Monday, March 7, 2011

Flaws in the Heat endgame.

This post is copied from a comment I made on another blog, ("Miami's Final Play Wasn't That Bad"). It is an excellent blog to follow for NBA strategy and fundamentals. You can find the videos I reference on that page.

I think there is a fundamental problem with the LeBron iso that teams are exploiting more than ever. He has become two dimensional in the set, and because teams see so much of it, they've figured it out. I think the coaching staff does a poor job of getting different looks at the basket, and LeBron does a poor job of setting himself up and hasn't figured out any effective counters to the looks he's getting. More and more, LeBron on Noah is not a 10 out of 10 possibility.

Part of the problem is the coaching. You see LeBron getting lots of isos (esp. at the ends of quarters/games) at the top of the key, usually several feet behind the three-point line. I think coaches do this in order to help him build up speed, but as defenses have adjusted, it's just not working anymore. Guys are playing way off (as evidenced by Noah), and his confidence/willingness to shoot threes is low (more on that later). Being at the top of the key also eliminates vital passing angles and lets the defense balance, in preparation to collapse on him. If LeBron wants to kick, it is to someone behind the arc, and teams have realized this. Finally, LeBron does not have elite lateral quickness, so going straight at the rim puts him in a collision course with the heart of the defense with little recourse. 

I think Spoelstra should mix it by putting LeBron on either wing, on or slightly inside the three-point line. Sound familiar? It should: the triangle frequently places Jordan/Kobe in this spot, allowing them to mix their attack. Plus, it imbalances the defense and creates a natural lane between help defenders. It improves passing angles to the opposite wing and corner, as well as (perhaps most crucially) to a finisher rolling down the other side of the lane, which is impossible if Lebron is going straight down. I personally think LeBron iso'ed in this position in the triple threat is much scarier than at the top of the key with a live dribble.

The other part of the problem is Lebron. His iso's lead to only two possibilities: a quick three or a drive straight down the lane. Look at the video. Noah, and the entire defense, is set up for these possibilities. What if LeBron had been more patient at the top of the key, setting Noah up by trying to crossover, using his superior quickness? Think of Jordan v. poor Bryon Russell. What if Lebron pulled up at the free-throw line for a jumper? Noah was close, but was going full speed to the basket in anticipation of the drive and layup/floater. There is not a chance he contests this. But as LeBron gets closer to the rim, Noah digs in to bother the shot. What if Lebron used a change-of-direction pro-hop, crossover, or spin move? He likely would have avoided Deng, Noah, and Rose, giving himself a nice little floater on the left side of the rim. But no, the Chicago defense knows LeBron is coming right at him, adjusted for it, and as Sebastian from nbaplaybook noticed, put a good closer on the only viable passing option. 

Spoelstra needs to give his team more options at the end of the game. I think these options need to involve Wade and Bosh. And when they give LeBron the ball, he needs to set up the defense and give himself more ways to counter. That was Jordan's bread and butter, and Kobe is starting to learn it. I have never seen a superstar get as many easy baskets in the half-court as Jordan. Until the Heat make these adjustments, I can see many more frustrating end-of-game situations in store for them.

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