Three teams have done pretty well in the playoffs with only one star: The Magic, Mavs and Hornets. It's been wonderful to see just how good Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Dirk Nowitzki are. We can throw in Deron Williams if we include the last few months of the season. These stars (save for Dirk) happen to be 2012 free agents.
In the Hornet’s first four playoff games, Chris Paul has scored or assisted on 58 percent of their field goals. Derek Rose has done the same on 43 percent of his team’s. And during the regular season, Paul was assisted on only 18 percent of his field goals while Rose was on 27 percent.
For both players, a large percentage of their assisted baskets came when teammates passed to them with the shot clock winding down. Chris Paul’s playoff stats are inflated by the terrible Derek Fisher, but they are still amazing.
Howard has scored roughly 1.4 points per possession through four games. His teammates have scored roughly .84 points per possession. This is crazy.
Second / Third / Fourth Highest PER Guys
Hornets—David West, 20.1 / Emeka Okafor, 16.0 / Carl Landry, 14.9
Mavericks—Tyson Chandler, 18.45 / Shawn Marion, 17.1 / Jason Terry, 15.9
Magic—Ryan Andersen, 16.1 / Brandon Bass, 15.9 / Jameer Nelson, 15.4
Lakers—Pau Gasol, 23.3 / Andrew Bynum, 21.1 / Lamar Odom, 19.5
PER is imperfect, but it reveals how much Howard, Paul and Nowitzki have done with so little. Their ability to create good shots is what makes them great, but that isn’t easily tracked with stats.
Dirk Nowitzki’s absurdly amazing jump shooting as a seven-footer puts a ton of points on the board and opens up the floor for players like J.J. Barea and Jason Kidd to score. Who else can you ask to create a shot for them? Jason Terry is not even the league’s best sixth man.
Chris Paul’s ability to get anywhere in the paint with a dribble—and his ability to score or give a teammate an easy basket—is beautiful. He’s like Steve Nash if Steve Nash were super athletic. Their best other option is Carl Landry, who was still assisted on 60 percent of his possessions and scored less than 12 points per game. Paul is the best player in the Lakers series. The Lakers have the next five best players.
Dwight Howard’s strength in the post requires a double team and lets the other four guys on the floor shoot threes. He singlehandedly makes a team with no other plus defenders a good defensive team. Two years ago the Magic’s best offensive option not involving Howard was Turkoglu taking a fade away three off the dribble. This year it might be Nelson forcing drives. I don’t know.
The Lefty Submariner Mike Myers had a job in the NL West from 2000-2003 because of Barry Bonds. Jason Collins of the Hawks has carved out a similar niche as a Howard defender. When a double doesn’t come to Howard, the Magic cannot take open threes and are entirely reliant on the big man. It doesn’t matter that Collins can’t play offense. Zaza has done a good job on Howard, too. It feels good having a bad Euro in the league now.
The Kendrick Perkins trade can be looked at many ways. Money, need for back ups for the three old leaders, etc. Fear of centers is another one. Kendrick Perkins is very good at defending centers. But what NBA centers are really that scary offensively? Howard? Bynum maybe? Those are the only two that are too big for Garnett and Glen Davis. The odds are pretty good that the Celtics could win a championship without facing either of them. Betting on Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal wasn’t that crazy.
The Grizzlies and Nuggets also give us examples of the importance of match ups. No team in the West is as apt to match up with the Nugget’s speed as OKC. No team is as good of a matchup for the the young, strong Grizzlies as the old, slow Spurs. The gamblers seem to agree with me (a little too much). The Grizzlies are +4000 to win the championship as of Monday afternoon, while the Spurs are +1200. The Grizzlies may have been favored to win the series but the Spurs were still considered more likely to win the championship.
Its nice when teams can play different styles. It was great watching the 07-08 Lakers kill you deliberately with Kobe and Pau, and then kill you with Odom, Farmar, and Vujacic running. I’m guessing this is the first time those last two have been praised in 28 months. Still, it seems best to stick to doing what you do best. Getting pretty and adapting too much to your opponent means you are playing their game a la the Mavericks loss to the We Believe Warriors.
Future of the NBA
Three superstars born in 1984 or later will be free agents in 2012. Here are a look at other impact players who will be 28 or younger at the start of the 2012-13 season.
Combinations of them should win championships for the next ten years.
2010 Free Agency
GMs have seemingly gotten smarter and players are realizing they can control their careers. Still, we do not know how these actors should put together winning teams. Taking a team with the world’s second best wing and adding the best wing, and a jump shooting 6'11 tweener is not the best solution.
2012 Free Agency
Where should Paul, Williams, and Howard go? Dwyane Wade does not make Lebron James better. They are too similar. The Spurs, Lakers, and briefly Heat have dominated since Jordan left with a star big man and star wing. What happened with the Pistons most consider a fluke.
General wisdom and ideas of marginal utility would say that elite wings should pair with offensively minded big men, that elite point guards should pair with athletic/ defensively minded big men, and that defenders and three point shooters everywhere else are great.
Things don’t always work out this way. Someone thought that Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon were cores of a winning team. If the Thunder win the championship we may be momentarily convinced that their organic model is best and they will dominate for a long time.
If the Heat win we will think that Superfriends are the way of the future. If the Celtics win my focus on under 28 players will look dumb. If the Bulls win we can reconsider the idea that scoring point guards don’t win, copy Thibodeau defensively, and decide its better to have Kurt Thomas than a shooting guard.
We want to learn but one playoffs can’t teach us a lot. Getting giddy about Paul running the pick and roll with Howard may be more reasonable than imagining what James and Wade could do together, though.