Friday, May 20, 2011

What do the Thunder, Heatles and Bulls have in common?

D-Rose by Free Darko
 There is a common thread between the Thunder, the Heat and the Bulls this playoffs.  They are successful teams with ball dominators where assisting teammates is secondary to getting one's own shot.  The anti hand check rules of 2004 have made it easier for perimeter players penetrate the defense and score off the dribble or get fouled and score from the line. ESPN's Dean Oliver breaks down the revealing "points per assist" measure in world famous TrueHoop blog:

Both Henry Abbott and John Hollinger have written about Westbrook’s shoot-first mentality, but there's an interesting statistical story brewing that they didn’t capture. Oklahoma City led the NBA in total points scored per assist, with 5.23 points per assist. (It was 8.31 in Game 4.) This measure isn’t talked about much, but it is a reflection of teams that get their points off the dribble and at the foul line, not off a lot of kick-outs to shooters or dishes to big men around the basket.

The Thunder’s high value reflects a more individual and athletic game, something that is fair to say about how the Thunder play over good amounts of time. Not surprisingly, the star-driven system of the
Miami Heat came in second in this metric during the regular season. Both teams use their athleticism off the dribble to drive to the middle and get foul calls.

Can you guess who is at the bottom of the list? The Celtics and
Dallas Mavericks, two of the oldest teams in the league. 

Many will argue that the "Me First" 90's Association was difficult to watch at times.  There was a lot of "give Iverson a playmaker the ball, clear out, and watch him go to work".  The recent NBA Renaissance we are enjoying now came about when highly skilled and likable players committed to their teammates and played the game the way "it was supposed to be played" while not getting into too many shenanigans off court.

This brings me back to the 2004 anti hand check rule again.  Retrospectively, this is seen as a good thing because it promotes fan-friendly offense. Gone are the days of the defensive player legally landing forearm shivers on the ball handler preventing him from getting into the lane (it's amazing that Jordan did what he did in the world of legal hand checking).  Because of this, the new generation of insanely athletic and incredibly strong ball handlers has thrived. LeBron, Wade, Derrick Rose and Westbrook all utilize their skill/strength combo to get the job done off the dribble.  And something tells me that at least one of these teams will be in the NBA Finals this year.  This obviously isn't too difficult of a prediction to make.

Ask yourself what style of basketball have you truly enjoyed watching this post season?

The Heat are awesome in the open court but it's annoying to watch either LeBron or Wade not play off of each other more.  They do a lot of "OK, it's you're turn" and don't seem to play like a team for a good portion of the game.  The argument for LeBron and Wade playing this way is that they don't really have anyone else on their team.

Although I appreciate the amazing plays that Association MVP Derrick Rose can make while driving to the basket, I fault him for not fulfilling his PG duties and getting Boozer in a position to score 15 to 20 points a game (he's currently score 10.7 in 30 minutes this post season) let alone shoot just 41% from the field.  Without getting a confident and effective second offensive option involved I doubt that the Bulls will be able to take the title this year.

Russell Westbrook is having many articles written about his 40.6% from the field this playoffs while taking 22.11 attempts per game, a total of 12 more attempts through 9 games than super duper star Kevin Durant who's shooting 46.5%.  It's almost like he is in a battle to declare his #1 option supremacy instead of just trying to win the game.  The Dwight Howard-esq frustration on his face seems to be bubbling up inside and there doesn't seem to be any change in his style this post season.

With all of these guys, you know when the ISO set is coming and the "10 dribble-drive-pull up-shoot" sequence is coming.  You can just see it in their body language.  And it is my assertion that this type of basketball is not that fun to watch unless the only reason you watch is to catch the truly amazing play a few times per night.

Because of this I find myself gravitating towards rooting for the Grizzlies and their big man/any man approach.  For the Celtics and their Sebastian Pruiti approved offensive plays.  I even root for the Hawks while wondering if Josh Smiff is finally going to understand how awesome he could be if he just shot 5 feet from the hoop and stopped playing ISO (as he did in Game 4 vs. the Bulls).  I loved pulling for the Mavericks and their great ball movement leading to some sort of post season 3 point record sparked by Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic just waiting on the weak side for their teammates to rotate the ball to them.  It honestly had nothing to do with beating the Lakers. Well, maybe that's not entirely true.

Although Westbrook and Rose are obviously The Now and The Next of our beloved Association, I hope that they either figure out how to balance their games more or I will just naturally gravitate towards not being much of a fan of their boring ball stopping yet sometimes flashy ESPN Highlight worthy play.

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