Monday, August 13, 2012

BLUEPRINT FOR NBA SUCCESS: How To Build A Team Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts

Teams face a perplexing dilemma: while they would like to have players who can do everything and do everything very well, that is just not realistic and there has to be some give somewhere. With my research studying the effect of the standard deviation of certain statistics among the players in a lineup on offensive efficiency, I have worked to identify where it is best for teams to make this sacrifice.  This research can apply to all teams, whether a small market team and/or one limited in its resources and available talent that needs to make more out of less, or a team with all the talent and resources at its disposal who wants to get more out of its players. 

My research, interpreted here with regard to half-court offense, makes two primary arguments: (1) teams should take more threes and evenly distribute them among the players in each lineup (i.e. teams should spread the floor with multiple shooters) and (2) the role of initiating the offense should be narrowly defined, limited to few players[1].

Ultimately, the evidence is compelling that teams should follow one overarching principle for maximizing offensive efficiency: narrowly focus the role of initiating the offense[2] where they can create the greatest advantage and threat to score (whether at the rim off penetration or through the post), and surround that facilitator/ball-handler with capable three-point shooters[3] with the athleticism to rebound[4] as well as attack and finish strong at the rim with the space created through ball movement. 

It follows that this facilitating player should lean towards passing the ball if he cannot get something easy at the rim or get to the line, rather than settling for mid-range shots.  The research also supports the notion that subsequent players receiving the ball should also lean towards making the extra pass, if the open three is not available or he cannot get to the rim or line.  The result is an efficiency-friendly more even distribution of assists and even distribution of uncontested three-point jump shots and good shots at the rim.  These values are reflected in various forms of the motion offense.   

Also, whereas three-pointers should be attempted liberally, teams should take a more focused and conservative approach to mid-range shots, with fewer players taking fewer attempts.  Ideally, a team will get everything at the rim, line or from three off the catch.  Any other jump shots or shots from mid-range in general, should be focused on a specific few who are the most efficient in that role (e.g. Kevin Garnett in Boston) and preferably be off the catch.

For example, during the 2012 NBA Finals, LeBron James initiated almost everything for Miami, and was surrounded by multiple shooters who hit threes off the catch (whether on a pass directly from James or after multiple effective passes).  They also performed much better when James stopped taking mid-range shots[5]; the role of taking mid-range jump shots, which were few and far between, fell squarely on Bosh, and at times Haslem, off the catch and, when necessary, Wade off the dribble.  Battier filled the position of role player particularly well, bringing strong defense, a nose for the ball and extra possessions and, most important to the offense, unselfish play and consistent and reliable three-point shooting when the opportunity came to him through the offense.

In 2011, the Dallas Mavericks went almost exclusively through Nowitzki in the high post, or off penetration to the rim, often off of screens, and usually from Barea and to a lesser extent Terry, consistently creating good shots.  They moved the ball as a team and got each other uncontested shots at the rim or from three.  They had numerous players in each lineup that hit the three reliably off the catch[6], and had athletes who rebounded and defended well especially around the rim, earning the team valuable possessions[7].

Teams should be careful not to overvalue the ability to initiate offense or create one’s own shot.  The skill often goes to waste when spread among numerous players, where some are simply better at creating than others.  Teams need to capitalize on the comparative advantage that the best facilitators in their lineup provide.  In other words, once a team has a player, maybe two per lineup, who are already very capable facilitators, it is to their benefit to focus on surrounding those players with others whose strengths of shooting the three off the catch and athleticism to defend, rebound and attack off the space created through the offense to finish at the rim are maximized at the expense of their ability to facilitate or create their own shot. 

The ideal lineup might include one, two if possible, of the best possible facilitators, who can defend, rebound, and hit the three well (or some combination of those skills if all three are not possible) and surround him/them with high-character, high-effort unselfish athletes whose strengths include defending, shooting the three reliably and consistently, and the athleticism and skill to rebound well and, with space created through ball movement, get the ball to the rim to finish or get to the line[8]. 

Granted, such a lineup might be a bit idealistic, but the argument remains that teams will be more successful if they abide by the ideologies outlined above by maximizing three-point shooting, defense, rebounding and athleticism at the expense of the ability to create or score in isolation.

Ultimately, I feel the motion offense, particularly the dribble drive motion offense[9], is the type of offense most resembling that described by the findings of the research, with great emphasis on shots coming at the rim, line and from three[10], and a narrowed focus on where the ball starts.

[1] Of course, fatigue and the opposing defense can at times dictate where it may be best to initiate the offense.  So, although just one facilitator may be necessary, it doesn't hurt to have a second capable facilitator in a lineup, who, when needed, can create an advantage and force help, allowing for ball movement and uncontested threes and shots at the rim for teammates.
[2] Focusing the role of facilitator is promoted by the finding that a less even distribution of turnovers is preferred.  Although a more even distribution of assists is preferred, I interpret this to simply mean that the assist does not only come off the first pass from the facilitator, but off any number of subsequent passes until a preferred shot attempt is found.   
[3] The relationship between offensive efficiency and the ratio of three-point attempts to total field goal attempts supports shooting more three-pointers relative to two-point jump shots.  The finding that a more even distribution of three-point attempts supports having as many reliable three-point shooters as reasonable.  I inferred from the findings regarding the distribution of field goal attempts, three-point field goal attempts and two-point field goal attempts that these three-point attempts should come at the expense of mid-range two-point attempts, as opposed to two-point attempts at the rim.
[4] A more even distribution is preferred for both offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds. 
[5] I would like to add a note here specifically about LeBron James’ maturation this past season and want to make sure to praise his growth since I was so critical of his performance in the 2011 Finals.  In the 2012 NBA Playoffs, and particularly in the NBA Finals, he truly showed how much he has grown as a player by focusing his game on what he does best; attacking the rim and passing the ball.  Almost every possession went through James, whether he was threatening to attack the rim through dribble penetration or through the post.  He was successful in getting to the rim and the line at a high rate, and when he couldn’t, often because he was doubled, he moved the ball to teammates resulting in open three-point attempts.  James’ mid-range jumpers became fewer and farther between (with the exception of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals where he was knocking down everything), and he finally took full advantage of his strengths to not only create easy opportunities for himself, but his teammates as well.
[6] Nowitzki, Terry, Kidd, Barea, Stevenson and Cardinal were all capable and reliable three-point shooters off the catch for Dallas in the NBA Finals, helping the team spread the floor.
[7] Marion and Chandler were particularly effective around the rim and on the boards earning additional possessions, but also, Kidd brought his defensive leadership and strong rebounding at the guard position while promoting unselfish offensive play with his passing, and others like Barea and Stevenson added aggressive perimeter defense.
[8] And players who shoot well from three tend to shoot well from the line, too.
[9] Created by Vance Walberg, and implemented by John Calipari among others, the dribble drive motion offense focuses on creating lanes for penetration, a primary ball handler or two who initiates the offense and ball movement, downhill penetration for other players, well-defined shot selection, moving the ball with passing and spacing the floor with shooters.  Downhill penetration is off the pass and in the direction of the player’s motion.  The downhill penetrator is not breaking down the defender like the player initiating the offense; rather they are simply beating their man without ball-stopping, using the space created through the offense. 
[10] This is the mentality of “3 or Key.” Getting to the rim results in high percentage shots at the rim and opportunities at the free throw line, while also drawing defensive attention to take advantage of spacing to get open looks from three. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Defensive Distribution Analysis

Analyzing the defensive side of the ball is a greater challenge due to the fact that fewer statistics are available with regards to defense.  Steals, blocks, rebounds and fouls do not tell the whole story of how a player contributes, whether it is on the ball or helping teammates.  A great on the ball defender doesn't always get steals to reflect his on ball defense and a great help defender doesn't always get blocks to reflect his help defense.  Until I can get my hands on better defensive data, this is my effort using the standard readily available defensive statistics.  

Measuring defensive efficiency, or defensive points per possession, using the standard deviations of various defensive statistics provided rather simple results.  Lineup data was used and standard deviation variables were created for personal fouls, steals, blocks, and defensive rebounds based on the percentage in each category that each of the five players in a lineup accounted for.  

Defensive efficiency was predicted using lineup per possession statistics in personal fouls, steals, and blocks as well as defensive rebounding %.  Each of these categories increased with a more even distribution or lower standard deviation.  As a result, for the positive statistics of rebounding percentage, steals and blocks, as the standard deviation decreased giving us a more even distribution, defensive points per possession also decreased, as much as 4, 9 and 1 point(s) per 100 possessions, respectively.  In the case of personal fouls, a negative statistic, the reverse was true; as the standard deviation of personal fouls increases, personal fouls per possession and defensive points per possession decrease.  

So what do these results mean and why do I refer to these results as simple?  They are simple because they essentially mean that we want everyone in a lineup playing defense.  We want everyone rebounding, everyone playing strong defense on the ball and getting steals, and everyone contesting shots and getting blocks. 

Obviously when players are getting steals and blocks successfully, they aren't fouling, and ideally, players are getting those steals and blocks efficiently without fouling, so why is a wider distribution of personal fouls beneficial for a defense?  Perhaps this means we want a player or two in a lineup getting fouls when a steal or a block isn't a realistic possibility.  These fouls are likely skewed towards players in the paint, lending itself to a higher standard deviation, where fouling is preferred to allowing easy buckets on dunks and layups.

Monday, June 13, 2011

2011 NBA Finals - Series Recap

  • As I predicted with confidence before the Finals, the Dallas Mavericks won this series with their superior team game and shooting ability.  Although I was wrong about their team game having the advantage in Game 1, where Miami's defense proved to have the advantage before Dallas adjusted, Dallas successfully adjusted and got better with each game in getting good looks with greater frequency as they had become accustomed to throughout the postseason and Miami's defense failed to readjust.  This was particularly apparent in the last two games where Dallas' offense was extremely efficient.  Whereas James was able to single-handedly slow down Chicago's offense by blanketing Rose, he was not able to do so against a Dallas team that played better team basketball than anyone else in the playoffs.  
  • This series was a win for team basketball, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Dallas players consistently made each other better and got each other good looks.  Catching and shooting an open jumper is always better than getting a jump shot off the dribble through isolation and Dallas clearly valued this idea.  Dallas, when they weren't shooting good catch and shoot looks, focused on a few very specific things that played to the greatest strengths of the players doing those things, including isolation in the high post for Dirk with the threat of either taking outside shots or attacking the rim, some plays in the post for Marion, a few shots for Terry on pull-up mid-range jumpers off a couple hard dribbles, and Barea attacking the rim.  These are things all four of those players do very well and Dallas was disciplined in staying with those strengths, and getting shots for each other, particularly through the threats of Dirk, Terry and Barea.  
  • When James signed with Miami, he expected multiple championships, starting right away, thinking that since he was so close to a title with Cleveland, that adding Wade and Bosh guaranteed that.  He made the mistake of thinking that the whole is equal to the sum of the parts and they relied on their individual talent more than they focused on bettering each other with team play.  They got close with their talent and athleticism mostly through their defense, but their half court offense left lacking.  Miami certainly shared and moved the ball well at times, but they failed to do so with anywhere near the discipline and consistency Dallas did, and often fell back on isolation plays and contested shots.  Clearly, they have a little more work to do, specifically as it relates to teamwork
  • The changes that were keys to Dallas winning the series:
    • Carlisle's decision to start J.J. Barea and get him even more opportunities to attack the basket, correctly expecting him to convert on the attempts he was failing to convert on early in the series.  This not only allowed Stevenson's defense to come off the bench, preventing their defense from being top heavy with Chandler, Marion and Kidd already starting, but it also opened up things for Jason Terry, who handled the ball more and attacked the rim with more time with Barea off the floor, rather than just trying to catch and shoot over James.  
    • Terry's adjustment after starting this series slow was another key.  His veteran leadership and ability to take some pressure off Dirk offensively was invaluable to Dallas.  He really found his rhythm in the last two games, shooting 19 for 28, where he and Dallas were at their best offensively.  Playing less with Barea, who is most effective with the ball in his hands, also enabled this adjustment by Terry. 
    • Carlisle's decision to replace an ineffective Peja Stojakovic in the rotation with the hard-nosed Brian Cardinal was very important as well.  Stojakovic had great success in the Western Conference Playoffs, particularly against the Lakers and Trail Blazers, but against the athletic Thunder and particularly the bigger, stronger, faster Miami Heat, he struggled.  Cardinal stepped up, hit a couple shots from beyond the arc, made good passes, and generally played disciplined team offense and most importantly, played great, hard defense.  
  • As for the four Dallas players that started every game in the NBA Finals: 
    • Dirk was Dirk. He hit open shots, got to the line and also made some tough shots for most of the series.  His ability to play in the high post, something he wasn't nearly as effective doing a few years ago, also allowed him to create good opportunities for his teammates.  He keyed the Dallas comeback in Game 2 that reversed the momentum Miami had in the series, when every half court possession went through Dirk and they scored on 11 of their last 12 possessions.  
    • Jason Kidd made his presence felt most on the defensive end in addition to hitting some timely threes throughout the Finals. After some early problems with turnovers and moving the ball, he settled down, made the right passes and helped facilitate the offense as he always has.  His effort on the defensive end truly showed how much he wanted this title after 17 years in the league. 
    • Shawn Marion was a rock throughout this series.  He played great defense, guarding both James and Wade, and played great offense in the paint.  He finished inside, played within himself offensively, and got his hands on a lot of loose balls on both ends of the floor.  He redefined himself, and even though his numbers in Phoenix were better due to being inflated by his role in a high-paced Phoenix offense with Nash, he played the best team basketball of his life in these playoffs and was an indispensable piece of the team basketball Dallas plays. 
    • Tyson Chandler filled the role of defensive leader with his energy and length.  Offensively, he filled the role of getting his hands on rebounds, earning himself and his team offensive boards and second chances, and he finished around the basket when called upon to do so.  
  • These key changes and the way Dallas plays disciplined team basketball show that Rick Carlisle is without a doubt one of the best basketball minds and coaches in the league. Credit to Cuban for bringing in Carlisle (and also for their forward thinking in making founder Roland Beech a part of the coaching staff). 
  • Eric Spoelstra lost the coaching battle in this series, but he lost it to an amazing coach, and as a result is probably getting more flack than he deserves.  Although he hesitated in taking Bibby out of the lineup, Chalmers was consistently getting more minutes, and he may have simply been playing Bibby more with Anthony and Chalmers more with Haslem, clearly feeling that they were most effective in those combinations rather than necessarily feeling  that Bibby was better and should start.  He certainly says all the right things in interviews and in what we see from the looks into the locker room and huddle, and shows his knowledge of the game, but if I can only have one criticism, I fear he is not assertive enough with James and Wade, who often seem like they feel they can do no wrong.  James in particular continued to make some of the same mistakes throughout the series, and though most of this falls on James himself, Spoelstra needed to be assertive and hard on James to help correct some of his poor play and decision-making.  James has enough yes men and Spoelstra shouldn't be another one.  Some of his talk after the Finals was focused on how the media is unfair to James.  Though that may be true, that is not what James needs to hear to become a better player.  He doesn't need more excuses and certainly not from his coach.    Spoelstra is certainly a very capable coach and he, like the players, will only grow from this experience, and I hope Miami keeps him on and doesn't disrupt the chemistry the team has between the coaching staff and players that got them to the Finals in their first year together.  Firing Spoelstra would be a very short-sighted decision.  
  • For the Miami Heat players, James, Wade, Bosh and Chalmers were the key contributors.  In reverse order: 
    • Chalmers proved to be the only capable point guard for Miami and separated himself from Bibby.  This was apparent early in the series, and Eric Spoelstra took a few games too long to make the change from Bibby to Chalmers.  In fact, it appears from the rotation in Game 6, that he made this change not solely because Chalmers was outplaying Bibby, but because House gave him confidence with his play in Game 5 that he could count on him off the bench, and eliminated Bibby from the rotation entirely.  
    • Chris Bosh started slowly in this series, but turned it around after hitting the game winner in Game 3.  His play in Game 6 and his reaction after losing showed he wanted it more than anyone else on the team.  Unfortunately, he didn't do enough to make it happen.  He didn't call for the ball in the post enough, and he didn't get in the ears of James and Wade to get them to look for him more as he was hitting everything in Game 6.  
    • Dwyane Wade was the best Miami player offensively throughout this series.  He was also very strong defensively.  With the exception of Game 6, he was great in every game, including the minutes he played in Game 5 when he suffered a hip injury.  He was able to get to the rim better than James, and showed greater skill and feel for the game in creating opportunities for himself, which is why he was the focus in the 4th quarters of this series.  Wade could have done a better job scoring on mid-range jump shots as he has for so long, but with all the attention on James' 4th quarter disappearing acts, he probably didn't dominate the ball in the half-court as much as he maybe should have and didn't look for that mid-range shot with anywhere near the frequency he has in the past.  
    • Finally, LeBron James was disappointing offensively throughout most of the Finals.  It was well documented that he completely disappeared in the 4th quarters of the series.  He not only didn't take control of the ball, but he stood around and watched and did nothing to make his teammates better in crunch time.  He stood idly by and completely failed his team offensively.  When his shot wasn't falling and he wasn't getting anything outside of easy transition opportunities, he forgot that he could create for his teammates.  Credit Dallas' team defense and Marion in particular for stifling James, who was never able to consistently create opportunities for himself and his teammates.  James also has to work on improving his offense without the ball.  With his physical skills, there is no excuse for him not to be great in just about every aspect of the game, including his offensive play without the ball.  
  • An extra note about LeBron James.  He certainly isn't a sympathetic figure, not only due to "The Decision," the manner in which he left Cleveland, and his statements before the season ("not five, not six, not seven..."), but his actions and statements after losing this series and some in the past.  A little humility would go a long way for him not only in that regard, but also in allowing him to realize what he needs to do to become a better player.  As a basketball enthusiast, I hope and expect him to hold himself accountable for this failure and be motivated by it to put in the focused hard work in the off-season necessary for him to come back as a much improved player, within the team concept and individually.
  • It is only appropriate to finish this post with a congratulatory note to the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, Rick Carlisle and the Dallas coaching staff, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, and the rest of the Dallas Mavericks players and organization on a job well done and winning the 2011 NBA title by playing the game the right way on both ends of the floor; as a team, by making each other better, resulting in a whole that is even greater than the sum of its very good parts. 

    Observations from Game 6

    • Just as they had in the last few games, the Dallas offense showed that they had figured out how to get good looks against Miami's athletic and active defense after starting slow through nearly two full games.  With good looks coming often, Dallas converted them (with the exception of Nowitzki in the first half, who uncharacteristically couldn't find the bucket), whereas in the first two games, where the good looks were at such a premium, the added pressure of hitting when the opportunities were there resulted in some uncharacteristic misses.  
    • On the other end of the floor, Dallas continued to focus on trying to keep Dwyane Wade and LeBron James out of the paint, something that cannot be done completely, but Dallas did a good job limiting it as much as possible particularly in the 2nd half.  In limiting Miami's looks in the paint, and staying disciplined on offense, Dallas made this game about hitting jumps shots on open looks, playing significantly in their favor.  Credit their team defense and Carlisle for utilizing the zone effectively.  Dallas again limited their turnovers offensively, allowing them to limit Miami's transition offense defensively.  
    • Apart from a 3 minute stretch in the 2nd quarter when Miami went on a 14-0 run, they simply did not match Dallas' consistent effort and discipline on every possession, leading Dallas to generally get better shots than Miami.  Dallas led almost the entire second half after Miami's 5-2 run to start the half and take a one point lead with about 11 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.   
    • Neither team could hit their free throws, both shooting around 60%.  It was likely just the result of randomness, but perhaps it was the pressure of playing in an elimination game in the NBA Finals.       
    • Individually, first, Brian Cardinal deserves his just due, as does Carlisle for recognizing Stojakovic's ineffectiveness and replacing him in the rotation with Cardinal, who not only hit the open three when he was asked to do so, but, more importantly, was active and effective on defense.  Despite only taking three three-point field goals in the series, and making one in each of the last two games, he was still a threat, succeeding in spreading the floor just as Stojakovic does, but was a completely different player than Stojakovic defensively, particularly in his help defense in getting in the way of the strong and athletic James and Wade.  Though his personal numbers don't show it, there is a reason why he led the team in +/-, matching Shawn Marion with +18 in just 12 minutes of play.  Team basketball won this championship, and Cardinal is a great example of the team concept and played his role and within himself perfectly.  
    • The keys to Dallas' victory tonight, as well as in Game 5, were J.J. Barea and Jason Terry.  Barea's success in getting in the paint throughout the series finally resulted in some made baskets as he had done the rest of the postseason prior to the first few games in the Finals.  More credit to Carlisle and the Dallas coaching staff for putting Barea in the starting lineup and bringing Stevenson's defense off the bench, contributing to three straight victories for Dallas.  Barea struggled making shots early in the series, but the Dallas coaching staff recognized his success in getting in the paint and they increased his opportunities, where made baskets were sure to follow.  Jason Terry was just phenomenal.  He stepped up and knocked down shot after shot while getting himself good looks.  After being slowed by James early in the series, he did not back off and played more aggressively, driving towards the rim on the catch without a moment's hesitation, which in turn opened up some opportunities for him outside.  His reaction to adversity early in the series showed his veteran leadership. 
    • Although Nowitzki couldn't find the basket in the first half, Dallas did a good job keeping him involved in the 2nd half, and helping him find his rhythm with a shot and make on their first possession of the half.  His shots down the stretch helped seal the victory.  
    • Jason Kidd hit a couple big 3s when called upon to do so, but more importantly,  just as he did all series, contributed nothing but positive things on the defensive end and was a key piece to slowing down Miami's offense.  What he can still do defensively at 38 years old against some of the best athletes in the game is just amazing.  His hands are as good as anyone's and he is one of the smartest players around on both ends of the floor.  
    • Shawn Marion, similarly, played great defense again and was effective in his role offensively.  Marion redefined himself in Dallas as a player who strictly scores around the basket, taking advantage of his athleticism and ability to get up quickly.  Long gone are the days where he shoots the three.  The great team player he is, he has left that to the many capable players on Dallas and added value by focusing on what he does best on the team with his activity in the paint.  
    • Tyson Chandler, limited by foul trouble, was still efficient offensively, and as has been his focus throughout the series, rebounded well, got his hands on a lot of balls, and disrupted Miami with his length. 
    • DeShawn Stevenson hit some big 3s in the first half, providing Dallas a cushion that they would need with the run Miami went on in the 2nd quarter.  Though I am not a fan of jawing and tough guy behavior generally, his scuffle with Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers completely stopped Miami's momentum in the 2nd quarter and gave Dallas time to regroup.  Credit him for not fading in response to Miami's big run.  
    • Ian Mahinmi also stepped up and contributed off the bench, getting a couple offensive rebounds, working hard on defense and making a couple shots including a big one at the end of the 3rd to add to Dallas' momentum and another early in the 2nd quarter where he looked like Nowitzki on a step back one-footed fadeaway at the end of the shot clock.
    • For Miami, James played a good offensive game and finally hit some outside shots, though he focused on his strength of scoring while going towards the basket and in the paint.  He can maybe be faulted for still not taking enough shots and not being even more aggressive, but credit Dallas' defense for limiting his looks in the paint.  James was disciplined in focusing on getting his looks inside, and until the very end of the game when he took two three-pointers, every shot he took after the first quarter was in the paint, but for one (a made shot from the free throw line).  The main problem was that he didn't get more of those looks.  It also is worth noting that while Wade, Bosh and Chalmers each had a positive +/-, James was the worst on the team in that regard with astounding -24. 
    • Wade regressed in this game offensively, taking about half his attempts from outside and missing all but one of those, while making most of the shots he took inside.  Credit Dallas' defense for limiting Wade as much as they could from getting into the paint.  Wade did a good job getting his teammates involved in the 1st half, where he had all six of his assists.  However, in the 2nd half, given his success inside and difficulty from the outside, Wade failed to use the threat of his drive to create good shots for his teammates and did not have a single assist.
    • Chris Bosh continued his good shooting over the last few games of this series, fueled by the game winning shot in Game 3.  He was shooting extremely well, inside and out, and Wade and James should have looked to create for him more with their outside shots not falling.   
    • Chalmers played another good game, creating for his teammates and playing solid defense.  He also was fairly effective shooting the ball, although he struggled from beyond the arc, only making one of six before making an inconsequential three with 16 seconds remaining.
    • Off the bench, Udonis Haslem and Eddie House were effective, with House making his entire contribution in the first half and book-ending Miami's 2nd quarter run with a pair of threes, and Haslem working hard on defense and the boards.  
    • Ultimately, Miami failed in Game 6 where Dallas succeeded in Game 2.  In Game 2, when Dallas had their backs to the wall and down 15 in the 4th quarter, they focused, played disciplined offense and got good shots while playing disciplined defense and forced Miami to shoot from outside, to which they kindly obliged.  Miami buckled in big moments when down in the 4th quarter.  One particular sequence of possessions for Miami stood out with under 9 minutes remaining and the score 87-77: Wade dribbled the ball off his foot on one possession, on the next, James drove and took a good shot on a short jumper off the glass, but missed terribly under the pressure rather than attack the rim and try to get a layup or get to the line, and then Wade took a bad three after Barea had put Dallas up by 12.  Also, after Bosh cut the lead to seven with a three-point play, Chalmers got a steal with about seven minutes left and rather than pull the ball out and get a disciplined good shot, he forced the issue and tried to attack against Kidd with Chandler helping, missing a significant opportunity to cut the lead to four or five and add to their momentum with plenty of time remaining
    • Miami's big two just did not step up to the moment after falling behind by near double digits late in the 3rd and in the 4th quarter, and they wilted under the pressure with 11 costly turnovers and some bad misses late between them.  They will hopefully grow and learn from this adversity and improve as a team on the whole and under pressure going forward, but as of now, the better team, the Dallas Mavericks are the reigning NBA Champions.  

    Sunday, June 12, 2011

    Observations from Game 5

    • As much as Game 4 was about defense, Game 5 was about offense.  Both teams did a great job of getting good looks on a high percentage of their possessions and converted on those opportunities. 
    • Dallas has gotten more and more comfortable and gotten a higher percentage of good shots with each game, with Game 5 being their best offensive game yet.  However, defensively, they allowed Miami to create many easy opportunities which allowed them to shoot 53% from the field overall despite shooting under 40% on jump shots. 
    • J.J. Barea and Jason Terry were the keys for Dallas in this game, as both stepped up, played aggressively and made big shots, including the good shots they've been making all postseason along with some tough contested shots.  Both attacked the basket, taking some pressure off their outside shooting, which benefited as a result.  Barea also created a number of easy shots for Nowitzki.  
    • As noted above, Miami did a great job creating many easy opportunities, only a few of which were in transition.  However, with the exception of Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller, they shot very poorly from outside, highlighting the importance for them to get easy opportunities inside the paint.  Excluding Chalmers and Miller who went 7 for 11 from outside, the rest of the team shot around 30% on jump shots. 
    • LeBron James was more active this game, but again disappeared in the 4th quarter.  His activity before the 4th quarter was certainly in part a product of Dwyane Wade's injury and absence during the 2nd and 3rd quarters.  Like the rest of his team, he was much more successful going to the rim and shot poorly from outside.  He must be looking forward to returning home, where he has had more success with his shot. 
    • Chalmers had another solid game and came out with a great first half, but did not take a single field goal attempt in the second half.  He continues to outplay Mike Bibby on both ends of he floor.  I have been wondering how long it would take Spoelstra to start Chalmers, and he is finally doing so tonight in Game 6 with Miami facing elimination. 

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Observations from Game 4

    • This game was all about defense.  Dallas' defense was particularly impressive as far as making Miami work for shots just as Miami has done to them all series.  
    • However, defensively, Dallas struggled early rebounding the ball, allowing Miami to get some easy buckets off 9 first quarter offensive rebounds, allowing them to keep the game close early on with 8 of their 21 first quarter points on second chances.  
    • Also keeping the game close was Dallas failing to convert numerous open looks.  Specifically:
      • Nowitzki missed a few open looks in the first half after starting 3 for 3, a few shots around the basket and a few more open jumpers in the 2nd half, including an open 3-point attempt to end the 3rd quarter and another open look from beyond the 3-point line after an offensive rebound with just over three minutes left in the 4th quarter.  He even missed his first free throw of the NBA Finals.  Although his shot wasn't falling, Nowitzki did a great job getting to the line and attacking the rim late, getting two key layups. 
      • Jason Terry, had a better game due to being more aggressive and attacking the basket, something Dallas desperately needed him to do, but he also missed a number of open looks, particularly late in the game.  He missed a mid-range shot just past the free throw line with nobody near him with under three minutes left and an open 3-point attempt with less than a minute left on a pass from Dirk that could have made the win much easier.  
      • J.J. Barea, starting in place of Stevenson, was again successful in getting penetration, but again failed in putting the ball in the basket consistently.  He missed a couple easy layups in the first half.  Dallas seems to want him on the court with Kidd early to give the team a penetrating threat in the hopes of getting some ball movement when they can't find success doing so with Dirk in the high post or off the pick and roll.  With Barea on the court less with Terry as a result, Terry was forced to be more aggressive driving the ball, where he had some success.  
      • Stevenson provided a spark off the bench, not only by being the only Maverick to hit his three-point attempts consistently (although he short-armed a wide open look from the corner with a minute and a half left in the game), but by providing some defense off the bench.  With some of Dallas' best defensive players in Chandler, Marion and Kidd starting, starting Barea over Stevenson was particularly successful defensively as it gave Dallas some defense coming off the bench. 
    • Overall Dallas shot just 4 for 18 from beyond the arc, and this is not a team that takes many bad three-point attempts, so they are simply not knocking them down.
    • Although Miami won the battle on the offensive glass, Tyson Chandler again stepped up on the offensive glass after being shut out in that regard in Game 1.  With Dallas missing so many open looks, his ability to get his team second shots was critical. 
    • Kidd was again tentative offensively, missing both of his open looks, both from three, and leading the team with four turnovers, but continues to make plays on defense, including a good hard foul preventing an easy basket by Wade to tie it at 82, leading to a missed FT.
    • Marion returned to the level of efficiency that eluded him in Game 3, and was a steadying presence offensively, scoring 16 in just 26 minutes, many in isolation when Dallas needed him to make those plays most.    
    • For Miami, Wade stepped up again and making big plays on both ends of the floor as he has done all series.  Not enough can be said about Wade's play in this series, so I will just leave it at the fact that he has clearly been the best player in the series thus far.  
    • With Dallas missing shots, what allowed them to stay close enough to make a run was James' passive play offensively, where on his limited attempts he mostly settled for contested jump shots over attacking the basket.  Credit Dallas' defense, but James can certainly make a more concerted effort to get to the rim.  This hurt Miami offensively more than anything tonight. 
    • Bosh stepped up tonight, clearly more confident after making the game winning shot in Game 3.  He attacked the basket and made some easy shots inside, got to the line, and even made half his shots outside the paint.  He did however fumble a pass on a key play that resulted in a Dallas transition layup to take the lead in the 4th quarter.  
    • Chalmers has shown he is clearly the better player between he and Bibby and tonight was another example.  Despite only shooting 1 for 5, he created good shots for his teammates and was effective defensively as well.    
    • Despite falling behind by 9 points in the 4th quarter, Dallas was the more successful team as far as getting good looks at the basket.  However, it was their defense this game that gave them room for error on their failure to convert open looks offensively. Game 5 is a must win for Dallas and they will need to bring the same intensity defensively and convert on those same open looks they failed to convert tonight to ensure that they don't go back to Miami needing to win 2 games.

    Monday, June 6, 2011

    Observations from Game 3

    • Miami's active and athletic defense is still making it difficult for Dallas to get open looks anywhere near the consistency that they did in the Western Conference Playoffs.  It isn't news that James in particular is making things very difficult for Terry.  Dallas is scoring field goals almost exclusively from the outside as Miami is ferociously contesting everything at the rim.  Nothing is coming easy for Dallas, particularly when they go away from Nowitzki.  
    • Although Nowitzki scored 34 points, in my opinion Dallas did not use him enough, particularly before the 4th quarter, to start the offense, force help, and get ball movement to get his teammates open shots.  The talk after the game was that Nowitzki needs help, but the best way Dallas can get shots for the rest of their players is still through Nowitzki, whether he starts with the ball in the high post or gets it through the pick and roll.  He provides the only real advantage offensively for Dallas that requires Miami to help, allowing others to get free.  
    • Haslem made it very difficult to get Nowitzki the ball, particularly in the 4th quarter, fronting him effectively and denying the ball. 
    • Barea is still able to get penetration, but unless he starts to finish at the rim, he won't be a big enough threat to get his teammates open.  Stojakovic in particular needs the chaos that Barea is capable of creating in order to get the open shots he hit so consistently in the Western Conference Playoffs.  
    • The lack of ball movement is also hurting Terry, who hasn't had many catch and shoot opportunities and is having to take more shots off the dribble in an effort to create shots for himself.  
    • Offensively, Miami did a phenomenal job attacking the rim.  But for a few three-point attempts by Bibby, a made open baseline jumper by Haslem, a missed contested baseline jumper by Wade, and the last second made heave by Chalmers, every shot by Miami in the 1st quarter was made towards the rim or in the paint.  After going away from that strength during Dallas' comeback in Game 2, Miami clearly came out with a purpose at the start of this game of taking shots at the rim
    • Wade was particularly aggressive, getting to the rim at will, especially in the 1st quarter.  One play, of many, by Wade that stood out was in the 2nd quarter.  Unlike in the the 4th quarter of Game 2, when Dallas went on a run (9-0 in this game), Miami got Wade the ball, who attacked the rim for a layup to stop the bleeding.  This showed focus on their part that they lost at the end of Game 2. 
    • It was obvious from the beginning that to stop Wade, Dallas was going to have to play better team D and not leave whomever was guarding him on an island.  Though Kidd stepped up individually as a defender, it took a team effort to slow him down, which Dallas did a better job of in the 2nd half.  With both Wade and James able to attack the rim so well, there is only so much Dallas can do to help.  
    • Chandler came up big with 7 offensive boards and made a number of aggressive defensive plays in the paint as well.  With Haywood injured, Dallas will need more of this from him. 
    • For the first time in the series, Marion did not step up and have a solid game.  This probably made the difference in the game, along with Haslem's ball denial in defending Nowitzki, though Mavericks fans will certainly point to the missed call on Chalmers' first quarter heave at the buzzer.  He missed some easy shots and wasn't as effective on the boards as he has been thus far.  I expect him to step up in Game 4.  
    • Stojakovic came in and Dallas ran a play for him in an effort to get him going and he made an open shot off a screen from the baseline.  However, despite his best efforts on both ends of the floor, he is still proving to be a liability defensively while still having trouble finding good shots.  During his 6 minutes on the floor, Dallas scored 11 points fewer than Miami. Unless Dallas can get him open shots with consistency, he will continue to see very limited minutes. 
    • As suspected, this series is coming down to Miami's defense against Dallas' offense, and so far, despite close games probably decided by randomness more than anything, Miami's defense is winning that battle as Dallas is having to work extremely hard for every point, while Miami is finding easy opportunities at the rim.  The fact that these games have been close is a testament to Dallas' superior jump shooting ability.