Monday, April 27, 2009

LeBron and the Cavs: How Good Are They?

I was reading an article about the Cavs today.  It was obviously designed to hype the Cavaliers and LeBron.  He is the media's darling du jour.  Speaking of which, that is a great term.  

Anyways, the article spoke about their focus and commitment to defense.  

Focus and commitment are great things.  They help one maximize one's potential.  Always a good thing.  

I also think long-term focus and commitment can improve a teams cohesiveness.  They can learn and practice more defensive schemes and perhaps  impove their offensive schemes. 

Basketball is also a game of one-on-one situations.  One-on-one defense and one-on-one offense.  In a seven game series what happens?  Well I think in a seven game series (if it is evenly matched) it comes down to role players contributing more.  

In the playoffs teams can scheme and practice consistently to stop one player or one method of attack.  In an 82 game season teams can get blindsided or be unfocused.  

So I think in an evenly matched seven games series bench and role players come up bigger.  For example, in the Houston/Portland series, Yao Ming beat the Blazers so badly (9-9 from the field) that they had to resort to double teaming him the rest of the series.  

The result now is that Luis Scola is shooting a lot of outside shots (and making them) because his defender is rotating off of him.  

But that fact is that Luis Scola is not even close to the best player in the series.  Its funny how a series can hinge (they've had three very close games) on the skills of someone who didn't even make the Spurs (he was cut by San Antonio).

And when I think of some of the San Antonio Spurs vs Phoenix Suns series' that I've seen, I keep thinking about Bruce Bowen.  He wasn't nearly the best player on his own team (maybe fourth best?) but it was his ability to add that extra bit of performance that brought them over the top.  He was always there when Duncan was covered, Tony Parker couldn't get in the lane, and Manu was immediately covered.  Waiting in the corner, patiently preparing to take his one shot.

Reflecting on this, it shows that the Suns could cover up to three really good players.  Three great players, all potential hall of fame players, and that was good enough.  If Bruce Bowen were worse than he was they wouldn't have won.  

So my point is who wins the one-on-one matchups at all five positions?

That was quite a tangent.  My reaction to reading the article on ESPN, found here, was that focus and commitment don't make you better.  They make you play harder, which gets you more wins, but it doesn't make you better.  

Does that make sense?

If I play harder, and really sprint around and play till I'm out of breath, I'll win more pickup basketball games.  But it doesn't mean I'm better.  I can't shoot more accurately, I can't jump higher, I don't have more basketball IQ.  

So the article brags about how good the Cavs are.  They have a superb record against bad teams.  They had an incredible record at home.  The quote they use is "they beat the teams they were supposed to beat".  

This is the same group of guys who won only forty five games last year.  FORTY FIVE games!  

And this year, against the Lakers, Celtics, and Magic (the other good teams in the league) they were three and six.  Three and six?  They aren't the best team in the league.  And one of those wins was against a Celtics team in disarray and without Garnett.  

Garnett won't be back this season.  But Orlando should really worry Cleveland.  And so should one other team.

Consider this thought experiment:  which of the following teams is better?  And by that I mean, when the chips are down and they had to play, who would win?  Who would win a playoff matchup?  

Team A has .750 winning percentage for the season.  They occasionally take nights off, losing to bad teams.  They have a winning record against the other division leaders in the league, and have won on the road at Team B's arena.

Team B has a .795 winning percentage.  They have the higher +/- differential.  They play tough, tenacious D, never take a game or opponent for granted.  They lost close games both at home and on the road to other division leaders.  There home record is great but their road record is mediocre for such a good team.  

I think it is Team A.  Team A looks like a good team that is slacking off.  Team B looks like a good team that is dialed in.  

Team B may be more fatigued for the playoffs.  Also, Team A will not be slacking off during a playoff meeting.  They'll be coming full-force.  However their defense sets may not be as good as needed.  

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