Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The South Beach Case Study: Year One Complete

The first year of the South Beach Case Study concluded with a compelling NBA Finals that saw the Dallas Mavericks defeat the Miami Heat in six games.  Although Miami- specifically LeBron James- mightily disappointed in the Finals, don't be quick to call the experiment a failure.   

  1. This team was designed by Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, James, and according to the media, Satan himself, to be a contender for many years.  The case study is in its infancy. 
  2. If James plays half as well in the Finals as he had all season, the first year of this experiment would have concluded with a championship.     
Calling the 2011 season a rough start to the experiment in terms of variables understates how flawed Miami's team was constructed around the Big Three.  Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, the team's fourth and fifth best players, were injured throughout the year and missed the habit-forming process that is the NBA regular season.  The Three Kings were flanked by limited one-way players, rusting veterans, and zero-way piles of rust (I'm looking at you, Mike Bibby).  Yet, even with their heavy lifters needing time to gel and redundancy getting in the way of a good time, Miami won 58 games and vanquished every Eastern Conference foe in the playoffs.
From left:  Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. 

What have we learned?  I'll posit questions from the beginning of the year and briefly give conclusions.

Can two ball-dominant slashers, James and Wade, work together?  Yes, but not perfectly.  An inside/outside combination always works better because it's more balanced.  James and Wade tweaked their off-ball games this year to feature more cutting, spot-up shooting and reading of offensive rebounding lanes.  However, old habits crept through at times, displaying themselves in the form of the two augmenting the playbook to feature "isolation and hold the ball for 18 seconds before acting" sets.  Not very effective basketball.

 Will the egos of the three amigos collide or will they remember the sacrifices they promised to make in order to play with each other?  To put it simply, they remembered.  James and Wade appeared to share the ball in crunch time, too.   

What about substitution patterns and minutes distributions? Will their careers be extended because they don't have to lift their teams alone anymore?  Well, they carried a heavy burden this year.  Spoelstra couldn't afford to really rest his prime players, and without a true post defender, the three stars expended a lot of energy making the defense elite (fifth in defensive rating).  

What happens to a superstar's stats when he isn't playing in a single superstar-centric offense anymore?  The offensive stats went down a bit for Wade and James and a lot for Bosh.  This is related to the first question.  When the ball-handlers go to iso-ball, they waste the help they signed up to play with.

The team would be best served obtaining a point guard able and willing to take command of the offense from James and Wade.  If Miami runs some actual plays that turn James and Wade into finishers, Miami's offense could get to an all-time level.   

The SBCS gets the summer off.  Year two will begin...well, with the lockout looming, that's as unpredictable as South Beach itself.       

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