Dwyane Wade’s dropoff throughout the 2013 playoffs has been steep and sudden.
Just a month and a half ago he was registering his seventh top-10 regular season PER in the last eight years. Now he’s being outplayed by Lance Stephensons and Danny Greens of the world, and can’t get to the rim or play consistent defense because of a right knee injury that’s sapped his athleticism and explosion, spawning the once-inconceivable notion that Wade would be better suited coming off the bench.
While most of the discussion about Wade has centered on what he can’t or isn’t doing offensively, his struggles on the defensive end of the floor have been just as jarring.
Wade’s decision to play through his grueling injury is admirable in and of itself, and a decline in his defensive effectiveness is understandable and expected. But a significant portion of his defensive miscues have stemmed from lackadaisical effort and questionable technique, not physical aptitude.
His incessant tendency to gamble in the passing lanes has always been offset by his superhuman athleticism, but with his speed and quickness diminished, those same gambles have become either ineffective or nonexistent. Danny Green has killed the Heat, and often Wade, by simply finding the right place to stand.
Though Green certainly deserves big time credit for his stellar performance thus far, there’s a reason why he’s been wide-open on a handful of three-pointers: Dwyane Wade’s defense, or lack thereof. By my count, six of Green’s 16 three-pointers have been a direct result of Wade’s defensive miscues, and the blame for another two of Green’s threes should be split between Wade and a teammate.
The Spurs’ offense has capitalized on the Heat’s defensive chaos, effectively providing the requisite spacing, ball movement and timing
The goal posts moved on Monta Ellis. Since Ellis came into the league in 2005, NBA teams have put more emphasis on efficiency and less on per-game production. In the face of that changing barometer for what makes a player great, Ellis’ game has remained seemingly unchanged. This stubbornness combined with the overall lack of efficiency in his game has led some pundits to write him off completely as nothing more than a chucker. After all, this season Ellis posted the lowest PER of any player who averaged 18.5 points or more.
But there is still hope for an efficient Ellis, and it wouldn’t take a total overhaul of his offensive game to do it.
The criticism perpetually surrounding Ellis always seems to far outweigh the praise, but that clouds over the fact that Ellis has some impressive talents. Over the last four years, the only guards who have gotten to the rim more consistently than Ellis are Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, and Tyreke Evans. Playing alongside point guards Steph Curry and Brandon Jennings, Ellis has averaged at least 5 assists per game for four straight seasons.
Ellis checks a lot of boxes in the plus column for a starting guard in the NBA. His biggest problem, at least on offense, is his poor shooting percentages. Ellis can shoot, so his statistics are more a result of reckless shot selection.
This season he shot a paltry 41.6%. While he shot a respectable 45.8% on 2-point attempts, his overall % was dragged down by his abysmal 28.7% connection rate from three (4.0 attempts per game.) 3-point shooting is the hole Ellis’s game in which he may eventually be buried. While he’s had seasons of success (36% on 4.7 attempts per game in 2010-2011), Ellis is just a
“I’ve been around that man for 10 years and when the competition is at its fiercest, Dwyane Wade steps up biggest.” — Erik Spoelstra as quoted in The New York Times
Spoelstra’s faith in Dwyane Wade is well-founded. Wade has a way of silencing doubters like he splits a double team and rising to the occasion like he leaps past shotblockers. But as Tom Haberstroh points out today at ESPN, this swoon is atypical, even given Wade’s recent history of playoff swoons:
In his past 10 games, Wade has averaged just 4.4 attempts per game in the restricted area, down from his regular-season rate of 6.6 attempts. Remember when Wade’s knee bothered him throughout last postseason? This is much worse. When Wade’s knee plagued him last playoffs, he was still able to find 6.2 close-range shots per game, converting at a much higher percentage than he has been lately.
When Wade was struggling earlier in the playoffs, it only applied a slight drag to the Heat’s offense. But the Pacer defense is super elite and is turning Wade’s inability to attack the paint into a real liability. The Pacers are almost playing him like the Spurs did Tony Allen, backing way off and playing him for the jump shot. In the past, Wade would just use that space to get a running start and evade the waiting defense, but that’s not happening on an weak knee and against the likes of Paul George. As a result, the Heat are scoring 14 fewer points per 100 possessions when Wade is on the court.
That’s a massive disparity, and though the numbers look a bit worse because Wade faces the Pacers best defenders, it’s worth noting that Mario Chalmers has been able to sneak into the heart of the
While LeBron James is two wins away from dashing away a lot of exemplums regarding his legacy in the NBA, no one has improved their image during the course of these playoffs like Chris Bosh has.
In the past, people have made fun of anything about Chris Bosh – from softness to cross dressing like RuPaul to his genitalia to… oh yeah, they don’t think he’s a very good basketball player either. He’s been called half a man when referring to the Miami Big 3 Two and a Half Men. He’s been the most overrated player in the NBA and nothing deserving of his contract.
It’s often been the ammunition coming out of the quills full of desperation for discounting what Miami is capable of doing, what kind of a team they are, and the reasons they’ll never win a title. When in reality, Chris Bosh has been arguably the best safety valve in recent memory. Last year, there were times in which he looked lost and didn’t fit in. There were also times in which his scoring and spacing provided the perfect balance to Miami’s attack. Continue reading “Meet Chris Bosh: your traditional big man” »
One of the knocks on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s attack this season has been they’re a jump-shooting team. At a certain point, it’s expected that if you live by the jumper then you’re going to die by the jumper when those shots stop falling. However, when you look at how the Thunder actually spread around their shots on the floor, it looks like they’re just an intelligent scoring team.
Throughout the regular season, OKC maximized the value of their shots extremely well. If you’re ranking the quality of shot you can get in an NBA game, I’d put shots at the rim first, 3-pointers second, midtown (anything from the restricted area to 16 feet) shots third and long 2-pointers fourth. Continue reading “Thunder rolling at the rim” »
In past finals, we’ve seen how the matchup between two systems or philosophies — think Dallas’ spread, 3-point heavy attack pitted against Miami’s frantically rotating defense — is almost as important as the matchups between individual talents. However, in the 2012 Finals, the talent is so transcendent that the “offensive systems” are really just simple actions to get great players in position to attack one-on-one.
During the regular season, the Thunder were dead last in terms of the percentage of made buckets that came from assists and the Heat were a the bottom six team in that regard. Both teams use screens to create isolations and run pick-and-rolls designed to get the ball handler to the rim, rather than just into playmaking position (like, say, Boston’s Rondo-heavy offense).
The point here is that how individual matchups play out is going to be crucial, and none more so than between Kevin Durant and LeBron James, the two best players in the NBA. It’s exceedingly likely that one of these two guys is going to be the Finals MVP. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be directly matched up, especially considering how both Scott Brooks and Erik Spoelstra prefer to use defensive specialists, and that both coaches found success with switch-heavy defenses in the conference finals.
With that in mind, we’ll preview the most prevalent matchups each superstar will face, starting with the defensive specialists.
LeBron James versus Thabo Sefolosha
As the Thunder’s de facto stopper, the Swiss wing will spend significant time checking Miami’s driving force. Sefolosha has shown the ability to change a game defensively, most notably in Game 3 against the Spurs. But slowing the quick but diminutive Tony Parker is hardly the same task as the one awaiting him in the Finals.
LeBron James and his lack of fouling has (again) become a talking point, mostly thanks to a much-bemoaned Dwyane Wade no call on Rajon Rondo (Well that, and Miami’s 47 free throws to Boston’s 29 FTs). This is quite similar to how LeBron gets blamed for not taking a buzzer beater that Wade misses. If Dwyane catches a cold, LeBron gets the flu–while also getting ridiculed for starting the bubonic plague of AAU-me-first-passivity-shrinkingism.
The “He doesn’t get called for fouls! superstar non call!” trope has resonance because it riles up those who feel that LeBron James was presumptuously marketed to them, that his is a false reign, propped up by NBA puppet masters. This is a deranged, paranoid way to think. So of course, it’s quite a popular sentiment.
I’ve read a bit about how James only had three (Three!) fouls in the Indiana series. The charge is spat as though it’s a self evident uncovering of malfeasance, as though the mere existence of this data is something on the level of basketball’s Pentagon Papers.
Show me some visual evidence and then we can discuss whether David Stern’s pointing the real JFK murder weapon at his refs and demanding they follow Maverick Carter’s orders. Show me something compelling, because LeBron James averages a mere 1.5 fouls in the regular season. Against Indiana, he averaged .5 fouls in the small sample size of six games. One foul fewer per game isn’t exactly a dramatic shift from what you’ll see on League Pass in January.
Six games against the Pacers would have projected to yield James roughly nine fouls. That he notched only three isn’t exactly setting my hair ablaze, considering the paucity of minutes. Remember, LBJ had a combined nine fouls over just two consecutive playoff games versus the Knicks.
The Miami Heat closed out Indiana with their most brutally frank offensive gameplan of the postseason. For all the talk about how Miami needs to develop proper ball and player movement — when isn’t there too much standing around and holding of the ball — Game 6 showed us that sometimes, keeping it simple is the right solution.
Erik Spoelstra ran virtually every single Game 6 possession through James or Wade. There were none of those curious Mario Chalmers possessions or wild shots from Norris Cole. One got the sense that if Spoelstra could have scripted the game to give Wade or James every shot — and why not? — that’s what he would have done.
But that isn’t to say Spoelstra just handed the keys to the offense to James and Wade and backed away. Rather, the efficiency of their performance was made possible by his work under the hood, tinkering with spacing and teaching the Heat’s big men how to become the most relentless and effective ball screen corps in the NBA. And as dominant (of the ball and of the game) as the Heat stars were, they did so in perfectly prescribed positions on the court — Wade in isolations on the left side of the court, James in the midpost from either side, and both in a constant barrage of pick-and-rolls.
When the play called for Wade or James to receive the ball in the post, the Heat used simple but effective actions to help them establish position. For James, this usually meant a cross screen from Mario Chalmers. Switching a point guard on a player who routinely outmuscles power forwards is not an option, so Chalmers could peel away James’ defender, allowing James to set up shop with a defender on his back.
Slow down, post up
Indiana’s inability to punish the Heat inside in Game 1 wasn’t so much about posts being fronted and not getting the ball inside, but not allowing things to develop enough to see if the read was even available.
Tonight, the Pacers’ biggest adjustment must simply be to have more patience. Too many times, Indiana’s ball handlers rushed their actions and forced themselves into bad spots. On the fronting issue in particular, the player making the entry pass needs to slow down, use pass or shot fakes to make the defense commit to either helping on the big or staying on the shooter, and then make the corresponding read.
Once the Pacers show some poise, then the tactical adjustments can be made. The first being that head coach Frank Vogel needs to eliminate any post ups on the block for players not named Roy Hibbert. David West is much better facing the basket and none of the Pacer wings have shown enough post dominance to warrant touches other than in extreme situations (like Granger with one foot in the paint and Mario Chalmers switched onto him).
Vogel also needs to switch how he is getting Hibbert his post looks. Miami’s fronting scheme is most effective in two situations: when the Pacers run a cross screen into a post up or when they simply look for him in transition. In both of these situations, weakside helpers can easily position themselves to deny the lob pass over the top. The easiest way to get Hibbert great positioning is for him to set a ball screen then dive to the weakside block.
Because Miami traps/hedges so aggressively, their big men will be pulled higher onto the perimeter and thus have a longer path to recovery IF the Indiana
Some adjustments we might see for tonight’s games.
Miami Heat (2-0) vs. New York Knicks (0-2)
Coming into the series, how Mike Woodson managed his rotations was an important issue for the Knick. Who he played, where he played them and when they played were going to be a key to New York’s success. In Game 1 the rotations were questionable but Woodson’s use of his personnel improved in Game 2. Now, thanks to Amar’e Stoudamire’s post game tussle with a fire extinguisher, they will need work once again.
The best fix is to slide Carmelo Anthony to the four and insert Steve Novak into the starting lineup on the wing. The Knicks offense could receive a boost early on with the additional space the sharpshooting Novak can provide for Melo. On defense, there will have to be some creative cross-matching with Tyson Chandler marking Chris Bosh, Melo shadowing LeBron James and Novak moving to the limited Udonis Haslem (This of course becomes infinitely easier if Bosh is gone for Game 3).
That lineup makes much more sense than does inserting JR Smith into the starting lineup where he’d be forced to guard Dwyane Wade. And in case you’re struggling to remember who that Wade guys is, he was the guy that absolutely demolished Smith in the low post all Monday night. That dominance forced Woodson to double on every Wade catch, a strategy that virtually always led to open looks for Miami.
Fields on the other hand, acquitted himself well against Wade down low (yet oddly received double-team help near the end of the game. Perhaps Woodson confused his and Smith’s jersey numbers). He needs to see his minutes mirror those of the Heat’s star shooting guard in order give the Knicks a chance to commit only one