There are five things that, post-NBA all star break, have really begun to bother me about the association. Here they are:
First, Golden State is changing the conception of an NBA season. Arguably the best team of my NBA-watching lifetime was the 2000-01 Lakers. That team was so good they nearly swept through the playoffs. They beat all-time teams like the Spurs and Kings, crushed the very good Trail Blazers team, and nearly swept the most underrated team of the past two decades – Iverson’s Sixers. That team won 56 games.
Then let’s look at the 2013-14 Spurs. This team decimated what many thought were an unbeatably efficient Miami Heat team, had an easy time with one of the best two-men teams in OKC, and redefined the idea of ball movement. They won a respectable 62 games.
What Golden State is doing this season is breaking the construct. Golden State is resting their players and not performing their best every game. Heck, most games they only play one or two quarters seriously. But their regular season successes is making a sixty-win season look mediocre. This is frustrating because what makes the NBA so great is that the season is a marathon. Yet Golden State is so far ahead of everyone else that 60+ win seasons feel like they aren’t good enough. This makes losses like the Thunder’s performances against the Cavs and Pelicans, the Cavs’ performances against the Raptors and Pistons, and the Spurs’ loss to the Clippers feel significantly more important than they should.
Second, NBA analysts are overstating the impacts of mid-season additions. For example, the Heat’s addition of Joe Johnson. Nothing was more frustrating today than people thinking Joe Johnson will improve Miami’s fortune. Let me begin by pointing out the obvious, Chris Bosh, Beno Udrih, and Tyler Johnson are injured and more than likely out for the rest of the season. Dwayne Wade is still an all-star caliber player, but, he can no longer be a primary option. This forces Miami to rely on an overly-emotional Hassan Whiteside to be their primary offensive option. Joe Johnson does not make this team a finals contender, rather, he merely ensures that they make the playoffs.
But here is my issue, and it is amazing that nobody is discussing it, Goran Dragic is significantly worse when he is not the primary ball handler. For example, Goran Dragic and Dwayne Wade, together, have a net rating of +.4. Essentially, the team is no better than their opponent when those two players share the court. This is a decrease of nearly three points per 100 possessions for Goran Dragic in general. Moreover, every indicator of shooting efficiency shows Dragic does worse with Wade on the floor. Now, Wade is no Johnson, as the latter ran isolation plays on 14% of possessions. He needs the ball in his hands to succeed. Thus, Miami’s addition of Joe Johnson will more than likely significantly harm Goran Dragic.
Consequently, while Joe Johnson improves the talent on a talent-depleted Miami team, he will negatively effect their chemistry. For this move to work at all, Erik Spoelstra will need to stagger rotations so Dragic and Johnson barely see the floor together.
Third, Matthew Dellavedova’s poor play since the beginning of February. As a lifelong Cavaliers fan, I love Delly. I also will gladly admit that the Aussie’s struggles are due to injury. He had pulled his hamstring right as Ty Lue took over as coach, played through it, and eventually was given time off. Now I am hearing rumors that Delly has back spasms, and when you watch him play, that makes logical sense.
Defensively, Delly’s perimeter defense has still been effective, forcing opponents to shoot around eight percent worse when he is guarding them. Once he has to leave the perimeter, though, Delly has been horrendous. Since February 1, 2016, opponents are shooting 17.7% better against Delly than their usual when they are closer than ten feet to the basket. This is abysmal, and is due to Delly’s lack of an ability to effectively rotate defensively, primarily due to his injury. Although the team is dealing with significant chemistry issues, Ty Lue should cut losses and give Delly rest before playoffs. Without his pesky perimeter defense the Cavs have no shot at winning a title.
Fourth, the NBA’s poor playoff structure. This one is simple, there are between four and six teams who can win the finals this year, and they are the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Cavaliers, and possibly the Raptors and/or Clippers. Consequently, I believe the NBA should seed playoffs by total record, and not by conference. Frankly, that will turn a great postseason into, undoubtedly, the best in professional sports. Getting to watch 2.5 rounds of elite basketball between the aforementioned six teams would be much more entertaining and rewarding than the current system.
Fifth, the overstating of PER and understating of Player Impact Estimate (PIE). PER is a stat that measures efficiency. Due to the nature of how it is calculated, offense is weighed significantly more than defense, and steals, blocks, and rebounds are more defensively valuable than lockdown man defense. Now, while PIE is not perfect either, it does a far better job evaluating a single player’s importance to his team. Effectively, PIE analyzes the number of game events a player is responsible for and creates a percentage. What this metric suggests is that, while Steph Curry is the most valuable player to his team right now, the difference between him, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant is not as significant as many may argue.
This gets to a related issue, however, many advanced stats do a poor job evaluating how gameplans impact statistic. For example, Russell Westbrook generally guards the opponent’s best perimeter player. Steph Curry is almost always put on the opponent’s weakest perimeter player. Many advanced stats discount this, and thus create statistical noise, and this harms two-way players like Westbrook.
Consequently, when people like Skip Bayless cite PER as a tell-all stat, the nerd in me wants to scream. For anyone trying to do their own statistical NBA research, make greater use of SportVU and Synergy, and less evidence from “tell-all” stats.
With all of that said, though, I want to leave the reader with a positive. This is a season with a ton of individual talent, two historically great teams, and possibly six teams that can win a title. If you are an NBA fan, regardless of the team you support, enjoy this season. It’s one of the best in recent memory.