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Friday, April 15, 2016

2015-16 Playoff Predictions

This year, my annual playoff preview article will be presented in a different, briefer format. Before making my predictions, here are some comments about the 2015-16 NBA season:

Golden State's mini-collapse in the closing portion of the regular season before catching a second wind to finish 73-9 provided a good reminder of just how great and consistent the Chicago Bulls were two decades ago. Keep in mind that the Bulls followed up their 72-10 regular season in 1995-96 with a championship and then posted a 69-13 regular season record the next year (plus another championship) before "slumping" to 62-20 (along with a third straight title) to close out the Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen six championship dynasty. The question of how those Bulls would fare head to head against the Warriors may be open to debate but there is no doubt that even after setting the single season wins record the Warriors still have some work to do to match the Bulls' historical accomplishments.

The San Antonio Spurs just completed the least appreciated 67-15 season in pro basketball history; that is the same record posted by the 1986 Boston Celtics, the 1992 Chicago Bulls and the 2000 L.A. Lakers, three of the most legendary championship teams of the past three decades.

The Warriors and the Spurs are clearly the class of the league, while the West's third place team is an enigma. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are two of the league's top five players and their supporting cast looks strong on paper, yet the Oklahoma City Thunder squandered more fourth quarter leads than any team in the league and finished 12 games behind the Spurs. The Thunder have enough talent to win a championship but their defense is too inconsistent and their late game offensive execution is inexplicably bad.

LeBron James once again led his team to the best record in the East, though the Cleveland Cavaliers would have barely held off the Thunder for third place in the West. James has lost a little bit physically, while he seems all over the place mentally. This just feels like one of those years when he will disappear in the first playoff series that is challenging--but that may not happen until the NBA Finals.

A cynic might say that Tom Thibodeau should be voted Coach of the Year based on how the Chicago Bulls fell into oblivion after firing him.

Speaking of falling into oblivion, after making a fluky and unlikely to be duplicated run to the 2015 Western Conference Finals the Houston Rockets went 41-41 to sneak into the playoffs on the final day of the season. A lot of numbers are thrown around about James Harden but here are the most important numbers about Houston's "foundational player": after the Warriors dispatch the Rockets in four or five games James Harden will have led the Rockets to three first round losses in his first four seasons with the franchise. The Rockets would probably ship Harden elsewhere and try to build around someone else but who is going to take a coach-killing, overdribbling prima donna who often does not even pretend to be interested in playing defense? I have to confess that Harden is an MVP candidate this year--a Shaqtin' the Fool MVP candidate (hey, Shaq said it first and I am just stealing his line, so if that sounds like hating then tell Shaq).

Basketball fans everywhere can rejoice that the 76ers finally got rid of Sam Hinkie and his ridiculous tanking plans. With the Colangelos in charge, the 76ers will probably be a playoff team three years from now but it is unlikely that many--if any--of Hinkie's players will be on the roster by that time. The media killed Isiah Thomas for his work in New York, even though it is evident that with James Dolan running the show indisputably great basketball minds like Larry Brown and Phil Jackson cannot turn the Knicks around; when will ESPN.com or the New York Times update (in other words, retract) the breathless praise they have heaped on Daryl "Losing in the First Round is my Middle Name" Morey and Sam "Trust the Process" Hinkie?

I have no doubt that the correct application of basketball statistics can be helpful both in building a team and in analyzing the sport; Hubie Brown was decades ahead of his time in both regards, which is why he won an ABA title, two Coach of the Year awards and widespread recognition as the sport's premier TV analyst. I also have no doubt that Morey and Hinkie have been praised far more than they deserve for reasons that are not at all evident to an objective observer.

On to the first round:

The Eastern Conference features two heavyweights, four 48-34 teams (!) and two pretenders. Stan Van Gundy clearly has the coaching edge over Tyronn Lue but that is Detroit's only significant advantage and the Cleveland Cavaliers will dispatch the Pistons in five games (because LeBron James and company will be too bored/disinterested to make it a sweep). Yes, I am aware that Detroit won the season series and yes I am aware that Andre Drummond had his way in the paint versus Cleveland; I just don't expect those trends to continue in the postseason, because the one thing that James consistently does in the playoffs is dispatch lesser teams with alacrity in the early rounds.

The Toronto Raptors have not won a playoff series in a while and that gives one pause but they match up very well with the Indiana Pacers. The Raptors will advance in six games.

I'll be honest: I am not sure what to make of the 48-34 quartet. Each of those teams has looked like a possible Eastern Conference Finalist at times and each of them has looked like a team that could be swept in the first round. The Miami Heat displayed both traits in the same game on the last night of the season when they blew a 24 point lead versus the Boston Celtics.

The Charlotte Hornets have been really strong in the second half of the season but they don't have a lot of playoff experience. If the Hornets steal a game on the road early then they could win the series in six but I like Miami in seven games.

The Boston Celtics have improved since last season while the Atlanta Hawks have regressed but this is another evenly matched series that will likely be decided by homecourt advantage. I am taking Atlanta in seven games.

In the Western Conference, the Warriors will relish the opportunity to humiliate a Houston team that flapped its gums after losing to Golden State in the Western Conference Finals. James Harden thinks he deserved the MVP award over Stephen Curry? Sure. Harden will average 25 ppg in the series but he will shoot about .400 from the field, he will have at least one game with seven or more turnovers and he will offset a 40-plus point game with a single-digit scoring game. The Warriors will sweep the Rockets.

The Memphis Grizzlies struggle to score 90 points in the playoffs even when they are healthy. Their injury-battered roster has two chances against the San Antonio Spurs: Slim and none. The Spurs will sweep the Grizzlies.

The Oklahoma City Thunder should sweep the Dallas Mavericks but the Thunder will probably mess around and blow at least one double digit fourth quarter lead. Oklahoma City will win in five games.

The Portland Trail Blazers are one of the surprise teams of the season, while the L.A. Clippers act like they are contenders even though they finished a distant fourth in the Western Conference. I'll take the Clippers in six games.


I expect the second round matchups to be Cleveland-Atlanta, Toronto-Miami, Golden State-L.A. Clippers and San Antonio-Oklahoma City. Cleveland is going to smash Atlanta. The Heat have a lot of firepower but the Raptors have been the much more consistent team and the seventh game, if necessary, will be played in Toronto. I expect Toronto to prevail in a topsy turvy series. The Clippers are another team that had a lot to say about the Warriors. The Warriors are going to shut them up and hand Chris Paul yet another second round exit. San Antonio versus Oklahoma City might be the best, most exciting playoff series this year. I can think of a lot of reasons that the Thunder could win but I expect the Spurs to prevail.

The Conference Finals look tremendous on paper. The Raptors' confidence should be sky-high after finally winning a couple playoff series and they have enough talent to at least push the Cavaliers. If the Raptors take a 2-1 lead, James might fold his tent and pout about the front office, his hand-picked coach or some of his teammates. Cleveland should win but I would not be shocked if the Raptors won. The Spurs know the formula to beat the Warriors: play big, slow the game down, pound the ball inside to Aldridge, cut down on open court turnovers that lead to transition points. However, even if Aldridge is not limited by the finger injury that he suffered near the end of the regular season against the Warriors, I question whether the Spurs can execute this game plan effectively enough to beat the Warriors four times. The Spurs don't like to go to one player over and over again, even if that is the optimal strategy. If the 1996 Bulls played the Warriors, the Bulls would walk the ball up the court and wear the Warriors out in the post with Jordan, Pippen or Kukoc (depending on the matchup). The Bulls would use the same mismatch over and over until the Warriors changed their defense and then the Bulls would find another mismatch. The Spurs are most comfortable relying on ball movement but the Warriors would rather scramble and rotate than have to deal with 25 Aldridge postups. I liked the Spurs before the season began but I am picking the Warriors now.

The much-anticipated NBA Finals Golden State-Cleveland rematch will feature a healthy Cleveland team looking for its first NBA title versus a defending champion looking to not only repeat but also to be remembered as one of the greatest teams ever.

The Warriors are fun to watch because they play with so much joy and unselfishness. Unlike previous teams that relied on playing fast and shooting a lot of jumpers, the Warriors are a very good defensive team when they want to be. The Cavaliers have dealt with a lot of internal turmoil this year and they just do not "look" like a championship team even though they have all of the requisite parts. The Warriors are building a dynasty, while  LeBron James is looking more and more like this generation's Wilt Chamberlain; James has racked up impressive individual numbers during his career but he is stuck on two rings and that does not seem likely to change soon, if ever.


Here is a summary of the results of my previous predictions both for playoff qualifiers and for the outcomes of playoff series:

In my 2015-2016 Eastern Conference Preview I correctly picked five of this season's eight playoff teams and I went six for eight in my 2015-2016 Western Conference Preview. Here are my statistics for previous seasons:

2015: East 5/8, West 7/8
2014: East 6/8, West 6/8
2013: East 7/8, West 6/8
2012: East 8/8, West 7/8
2011: East 5/8, West 5/8
2010: East 6/8, West 7/8
2009: East 6/8, West 7/8
2008: East 5/8, West 7/8
2007: East 7/8, West 6/8
2006: East 6/8, West 6/8

That adds up to 66/88 in the East and 70/88 in the West for an overall accuracy rate of .773.

Here is my record in terms of picking the results of playoff series:

2015: 10/15
2014: 13/15
2013: 14/15
2012: 11/15
2011: 10/15
2010: 10/15
2009: 10/15
2008: 12/15
2007: 12/15
2006: 10/15
2005: 9/15

Total: 121/165 (.733)

At the end of each of my playoff previews I predict which teams will make it to the NBA Finals; in the past 11 years I have correctly picked 11 of the 22 NBA Finals participants. In three of those 11 years I got both teams right but only once did I get both teams right and predict the correct result (2007). I correctly picked the NBA Champion before the playoffs began just twice: 2007 and 2013.

I track these results separately from the series by series predictions because a lot can change from the start of the playoffs to the NBA Finals, so my prediction right before the NBA Finals may differ from what I predicted in April.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:29 AM



At Friday, April 15, 2016 11:12:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Overall, I agree with all your first-round series predictions, though I could quibble on some of the lengths. I think Miami and Atlanta will both win faster than you think- Charlotte has minimal playoff experience while Miami has boatloads, and I think Boston matches up poorly against ATL- and I think the OKC/Dallas series will be more competitive.

If i had to pick an upset, it'd be either OKC/Dallas or Detroit/Cleveland. OKC obviously is much more talented but Carlisle is such a better coach and we've seen him flummox much better teams before (2014 Spurs). Detroit's PnR will be a real problem for Cleveland, and the combination of Caldwell-Pope/Drummond will make Lebron work harder than he likes to in order to score (especially if his perimeter shot isn't falling), and being guarded by Kyrie Irving will make Reggie Jackson look like an All-NBAer. Van Gundy's beaten a higher-seeded Lebron team before, and it would not shock me to see him do it again. I'm picking Cleveland but don't feel confident enough about it to put any money on it.

I love your Harden 40 point game/single digit came prediction as a heat-check prediction.

In the second round, I think GSW and SAS both make relatively short (5-6 games) work of their competition; I do not see the ways in which OKC could win you claim to; SAS is not only much deeper and better coached, they've also got probably the best personnel in the league for containing Durant and Westbrook with Leonard/Green and Duncan in the paint, and OKC's lack of a viable two guard means they won't be as able to punish Tony Parker defensively as the teams that trouble San Antonio usually do. Pop will mercilessly attack Kanter in PnRs every time he sees the floor, which will neuter OKC's bench units. Duncan will probably do that thing where he suddenly seems seven years younger.

In the East, it's trickier, and I could honestly flip a coin on both series. Gun to my head, I think Cleveland edges Atlanta (although I'm curious to see if ATL tries Millsap on Lebron, my favorite "just crazy enough to work" potential playoff stratagem) but again would not be even a little surprised to be wrong; like SVG before him, I expect Budz to coach rings around Lue.

I've changed my mind a dozen times about TOR/MIA. I don't really trust TOR in the playoffs after last year, but I similarly don't know how Miami's starters deal with Derozan; Wade can't (or won't) slow him down even slightly, and he torched Joe Johnson when they tried that. Dragic and Lowry are erratic against each other- I suspect because of their shared past/rivalry in Houston- so it's hard to predict what we'll see from either of them. On paper Whiteside would seem to be a huge advantage over Jonas, but last time they played he actually got bullied inside by the goofy European.

Ultimately this series probably comes down to whether or not Playoff Wade(TM) is still a thing; I don't know the answer to that, so I'll take Miami in 6 mostly because of Spoelstra's playoff pedigree, but I don't feel good about it.

WCF could go either way, and could even be a sweep in either direction, soI'm no more confident about my pick there, but I'll take San Antonio in a shameless attempt at a reverse jinx, and so I look all clever and subversive if I end up right.

ECF I think Miami is a terrible matchup for Cleveland, I think Spo is a much better coach than Lue, and I think playing Irving/Love against Dragic/Deng is defensive suicide. I also think there's no series more likely to bring the best out of Wade. I see that being the Lebron meltdown series if it doesn't happen earlier (though if it's Toronto I agree that Cleveland wins).

In the Finals, whoever comes out of the West is winning unless there's a pretty major injury. I also now officially hate myself for predicting a Spurs title win.

At Friday, April 15, 2016 1:18:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Solid picks. That they agree with mine is purely Coincidental:

At Saturday, April 16, 2016 10:08:00 AM, Anonymous Bball said...


Thanks for the preview once again. However, I noticed that you didn't mention your reasons for a Warriors win over the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. Would appreciate if you could provide a few reasons for why you expect them to reach the NBA Finals over the Spurs.


At Saturday, April 16, 2016 2:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you for pointing this out; I left out my reasons for picking the Warriors over the Spurs but I have added those sentences now.

At Saturday, April 16, 2016 7:29:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Hey David. Thank you for posting your playoff predictions. I understand you are busy with both law school and a family, so I appreciate even the abbreviated playoff overview.

Regarding your brief mention of Phil Jackson and the Knicks, I was curious if you had anything to say about the rookie Kristaps Porzingis. His shooting game was supposed to be his strength coming into the league but I've been most impressed by his overall attitude and commitment to defense when I've watched him. Given some time he seems like he could be the type of player to help make Jackson's rebuilding attempts look more legitimate a year or two down the line.

At Sunday, April 17, 2016 4:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Until Dolan has a lesser role and Melo is not the team's best player there is a low ceiling for the Knicks' rebuilding.

I agree with you that Porzingis is a nice piece who can be a valuable contributor.

At Tuesday, April 19, 2016 1:01:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


Has the first batch of games shifted your opinions or surprised you at all?

For my part, I'm kicking myself for being so high on Toronto (who aren't very well coached, which I knew but somehow ignored), but things are otherwise playing out about as I expected. TOR still may pull out a win against Indy, so I might be right in spite of myself, but I now feel pretty sure they'll get mowed down by any team that has both talent and coaching (MIA/ATL/BOS/CHA), or just a lot of one or the other (CLE).

At Tuesday, April 19, 2016 2:40:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I had misgivings about picking Toronto, as I noted in the article, and the Raptors have confirmed the validity of my misgivings, though I still expect them to win the series. Durant's 7-33 game two shooting is surprising. If Kobe had a playoff game like that ESPN would focus all of its programming on analyzing his 26 misses.

Harden has played exactly the way I expected. I think we are about one year away from the mainstream commentators completely switching from Harden for MVP (which no one seriously says anymore) to Harden for most overrated All-Star.

Harden is talented but he also is a bad leader who plays no defense and who dribbles too much, issues that get exposed every year in the playoffs.

At Tuesday, April 19, 2016 5:04:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I 100% agree about Harden.

The Durant thing is intriguing; it'll be interesting to see how quickly/how much he rights the ship. I agree that had Kobe- or even Lebron- had a night like that they'd be getting killed over it.

Toronto is so weird. They could believably lose in the first round or win the East. I'll stick to predicting they go down to Miami in round 2.

At Tuesday, April 19, 2016 9:39:00 PM, Blogger HP said...

"Gun to my head i pick Cleveland over Atlanta, but again would not be even a little surprised to be wrong"

"Toronto is weird, they could believably lose in the first round or win the East"

I think you're sleeping on Cleveland a lot. Atlanta beating them? Toronto beating them? What is going on? It's like people believe they actually played to their potential in the regular season, and aren't a true contender.

They beat San Antonio by 30 and beat OKC convincingly. The only weaknesses they showed were GS (San Antonio lost 3 times to GS, 1 of them by about 30, the others by 10+, so Cleveland isn't the only contender made to look like a pretender by GS) and not giving full effort in enough games.

No team on the East can realistically beat them in a 7 game series. Maybe if Miami had Bosh they could.

At Tuesday, April 19, 2016 11:51:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I don't have faith in their coaching or mental toughness and could see them getting discouraged and imploding.

I also don't think they can play high-level offense and high-level defense at the same time; too many of their players only work one-way. I think they're very beatable. I wouldn't be shocked to see them make the Finals, but I don't like the matchup against Miami for them if Miami is healthy, and if ATL or TOR gets up on them early in a series, I could see things rapidly going South.

At Wednesday, April 20, 2016 12:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Potential means nothing. Results are what matters. This season is kind of weird. 2 amazing teams, only 4 really bad teams, and only 6 teams to reach 50 wins. CLE underachieved for the 2nd straight regular season. I see a trend. I don't see any other contenders in the East, so CLE is certainly the favorites to reach the finals, but to think they're just going to run over everyone even in the West is unlikely. But, I could see any of the playoff teams emerging. Look how tough DET played in game 1.

It's hard to completely trust and believe in James. Yes, 5 straight finals is impressive, but who's his competition? And he traded teams again for supposed brighter pastures and fresher players. The difference between each conf. is huge. I doubt he'd make more than 2 finals if in the West.

Doesn't quite matter if they play great offense and defense at the same time. It's what they do overall. As long as they have a good scheme defensively and play hard, their defense can survive with a few mediocre players in there. And James/Irving will be playing high minutes, so they'll almost always have at least 2 great offensive players in there. They should make the finals, and once you're there, you never know. CLE was the 3rd best team during the regular season. SA/GS/OKC each have much tougher routes to the finals. Injuries happen every playoffs. The question isn't if, but what key injuries will affect this year's playoffs and when will they occur?

At Friday, April 22, 2016 6:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seriously stop. comparing James to Chamberlain. Wilt was ultra competitive and always came out to play, the celtics in that era were just to good and unlike James, Wilt didnt shy away from the challenge and was actually willing to sacrifice his numbers for the betterment of his team.

At Friday, April 22, 2016 11:37:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

Anonymous, LBJ is a most dominant physical specimen who has won 4 MVPs in 5 years, taken his team to the finals 5 times in a row, 6 in total.
Wilt was the most dominant physical specimen who won 3 consecutive MVPs, 4 in total, and took his teams to 7 Finals.

More interestingly, neither commits more than two fouls a game, career-wise.

At Friday, April 22, 2016 4:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's an apt comparison. And I think Wilt is underrated and James is highly overrated. But yes, we need to realize the huge difference in teammates/coaches between Wilt/Russell or Wilt and many other all-time greats. Even though Wilt couldn't come close to approaching his #'s if he played today, his #'s will never been seen again. If Wilt had the mental toughness we've seen in Kobe/Jordan, he should've won more titles. And I thought he was 2-4 in Finals, just like James.

But, I thought Wilt lacked motivation. Maybe that had something to do with the times and many subpar teams he played on early in his career. If he had a coach like Auerbach and competent teammates, I could still see Wilt lacking some motivation but not as much, but it wouldn't have really mattered that much, as his teams would've been winning titles easily probably. Russell couldn't play his type of role and expect his teams to have anywhere near the same kind of success as his BOS teams had without a bevy of great offensive players around him.

At Saturday, April 23, 2016 12:31:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Another thing both Wilt and LBJ have in common: lack of bonafide Hall of Fame coaching. The two times Wilt had a strong coach in Alex Hannum and Bill Sharman, he played the best ball of his career and won titles. Otherwise he was stuck with egotists like Butch van Breda Kolff.

LBJ probably has had worse luck with coaches. He's taken guys like Mike Brown, Eric Spoelstra, and David Blatt to their first NBA Finals. Tyronn Lue will have a shot, despite being a head coach for less than half a season.

I suspect their careers would be dramatically different had they played for a coach who knew what he was doing. Probably with less statistically dominant results, but higher chances of winning.

At Saturday, April 23, 2016 4:34:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


Despite some of quibbling with Spo's distribution of touches, I think you're being pretty hard on those coaches, especially Spo.

He's an extremely savvy coach, and while I think his loyalty to his established stars may be an Achilles' heel, it's not an especially large one (especially since Wade instantly turned back into Wade when the playoffs started). He completely re-invented his offense on the fly mid-season, dealt with a never-stable roster, and turned in the Miami Heat's all-time most efficient regular season game (vs. Chicago), their highest scoring playoff game, their highest scoring pair of playoff games, and the most efficient two-game shooting stretch in NBA playoff history, with a team full of guys whose games don't totally make sense together, and with two rookies (and the rookie-esque Hassan Whiteside) playing major rotation minutes.

He's holding one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league to way fewer attempts and makes than their average, and he's largely neutralized Kemba Walker by turning him into a volume scorer, while his offense is putting up historic numbers against what's been the league's 7th best defense since the All-Star break.

Also, he beat Greg Popovic in the Finals. He's alone in that category.

Regardless of where you stand on the "who's their best player" argument (in the regular season it was Dragic by the numbers, though David favors Deng and the All-Star team took Wade, while in the playoffs so far it's probably been Whiteside), Spo has turned a team of guys who were either past their prime (Wade, Johnson, Stoudemire) or not being used properly the last few years (Dragic, Deng, maybe Whiteside) into a real threat to win the conference.

As for Blatt, he's generally regarded as a decent strategic coach, but didn't have the personality needed to wrangle that mutant Cavs team.

Mike Brown is a very good defensive coach who is sadly uninspired on the offensive end.

At Saturday, April 23, 2016 4:39:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


As for Wilt, I'm not as knowledgeable about his era's coaching, so I'll defer to you there. That said, from what I've read/seen Wilt's problem was often one of focus/priorities, and it's likely that the right coach could have steered him properly there. In Lebron's case, I'm not sure coaching is the answer; he's a bizarrely psychologically delicate star, and the only solution really seems to be making sure he's got somebody like Wade around who can carry things when he gets into a funk and snap him out of it (people tend to forget that Wade almost ended up winning that Dallas series despite Lebron's passive play). I don't personally think Irving or Love is that guy, but maybe they'll prove me wrong.

That all said, I don't know that Wilt's early Warriors teams were getting by those Celtics no matter what. The 76ers and the Lakers and the HoF personnel around him to do it (and had Billy Cunningham stayed healthy, they probably get another one), and can justifiably be looked at under the microscope, but those Warriors teams just didn't have enough horses to run against Boston.

At Saturday, April 23, 2016 4:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that Awet was a bit harsh regarding Spoelstra and Brown, though his larger point is well taken.

I don't recall ever saying that Deng was or is Miami's best player.

At Saturday, April 23, 2016 4:43:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


My mistake; I thought that was your most recent contention in our last conversation about the Heat. Out of curiosity, who do you think was their best player post-All Star break (I think most of us can agree it was probably Bosh beforehand)?

At Saturday, April 23, 2016 4:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Definitely Bosh beforehand. I would take Wade post All-Star break, but I know you disagree and I don't have the time or inclination to further debate the point. Neither Deng nor Dragic is a first option player in my opinion.

At Saturday, April 23, 2016 5:17:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Wow. I'm sorry you don't have the time or the inclination, I'd be really curious to see you make that case.

Is the extra 2 points (on 5 more shots) he scored over Whiteside worth the 9 rebounds and defensive value Whiteside offered?

Is the extra 2.5 points (on 1.5 more shots) over Dragic worth Dragic's 2 assists, half a rebound, and general offensive impact (highest on the team by every metric I can find, and the only player the team lost without)?

Isn't it a little weird that he had the worst +- and On/Off ratings of their seven highest-minute players in that span (and was only 4th in minutes, so that told chestnut doesn't apply)? What about defense? He was the one guy who completely nuked their D whenever he played, but everyone else (except perhaps Johnson) was well above average defensively. He also wasn't much good as a creator, sporting only a 1.5 assist to turnover ratio (and leading the team in TOs). He was also out rebounded by the much smaller Dragic, and only Winslow shot a worse percentage from the floor (that number gets worse if you factor in 3 pointers).

This isn't even about Dragic anymore, I'm legitimately curious why you feel a guy who none of the numbers support, who was only barely outscoring his three two-way teammates, was their best player. I think it's tricky to argue he was even in their top four, and given his shooting/defense over that span, you could even sell me on Richardson over him.

I understand you don't have time, I'm just kinda shocked; usually I at least understand where you're coming from. The Deng argument at least made sens. Dragic or Whiteside make more, in my opinion, but I'd even hear an outside the box case for Johnson, given the impact his floor spacing had. But I can't see how anybody who cares about NBA defense would take Wade over that stretch, especially since the offense was just as good when he sat... and you usually care about NBA defense (unless it involves Westbrook for some reason, who's been especially embarrassing on that end against Dallas).

At any rate, Wade's playing great NOW, so hopefully the Heat will make the East a little more interesting than just a Cleveland walkover.

At Saturday, April 23, 2016 5:20:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Sorry for the double post, I'm just legitimately flabbergasted; you absolutely *kill* Harden (justifiably) for everything Wade was doing; loafing on D, holding the ball to long, and relying on the officials to bail him out. He was just doing it while scoring, assisting, and rebounding less than Harden. What am I not seeing here?

At Saturday, April 23, 2016 7:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awet made some good points about James' coaches, but I don't think it's quite the simple as Nick pointed out. James is very sensitive and doesn't listen to hardly anyone. Also, what about other HOF coaches? Phil happened to coach 4 of the top 30 players in nba history. What would he have done if he wasn't in these situations? It's obvious now that he's on the shortlist of top coaches ever, but he first had to have the players to win.

I'm not that high on Spo, but maybe it has to do with how goofy he usually looks. But, he deserves a lot of credit. Can't blame James for 07/08, though if he played to his averages in 07, CLE at least wins a couple of games vs SA. James does need to own up for his failures from 09-11, though. Sure, a better coach could've possibly helped James' teams do better, but this is mostly on James. SA probably too good in 14, but James is also getting outplayed by non-star(at the time) Leonard over the final 3 games of the finals, which happens to be a trend with James getting outplayed by much inferior players. Kerr better than Blatt in 15, but Kerr was a rookie coach, too, and was hardly proven, while James was arguably only the 3rd best player in the finals. I don't think any other coach could've helped James get more than 2 titles by now, and he was very fortunate in 13 with Allen hitting that late 3 in game 6. If James consistently played hard and worked better with his coaches, regardless of who they are, he should have at least 3 titles and possibly 5-6 by now.

At Saturday, April 23, 2016 11:27:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't have time for the endless back and forth but I will summarize my position briefly:

1) The Heat do not have a superstar level player (Wade used to be one but he is not one now).

2) The Heat have several really good players who excel in different areas, which can make it difficult to say which player is better.

3) Whiteside probably was the best Heat player post-All-Star break statistically but I just don't think he is mature enough or focused enough to truly be the best player on a contender. He is productive but he needs veterans around him to keep him focused and to lead the team overall.

4) Deng is thriving as a mobile power forward but, again, he is not a guy who is going to lead a team anywhere. He is a great contributor.

5) Joe Johnson is a great offensive threat and a decent defender when interested but also not a leader.

6) Dragic is a system guy. The Heat's current system suits him very well.

7) Wade is the only guy on the roster who has ever led a team anywhere in the postseason. I disagree that his defense is remotely as bad as Harden's and Wade's playoff resume is infinitely better. I believe that Wade would be the toughest player to replace on this team because his importance is bigger than numbers.

You may disagree about this and you may be right. As you say about other things, this is not a hill that I am willing to die on. I think that Wade had a very good second half of the season and that his playoff performance was very predictable in a good way, much like Harden's is predictable in a bad way (barely winning one home game with Curry out of the lineup is not very impressive and Houston's season will be over soon).

I don't believe that I value defense less than you but I think that we evaluate defense differently.

And, with all of that said, I've got two more Finals before I am finished with Law School--and then I have Bar Exam prep after that--so I will pop back in to make round by round predictions but I just cannot go back and forth right now about anything, as much as I would enjoy doing so.

At Sunday, April 24, 2016 12:49:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Fair enough. I still suspect that maybe you didn't watch enough Heat games in that span, since I think that while we may disagree on some things about evaluating defense, you'd probably be on my side on issues like "maybe you should run back down the court on defense instead of arguing with the ref that didn't call your flop" or "maybe rotate occasionally so you can work with the rest of what the defense is doing" or "maybe more your feet a little when a guy tries to drive on you so he doesn't get a layup" or "you can go under or over a screen, but probably don't just stop when you get to it and hope somebody else covers for you." It's also doubly damning that he was usually assigned to the other team's least threatening perimeter guy, and still tanked the defense to the tune of the team being 6 points better defensively without him than with (next worst; Johnson at 4.5. That also scans.)

I still don't agree- I think it's pretty damning that both +- and On/Offs paint Wade as MIA's 5th-7th best guy at best- but I can at least recognize the ephemeral "he's a leader/has the it factor/makes big plays argument.

I'd also like to clarify that I didn't mean to compare Wade and Harden outside the context of this season; Wade used to be one of the five best players in the league and an excellent defender; this year, likely as a function of his age, he wasn't. Harden's always been trash defensively. I just found it odd that you didn't seem to have an issue with Wade displaying all the same bad behaviors you (rightly) kill Harden for.

Good luck on Finals/the Bar!

At Sunday, April 24, 2016 8:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


David and Nick

Who would u take James harden or klay Thompson right now. Who I think better

At Sunday, April 24, 2016 9:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thompson, without question or hesitation.

At Sunday, April 24, 2016 11:46:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


Thompson by several miles. No comparison.

At Monday, April 25, 2016 12:18:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

Thanks for responding. You're right that Spoelstra is underrated, that he is a creative coach and deserves credit for making those adjustments on the fly. I suspect 90% of the NBA coaches are that good, that intelligent, that capable. But I was talking about bonafide Hall of Fame coaches who get the most out of their players, especially in the playoffs. Auerbach got max production from his guys in Boston routinely, probably had the perfect superstar in Russell to inspire troops. Ramsay brought intelligence and inspiration to those early 70s Knicks, and Pat Riley to those Showtime Lakers. Etc.

Had LBJ been lucky enough to be drafted to a team with a strong front office and a truly top-shelf coach, he would've been more successful. When he first got to Miami, he wasn't happy with Spoelstra, because he wasn't being catered to. (some drama about his crew, superstar privileges, etc) It took Pat Riley laying down the law to get LBJ's priorities straight. Spoelstra , for all his ingenuity, obviously lacked that gravitas.

As for Wilt, he played in several Game 7 versus Boston that went down the wire, so I'm sure a better coach could've gotten different results.

To Marcel:
James Harden is the better scorer, because he's proven as a first option, and has been for the last 3-4 seasons. However, Klay Thompson has the better game, because he's more fundamentally sound, and doesn't rely on the referee to decide whether his drives and flailing deserve a foul call, and is the better defender, better teammate. Thus he's the better player all around.

At Monday, April 25, 2016 1:42:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


I'm not sure the problem there was Spo. And I'd bet green money Spo ends up in the HoF.

Lebron's a weird case, no doubt about it. How sure are we that he'd have responded to any one person? MIA was really the ideal sitch for him, with not only Spo and Riley, but best buddies Wade and Bosh to keep his keel even. I don't know that Auerbach had to deal with that sort of primadonna; the superstar culture didn't exist yet. Many/most of those guys were just happy to get paid to play ball.

Heck, even Phil had issues with his stars, and had an ugly breakup with both Shaq and Kobe (only one of which healed). I don't know how much of that you can put on the coach, once you get into the "my brand matters" era of the late 90s onward. Some guys just have borked priorities.

On Wilt, I didn't disagree in general, I just think that his Warriors teams didn't have the depth to contend with Russ' Celts (though they did take them to 7 once, early on); in LA especially, a better coach could have been the difference (though in Philly I think a healthier roster would have done the trick).

At Friday, April 29, 2016 11:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Miami-Charlotte has been as competitive as I expected. Charlotte won a road game and had a chance to close
out the series in six but now Miami is the obvious favorite to advance with game seven at home.

Dragic has not impressed me this series. He is shooting 37% from the field, his overall plus/minus--the stat you keep citing in his favor--is negative after six games and, perhaps most telling, he is on the bench during crunch time possessions with the game/series on the line while Wade takes over. You tout Dragic over several point guards who would only be on the bench in crunch time if they were injured or had fouled out.

At Saturday, April 30, 2016 7:59:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

I freely admit the Charlotte Miami series is more competitive than I expected, and it has certainly not been Dragic's best moment.

Part of the issues is dubious officiating in games 3/4, and Whiteside's reduced mobility following a thigh bruise.

That said, Dragic's been by far Miami's most effective defender against Kemba Walker, who's been shooting in the 30s with Dragic on him and close to 60 without him, and Goran- along with Wade- was one of two players on Miami who carried the night in game 6.

This series has definitely exposed some weaknesses for Dragic, I was not previously aware of: he played excellent in the first two games, but was worn down by the physical style to the point that Spoelstra had him in ice baths instead of practice, and he's struggled to muster the same physical intensity since. He's also been extremely bothered by foul trouble/the officiating. He's had a very strong defensive series, but it's fair to say he's underperformed offensively. Clifford also smartly instituted double-screens starting with game 3 to peel him off Walker after a single screen proved insufficient.

+- is one of several stats I've used to support my case for Dragic, along with On/Offs, O-Rtg, D-Rrtg, points scored, and Win/Loss, but I find it hypocritical for you to critique it in a 6 game sample size after dismissing it over the course of an 82 game season (during which he led the team) and claiming that even over 20+ games On/Offs were irrelevant due to the size of the sample. At this point it seems your priority is more about winning the argument than analyzing the game, and frankly that's beneath you. Take whatever stance you like, but be consistent.

Wade has easily been Miami's most important offensive player in this series, followed by Deng. Dragic has held Charlotte's best player to .387 shooting and only 3.7 assists (as opposed to .427 and 5.2 normally). In Miami's first two wins, Dragic did not score much but led a franchise-best offensive stretch as the primary initiator deconstructing Charlotte's traps. In tonight's game, he rallied from a poor first half to score 12 points- and play relentless offense/grab several key rebounds- in the deciding stretch of the game before Wade iced the game with clutch baskets down the stretch. The broadcast seemed to agree with me, giving his play a highlight package in the middle of the fourth.

It is also telling that the entire series, Charlotte's defensive strategy has been predicated on stopping Dragic, not Wade; walling off the paint all series, and bltizing him with doubles in the PnR for the first two games (a stratagem he destroyed) while largely conceding to Wade. Clifford since game 3 has been doing everything he can to keep Dragic from penetrating or passing, conceding long shots to him, and Dragic has not punished him, which is fair to criticize Goran for. That said, he's compensated with his defense, offensive persistence (watch tonight's second half again, as he goes off three and four screens a play to create something out of nothing), and rebounding.

I assume Richardson taking his place in crunch time is an attempt to utilize Richardson's length against Walker on D, but thus far Walker has shot much better against Richardson than Dragic.

You can continue to dismiss Dragic as you like, but at this point it seems more an exercise in willful ignorance than your usual cogent analysis.

At Saturday, April 30, 2016 12:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I find the shooting percentage and crunch time minutes to be more significant than the plus/minus in this sample size but I mentioned the plus/minus to anticipate and counter the expected response from you that Dragic is having an impact not revealed by shooting percentages and his coach's lack of trust in him.

I saw the highlight package but, frankly, selective editing can make just about anyone look good. Dragic shot 6-17 from the field, had just two assists from the point guard position and had the worst plus/minus of every Heat player who played in the game. If Westbrook or Kobe had a stat line like that--let alone in an elimination game--you would kill them, not make excuses about Whiteside's injury (what does that have to do with Dragic's poor performance?) or ice baths or anything else.

Bottom line: with the game and series on the line, Dragic was on the bench. Unless Dragic had a broken leg and could not play, that pretty much shoots down your assertions about Dragic, because this means that Spoelstra is either a complete idiot who does not know how to use his roster or he views Dragic much differently than you do.

Dragic's limitations that you correctly mentioned have not just been revealed by this series. They are among the reasons that PHX, HOU and MIA have not "handed the keys" to Dragic. Being given that responsibility involves more than On/Off or any other single number. Does the player have the necessary mental, physical, emotional and skill set attributes to lead a team? That is the major question I ask myself when deciding if a player is good, if he is an All-Star or if he is elite.

Look at my evaluations of Chris Paul. He is a much better player than Dragic, but what have I consistently said about him? I have said that due to his size, he can be exploited in ways that bigger players cannot be exploited and he also gets worn down during playoff series. That is why I have never bought the Chris Paul for MVP arguments, even during his prime.

In the perfect system, Dragic can do some nice things. I have never disputed that. You, however, have touted him as a top level two-way point guard.

I never just try to win an argument or keep my evaluations stagnant if new evidence emerges.

Dragic is who I have said he is: a good player, but not an elite point guard.

Dragic cannot do on a consistent basis what Wade did last night, closing out a must win playoff game. That is why Spoelstra did not turn the keys over to Dragic this season, because if he had Miami would have already lost this series.

Say all you want about Dragic's defense but Spoelstra does not want him anywhere near Walker with the game on the line. That means a lot and can only be refuted if we buy the premise that Spoelstra is a complete idiot.

When Spoelstra was putting his rotation together throughout the season he was not just looking at On/Off numbers (if he looked at them at all) but rather he was considering how to position this team to advance in the playoffs. For the Heat to advance, Wade needs to be the centerpiece on the perimeter, Whiteside needs to dominate the paint (and stay focused), while Deng, Johnson and Dragic (in whatever order you like) need to fill their roles.

Dragic's limitations could very well result in him eventually being replaced or benched in favor of a younger, bigger and quicker point guard who does not have the limitations you correctly ascribe to Dragic.

Miami will likely win game seven (as I predicted before the series) and Dragic will probably have a better game at home than he did on the road in game six (that is typical for role players/good players, in contrast with stars) but it is doubtful he will be the reason Miami wins.

At Saturday, April 30, 2016 3:12:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I mentioned Whiteside's issues as an explanation for why the series is more competitive than I expected, not as an excuse for Dragic.

I also agree that Wade should be their closer, and have said as much all season. However, he doesn't have what it takes to carry an offense all game; he was scoreless for the first 21 minutes of the second half last night, while Dragic pretty much singlehandedly kept the Heat in front. Throughout the season, his teammates played better without him, because for the first 46 minutes or so his style of play is sub-optimal for the personnel around him, though great for him. This has been less true in the playoffs as he's jacked up his energy level, but it is not a coincidence that MIA's two best offensive games of the series (and their entire playoff history) were Dragic's best two games.

Dragic played poorly in 3 & 4. Part of that was letting the officiating get to him, which he needs to outgrow ASAP, and part of it I suspect was physical (more on that in a second). Probably the biggest part of it is that Clifford re-oriented both his offense (with punishing double screens) and defense (walling off the paint, crowding his drives*, and abandoning the traps Dragic was destroying) towards stopping Goran, while mostly playing Wade straight up. Clifford seems more worried about stopping Dragic than he is about stopping Wade, and that's probably the right way for him to play it; it'll be interesting to see how he adjusts for game 7.

*You mentioned Dragic's assists being low. Some of that is on guys whiffing open 3s they usually make off Dragic penetration, particularly in game 3-5. It happens sometimes. Some of it is off Wade handling the ball more. Some of it is off Dragic playing fewer minutes due to foul trouble. Relatively little of it is his passing/creating game meaningfully diminishing.

Dragic had an awful first half last night (again he seemed frazzled by early foul calls/lack of calls on O), but carried the team through the second while Wade was a no-show till the last few minutes of day-saving. Neither guy can do it alone.

I agree, and said as much, that Dragic is having a poor shooting series. However, in all three of their wins he has been a key offensive presence; when he plays poorly, they lose. Wade had his best game of the series in Game 5, and they still lost. Playoff Wade is a better player than Dragic (which is irrelevant to what they should have done during the regular season with Wade playing in second gear all year), but Dragic's play still correlates more highly with their success, in part because he is usually the Heat player who forces the defense to make its first compromise on a given possession, and because even playoff Wade can only go full-bore in short spurts these days.


At Saturday, April 30, 2016 3:17:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I do not know why Spo feels Richardson is the better matchup for Kemba in crunch time, but I can guess: my suspicion is that Dragic is getting gassed/beat up by that point in the game slamming into double-screens all night; the beating he's taken from Charlotte has Spo giving him days off practice to rest in an icebath. Its fair to criticize Dragic for not being tougher/having more stamina, and that's an important trend to watch if it continues. Doesn't mean he hasn't been the only guy (besides Winslow, in a look I think MIA will use more of in 7) who's been able to even slightly bother Kemba.

I reject the premise that "Spoelstra does not want him anywhere near Walker with the game on the line. That means a lot and can only be refuted if we buy the premise that Spoelstra is a complete idiot." I think it's reasonable to want fresher legs and longer arms on him in crunch time, even if Dragic is the better matchup for him 75% of the time. Also, with Wade dominating the ball in crunch time, Dragic's offensive skill is less important (remember, he's actually pretty mediocre as a pure spot-up guy) than Richardson's sharpshooting spacing the floor for Wade's closer routine. I'd probably coach it the same way... but Wade wouldn't be in position to close without Dragic carrying the team most nights from the middle of the third through he middle of the fourth.

Wade is the closer, and should be. But most nights, Dragic is the heart of the offense. When he stops, so does Miami. On defense, when he sits, Kemba ignites. He's not Miami's best player in this series, but he's probably their most important. I do not know who will game 7, but I suspect that if it's Miami Dragic will have had a good game, and if it's Charlotte he will have had a bad one; so far, that's been the trend in every game.

You mentioned that I'd kill Westbrook or Kobe for putting the same numbers up. That is probably true. Here's why:

Westbrook- Is a crappy defender, and shoots way more than Dragic (and takes dumber shots). Dragic is at least contributing on that end. If Westbrook put up these same numbers, I'd compliment his rebounding but conclude that if a guy is hurting you on both ends, he deserves more criticism than a guy hurting you on one end.

Kobe- Mostly because I'd have higher offensive expectations for Kobe than I do for Dragic; he's a much better player. Kobe was top 5 player in the league throughout his prime; Dragic is at best a top 5 guy at his position.

Also, I am killing Dragic some for his poor shooting and bad reaction to the officiating. He needs to be better on both fronts if Miami is going to go anywhere. I'm just not pretending that they invalidate the (larger) positive contributions he's making, nor am I pretending I don't notice that his good games lead to wins and his bad games lead to losses, not am I limiting my analysis to box-scores and ignoring the context of what he's doing on both ends. I'm also choosing not to value the final three minutes of a game over the forty five that precede it, though I agree that having a closer is important and that Wade is best suited to be that closer.

At Saturday, April 30, 2016 3:37:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Mostly unrelated to Dragic, but meant to mention: Whiteside appears to be their other primary bellwether. He seemed sprier last night than he has in the three losses and (along with Richardson and Winslow) feeds on the home crowd more than most of his teammates, so he seems likely to have a big game. If he does, Miami is in very good position to win, so long as least one of Wade or Dragic has a decent offensive night. If he has a bad night, they will need big games from both their perimeter stars and at least two of the Deng/Winslow/Richardson/Johnson quartet. If both Whiteside and Dragic have off nights, Miami will almost certainly lose.

At Sunday, May 01, 2016 2:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


JVG summed it up at halftime regarding Dragic: "He's been dominated throughout the series but he is dominating tonight." I agree on both counts.

At Sunday, May 01, 2016 2:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Tex Winter used to say "Everything turns on a trifle." If Charlotte had seized the game six opportunity then Dragic would have finished the season with 6-17 shooting in a closeout game. Instead, he received a chance at redemption in game seven and has taken full advantage.

At Sunday, May 01, 2016 3:42:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

He's been great defensively the entire series; Walker shot something like 34% (educated guess, not actual stat, but I'm sure I'm within 5) for the series, and he shot worst against Dragic. Take out his massive game 6 (where he was mostly covered by Richardson, incidentally), and that number gets even more dire.

Dragic just put together probably the best two-way playoff game we've seen this year from somebody not named Paul George, and he did it in a Game 7. He absolutely ethered Kemba defensively, and imposed his will whenever he wanted on offense, regardless of who Charlotte threw at him. That is why I "tout him as a top-level two-way point guard." He is not the best PG in the league- that's obviously Curry- but he's one of the most complete. Chris Paul and perhaps John Wall are the only PGs who are better than he is on both ends, though several players are better than him on offense (Curry, Westbrook, Lillard) or defense (Rubio, Beverley), and in the cases of Curry and Westbrook they are better than him by a wider margin on offense than he is better than them on defense, which is why I have them ahead of him (though I might rather have Dragic than Westbrook against a team like SA who is well-equipped to punish Westbrook's poor D). He, Paul, and Wall are probably the only three PGs who are top ten on both ends, though I admittedly have a hard time evaluating Lowry's defense so perhaps he is on there as well.

I also think that it shows something that Dragic played his best ball of the series over its last six quarters. Too often "clutch" is boiled down to a single shot or the final few seconds, but as you are fond of mentioning with regards to Kobe, it's much more than that. Dragic, just as much as Wade, came through when it counted.

Wade was actually rather lackluster today- not that it mattered- particularly on defense (his man, Courtney Lee, was basically the only Hornet who had a good night). Still, I'm sure he'd have played well in crunch time if needed, and letting Dragic run the offense most of the game then turning over the keys to Wade if necessary is probably Miami's best strategy against most teams.

I'm curious to see who they're getting next round. Toronto is tough for them, and Lowry/Dragic have a weird rivalry/effect on each other that can go either was and is difficult to predict. Now that I know Playoff Wade still exists, I'd probably take Miami in 6, though I would not be remotely surprised if Toronto beat them, especially if Jonas is able to dominate Whiteside the way he did last time they played. I think Miami would make relatively short work of Indiana, though.

At Sunday, May 01, 2016 4:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with your quote of my definition of clutch:)

Dragic was great in game seven, no doubt about it (as Hubie Brown would say)--but let's not forget that he stunk for most of the series and was often on the bench in crunch time. He shot 37% from the field through six games. He was "dominated" in the words of Van Gundy.

I give Dragic credit for having a great game in a pressure situation but this one game does not reorder my player rankings. Dragic is still a 14-15/5 guy and that is what he likely will be in the next series as well.

At Sunday, May 01, 2016 6:05:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Saying he "stunk" for most of the series is ignoring one end of the court. He did the most time on Walker, and had the best results, through all seven games. It's also ignoring the first two games of the series. He was great in game 1, good in game 2, and then struggled until halfway through game 6.

"one game does not reorder my player rankings"

Of that, i had no doubt. 30 games doesn't either. Neither does 82.

Defining Dragic by his scoring/assist total- especially on a team with as many offensive weapons as the Heat- is missing the point entirely. He is the engine of their offense (though Playoff Wade can fill that role as well), an important part of their defense, and the guy who breaks down opposing defenses to create opportunities and mismatches for his teammates; that value is why his season-long +- and On/Offs are so good, and that value is why he's worth an 85 million dollar contract. He does not need to score 20 ppg for Miami- though he certainly could if asked- he needs to keep the ball moving, force defenses to make hard choices with his penetration, and play tough, smart defense. He does those things very well. Very few other PGs do them as well.

At Sunday, May 01, 2016 7:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

He shot 37% for six games. That constitutes most of the series. If Westbrook or Kobe shot 37% you would criticize their shot selection or say that they should pass more or say that they kept shooting even though they were missing in order to prove a point. JVG, who not only had a front row seat to this series but also had access to both coaching staffs (giving him a sense of what the coaches think of the players in the series), opined that Dragic dominated game seven after being dominated in the first six. I agree on both counts.

You are the person using selective samples:

1) One career-best season counts to you, the rest don't matter.

2) First two thirds of this season don't count to you but the last third does.

3) First six games of this series don't count to you but the last game does.

Dragic's body of work screams "good," not "great." Good players can have great games or even great series. Cedric Maxwell and Andre Iguodala won Finals MVPs but were not elite players or even the best player on their own team.

If you want to use this game seven to "prove" that Dragic is something other than a good player who had a great game, then the burden of proof is on you to explain why Dragic rarely plays at this level and, arguably, has never done so in the postseason (yes, I know about his one great quarter versus the Spurs a million years ago). What Dragic did today is not normal for him, it is unusual. His career numbers show that.

Now, if Dragic does this for an entire series or an entire season (making it less likely that his previous career-best season was an outlier) then maybe you are on to something.

At Sunday, May 01, 2016 7:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


And before you counter the field goal percentage issue by saying that Kobe and Westbrook shoot much more often than Dragic, let's look at this in terms of role on the team: through the first six games of the series Dragic was third on the Heat in FGAs but ranked seventh in field goal percentage of the players in the eight man rotation. Applying the "logic" that you use regarding the 2004 Finals, Dragic was sabotaging the Heat to prove he was worth his big contract, instead of passing to players who clearly enjoyed matchup advantages that he did not enjoy. Dragic is fortunate that his teammates carried him to a game seven so that he could redeem himself, a luxury that Kobe did not enjoy in 2004.

You just cannot hammer away at Kobe and Westbrook for FG% and FGAs but then act like those numbers don't matter when it comes to Dragic, who you tout as an elite pg.

The reality is that Kobe and Westbrook's FG% and FGAs can be justified based on their roles on their teams and their productivity in other areas but when Dragic is only called upon to shoot 13 times a game and he gets prime opportunities due to the plethora of weapons around him drawing attention from the defense there is no excuse for him to shoot so poorly.

At Sunday, May 01, 2016 11:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. I knew Nick would be jumping for joy after today. Dragic 'finally' did something worth noting. I'm still confused why he thinks Dragic is so good, though. It looked like Whiteside's presence was the biggest factor in affecting Walker and rest of CHO's shots. Walker shot poorly, but he played well overall and better than Dragic for the series. CHO isn't a contender, and Walker has never made the AS team, though he's probably close and might someday. You'd think waiting his entire career for this moment than Dragic would be ready to play.

Dragic is only maybe an average shooter to begin, and didn't even lead MIA in assists for the series. He was only 5th on the team in minutes under 30mpg before today's game. Whiteside is 6th. I'm not sure why Whiteside isn't playing more. Looks like he's in foul trouble, might be injured, and probably not used to playing super high minutes. MIA needs all their players to play very well from here on out, just to have a chance, but Dragic only looked like their 4th best player, and Bosh wasn't even playing. MIA should've won in 4-5 games.

Good point about Kobe and 04 finals. Every MIA starter not named Dragic shot extremely well for the series. Why was Dragic even shooting at all unless he was trying to prove some type of point that he belongs in the playoffs or he's worthy of even half of his absurdly-high contract? Obviously, this sounds absolutely ridiculous and I don't believe it, but if the same logic applies to Kobe, then...? Actually, this is even moreso of a detriment to Dragic, since CHO's defense is nowhere near as good as 04 DET's defense, Dragic has many more offensive weapons than 04 Kobe did, and Dragic should be much fresher only playing 29-30mpg, which is below his season average. Usually, the star players play higher minutes in the playoffs, not fewer.

Also, I seriously doubt Dragic could score 20ppg if he wanted to, or even approach 20ppg for that matter. His shots are more selective now and his teammates offensively are better than in PHO, which both should lead to better %'s; however, his %'s are much worse than from 2 years ago. According to you, if Bosh is maybe barely an AS and Wade hurts MIA once he steps onto the court, then Dragic should have free reign to do whatever he wants on the court, but this isn't happening. In his banner year, he barely eclipsed the mark at 20.3ppg. While his shooting % was very good today, his statline of 25/6/4 would be a below-average game for Westbrook. Also, Dragic isn't an elite defender, and Westbrook is nowhere near as bad defensively as you make him out to be. Westbrook might lose some focus sometimes, but he's still an above-average defender.

At Monday, May 02, 2016 1:17:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


If you honestly think comparing Kobe shooting 22.6 shots per game (6 more than his much more effective teammate) to Dragic shooting 12 times a game (4 fewer than his most effective teammate and 1 more than his second most effective) is anywhere near an apples to apples comparison and not an obvious false equivalency, I don't know what to tell you. I'm not gonna spend much time on that straw-man, though.

You're also acting like I ignored Dragic's bad moments. He shot poorly for long stretches, allowed the referees to get in his head, and seemed (until the second half of game 6) to be wearing down from the physicality of the series. I've criticized him for them in this thread. I just disagree that they outweigh his good moments.

You are claiming that Dragic had a bad six games and good single game. That is inaccurate. He had a very good first two games- captaining Miami's best-ever two-game offensive playoff stretch and forcing Clifford to reorient his defense towards keeping Dragic from breaking down his D- then shot poorly for three and a half games before figuring it out in the second half of game 6.

Kemba Walker *did* score 22.7 points per game, but it took him 21.9 shots to do it. He had poor offensive performances in the first three games, before lighting it up in games 4 and 6; the two games in which Dragic played much fewer minutes due to foul trouble. Again, Clifford made an adjustment after the first two games, adding a second screener to most of Kemba's PnR action specifically to peel Dragic off of him. He certainly made some shots against Dragic over the course of the series, but he made more of them against Richardson.

Game 6 is weird, in that Dragic played awfully in the first half (in part due to foul trouble/getting frustrated by the refs, but also just generally shooting like crap) and very well in the second, not only carrying Miami's offense for most of the half but also securing a few key rebounds down the stretch.

If we're going to evaluate Dragic's series, then, I would submit that he played 5 good defensive games and 3.5 good offensive games. It is misleading to suggest that he "only" played well in Game 7, though that was obviously his best performance of the series; I'd contend it was the best two-way performance by anyone in the series, in fact.


At Monday, May 02, 2016 1:40:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

If we're harping on FG%, here are some playoff FG%s from this year:

Kevin Durant: 37% (6 games, 5 of them against the not exactly defensively elite Mavericks)
James Harden: 41% (5 games)
Russell Westbrook: 43% (6 games, mostly covered by Raymond Felton or Deron Williams in five of them)
Demar Derozan: 32% (7 games, admittedly being covered by an elite defender)
Kevin Love: 41% (4 games)
Tony Parker: 41.5% (5 games against defensively weak competition)
Kemba Walker: 36.6% (7 games mostly against Dragic)

Goran Dragic: 42.5% (7 games against the #5 defense in the league)

In the playoffs, sometimes stars- especially stars the other team is pointedly game-planning against- don't have great FG% for a series here or there. That, in and of itself, does not mean they're having a bad series. Context matters, as usual. As usual, you're more interested in leaning on the box score.

I also don't "hammer" on Kobe and Westbrook for their FGA and FG% in a vacuum. Westbrook has a career-long love affair with poor shot selection, particularly from deep; only two players have taken over 1500 3s in their careers and made fewer of them. Kobe- in the series you mentioned- was forcing up endless bad shots against double coverage while Shaq was being guarded by a man half his size and getting whatever he wanted. Dragic was missing shots he usually makes. There's something of a distinction there.

I also think shooting poorly on 13 attempts is less damning than shooting poorly on 20+ while an All-NBA teammate is getting whatever he wants, but I'm probably crazy.

And again, Kobe and Westbrook are both better than Dragic (Kobe by a much, much, much larger margin, though). That doesn't mean Dragic isn't:

1) Miami's best regular season player
2) Miami's most important offensive player
3) One of the league's best 5 point guards (if you wanna take Lowry over him I won't fight you, in which case let's call it 6)
4) A better defender than he usually gets credit for

At Monday, May 02, 2016 1:40:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

"If you want to use this game seven to "prove" that Dragic is something other than a good player who had a great game, then the burden of proof is on you to explain why Dragic rarely plays at this level"

All it really proves is that he had a great game in an extremely high-pressure situation against strong competition. What I think "proves" how good he is I've covered pretty extensively already, but I will recap briefly. Since Miami smartly turned over the offense to him instead of trying to use him as a floor spacer:

* They've had their best shooting game in franchise history, their highest scoring playoff game, their best two-game playoff stretch.
* They leapt from 26th offensively to 6th.
* They scored over 100 point 26 times in 36 games, after doing it just 18 in the first 53.
* They improved their winning percentage significantly despite effectively trading Bosh (their best scorer and defender) for Joe Johnson (their third or fourth best scorer and an average/mildly above average defender).
* Goran averaged 17/7 after the switch; whether you'd take that over his 21/5 from '14 is a matter of opinion.
* Goran led the team by a massive margin in On/Off, and was second in +- (though he was 1st in +- by a large margin for the total season).

In 2015, the Heat's offense similarly leapt when he joined them, though its defense declined about as much (losing Chris Bosh will do that). In '14, PHX was a near-top offense despite missing its second best player half the season and starting a bunch of scrubs, only 2 of whom are still starting (both for bottom-feeding PHX), and 0 of whom currently start for a playoff team. As his role was reduced, the offense fell. When he was traded, it cratered.

Isiah Thomas, who you love to compare him to, has a lot more support in Boston than Dragic did in PHX but their team offense is several points worse. I doubt even you will disagree that Dragic is orders of magnitude better than Thomas defensively, as well.

Basically, over the last three years the more involved Dragic is on his team, the better they are. He guarantees a top 10 offense with the ball in his hands, and helps on D. I think that's both rare and valuable. So does Pat Riley. You're free to continue to disagree, but I feel the evidence speaks much louder to my case than to yours.

At Monday, May 02, 2016 2:03:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Forgotten datapoint:

Miami also scored over 12 more PPG in the games Dragic played vs. the 10 he didn't (where they averaged only 90). That is the difference between the OKC offense and the Knicks or Nets.

If you prefer O-RTG, in games without him it was a little under 100. Only the 76ers are worse. With him it was about 107 (the math here is tricky) about 9th in the league.

Wade? Deng? Bosh? Whiteside? The offense is fine without any/all of them, and was, at various points in the season. But take away Dragic and it craters.

At Monday, May 02, 2016 4:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


1) What I think regarding Kobe's performance in the 2004 NBA Finals compared to Dragic's performance in the 2016 Eastern Conference First Round is that you predetermine the point you wish to make and then interpret the numbers to suit that point. If you believe that perimeter players who are shooting below a certain percentage in a playoff series (1) are intentionally trying to prove a point and (2) should shoot less often in order to pass the ball to teammates who are shooting a higher percentage then be consistent about that.

2) Far from ignoring Dragic's bad moments, you mentioned them in order to make excuses. If you are right that Dragic is easily fatigued, needs ice baths in the first round and allows foul trouble to affect his play then you are only proving my point that all of his coaches have had good reasons to not just "turn the keys over to him."

3) I never claimed that Dragic had six bad games and one good game in the series. I quoted JVG's analysis that Dragic was "dominated" overall in the first six games and then he was dominant in game seven. Dragic's FG% in the first six games speaks for itself and the fact that he was on the bench down the stretch tells me what Spoelstra thinks of Dragic.

4) Durant, Westbrook and Parker are proven perennial All-Stars who did not perform up to par in round one. My opinion of Harden is well known at this point. I never asserted that Derozan is an elite player. Love is a former All-Star who rebounded well in the first round but did not shoot well. Walker has yet to make an All-Star team. I am not sure what the field goal percentages of this group of players tells us about Dragic, a solid player who has almost no playoff resume because he has never been good enough to be the best player (or second best player or third best player) on a playoff team.

5) It is funny that you assert that Charlotte is game-planning against Dragic, yet Spoelstra benches Dragic at the end of game six with the season on the line. Steve Clifford must have been just shocked when Spoelstra was so stupid that he left his allegedly best two-way player off of the court during those moments. Give me a break. Trapping the screen/roll is a standard defensive tactic; it does not mean that Dragic is the focus of the game plan.

6) Much if not all of your "evidence" about Dragic boosting the offense confuses causation with correlation. The Heat changed their playing style and made major rotation changes due to injuries plus the acquisition of Joe Johnson. In the wake of those changes, the Heat's offense performed better. The faster pace accentuated Dragic's strengths and minimized his weaknesses, so his numbers predictably improved.

7) On what basis do you say that Riley agrees with you? NBA teams not only have a salary cap but also a salary floor, so they are required to spend a certain amount of money. Riley believes that Dragic is an upgrade over Chalmers (I agree) and he believes that the rate he paid Dragic was fair market value. Some guys in the NBA are overpaid and some are underpaid but in your recent comments about Dragic's salary and your belief about Riley's opinions you seem to be suggesting that Dragic must be valuable because he is being paid a high salary. The flaws in that reasoning should be evident. For one thing, Gilbert Arenas is still collecting huge checks and he is not even in the league. How valuable is he? How valuable was he even when he was in the league? I think that he was an overpaid team cancer who set the Wizards' franchise back for many years. Dragic is not a bad locker room influence like Arenas but I don't buy the notion that Dragic's salary proves his value.

At Monday, May 02, 2016 5:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Regarding a player just missing shots he normally makes, that describes Kobe in the 2004 Finals. Setting aside for a moment whether or not you personally think Kobe took good shots during that series there is no disputing those were shots that he normally made at a higher rate.

As I mentioned, Dragic has a slim playoff resume but even after his great game seven he is shooting .424 in the 2016 playoffs, which almost duplicates his .430 career playoff FG% entering this season.

At Monday, May 02, 2016 9:10:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

I know you're busy and likely as sick of this at this point as I am, so I'll briefly respond then table it for at least another round:

1) I explained the distinction between the two already.

2) Disagree, though obviously he needs to improve the ref part of it at least. I think most players who are asked to run a team's offense while also guarding the other team's best player off multiple hard screens per play get fatigued (it's part of why Derozan shot so poorly against Indy, in fact). There are a small handful of elite players this isn't true of, but none of them are on Miami. The icebaths were a specific consequence of Dragic fighting through almost every screen- something most players don't do- against a team specifically trying to wear him down with screens. It worked for a while, then it didn't; great players eventually figure that stuff out.

3) I've already explained the more likely explanation for Dragic's benching down the stretch- that Richardson is a better compliment for Wade's late game heroics due to his high 3pt%. It is smart coaching, and I agree with it. There is only one ball, and both Dragic and Wade need it to be at their most effective. I've been advocating for splitting their time as much as possible all season, and since they started doing so around Feb they improved. I think saying "if he's not playing crunch time he must not be that good" is an oversimplification and I think you know better. Their rotation patterns are also part of it, as Dragic generally plays from the middle of the 3rd into the middle of the 4th while Wade rests; it is Dragic's job to keep things close enough for Wade to put the pin it if needed, but if you asked him to play crunch time as well that 18 min stretch would be a tall order for anyone (which is why no one on Miami is asked to do it). Sometimes Dragic is re-inserted after a few minutes if the offense starts snagging, but that wasn't the case in this series.

4) Only that killing a player for their FG% in a series alone is not the condemnation you seem to think it is. Dragic played a great series defensively, took care of the ball well, and scored when needed. That he shot poorly in the middle is a bummer, but not anything meriting a condemnation.

5) How much of the series did you watch? They only trapped much in games 1-2, and Dragic killed them out of it en route to Miami's best two playoff games ever. They then started going under every Dragic screen and having their 2/3/4s all take an extra step- or 3, in the case of those guarding Wade/Winslow- inside the paint to cut off his lanes to the paint (and to take away Whiteside's rolls for lobs from him). Spo eventually countered in Game 6 by running Dragic off 3rd and even 4th screens on the same play to scramble the D, and it worked. Clifford tried to counterpunch in game 7 by playing Dragic straight up more, staying home on shooters, and trying different defenders on him, and Dragic erupted.


At Monday, May 02, 2016 9:23:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

6) The correlation goes beyond the Heat, though. We have a three season sample size of Dragic's teams playing their best when he's running the show and their worst when he's not. All of his teammates during that span have played their best ball with him and their worst ball without him, with the lone exception of Isiah Thomas- who plays the same position and on PHX's weirdo team often forced Dragic to play the 3, which he is admittedly not great at. The pace certainly helped- because, you know, players often play their best in a system that suits them- but it is no coincidence that after the switch their offense was still better with Dragic than without him. That he led the team in both +- and On/Offs suggests that he was more than just one of many beneficiaries of a pace change, that he was important even before it, and that the teams' fortunes were more dependent on him than anyone else. He led the team in MPG (excluding Bosh), assists, and was one of their most efficient scorers. You find these numbers unpersuasive over 82 games, but persuasive over 7, so I am not sure how to reach you on this point.

7) Riley did not only pay Dragic, he traded away two unprotected first rounders- which will be delivered after Wade/Bosh's primes, and would therefore be considered somewhat likely to be high picks- to get him. 1st round picks are rarely traded without protection, and almost never two at a time; that's the kind of dice roll you only take on a star. If Dragic is as pedestrian a PG as you seem to think, Riley would have been better served hanging onto those picks and scooping up a PG in either of the ensuing cap booms.

Bonus 1) Did Kobe normally make double-covered long 2s at a higher rate? Yes. Did he make them at a good rate? No. Did he normally take nearly as many of them? No. Dragic was in line with his normal attempts, and taking his normal shots. Kobe was shooting more than usual, and doing much more of it from deep (2 more 3pt fga per game, and loads of long 2s).

Bonus 2) Given that Dragic has only played in one other postseason- and did so as a second year player- I am not overly concerned with his career playoff numbers. If he continues to shoot only 43% for the playoffs that will be a disappointing shooting performance for him, though if he continues to play strong defense, rebound above his size, and play up in the big moments, Miami will probably not be too upset about it. It is more likely that he'll score at something close to but under his usual 50%; I'd say probably around 47 or 48.

At Monday, May 02, 2016 9:33:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Ultimately, your arguments hinge on the causation vs. correlation angle, but buying into that angle necessitates ignoring everything outside of this season.

2014- Dragic and a team of bums win 48 games in the most competitive West ever, despite missing Bledsoe for about 40 games and starting the immortal Gerald Green, PJ Tucker, and Miles Plumlee. The only other members of this team currently in the playoffs are Channing Frye (started for PHX, not getting minutes for CLE) and Gerald Green (started for PHX, playing garbage time for Miami as their 9th man). You like to call this season a fluke, but with the exception of 3pt shooting, Dragic's post-break '16 numbers are pretty damn similar to his '14 numbers, despite a lower usage rate (he's also improved since then as a defender and rebounder, which helps take some of the sting out of his suspect 3pt decline).

2015: Dragic's role is reduced in PHX, and the team's record suffers despite a healthy Bledsoe and the injection of Thomas. After Dragic is traded, they totally crater. Meanwhile, Dragic arrives in Miami after Bosh goes down. Miami's offense is actually slightly better with Dragic than it was with Bosh (easily their best offensive player), though their defense declines and they stay roughly a .500 team.

2016: First 2/3s of the season Miami is abysmal offensively as Dragic sits in the corner and Bosh/Wade play iso-ball. Following Bosh's injury, Spo gives Dragic the ball and staggers his and Wade's minutes more. Deng moves to the 4 and Joe Johnson joins the team (though the offense through 5 games before Johnson came in was stellar). Miami jumps to 6th in the league offensively, Dragic's #s spike, and Deng is unleashed as Dragic's smallball PnP buddy (similar to Frye's old role). Johnson and Richardson see their 3pt% skyrocket in the new system- similar to all those PHX guys- and Miami thrives despite lackluster play from Wade during that stretch.

Over three years, two different teams have played their best offensive ball the more they involve Dragic. His teammates in both cities play great with him and poorly without him. I'm pretty sure it's more causation than correlation, and On/Offs, +-, and most of the Miami Heat interviews since February agree with me.

Your argument does not account for the diminished play of literally every PHX teammate in his absence, nor PHX's diminished play in '15 despite an on-paper much stronger roster and better health. It does not account for the massive difference in Miami's scoring and O-RTG in games with Dragic vs games without. It does not account for exactly how much Miami's offense improved after changing the pace; they set records that even the big 3 era Heat never met, and more than one of them. It suggests a reality in which all teams should just jack up the tempo, if that's all it takes and it's so easy to do; the actual reality is that it's hard to play that way, and you need a great up-tempo PG to do it, of which the league has relatively few. Dragic happens to be one of them.

We can go another round after the Toronto series, fi you want, but I'm good for now.

At Monday, May 02, 2016 3:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dragic did not play great overall, stop it. I don't think he was bad overall, but he was certainly not great. And if you're going to say Riley isn't going to pay someone all this money if he doesn't know what he's doing, then you can't say Presti doesn't know what he's doing because he paid Kanter similar money. Enough with the double standards, please.

Fun fact for Nick(these are all PER 36 MIN): Kobe averaged 19.4FGA/game for his career, 17.3FGA/game for 2004, 17.0FGA/game for 2004 playoffs, and 17.6FGA/game for 2004 finals. Whether you think Kobe shot too many long jumpers is another issue, though. And I'm sure DET's defense and Kobe's knee problems had a lot to do with him not driving as much.

I'm failing to see why you think Kobe shot too much and way more than he should've. He's below his career averages in the 2004 finals, and only slightly above his 2004 regular season and playoff averages. Shaq got his touches, too, but like most big men, they have a harder time shooting as much as a wing. And with Malone out, I think Kobe shooting a few times/game is ok and well within Phil's gameplan.

Also, the only game Kobe went off, LAL won. And the only game Kobe shot less than 21FGA/game(which was 13 in game 3), LAL got destroyed by their largest margin. Which, you might think Kobe was pouting and trying to make a point in game 3 by not shooting as much.

Nick, you're forgetting a lot of stuff about Dragic. PHO also had a budding potential AS in Bledsoe, and future(and now current) AS in Thomas. Thomas left PHO and led BOS to 2 playoffs now. MIA has underachieved with Dragic so far. They missed the playoffs in 2015, and struggled in 2016 reg. season before squeaking out a series win against a weaker CHO team. They might make ECF, but TOR is clearly not a contender either. And Dragic was only the 4th or 5th best player for MIA vs CHO.

At Monday, May 02, 2016 3:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are right that my time is limited. I just finished my last Final on Friday and am enjoying the chance to watch some basketball/write some previews before the intensive Bar Exam prep begins.

We have discussed the Phoenix/Dragic stuff at length and seem unlikely to ever reach agreement, so I am going to leave that alone moving forward. Let's just say that I don't think that Dragic leaving PHX is going to turn out to be Paul Westphal in reverse.

Regarding Dragic in Miami, so far he and the Heat have performed about as I predicted prior to the season. You prefer to break the season and the first round playoff series into discrete chunks but when I look at the overall body of work I see (1) a 14/5 (roughly) PG who thrives in the open court but is not equipped mentally or physically to be the best (or second best) player on a championship team and (2) a Heat team with a fading but still potent former superstar (Wade) plus a collection of good players (some who used to be All-Stars, plus one who may become an All-Star) who have done better in a fast paced offense then they did in a slow paced offense. Bosh is the wild card due to his health and the fact that when he plays Deng is forced into a less effective role.

To answer your oft-posed question, yes I have watched Dragic and the Heat play. Dragic is a crafty driver. He has an edge to his game when he is in the paint either on the attack with the ball or going after rebounds. He tries hard on defense but can be burned by quick guys or overpowered by bigger guys.

You mention that Dragic was on the court when the Heat set records surpassing what the team accomplished with LeBron James. Are you saying that Dragic has more impact than James? Those team records were team accomplishments and they are a product not only of all of the Heat players who contributed (including Wade, Deng, JJ and Whiteside in addition to Dragic) but they are also a product of the defense played by the opposing team.

When I watch Dragic I just don't see what you see. Guys like Kobe and LeBron distort the entire defense. The floor is "tilted" (as Doug Collins likes to say) to defend against them but because of their size, speed and skill they can make plays that few other players in the history of the game can make (I am obviously talking about prime, pre-injury Kobe and not the Kobe who just retired). Dragic does not have that kind of impact. He is a good pick and roll player, so teams often trap him hard to prevent him from driving and make it difficult for him at 6-3 to have a clear passing angle; this does not mean that teams are focusing their whole defense on him the way that they do for Kobe or LeBron.

Running a good PG off of double screens to wear him down is an age old tactic. Stephen Curry deals with this and still scores 30 ppg while being at least as good defensively as Dragic.

You act like every Miami basket is a miracle from heaven that could only be delivered by the divine Dragic. Is Dragic a good driver? Yes. Is Dragic a good pick and roll player? Yes. Are there at least a dozen other PGs in the league who could run pick and roll plays with Deng and then make competent passes to Deng, JJ or Whiteside? Yes.

Dragic is a good player. He is fun to watch. I just don't see him as irreplaceable and I don't attribute the bulk of Miami's success to his efforts (though he was of course the best player on the court in game seven and that does mean something).

I think that the numbers that infatuate you about Dragic have more to do with the quality of his backups then how great he is.

Regarding substitution patterns, you can try to spin this any way that you want but it is difficult to think of too many allegedly All-NBA caliber players in their primes who are on the bench at the end of close playoff games unless they have fouled out or they are injured.

At Monday, May 02, 2016 4:25:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Just to clarify, I'm not suggesting Dragic is as good as Lebron or Kobe, or especially close. I am suggesting he is better than guys commonly ranked ahead of him like Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard (and Harden, while we're at it), that he is Miami's best regular-season player, and offensively Miami's most important. For the season, the offense was bad whenever he sat (and he had talented backups, Chalmers early on and a red-hot Josh Richardson down the stretch), elite when he played (especially when he played with the ball in his hands as opposed to camped in the corners). I have said before that I do not think Dragic is good enough to be the best player on a championship team unless it is a '79 Sonics/'04 Detroit type team with many very good players; this Miami team is actually a bit like that, but I don't think it's good enough to deal with SAS or GSW without major injury help.

I do think he's good enough to be the second best player on a title team. If Chris Bosh was healthy- and assuming he could play in new tempo/alongside Whiteside, which are huge assumptions to make- I think that Miami would be a very real title contender, and that Dragic would be their second best player.

I also think he's better defensively than Curry, though not by nearly as much as Curry is better than him on offense. Curry has much more defensive help, and is an excellent help defender, but is an average-ish individual defender. Dragic is a very good help defender and a very good individual defender, though I would not go so far as to call him "elite" at either.

I think it is more than a coincidence that teams which put the ball in his hands have elite offensive ratings that top those of most of those "dozen" PGs, even when he has subpar help as he did in Phoenix. I think it is difficult to find a perimeter scorer that scores as efficiently as he does (though of course this was not the case for much of the Charlotte series), and I think that it is extremely valuable to have a player that is capable of having the sort of two-way impact he had yesterday, even if only intermittently. Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving are both capable of scoring 25 points in 3 quarters of a game 7. I do not think they are capable of simultaneously holding the other team's best player to single digit scoring. I also don't think either of them could lead a team whose second best player was Eric Bledsoe (for half a season) to 48 wins; this year Lillard's second best player was CJ McCollum (better offensively than Bled, and healthier) and the West was weaker than in '14; his team won 44 games. Kyrie has never made .500 playoffs without Lebron James. They do not correlate to team success when you put the ball in their hands to the extent that Dragic does.

I believe that the opportunities he creates with his penetration are better than the opportunities some of his alleged peers create, as he's better at both finishing at the rim and passing out of traffic than most of them*. He's also got Nash's ability to maintain his dribble along the baseline while drawing 2-3 defenders; this does always lead to assists, but it leads to a scrambling, compromised defense that eventually yields a higher quality shot; this is why Dragic's teams tend to be offensive juggernauts while he's ballhandling.

*He's better finishing than all of them except Curry, statistically.

Ok, that ran longer than I meant, but I felt like you may have been overestimating my estimation of Dragic, and I wanted to clarify. I do not think he's an MVP caliber player, but I do think his value makes him an All-Star/All-NBA type player, even if his boxscore numbers are not as gaudy as a LIllard or Irving.

At Monday, May 02, 2016 4:36:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

*doesn't always lead to assists. My proofreading game remains a work in progress.


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