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Thursday, June 25, 2015

2015 NBA Finals Review + Bonus NBA Draft Edition!

You’ve heard all the stories about the Finals. How the Warriors went small and changed the complexion of the Cleveland defense. How LeBron and his tattered supporting cast finally ran out of steam. How Steve Kerr pushed all the right buttons while David Blatt bumbled his way. The inspiring story of Andre Iguodala going from starting lineup to bench to Finals MVP.

I want to hit on that last point a little though. We’ve all heard the training camp stories when Kerr had to tell Andre that Harrison Barnes would start at small forward. I think it’s na├»ve to think that Andre would have caused a riot in the Warriors’ locker room; he’s too much a professional for that, he wasn’t much more a team vet than Kerr, and the Dubs had just come off a disappointing first round loss to the Clippers (though it was a good Clippers team that should have taken the Thunder to 7).

He wouldn’t have become a locker room cancer. But it certainly could have thrown off his game. And in some ways, it might have. I don’t know what it’s like to play in the NBA, but a lot of people say that at the highest level, a lot of it is confidence. You have to believe that you belong, believe that you’re a starter, believe that you can score, believe that you can defend. Maybe Andre lost some of that confidence – his well-documented free throw woes (59.6% from the line against a 71.7% career average, though that average is weighted by his 70%+ average in his Philly days, which are not coming back) indicate a player that thrives on more attempts, a statistical darling whose usage correlates positively with his efficiency. But away from the charity stripe, his per-36 minute numbers are almost identical to last year. Have a look:



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

2015 NBA Finals - Games 2 & 3

After 3 unpredictable, exhilarating Finals games, this is what I've learned:

LeBron James is the best player in the world. He approached this season with a different outlook and physique, which may have contributed to some inconsistency early. He took that 2 week break. But this is peak LeBron. The difference between this guy and the pre-Miami LeBron is huge. He controls the game and has remade the entire team in his image. I wrote before the Finals that the Warriors can play any style, and I still believe so. But they cannot play into LeBron's hands so completely.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

2015 NBA Finals - Game 1 Diary

After a nervous start from both sides, this turned into quite the fun game. I’m not going to tell you what happened, but want to see what we learned from the game and what implications it has for the series.

Of course, none of this is possible without knowing the status of Kyrie Irving’s knee. It was tough to see him go down with what appeared to be limited contact – those are often the worst type of knee injuries. But he did walk off. I’m hoping for a DeMarre Carroll-type recovery for Cleveland’s exciting point guard – he’s good enough to take over one of these games by himself. So before we begin, big prayer for Uncle Drew.

Q1

Both teams started off running good sets. Cleveland’s offense has devolved into one long LeBron isolation, but there creative ways to give him the ball and creative ways to move pieces around him once he gets it. The Cavs are actively cutting and screening on offense, which can prevent the Dubs from helping effectively. But the Dubs defense is just an amoeba. It’s incredible to see them shift with the help, pointing out cutters, neutralizing threats and recovering. The communication is superb.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

NBA Finals Preview

I'll admit that this is the Finals I wanted to see. As fun as the Hawks were, they just didn't finish the season right. They should have been sitting guys in January to rest them for the playoffs, not because that would have kept them healthier, but because it showed long term vision and awareness compared to the rash of DNP-CDs they racked up in April and May. And the Cavs beat them. They were the best team. Atlanta had no answer for LeBron and couldn't press its advantage at point guard. 

Something tells me the Warriors will be able to do that. Steph isn't on every game, but when he is, it's incredible. He snuffed multiple Rockets/Grizzlies runs with spectacular shot making. That is going to be a problem for Cleveland - I just don't think Kyrie's knee gets better very quickly. Everything I know about tendinitis is that it's a long-term injury. Add that to the foot injury, and his already poor pick-and-roll defense, and the result is a player the Cavs will have to hide on defense. 

Problem is the Warriors have few safe harbors. Klay will shoot over him. So will Barnes. Green would bully him and you can't treat Bogut like Noah. The Dubs would be more inclined to yank Bogut and go small anyway. The bench is no better - Livingston will abuse him and Andre might offer more as a 2-way player at this point. Man, that bench. Steve Kerr can act magician with those guys. Need defense and rim protection? Ezeli. Post production to buy Green/Bogut some minutes? Lee. Perimeter defense. Ball handling from Livingston and Barbosa. A dash of shooting. Lots of switching. Meanwhile, David Blatt will turn to J.R. Smith, James Jones, and Matthew Dellavedova. Shawn Marion can't get in the game. Neither can Mike Miller. 

With those logistics, I see only one way out for Blatt: Muck the game up. Slow it down. Extend your (and their) starters. Bully them in the post with LeBron and crash the offensive boards for extra possessions in a low-possession game. 

The problem with that plan is the Warriors can play it too. Harrison Barnes showed me in the Grizzlies series that he can not only defend the post (with help), but crash the boards too. Kerr worked magic with his bench to find combinations that would work when Green got in foul trouble. David Lee had to guard Gasol, but Gasol was gassed by Game 6. Is Timofey or Tristan that worse of a matchup? And I know the Grizzlies were close in those games, really close, but so were the Warriors in their losses. And once Kerr figured out how to best the Grizzlies, it was over. I think if the two teams played 10 games now, the Grizzlies would be lucky to win 3.

That's why I think the Warriors win this series. I know Cleveland is clicking on defense and LeBron is a force the Warriors won't be able to prepare totally for. He has been the most reliable player of his generation. Getting to the Finals for the last few years has basically correlated to having LeBron on your team. He's incredible. But slowing the game also makes every Curry three that much more a dagger. Every go-go Warriors run has that much more impact on the game. And they go on runs. They will. They'll speed you up when you want to go fast and when you don't. When they're hot, nothing can stop them. And when they're not? Their defense, depth, IQ, chemistry, and confidence can beat you anyway. 

Warriors in 6