Let me start off by saying I LOVE NBA basketball, and these playoffs have been great. The talent level is insane; this is the best the league has been since about 1993, talent-wise.
From the youngsters like Rose and Beasley to the old vets like Ray Allen and Tim Duncan and all the great players entering their prime or at the tail-end of their prime, its just great. The pace of the game is outstanding, etc.
I want to commend certain coaches while scolding others right now. The teams you see succeeding most are the teams who's coaches put their players in the best position to succeed...the talent level is so good right now that its almost even between seven seeds and two seeds.
Just two years ago, you would NEVER see a seven seed with as much talent as Tyson Chandler-David West-Peja Stojakovic-James Posey-Chris Paul on the court, or Derrick Rose-Ben Gordon-John Salmons-Tyrus Thomas-Joakim Noah and having Kirk Hinrich and Brad Miller off the bench. Just great stuff.
With a talent level this even, the coaches make much more difference than they did even a year ago.
Playing your best players and lineups make a HUGE difference. I'm a Miami HEAT fan and just two days ago my coach made a decision that will lose the HEAT their series against a very closely matched four-five series opponent the Atlanta Hawks, deciding to go with experience and start Udonis Haslem at Power Forward over Michael Beasley.
This while the Hawks made the decision to start Marvin Williams that will win them that series and was a good decision. Easy, right? Doesnt seem to be for way too many coaches in today's NBA.
We'll go with the bad first: Spoelstra starting Haslem instead of Beasley and choosing James Jones at SF instead of Daequan Cook (because Jones is an inch taller, while Cook is five-times better defender especially man-to-man, is a better rebounder and athlete, better shooter and much better all-around offensive player, he plays bigger than Jones).
Nate McMillan starting Przybilla over Oden and Batum over Outlaw is gonna kill Brandon Roy and the Blazers in their series against Yao and the Rockets league-best perimeter defense. The Philadelphia 76ers starting Willie Green over Lou Williams and also playing Reggie Evans and Theo Ratliff over Mareese Speights.
Even GREAT coaches like Poppovich and Jerry Sloann: The Spurs starting Matt Bonner over Gooden in Game One and Jerry Sloan going with Jason Collins over Millsap.
I understand at times needing it for your bench, which the spurs could be forgiven for without Ginobili. Or focusing on the spacing Bonner provides, etc. I can also understand needing Collins size, sometimes you cant make it work. The pistons bone-headedly tried to play Stuckey-Iverson-rip-Prince-Sheed and that wouldn't work, obviously.
Examples of doing the right thing: There is no better example than the Chicago Bulls and Vinny Del Negro. VDN has done an OUTSTANDING job as a first-year coach.
He understood that he hasn't done this before so he got a very very experienced coaching staff featuring many decade+ assistants and former head coaches even, and he leans on them for help all the time. That's the mark of a very wise man and a keeper for the Chicago franchise.
VDN from the jump went with Derrick Rose and said "youre my guy". He started Derrick Rose at PG from day one and moved Kirk Hinrich (THEIR TEAM CAPTAIN that had been a 15ppg/7apg all-defensive team point guard and led them to the playoffs three times in the past four seasons) to the bench. That sounds like a no-brainer right, he was the first pick?
Just look at the Miami Heat and their second overall pick that is still stuck to the bench as Spoelstra decided Haslem>Beasley and stuck with him. Now the HEAT are paying for it and the Bulls are reaping the rewards of their talented rookie.
The Bulls also made the decision to start Ben Gordon at 2 guard. Boy oh boy are they glad they made that decision. Ben Gordon for years has heard that he's too small or that he needs to microwave off the bench...No, he's not too small.
He can play either backcourt position and he's a flatout baller. Him and Derrick Rose have put on a show in the Celtic series and I would be surprised if they weren't a top-three backcourt in the NBA for the next decade.
They also made a midseason trade for John Salmons and Brad Miller. Since that point VDN has tightened the rotation to seven guys, their seven really good players they have, and has started John Salmons at small forward despite him being "an inch or two undersized" for a small forward at 6'6" and only 210 pounds.
Salmons has done wonders for them in that lineup, Hinrich backs up all three positions despite being only 6'3" and done great, and Miller backs up their two young big men despite being a former all-star and 14ppg/10rpg guy for the past five seasons.
VDN now reaps the rewards of going with the gutsy moves in the lineup, the team thrived in the second half of the season winning 14 of their last 15 home games and made the playoffs as the seven seed after a terrible first half of the season, while their rookie got adjusted and they tried to find their footing with career starters pouting on their bench in Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden.
Now they're in the playoffs and playing GREAT basketball looking like the team of the future, they are a very very good team that is super-talented and has a backcourt to die for in Rose/Gordon.
The only regret they could possibly have at this point would be that they resigned Hinrich and Deng instead of Gordon because Scott Skiles fooled them into thinking he's a bench player and "too small" despite him being their leading scorer the past four years.
Best believe they think different now after game two in Boston last night, and best believe they will be resigning Ben Gordon this summer.
Two of the best teams in the league also have the best coaches in the league. The Cavaliers and the Magic. Stan Van Gundy took over a team that was led by a raw young Center by the name of Dwight Howard a few years ago and had just signed Rashard Lewis to millions and millions of dollars.
Many coaches in his situation would've decided to start Dwight Howard at PF because he thought that's what he was at that time (2006) and was only 6'10" tall.
So the first thing he deserves MASSIVE credit for was convincing Dwight to WANT to be a center instead of a PF, and to relish it. He also did great in bringing in Patrick Ewing to mentor Dwight after hearing from his brother what a great job Ewing did with Yao Ming in Houston.
What I really love is how SVG designed this team to play to their strengths. He started Rashard Lewis at PF and kept Turkoglu at SF despite them both really being SF's.
He could've easily went with his new big FA signing at SF and moved Turkoglu to the bench "for bench scoring" and started Tony Battie (a serviceable starting PF) and they woulda won 42 games and got to the playoffs.
He also deserves credit for putting the keys into Jameer Nelsons hands and letting him play his game as a score-first pg and leader for them, and he was an all star this year for them.
SVG started Rashard at PF despite being undersized and played Jameer big minutes with the ball in his hands despite being "not a real PG and undersized", and Dwight is now all-NBA first team CENTER for them and they have the leagues best defense.
He designed a team that runs inside-out into Dwight Howard and bombs away from three-point land, they won 59 games and the third seed and have a very bright future.
He also went with the rookie Courtney Lee over the prized free agent signing Mikael Pietrus, and Lee has been their best perimeter defender, plus another weapon on offense that fits in great.
Turkoglu is huge for them as their primary playmaker as well and won the MIP award last year, some coaches would've had him glued to the bench for a "real power forward' instead. But Stan put his players in position to succeed and is now a championship contender because of it.
Rick Adelman also did a great job starting Artest at 2 guard despite being really a SF, and keeping Battier out there. He put the ball in Aaron Brooks hands as the young PG and let him run and he's been great for them.
He let Von Wafer play through mistakes, he goes to the 42-year-old backup center Dikembe Mutumbo, etc and they look great against the common-senseless Blazers in round one.
Mike Woodson starting Al Horford at center despite "really being a PF" and starting "two tweeners" at the forwards in Marvin Williams and Josh Smith. Result? Forty-eight wins and a four seed, two straight playoff appearances and a bright future for a very talented young team.
Mike D'Antoni also deserves a lot of credit for doing these things also, D'Antoni went with Marion at Power Forward and Amare at Center despite both being "undersized" and the Suns went on to 60+ wins for the next four years on average and were a suspension away from winning a championship.
He took over for a lottery team and designed a system that played to his guys strengths, Amare ended up as the ALL-NBA first team center in 2007 and Nash won two MVP awards, Marion was a four-time all star and 20/10 performer that made second team all-NBA in 2005-'06.
If he just preached a little more defense like our next guy does it would've been championships for him and the Suns...
Perhaps the man who deserves the MOST credit of anyone is Mike Brown. I have a DVR in my room and on this DVR is the opening night game of this NBA season: Cavs/Celtics with the Celts receiving their rings and getting banners put up, et cetera.
Anyways: In the halftime show Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith are talking about how Mo Williams is a shoot-first PG so it doesn't solve their problem of LeBron having to do too much, and that Delonte West is way too small to be a starting 2 guard.
He will get abused by guys like TMac or Kobe that outsize him by so much, and it's putting oto much pressure on Lebron to defend the other teams best scorers on too often a basis.
How did that play out? All-star berth for Mo Williams as LeBron had his most efficient season yet with all the offensive help, the Cavs offense jumped from 20th in the league last year to top-five this year, and they won 67 games a league best after only winning 45 last year.
They're now a championship contender, and if they had decided to play Pavlovic or Wally at 2 guard (the safe picks, the conventional picks) due to Delonte being undersized there is no way they win as many games.
Delonte West has been great for them. He guards the other team's best scorer lots of the time, and LeBron having to guard the other teams best scorers hasn't been a bad thing, but a good thing because it made him have to step up his defense.
Doing this has set an example in the cleveland lineup and now they all get after it...almost like the effect KG had in boston last year but to a lesser degree (because he's not KG on defense, but not many players in NBA history are nonetheless LeBron is now a good defender where before he was just average).
Delonte plays big. Mike Brown made a great decision to start him at 2 guard, he gives them another playmaker in the offense and shooter, and defends better than Wally or Pavlovic despite being shorter, heck he rebounds better than either of them too and shoots better than pavlovic.
Delonte just is a baller, his energy and effort and passion make a huge difference in the Cleveland lineup as does his defense. Mike Brown didn't say "no that's not possible," he made it work to perfection by playing to the strengths of his personnel, playing his best players and putting them in position to succeed.
Also the decision to keep starting Varejao at PF even though Ben Wallace lost his spot during injury, which is kind-of an old "rule" that you cant have that happen. Great move to stay with the best guys to help you win.
You need to focus on what guys can do for your team, their strengths, and playing to them. Put them in position to succeed. This goes back to 1960 with Red Auerbach or the '70s with Tommy Heinsohn: Bill Cowens is 6'8 and undersized but he plays big and is talented as heck, so he plays center. Period. Result? Two more Celtic championships.
HAHAHA, now as I'm writing this ESPN just told me that Mike Brown was named the NBA's coach of the year. Well-deserved, and that's what common sense gets you in today's NBA. Now if my HEAT could just figure this out and start Beasley at Power Forward maybe my team can think about a Cleveland-like jump from mid-40 wins to mid-60 wins for next year...