HOOP LOGIC: DOC COYLE OF GOD FORBID’S NBA BLOG, VOLUME II
We are one third of the way through the 2011-12 NBA basketball season, and there seems to be enough of a sample size to get a pretty good idea of how the season will shape up. What we’ve seen is for the most part what we thought we would: Lockout Ball. With a compressed 66 game schedule, no real training camp or pre-season, and back to back to back games with 4 games in 5 nights, what you get is ugly basketball. We’ve seen tons of blowouts, scoring and shooting percentages are down, there are lots of turnovers, and the injuries among key players are piling up. Players due to miss significant time (6-8 weeks or more) include Brook Lopez, Manu Ginobli, Andrew Bogut, Zach Randolph, Al Horford and Eric Maynor, and we’ve seen plenty of guys in and out of the lineup with minor injuries. It’s too many to name. This is what we expected.
What we — or at least I — didn’t expect was an illumination into the after-effects of the recent formation of super teams.
Let’s start with the original Big 3 of the modern era in Boston with Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce (and later Rajon Rondo forming a Big 4). The Celtics are essentially a .500 team who seems to be aging exponentially. This is a team who last year at the All Star break had the best record in the East and was expected to go all the way, until an ill-advised trade shipping Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for essentially nothing (since Jeff Green missed this entire season due to a heart condition requiring surgery). Now there is talk of dismantling the team and rebuilding. This is a dramatic turn of events for a supposed elite team.
As I mentioned in the last post, I am a diehard Knicks fan. If you’ve been following the league, you know that I am not only depressed by what I have seen, but absolutely flummoxed by what has transpired in New York. They are flat-out terrible with a 7-13 record, losing 6 games to sub .500 teams. This team, featuring two guys who started in last year’s All Star game, has been the disappointment of the league (and possibly the most disappointing team in five years), and has come to represent what happens when you build a team on the shoulders of individuals and not team ethics and how players compliment each other. It is still early in the season and things could change, but I am skeptical.
What is happening is the opposite of synergy, and it seems as if the chemistry of the players actually has them playing worse. Amare Stoudemire’s PPG have dropped from 25.3 to 17.8 and his FG% has dropped from .502 to .426. Carmelo Anthony is shooting a career worst 39.4%. They are one of the worst shooting teams in the league, 2’s and 3’s. They are near the top of the charts in turnovers and fouls. They are a below average rebounding and defensive team. They lead the league in isolation plays, which shows there is no offensive flow or ball movement. The only things they do well are getting steals and dunks, as they are league leaders in both categories. This team was projected to be a top 4 or 5 team in the East but will be lucky to make the playoffs at this point. It’s hard to watch.
On the contrary, the big surprises of the year on the winning side of things all feature teams with no big time stars. Philadelphia, Indiana, and Denver are a combined 37-16. What’s happening on these teams is balanced scoring, unselfishness, deep rosters that go 9-10 player rotations, commitment to defense and hard work, and a result of what happens when a good, disciplined coaching philosophy is bought in on a grand scale. To have good teamwork, the players have to trust each other. That is what we’re seeing with the teams I mentioned.
The situation in New York serves as a cautionary tale teaching us that combining random stars together does not guarantee success, and can actually go horribly wrong if assembled poorly. Boston won a title, and Miami may have the most potent team talent-wise in the league, but at least their stars compliment each other. The members of the trio in Boston filled distinctly different roles with very little overlap, and they also displayed a willingness to put egos aside and sacrifice individual stats for team success.
Although Dwayne Wade and Lebron James seem to have similar games and they experienced some growing pains early last season, I think they’re a very successful example you could use as a comparison to the Michael Jordan / Scottie Pippen combo. Here are the similarities: shooting guard/small forward set up, extreme athletic advantage, both are two-way players dominating both the defensive and offensive sides of the ball, and an ability to run the offense through either guy because of their tremendous ball handling and distributing skills. Chicago won six titles with an average point guard and no-name centers. Miami can follow the same model and do well.
So the superstar thing can work, but Dallas proved last year that if you have one great player and a strong supporting cast, you can beat stars. Conventional wisdom says that you need a star to have success in the playoffs because in close games it will come down to one shot and you need a closer to take that shot. I really wonder if that will hold up this year. OKC, Miami and Chicago seem to clearly be the top teams and they all have stars. Can Philly, Indiana, and Denver have success in the playoffs? If one of those teams breaks though, maybe conventional wisdom can change. People often forget the Pistons team with no superstars that beat the Kobe/Shaq Lakers and effectively ended that dynasty.
If I had to put money on one of the teams, I would say Denver has the best chance to break through and make a conference finals or championship series. The Western Conference is a little more wide open than the East, and if Denver can get Wilson Chandler or JR Smith back from China, the already deep team will get even deeper. Plus I really believe in George Karl as a coach. I also highly recommend the NBA TV show The Association, which profiles Denver this year. It is a top-notch documentary series that gives telling insight on an intriguing young team. The last two seasons covered the Lakers and Celtics, so it’s cool they are going outside of the box.
Even though my favorite team is a disaster, I’m enjoying this season thoroughly with all the different storylines. The T-Wolves and Clippers, perennial doormats, are among the most exciting teams. Is it all over for the aging, struggling Lakers, Mavs and Celtics? Will the Knicks team be broken up this soon? With the trade deadline looming, how much turnover will there be? I am pumped to see what happens. Stay tuned!
– Doc Coyle / God Forbid
Follow Doc on Twitter: @doc4bid