Ranking NBA's Most Unstoppable 'System' Teams
If superstars are truly the face of the NBA, they're only afforded that lofty perch by the genius minds tasked with maximizing their effectiveness in the right system.
It's nearly a lose-lose situation for the coaches.
When the teams win, the players are the beneficiary of media praise and attention cast in the team's direction. When they lose, the coaches are chastised for their inability to mend their style of play to a roster that, at least in the fans' perspective, is simply too talented to not succeed.
Even relative success may not be enough to keep the coach in good graces. For some clubs, a playoff berth or development of young talent is all that's required—at least in the short term, that is. For others it's championship or bust, with no regard given to the myriad intricacies needed for a successful championship run.
But not all coaches have been subjected to this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately approach that has pushed some of their peers to the unemployment ranks. They've found the winning "system." It's really a constantly evolving style molded to the players on hand for that particular season.
In most cases it hasn't removed the threat of dismissal from the realm of possibilities. But in all of these cases, it has pushed these teams into heights that would be unreachable with lesser minds working the controls.
5. Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls might not be the same championship threat without Derrick Rose in the lineup, but coach Tom Thibodeau has kept them more than competitive in his absence.
The Bulls embody the fiery coach's energetic message: frenetically disrupt the opposition's plans with an unwavering approach to being the hardest working team on the floor.
They dive after loose balls, crash their bodies on the glass and pester teams defensively.
They're a "blue-collar" team if the league has ever seen one. Former MVP Rose built his strong reputation with his willingness to sacrifice his body in pursuit of a greater good.
All-Stars Joakim Noah and Luol Deng have filled the vacated leadership position, using their versatility to compensate for a perceived lack of elite-level talent.
Noah has the size (6'11", 232 pounds) to be a force on the glass (11.5 rebounds per game) and the smarts and skills to take the ball down court off his rebound. Deng carries his lunch pail to the defensive end where he's an All-Defensive Team talent and still finds enough in his legs to be the team's top scoring threat (16.3 points per game).
4. Boston Celtics
Both coach Doc Rivers and veteran Paul Pierce stressed the need for the Boston Celtics to get back to playing "Celtics' basketball" when the team was struggling through the early months.
Neither elaborated at what exactly that would entail, and frankly neither needed to do so.
Celtics' basketball entails revolting beauty: a smothering defensive style that tasks opponents with simply finding a good shot in a longer-than-it-feels 24 seconds.
Even with Rajon Rondo's ridiculous wingspan removed from the equation after his season-ending ACL tear, the Celtics' defensive tenacity starts in the backcourt. Avery Bradley's quickness and instincts reroute opposing point guards from ever initiating their offensive sets. Courtney Lee's athleticism allows him to crowd opposing guards, knowing that he's got the speed to recover on dribble drives.
This approach is carried over to the wings by Paul Pierce and Jeff Green. Pierce's strength overwhelms opponents and his savvy allows him to make up the distance that his 35-year-old legs couldn't on their own. Green is a freakish blend of size (6'9") and speed, with the length to bother smaller forwards and the strength to hold ground on bigger ones.
Anchoring the defensive front is the cagey veterans Kevin Garnett. Garnett's incessant on-court chatter starts the frustration of opponents, which only compounds when the players can't work their way to their comfort zones. Chris Wilcox is the bruiser of the bench group, stopping or at least diverting the driving attempts of the few players able to work their way through the Celtics' frontline of defense.
3. Denver Nuggets
Credit the thin air presented by the Rocky Mountain background all you want, but teams are going to have a hard time catching their breath against Denver Nuggets coach George Karl's bunch in any arena.
Karl has brought his frenetic brand of basketball to the Nuggets, and the front office has given him the same versatile athletes that helped him find similar success during previous stints with the Seattle SuperSonics (Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp) and Milwaukee Bucks (Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson).
Karl keeps a seemingly endless supply of size, speed and strength to throw at the opposition. His Nuggets keep the attack at full throttle with the league's second-fastest pace (97.6, via ESPN.com) and a nine-man rotation that could legitimately extend to 13 players if needed.
The Nuggets force teams into track meets and simply have more athletes than their opponents can find. If Ty Lawson isn't wreaking havoc with his decision-making, backup Andre Miller is creating vertical spacing with his picturesque lobs finding some of the league's premier finishers.
If opponents can find a way to slow down the tempo, Karl has no shortage of match-up nightmares on his roster. Andre Iguodala and Wilson Chandler are two of the strongest wings in the business and sharp-shooter Danilo Gallinari is too big (6'10") for smaller defenders and too quick for bigger ones.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Coach Gregg Popovich has revamped his San Antonio Spurs from one of the league's slowest defensive clubs to now one of its fastest offensive juggernauts.
It's no fluke that "Pop" is the longest-tenured head coach among the four major professional sports, as he's shown an uncanny ability to adapt his system to the players at his disposal.
With some of the best minds in the game carrying over his principles to the hardwood, it's no surprise that the 51-16 Spurs are once again competing for the league's best record.
He's found recipe that is nearly impossible to stop, built on heavy doses of pick-and-roll plays initiated by either Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili with Tim Duncan often serving as the screener. San Antonio's methodical approach is a joy for the sport's purist, yet still a nightmare for television crews trying to sell the team's precision to the short-sighted casual fan pining for the next highlight jam.
Parker and Ginobili both have the ability to finish their drives at the basket, but also the wherewithal to keep their dribbles alive if too many defenders are lurking near the cup. Even at the age of 36, Duncan's a top-tier finisher rolling to the basket and can also veer away from his path for a silky smooth mid-range jumper. All three of these players are more than capable of sensing too much defensive attention and finding open shooters in the corners or slashers navigating by preoccupied defenders.
1. Miami Heat
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has the easiest job in the NBA. He employs three of the game's greatest stars (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) and has the luxury of sitting back while his talented trio dominates opponents on the fly.
At least, that's how it looks to the casual observer.
But Spoelstra's positionless approach has been fine tuned through preparation, film work and intense study to become the finished product seen in the team's historic 23-game winning streak.
The former video intern has gotten his star-studded roster to buy into his relentless approach by setting an example with his own behavior. The result has been nothing short of spectacular for Heat fans—and distressing for opponents.
Miami's uptempo attack starts on the defensive end. The Heat force opposing dribblers into two-man traps with the remaining three defenders systematically rotating to plug passing lanes. If the trappers can't jar the ball loose it's often these lurking defenders swiping passes.
And once those turnovers happen, there's no better team in the league at turning defense into offense. Wade and James fill both sides of the transition lanes, with each of them capable of finding a highlight finish for themselves or for the other off a timely lob. Defenses also have to account for the Heat's myriad shooters trailing the break for wing threes or sliding along the out-of-bounds line for highly efficient looks from the corner.