldn't hurt if Wade felt like playing defense again, but I'd settle for him not borking the offense.

 
At Monday, February 01, 2016 1:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

The same commentators from Miami and ESPN who are criticizing Spoelstra's usage of Dragic are also praising Wade for having a resurgent season. Are these sources only credible when they agree with your notions? I am skeptical of most media coverage in general, whether or not a particular commentator agrees with me about a particular issue; I don't tend to put too much weight on a style of reasoning that is based on "so and so agrees with me" unless so and so is a very credible source on the subject matter in question. If part of your pro-Dragic argument is based on the media coverage of the Dragic-Spoelstra dynamic, then you should also acknowledge that the media coverage of Wade portrays this as some kind of revival season for Wade.

As for Dragic being misused, I find your assertion that he has only been used properly for one season out of his entire NBA career to strain credulity a bit. It kind of sounds like Bill Simmons' rants that no one in the NBA knows how to coach or general manage as well as he does.

I agree with you that one does not have to be qualified to be an NBA coach in order to make a competent critique of an NBA coach and I respect the way that you are attempting to use what you consider to be objective indicators to evaluate Dragic's play/Spoelstra's schemes but when I consider the totality of the situation I just don't buy what you are selling. The statistical evidence, the eye test and the coaches' All-Star voting all indicate that Dragic is a good, solid player but not an elite point guard. I agree with you that Dragic is a very good pick and roll player and that he provides an offensive spark but I just don't buy the idea that he alone singlehandedly can make a team's offense great. I think that when he is on teams that don't have credible backup pgs his impact may seem to be more than it really is.

Also, the very nature of the argument that you keep making on Dragic's behalf undercuts the notion that he is an elite player, because even you admit that he looks pretty ordinary if he is not used in a very specific way. Bosh's individual numbers suffered when he played alongside LeBron James but he was still an All-Star and still a valuable contributor to two championship teams. A player's role can obviously affect his statistics but if he has to be in just the right situation to thrive then by definition he is not elite at his position, let alone elite overall.

Just wanted to chime in with those quick thoughts and I will revisit this subject again after Miami's playoff run is over, whenever that turns out to be.

 
At Monday, February 01, 2016 2:22:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I also don't wanna fight any further on most of those points, but I do want to clarify this one a bit further:

"Also, the very nature of the argument that you keep making on Dragic's behalf undercuts the notion that he is an elite player, because even you admit that he looks pretty ordinary if he is not used in a very specific way. Bosh's individual numbers suffered when he played alongside LeBron James but he was still an All-Star and still a valuable contributor to two championship teams. A player's role can obviously affect his statistics but if he has to be in just the right situation to thrive then by definition he is not elite at his position, let alone elite overall."

Firstly, I totally agree that Dragic is much less impressive when not properly deployed. However, I disagree that being a player that plays best in a complementary system cannot be considered "elite" and would even contend that most players need to play in a system that plays at least somewhat to their strengths in order to thrive.

We can quibble over the definition of elite (actually let's not), but I tend to be more interested in a player's best case scenario than their worst; Russell Westbrook, for instance (aside: credit where it's due, taking a big leap defensively this season), wouldn't be nearly as effective on a team like the Memphis Grizzlies who have no shooters to clear the lane for him. Shaq played his best ball when he had A) a strong perimeter threat to get him the ball in his spots, and B) enough shooters to make double-teaming him a dicey proposition. Dwight Howard, an MVP candidate in Orlando, has become a borderline All-Star at best since leaving the SVG system built to exploit his strengths and mask his weaknesses.

That doesn't mean those guys wouldn't be effective in other situations- they would, they're great players- but they wouldn't be as effective. Dragic is still goosing Miami's offense regardless of his individual numbers (the Heat were 28th in the league last year before acquiring him/losing Bosh and ended up at 21st, and while they're an unimpressive 26th right now, they're about 7th when he's on the court), but he's not dominating like he did in 2014 (when his team ranked 8th in the league overall, 21st when he sat, and 1st when he played).

You tend to put a little bit less of an emphasis on defense than I do most of the time (though you still care about it more than most commentators), but for me a guy who not only diminishes an opposing player's offensive effectiveness, but also basically guarantees a top 10 offense when he's on the court (we now have a three year sample size of that being the case) while usually shooting better %s than any PG not named Stephen Curry, and one that tends to bring out the best in his teammates (we now have a three year sample size of that, too; how are Miles Plumlee, Eric Bledsoe, and PJ Tucker's #s doing without him?) easily counts as "elite".

You brought up Bosh's reduced numbers under Lebron; that's a good example of what's happening here with Goran. He's still contributing- positively- and he's still doing all the same stuff well; he just isn't getting as many chances to do it, and he's not getting to do it in the ways he's most effective. Whether or not he makes All-Star teams isn't the point; whether or not he helps his team win is. So far, all the evidence says he's as important to the Heat's success as anybody, and that the team withers on both ends when he sits. That's good enough for me, much as I'd like to see him let loose in the PnR and the break.

It'll be interesting to revisit this discussion after the season.

 
At Monday, February 01, 2016 12:51:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Just got up this morning to see an interesting coda to this conversation:

Jeff Hornacek (justifiably) fired.

His record w/ Dragic: '14 45-31, '15 29-23: 74-54 (.578 winning percentage)
His record w/o Dragic: '14 3-3, '15 10-20, '16 15-34: 28-57 (.329 winning percentage)


I think it's fairly clear who made who on that one, at least. Dragic went from stellar to merely really good, Hornacek went from finishing 2nd in Coach of the Year voting to winning less than a third of his games.

 
At Monday, February 01, 2016 5:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

What are Hornacek's numbers with and without Isaiah Thomas, the guard who left PHX and actually became an All-Star?

Hornacek did not trade Dragic or run him out of town. The PHX organization has made many strange decisions over the past few years and I think that their one season of success with Dragic was both a collective and individual fluke.

If the solution to any team's offensive woes were really as simple as (1) sign Dragic, (2) give him the ball, (3) get out of the way then I believe that this would have happened by now. You are not considering many important factors, including but not limited to Dragic's conditioning, matchups, his teammates' strengths/limitations and the viability of just running the same play every time. I don't think that an NBA offense can just entirely be designed around a Dragic/whoever pick and roll. I think that the points per possession numbers and other stats that you like to cite are probably indicative that Dragic's teams ran these plays judiciously versus matchups where the plays would be effective. You are assuming that if they kept running the same play regardless of matchups that they would get the same result. If that were true, then NBA coaching would be mighty simple, wouldn't it? Bill Simmons believes that kind of thing (maybe not about Dragic, but in general) but I have talked to enough coaches and watched enough NBA games to know it is not so.

 
At Monday, February 01, 2016 6:41:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Since you asked...

Horny w/ Thomas: 26-20 (.565 winning percentage)
Horny w/o Thomas: 75-92 ( .458 winning percentage)

It is also worth noting that the team was better with Dragic and not Thomas than with both. In general, over the last three years, the success of Dragic's teams correlates highly with his usage. PHX using him a lot: very good. PHX using him a lot less: Just kinda ok. MIA using him slightly more than last year's PHX: Pretty good, but not stellar.

This also seems a fair time to point out that every member of that PHX team has seen their FG% decline since parting with Dragic, and all but Marcus Morris (who is now a starter in Detroit playing many more minutes) have also seen their scoring drop. You previously claimed that their improved play was a product of increased age/maturity/skill and/or Hornacek and/or Bledsoe, but all of them, from Frye to Plumlee to the Morrii to Bledsoe, have regressed in Goran's absence.

Back on topic, you're exaggerating my point, which makes it much easier to attack. I am not advocating that Dragic control the ball every time down, but I do think that giving him a usage rate closer to 25% (about what he had in his best year), and running 20ish PnRs for him per game instead of 5 will only yield good results. No team has tried it and gotten bad ones.

I disagree that running the same number of PnRs for him in MIA as they did in PHX would make the play predictable/easy to defend; surely you agree that MIA has many more weapons that other teams must account for than PHX did, and it would be relatively easy to punish teams that overloaded on the Dragic/Bosh PnR. In lineups featuring McRoberts and Green (current slump aside) it is particularly difficult to defend without conceding open 3s.

Empowering the guy who forces rotations and switches to run your offense isn't a revolutionary idea, but for whatever reason it's one MIA's been reticent to try... although that said over the last 20 games or so he's played they've done *more* of it, and to good effect. They had a pretty quality win last night against a strong Atlanta team, and while Dragic's individual numbers were nothing special he led the team in +/-, as the offense hummed while he played and did just ok while he sat. The Heat outscored the Hawks by 17 in the 23 minutes Dragic played, and by 1 point in the 25 he did not. This is fairly typical for them, though not alway so start.

Through the season, Dragic leads all starters in +/-, despite a solid backup (Beno Udrih now, previously Mario Chalmers) who also posts positive +/- numbers. Among rotation players, only Winslow beats him (which makes sense, as he generally comes in for one of the Heat's two worst defensive players and gets to play against bench lineups). When the Heat most get killed is when they turn the offense fully over to Wade and try to do without a PG, or when they play their starting lineup, which lacks the spacing, speed, and defense to be especially good on either end of the ball as Whiteside crowds the lane for Bosh/Wade/Dragic, and Wade/Deng are ignored on the perimeter by opposing defenses, while neither Wade nor Deng seem able to guard the positions well anymore (though both do better when upshifted to guarding 3s and 4s, respectively).

There are probably some teams who could match up well against the Dragic/Bosh PnR, but they are few and far between. Cleveland cannot do it, for instance, without leaving either Delladova or Irving stuck covering Wade, at which point it makes sense to give him the ball (and Goran's a savvy enough passer to do it). The problem is that MIA isn't forcing teams to make those choices or adjustments in the first place.

It is obvious that Miami's current offensive preference of "pass the ball listlessly around the perimeter for a while, then run an iso or a PnR for Wade" is not producing good results. Perhaps running an elite PnR guard through PnRs with one of the best pick and pop big men would not help, but it is at least worth trying.

 
At Monday, February 01, 2016 8:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

We've been around and around concerning Dragic's time in PHX and I don't think that we are going to agree about how to interpret it. PHX gave up Dragic for draft picks, so it is hardly shocking that the team is performing worse now. That organization has also been hit with all kinds of injuries and chaos, so without going back over all of the stuff that we debated before it is safe to say that there are many factors that have caused PHX' decline. Dragic's departure did not help but it is far from clear that his departure is the primary reason that PHX has declined. I would hope that you can admit that losing a future All-Star guard like Thomas is a major factor as well.

I agree with your general point that a player can have an impact on his team that is not directly or completely measured by individual statistics--but your original claims about Dragic (ranking him as an elite NBA point guard and comparing him favorably with Westbrook) are outlandish. If you contented yourself with saying that Dragic is a solid pg who excels in the pick and roll and whose presence can contribute to making an offense more efficient then I would completely agree. I just don't agree with this business that you could put him on any team and if you ran the right system he could carry that team to 45-50 wins, which is what I understand you to be claiming.

Part of analyzing correctly--whether in law, chess or basketball--involves being able to accurately predict the future. You and I both made predictions about Dragic/the Heat. Thus far, my predictions are coming to pass and yours are not. I predicted that Wade would be the dominant ballhandler, that the Heat would be fourth in the East and that Dragic would not be an All-Star but that his former teammate Thomas could very well become one. As of the midpoint of the season, I am batting 1.000 regarding those predictions. You may be correct that Dragic is not being used "correctly" but I correctly predicted how he would be used by a top notch coach in a top notch organization. You may say that it was unpredictable that Dragic would be out of shape and that now that he is in shape Miami will morph into a different team. We'll see. Right now, though, the real world evidence of what has actually transpired matches what I predicted.

As I said before, we'll revisit this after the playoffs--and this thread will now return to its regularly scheduled programming (comments about my advice for the Cavaliers).

 
At Monday, February 01, 2016 8:48:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Last one for me (Again, I know, but I meant it this time):

I kinda agree that losing Thomas hurts; PHX was not using Thomas much better than it was using Dragic, and did not have the defensive personnel to cover for him, so his impact there wasn't what it is in BOS. That said, they certainly haven't put Knight in a position to succeed, either. Thomas is better off in Boston.

"I just don't agree with this business that you could put him on any team and if you ran the right system he could carry that team to 45-50 wins, which is what I understand you to be claiming."

I would elaborate on that slightly to claim that if you put him on any team with a competent defense, a competent PnR partner, and a few shooters, and then ran that system, you would win between 48-58 games (PHX got to 48 without the competent defense). He cannot single-handedly carry a team anymore than anyone not named Lebron James (or perhaps Steph Curry; argument for another day) in the current NBA can, but he can run an elite offense about as well as anyone not named Steph Curry or Lebron James can.

Also, you're misrepresenting my predictions. I said Dragic would dramatically increase Miami's offensive production (he has, when he's on the court), that Miami would be a top 4 team in the East (currently true, though that's waffled), and that they would be a title contender if healthy (probably not, but we'll see; if they got hot in the playoffs they could make the Finals before getting snuffed by the unforeseeably dominant GSW and SA outfits). I did not say he would make an All-Star team (though, hey, let's see what happens as Wade ages), nor did I predict big individual numbers. I did say he'd have better numbers than he did in PHX in '15, which so far he has not.

Things I was wrongest about: I assumed Wade and Deng would be better than they presently are- especially Deng-, that Spo's claims about playing fast were anything more than empty boasting, and that Whiteside would be able to co-exist with Bosh.

Miami has been much better since Dragic got into shape (and, again, screw him for not showing up in shape, babies be damned), but he can only do so much as a tertiary option; the guy's value is in running an offense. Over the last week Bosh and Spo have both been saying all the right things about playing faster and giving him the ball, but it remains to be seen whether or not that's lip service.

In closing, so far we've actually both been mostly right, though I concede you've been righter. I wrongly assumed Miami would put the ball in his hands more than they have; that said, when they have put the ball in his hands, the results have been exactly what I expected/predicted.

And with that, let's close the book on Dragic for at least a month or two.

As for Cleveland, I remain unconvinced that their roster as constructed is much of a threat to the big boys in the West, even if Red Auerbach crawled out of the grave to coach them. They need two-way players and don't have them; championship teams do.

 
At Monday, February 01, 2016 9:07:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Oh, and as for Westbrook, while I think he is better than Dragic now, two years ago he was a terrible defender and a questionable offensive decision maker. HIs passing and defense have both improved quite a bit since then (his defense only this season, his passing gradually over his whole career), and his decision making has improved (though he still takes way too many threes for as poor of a shooter as he is). He remains a little bit turnover prone, but given the quality of his passes when they do go through, I'll live with that.

Given that Dragic as first option in '14 had a better winning percentage than Westbrook as 1st option in '15- despite one of them getting to play with Serge Ibaka anchoring their D and the other playing with Miles Plumlee- I don't at all agree that preference was at all outlandish at the time.

Credit both men for continuing to work on their defense in a league that doesn't give much credit for it; both have taken big jumps on that end this season, though Westbrook's improved more (and has the athleticism to do more on that end than Dragic can).

 
At Monday, February 01, 2016 11:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

If I am not mistaken, the Cavs have been winning at a .750+ clip since last year's midseason moves solidified the rotation. They were up 2-1 in the 2015 Finals with game four at home despite not having Love for any of those games and only having Irving in the game one loss.

Therefore, I cannot accept the proposition that the Cavs are not "much of a threat" to the top West teams.

We agree about the Cavs' weaknesses: Defense, coaching (Blatt was not a championship-level NBA strategist, while his replacement Lue is an unknown commodity as an NBA head coach), LeBron's peculiar tendency to coast/quit/call it what you will at inopportune moments.

However, I disagree that the Cavs cannot overcome these weaknesses or should not be able to overcome these weaknesses. If I were coaching the Cavs against the Warriors, I would use a frontcourt of James-Love-Mozgov. I would run the Warriors' shooters off of the three point line and try to make them shoot contested twos outside of the paint. On offense, I would not necessarily slow the game down per se; I would push the ball as fast as my big guys can run and I would pound the ball inside to whichever of my big men has the best matchup in the post. If the Warriors want to stay small and trap and scramble, that's fine; good passing and patient post play will lead to a lot of dunks and free throws. Golden State might take a 10 point first quarter lead if their shooters are hot but if they have to defend in the paint against a big team all night for seven games their shooters are not going to stay hot. The Cavs did this imperfectly for three games and took a 2-1 lead without having Love (or Irving for the two wins). Then, Kerr went small because he knew that he could not go big or matchup with Cleveland's bigs, whereupon Blatt panicked, James did not have a lights-out game, the Warriors tied the series and Cleveland fell apart the rest of the way.

The last part of this season will be interesting. James made a point of letting the world know every time he overruled a Blatt play call but, after tonight's win against Indy, James raved about how the coaching staff is putting everyone in the right position. It's a honeymoon now and we will see how long it lasts and if Lue will be the next Pat Riley or Phil Jackson, role players who knew how to get superstar players to buy into their programs.

 
At Tuesday, February 02, 2016 1:49:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

So, here's the thing, I don't think the Cavs do any better last year with Love and Irving healthy; they were able to win those two games by playing some really tough, smart, gritty defense; they can't do that with Love or Irving on the court. That's kinda my whole point; they have the personnel to play good D and they have the personnel to play good O; just not both at once.

Also, once the Warriors decided to go small, they made pretty short work of the Cavs, and I don't think Cleveland has solved that problem.

Your plan is nice in theory, but you cannot put out a Cavs lineup that both has "good passing and patient post play [that] will lead to a lot of dunks and free throws" and can still "run the Warriors' shooters off of the three point line and try to make them shoot contested twos outside of the paint." Love and James are the only particularly good interior passers, but if you play Love the Warriors are going to nuke him in the PnR and abuse him with backdoor cuts. Thompson and Mozgov can beat up the Warriors on the boards but they cannot chase the small lineups around the perimeter- as we saw last year against a not-yet-this-unstoppable Warriors team- and neither is a major post threat in the half-court. The entire NBA has been trying to run the Warriors off the three point line and so far nobody has been able to do it; a Cavs team featuring Love, Mozgov, and Thompson doesn't have the personnel to do it, and even if they did any lineup featuring Love/Mozgov/Thompson doesn't have the footpad to deal with the Warriors' stellar cutting and passing game.

"I would pound the ball inside to whichever of my big men has the best matchup in the post." I think this undersells how good Draymond is defensively by quite a bit; part of what makes him so special is his Rodman-ish ability to guard much larger players. Against the Warriors starters, the Cavs won't have an advantageous matchup in the post; Green's about as good a candidate as there is in the league to cover Love, and Bogut can handle Mozgov easily. If they're playing Thompson and Mozgov & the Warriors are going small, their best bet is probably Thompson vs. Harrison Barnes, which is still not an especially high percentage matchup. And again, I don't know that Mozgov and Thompson are good enough passers to deal with the Warriors trapping if it comes to that.

1/2

 
At Tuesday, February 02, 2016 1:49:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I think even if you get 2009 vs. Orlando Lebron, you're getting cooked by their offense whenever you play Love or Irving (or Smith or Williams) and struggling to score when you play Thompson/Mozgov/Delly.

On top of that, the Warriors win four of the five starting matchups (Lebron is better than Barnes, but that's it), as well as the 2nd string matchups at the 1, 2, 3, and 5.

I further disagree that "Golden State might take a 10 point first quarter lead if their shooters are hot but if they have to defend in the paint against a big team all night for seven games their shooters are not going to stay hot." They have enough shooters- including the best of all-time and the 2nd best currently in the league, plus two more rotation players shooting over 42% for a total of six rotation players shooting over 38% from 3. Curry and Thompson will not be meaningfully affected playing against Cleveland's big lineups since they just guard 1s and 2s (though Thompson will probably do occasional time on Lebron), and those are the two guys you most need to worry about. Shumpert may be able to hassle one of them, but we know from experience that Delly cannot stop either of them; I'm comfortable assuming that neither can Irving, Smith, or Williams.

I just don't see an injury/suspension-free scenario where Cleveland has a meaningful chance unless GSW completely and uncharacteristically melts down. Your ideas require the roster to do things it's not equipped to do, and to do them simultaneously, and assumes that the best shooting team of all time will stop shooting well while guarded by a backcourt rotation of traffic cones.

 
At Tuesday, February 02, 2016 3:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

You raise some valid concerns but I don't think that GS is as invincible as you suggest nor do I think that Cleveland's roster is as limited as you suggest. Cleveland is a .750+ team, which by definition means that the Cavs are among a handful of legit contenders. It cannot be emphasized enough that without Irving and Love--and with an overmatched coach trying to call the shots--the Cavs had a 2-1 Finals lead with game four at home. You say that my strategies won't work but I already saw an imperfect version of these strategies work for three games despite Cleveland's roster being depleted.

I understand your concerns about the defense of Love and Irving but do you really believe that the Cavs are just better without them? Those guys have to be guarded and every minute that they are on the court is one less minute being given to a less talented player.

You have said similar things about OKC vis a vis Kanter and while your analysis has some merit the Thunder are better than you expected and at least have a puncher's chance to beat the Spurs or Warriors. You said that they can't win with Kanter's defense or without his offense but basketball is not quite that simple.

I think that in general you have some interesting ideas/concepts but that you take them a bit too far, whether you are evaluating Dragic or Cleveland or OKC (but let's focus on Cleveland for now, at least in this thread).

 
At Tuesday, February 02, 2016 4:56:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

"It cannot be emphasized enough that without Irving and Love--and with an overmatched coach trying to call the shots--the Cavs had a 2-1 Finals lead with game four at home."

Yeah, it can, because after two games, GSW figured out that it didn't work against their smallball lineups and then beat Cleveland three times in a row (including twice at home). It's also not a strategy that would work with Love on the floor. You're pretending that this was some magic bullet that could have killed the Warriors if only the Cavs stuck with it, but it wasn't; it only worked for about 7 quarters, mostly against lineups featuring Bogut. Your argument also ignores the fact that Curry, Thompson, Barnes, and Green (at least) are all markedly better players now than they were a year ago, and that the Warriors depth has improved.

"I understand your concerns about the defense of Love and Irving but do you really believe that the Cavs are just better without them?"

No. But they're not that much better with them. With them, they're a great offensive team who can't guard anybody. Without them, they're a good defensive team that can't score enough. That's my whole argument; Cleveland doesn't have enough two-way guys. If they had a two-way center and SG to play alongside Love and Irving, perhaps that'd be enough to cover for their inadequacies without compromising the offense, but they don't; Mozgov, Thompson, and Shumpert are awesome defenders but below average offensive players. Smith and Williams are one-way scorers. I don't know what Delladova really is, but he isn't the answer.

This is a team built of individual players who are all pretty good in a vacuum, but don't fit together all that well (at least in championship level competition) in practice.

"You have said similar things about OKC vis a vis Kanter and while your analysis has some merit the Thunder are better than you expected and at least have a puncher's chance to beat the Spurs or Warriors. You said that they can't win with Kanter's defense or without his offense but basketball is not quite that simple"

Actually, I said they'd be a middle tier Western Conference team that posted a good regular season record then got waxed by a real contender in the playoffs, and I said their defense would be awful with Kanter on the floor (it is; they're losing by 9 points per 100 possessions when he plays, and 8 of that comes on the defensive end). They are better than I expected, as Westbrook is posting his first season as a + defensive player, Waiters has been better than expected, and Adams has developed much faster as an offensive threat than I thought he would, but they are not a real threat to a healthy iteration of either SA or GSW. If Duncan is hurt they may in fact have a "puncher's chance" against the Spurs, and Duncan is reasonably likely to be hurt, but even if they squeak by a wounded SA team they have little hope against the Warriors. So far, I've been 100% on the money with my predictions about them; look for that to persist through the playoffs.

"I think that in general you have some interesting ideas/concepts but that you take them a bit too far, whether you are evaluating Dragic or Cleveland or OKC (but let's focus on Cleveland for now, at least in this thread)."

Perhaps. But I think you tend to over-value individual players (especially scorers) regardless of their support/context, and I think you are sometimes seduced by gaudy offensive numbers, and that you put perhaps a bit too much value on regular season excellence. Nobody's perfect, and the truth in most of these cases very possibly lies somewhere between your perspective and mine. In the case of Cleveland and OKC, I suspect I'll be proven right; in the case of Dragic, we're likely to remain in disagreement barring a major system change from Miami to test my hypothesis or a greater estimation of some of the metrics I'm persuaded by on your part.



 
At Tuesday, February 02, 2016 5:12:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Correction (as I think I worded something poorly/wrong): OKC is 9 points worse per 100 possessions with Kanter, not losing by 9 points per 100 with Kanter (though they are getting cooked on defense when he plays). They are posting a slight positive margin when he plays, but it is much worse than the margins of Ibaka or Adams, and slightly worse than the margin of Collison. When Kanter plays, their defense gives up 109 points per 100 possessions, which would rank as 28th in the league. Their overall defense is currently 12th in the league, which is not generally good enough to win the title; in the last 20 years, only the 2001 Lakers won with a defense rated outside the top 10, in kind of a weird year for them where they didn't get their crap together till late in the season (closing on a 20-5 run) before steamrolling the playoffs. I do not foresee a similarly nuclear apex from OKC, but perhaps I am wrong. Westbrook and Durant are great, but they are not 2001 Shaq & Kobe, and Kevin Ollie is probably not Phil Jackson.

I maintain that OKC cannot meaningfully contend for a title with Kanter playing big minutes.

 
At Tuesday, February 02, 2016 5:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Cleveland was not obliged to go small when GS went small. GS went small precisely because Cleveland does have a way to play against GS successfully. In chess, Bobby Fischer expressed the adage, "You have to give up squares to get squares." In basketball terms, this means that in order to gain one kind of matchup advantage you have to give up something else. GS has a deadly small ball lineup but the way to counter that is not to go small but to go big. Maybe it won't work but I don't think that any team in the league right now is going to beat GS by going small. Cleveland has several good big guys, plus James can be very effective in the post when the mood strikes. GS cannot guard a committed James in the post one on one; the required double-teaming and rotating is what could sap the energy of guys like Curry and Thompson even if they are not tasked with being James' primary defender.

If you just said that you would favor GS versus Cleveland in a seven game series, I would agree with you (much like I would agree with you if you said that Dragic is a good pg who excels in the pick and roll game and I would agree with you if you said that Kanter is a defensive liability)--but all Cleveland needed was one home win to take a 3-1 lead. THAT is the game where James, if he is who so many people think he is, has to either have an insane scoring night or else command so much defensive attention that his teammates are getting easy scoring opportunities. Jordan came up big in those moments and that is why he has six rings. That is why Kobe has five rings. That is why James has won two rings despite being on contending teams for the better part of a decade.

OKC is not a middling team. They are heading for 60-plus wins. In most years, they would be the best team in the West, if not the entire NBA. They certainly have enough to beat the Spurs in a seven game series and they have a decent shot against GS.

In my view, almost any team that wins 60-plus games is a legit contender. There are very few such teams in NBA history that were truly only designed for the regular season and not capable of winning a title. Your beloved Nash-led Suns were such a team, but if you listed all of the 60-win teams (and their equivalent from the era when the NBA season did not last 82 games) the overwhelming majority of them were legit contenders.

GS, the Spurs, OKC and the Cavs are the four legit contenders this year. Obviously, only one will win but that does not mean that the other three were not/are not legit contenders. All of those teams have weaknesses and you have done a reasonable job of identifying the weaknesses of OKC and Cleveland--but both of those teams are better than you suggest.

GS is the obvious favorite and one does not have to be a basketball expert to figure that out--but each of those other three teams has the necessary personnel to beat GS in a seven game series with the correct strategy and a high level of execution.

 
At Tuesday, February 02, 2016 8:06:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I don't think Cleveland instantly and universally went small; they still tried their big lineups, and they were unable to keep up with the Warriors.

"They certainly have enough to beat the Spurs in a seven game series and they have a decent shot against GS. "

I intensely disagree. Hopefully the injury gods let us find out. Assuming health, I'd take SA in 5.

I disagree that 60 wins is as important as whether or not a team is equipped to play quality defense in the playoffs. The Suns usually lost- '07 aside- because they had insufficient D and rebounding; OKC is similarly an offensive juggernaut who is unremarkable on defense (12th, much worse with Kanter), and struggles on the defensive boards (17th, though they are an awesome offensive rebounding team). While they have better interior defense- which is more important than perimeter D- than PHX when Kanter sits, they do not have perimeter stoppers at the level of Raja Bell or Shawn Marion, nor are they quite as offensively potent as those Suns teams. I am not convinced that the '16 Thunder could beat the '10 Suns, but I am pretty sure that the '10 Suns could not beat the '16 Warriors or *grimaces* Spurs.

You and I also have different definitions of "contender." For me, it's a team that has a decent shot at winning the title without needing better teams to suffer injuries to open the door. Whether or not OKC could contend in any other season is beside the point (though for the record, in most seasons I think they'd still come up short); they are playing in this season.

"...but each of those other three teams has the necessary personnel to beat GS in a seven game series with the correct strategy and a high level of execution."

San Antonio, yes. I honestly don't know who to pick in that series. But Cleveland and OKC don't have the personnel to attain that level of execution. Both of those teams are worse on both sides of the ball than GSW, and neither has good answers for the problems of defending Curry, stifling GS' ball movement, or countering their depth. OKC is probably better than Cleveland, but both teams have serious matchup weaknesses both in the front court and at the SG position against GSW, and both are worse on both ends of the ball than GSW. It is easy to say there is some magical strategy that, if executed perfectly, would allow them to beat a healthy GSW team four times in seven games, but even that presupposes that GS would not adjust to that magic-bullet stratagem like they did to Cleveland's big lineups in last year's Finals.

As it is, I remain convinced that neither OKC nor Cleveland has much of a real shot against GSW or SA barring injury. While I wouldn't go as far as to predict it, I wouldn't be shocked if either of those teams didn't even make it to OKC or SA; they have more in common with the Clippers, the Raptors, or even the Grizzlies/Hawks/Heat/Bulls/Mavericks than they do with the Spurs or the Warriors.

 
At Wednesday, February 03, 2016 10:19:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Nick: Regarding the 1996 Bulls/2016 Warriors bench comparison earlier in this thread, I don't think they're as very far apart in terms of quality/depth as you might think they are. The Warriors have Iguodala and Barbosa as all-star/starter caliber players coming off the bench, but Toni Kukoc was basically an all-star caliber player himself who sacrificed his individual stats for the sake of winning championships during his prime.

Otherwise, as far as I can tell, Livingston/Speights/Rush/Ezeli are solid role players that match up with what Kerr/Randy Brown/Simpkins/Wennington/Buechler can bring to the table. The presence of both Iguodala and Barbosa gives the Warriors bench a bit of an edge as far as I can tell but not a massive one.

 
At Thursday, February 04, 2016 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Keith-

I admit that my memory is a little rusty for some of the Bulls bench guys (Simpkins/Brown/Buechler specifically), but I think you're underselling Livingston quite a bit; he's a canny passer and solid post-up scoring threat on offense and a terror on defense with his length and smarts. I'd also take Rush over Kerr in a heartbeat; Kerr's a better shooter, but Rush is faster, stronger, better on defense, and still a very good shooter. Speights and Ezeli are both spot-minute guys based on what you need, but I'd take either of them over Wennington.

I also don't remember Kukoc being much of an impact player defensively, and as you may have noticed, whether or not somebody's a factor on both sides of the ball is something that I way pretty heavily. Kukoc is a better offensive player than anyone on the Warriors bench, but I'd contend that the second, third, fourth, and fifth best offensive bench players in this matchup all play for Golden State, as well as the best two or three defensive ones.

 

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