Miami Heat v Boston Celtics

What’s going on with the Heat offense?

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The 5-2 Miami Heat are certainly not a bad offensive team. In fact, they are a very good offensive team — as of today, they are 5th in the NBA in offensive efficiency. Considering how good the Heat have been defensively (they’re #1 in defensive efficiency), Miami could certainly make a championship run without significantly improving their offense, which is sort of frightening.

Still, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that the Heat aren’t nearly as good as they could be on offense — after all, both the 09-10 Raptors and the 09-10 Cavaliers had a higher offensive efficiency rating than the Heat do so far this season. Clearly, this Heat squad has the talent to be absolutely dominant offensively, so why haven’t they been as good as the sum of their talents? Here are some possible explanations, starting with the “Big Three.”

What makes Miami’s trio so interesting is its versatility — James and Wade are both great scorers with incredible playmaking ability, James and Bosh are both too accurate from the perimeter to be left all alone, all three players can create off the dribble, and all three are explosive athletes who can get in the paint and convert in the blink of an eye.

However, instead of bracing their versatility, Miami’s trio seem to be fixated on settling into specific “roles”: LeBron the playmaker, Wade the slasher, and Bosh the polite third option. It all sounds nice, but it’s limited all three players in one way or another. Right now, the Heat look like they’re playing to a script; the more settled in they get, the less predictable they’ll be and the more difficult they will be to defend. Here’s what the “Big Three” have and haven’t been doing so far:

1. LeBron James: Not enough action off the ball

Sometimes I get the feeling that LeBron feels the need to answer his critics on the court rather than simply do what would give his team the best chance of scoring baskets. For the first seven years of his career, the main criticism of LeBron was that he was a superlative athlete who lacked skill, specifically the ability to make jump shots.

He worked tirelessly on his jumper and turned himself into a pretty good jump shooter, but his shooting percentages stayed lower than they should have been because he felt the need to show off his jumper all the time, firing deep, contested jumpers with time on the shot clock just to prove to everybody that he could make them. It was unstoppable when it did work, but it didn’t really keep the defense off-balance, and LeBron would have been much better served spending time on the block and figuring out how to create more easy shots instead of working so diligently to convert difficult ones.

After spending a few months getting his character criticized, LeBron seems to be trying to prove how unselfish he is by using his superlative playmaking ability to run the Miami offense and rack up assists, which would supposedly prove how he’s willing to sacrifice his statistics to fit into a team concept and be part of a winning operation.

The problem with that philosophy is that as good as LeBron James can be when he’s making plays, he’s much better when he’s able to come from the weak side and finish them. LeBron driving and kicking to an open three-point shooter or finding a slashing big man from the perimeter is effective — LeBron catching a pass at full speed and going to the basket against a defense trying to recover is all but unstoppable. We saw that in international play, when LeBron shot nearly 70% from the floor by converting easy dunks and open threes.

With all apologies to Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao, LeBron’s never played on an NBA team with players like Wade and Bosh, players capable of drawing enough defensive attention to free up James on the weak side and allow LeBron to punish teams the moment they forget about him.

Unselfish isn’t always about trying to make your teammates better; sometimes, it’s about letting your teammates make you better, and LeBron hasn’t been doing that. Last season, 47.2% of LeBron’s shots at the rim were assisted; this season, only 35% of LeBron’s attempts from that area have come from assists, which would be a career-low for him. LeBron still converts an absurdly high percentage of his shots at the rim (77%!), but his attempts from point-blank range have gone down — of all the weapons Miami has, LeBron going to the basket when the defense isn’t ready for him is the most dangerous one, and neither LeBron or Miami seems to have that in mind when they run their offense.

2. Wade — more playmaking

Wade’s had the easiest time adjusting to the new Miami offense — he’s slashing with abandon, his floaters have been absolutely deadly, he rarely takes bad shots, and his True Shooting percentage is currently a career-high 59.2% despite the fact he’s making only 12% of his deep twos.

However, Wade is also a great playmaker, and he seems to have forgotten that part of his game despite the fact he has better teammates to pass to than he ever has before. Wade is averaging only 3.7 assists per game, which is barely better than half of his previous career-low, and his assist:turnover ratio is also far worse than it ever has been before.

Wade has hardly set anybody up with easy finishes. Last year, Wade averaged 2.2 assists that led to layups or dunks a game, which was a career-low at the time; this year, he’s averaged only 0.6 assists that lead to layups or dunks each game. I don’t know if the main issue is that Wade’s teammates aren’t putting themselves in position to catch passes near the basket when Wade looks to drive or that Wade isn’t looking to pass when he goes to the hoop, but either way Wade should be using his passing more than he has been.

LeBron is a great passer, and Wade is a great slasher, but what makes them two of the best players in basketball is how well they use their passing and their scoring abilities in tandem, and that shouldn’t change now that they’re sharing the floor with one another.

Chris Bosh: Be more aggressive

Tom Haberstroh already touched on this about an hour ago over at the Heat Index, so I won’t linger on it too long here. Basically, Chris Bosh is a very good mid-range shooter, especially for a big man, and that’s the only skill he’s really been utilizing in Miami’s offense. However, what Bosh really excels at is finishing when he sets a pick and rolls to the basket or attacking the basket off the dribble from the high-post, and he hasn’t really been doing either of those things.

Bosh has been polite about waiting for his shot opportunities. Two-thirds of Bosh’s shot opportunities this season have been assisted, which would represent a career-high for him. However, there’s a fine line between being patient and being passive, and Bosh is on the wrong side of it this season.

Unlike, say, Pau Gasol, who dominates on offense with his size, skill, and court vision and can flourish playing off Kobe in the triangle, Bosh’s best attributes are his athleticism and explosiveness when he goes to the rim. As a result, Bosh is at his most effective when he can be aggressive and attack, which he’s been to hesitant to do.  When the Heat have made an effort to feature Bosh, they’ve often dumped it to him in the low post and watched him try and make a play, which is the wrong way to use him — Bosh should be attacking the basket hard, with his teammates moving around him to give him options if the defense collapses on him or opening up seams to the rim for him by attacking the basket themselves. Bosh is trying to give James and Wade space to work, but a player with his talents isn’t doing his team any favors by sitting back and playing Antonio McDyess.

The Heat have become a very good offensive team because their superstars have been willing to accommodate each other’s strengths. When the “Big Three” actually start to play off of each other’s strengths, improvise, and use each other to open up lanes to the basket, they’ll be downright scary on offense.

Pelicans’ rookie guard Bryce Dejean-Jones has died at age 23

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 04:  Bryce Dejean-Jones #31 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives to the basket during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Smoothie King Center on February 4, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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This is a sad and stunning development.

Bryce Dejean-Jones, the rookie guard of the New Orleans Pelicans, has died, the Dallas, Texas, County Coroner has confirmed to NBC Sports. Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune broke the news.

Dejean-Jones was just 23.

“It is with deep sadness that the Pelicans Organization acknowledges the sudden passing of Bryce Dejean-Jones,” the Pelicans’ organization said in a statement. “We are devastated at the loss of this young man’s life who had such a promising future ahead of him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bryce’s family during this difficult time.”

The coroner’s office would not give a cause of death, but Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports had the tragic detail.

The account of him being shot has been confirmed by multiple sources.

Dejean-Jones was undrafted out of Iowa State, he was picked up on a 10-day contract by New Orleans this season, but the rash of injuries the Pelicans suffered pushed him into a starting role for 11 games. He averaged 5.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game, and to his credit did shoot 37.5 percent from three. On Feb. 19 he took a hard fall and fractured his wrist, which eventually required surgery and ended his season. He was a guy known for attitude problems at the start of his college career at USC the UNLV, but had seemed to mature and his game had as well. He looked like someone who could stick as a reserve guard in the NBA.

Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.

LeBron James first player to reach six straight finals in 50 years

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It speaks to an incredible level of talent — talent that was honed in countless hours in the gym.

It speaks to an amazing durability.

It speaks to leadership.

LeBron James has a long resume of accomplishments — two titles, four MVPs, and he hasn’t missed an All-Star Game or an All-NBA team for a decade — but he reached one of his more impressive milestones in leading the Cavaliers past the Raptors to the NBA Finals on Friday night.

LeBron has reached six straight NBA Finals.

He’s the first player to do so in 50 years.

The last guys to do this were Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bob Cousy and other members of the 1950s-60s Celtics dynasty. Nobody since has done it — not Magic, Bird, Jordan, Wilt or the rest.

Yes, it helps cement LeBron’s legacy as one of the all-time greats, but more than that it’s something we need to step back and appreciate. These were all LeBron-led teams — he has been the leader on and off the court, setting the tone. That requires incredible talent and skill on the court, plus knowing how to make those guys better not just drag them along on your coat tails. It also takes incredible physical durability. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

“There’s only one LeBron James,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after his team was eliminated by James and company. “He makes a difference on whatever team he plays on.”

I can feel the typing in the comment section already: “But he’s 2-4 in the Finals, Jordan was 6-0” or “But he’s done it in a weak East” or “He keeps just jumping teams to where he has the most help.” It’s all just sad. Because LeBron James is the first NBA superstar of the social media age he faces a volume of criticism that past stars did not. It’s not that LeBron hasn’t brought some criticism on himself, but there is a need to tear him down that the mythologized Jordan never dealt with. We savored Jordan at the time; LeBron has never gotten that. Jordan took 13 NBA teams to the playoffs, six made the Finals; LeBron has taken 11 and seven are in the Finals. The thing is, it’s difficult to compare across eras in the NBA:

All of this is not to say LeBron’s record is better than Jordan’s, you and your buddies can debate that while sitting on bar stools until last call, but LeBron has been on an epic run through the peak of his career the likes we haven’t seen in a long time. If you’re a fan of the game, you should appreciate that, not try to tear it down (as if Jordan’s legacy somehow needs protecting).

What LeBron has done is a stunning accomplishment. If you’re in the same sentence with the legendary Russell Celtics teams, you’re doing something right.

Warriors/Thunder Game 6: Four things to watch as Oklahoma City tries to close out series

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Stephen Curry #30 and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors react in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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For the Thunder, it is a chance for validation and an opportunity to get the ring Kevin Durant (and Russell Westbrook, and the rest of them) crave. For the Warriors, it is their biggest test of the last two seasons. Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City, here are four things to watch.

1) Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson need to play better for the Thunder. After a couple of series where Waiters suddenly has been reborn as a quality NBA player who is the third playmaker the Thunder need, and after Andre Roberson dropped a career playoff high of 17 points the game before, both were MIA in Game 5. Roberson was 2-of-5 shooting and had as many points as fouls (six). Waiters didn’t hit a shot all night. This was tied to the Thunder returning to the bad habits of too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking on the world and OKC not enough ball movement in the halfcourt. The Scott Brooks Thunder of the past few seasons showed up in Game 5, if the Thunder fall back to those bad habits again, they will lose again.

I expect the Thunder to treat this like their Game 7 and play much better. They will have a real sense of urgency; their defense will again be energized. The question becomes can the Warriors match it?

2) Can Andrew Bogut keep the Thunder from scoring in the paint?
In Game 5, the Thunder were 8-of-18 shooting in the restricted area, and 7-of-19 in the rest of the paint. That’s not going to get it done. A lot of that was the impact Bogut had in the paint — plus he got help, the Warriors switched pick-and-rolls more, they packed the paint more and took away driving lanes. It all worked, in part because Bogut and Draymond Green played with much better energy than in previous games. Steve Kerr said he didn’t play Bogut as many minutes in the first four games due to foul trouble, he has to trust the veteran to play through fouls in this game. The Warriors have simply been better with him on the court this series and they need close to 30 minutes from him this game.

Tied to Bogut’s play…

3) Golden State defense needs to show up on the road. As noted above, the Warriors went back to a more traditional defense in Game 5 — they started guarding Roberson (rather than having a big “guard” and ignore him to protect the paint), they switched, they stayed home in the paint, and they just trusted each other and played their system better. It was a marked improvement. However, they did it at home — now they need to do it on the road, where Green, in particular, has been more prone to mistakes and frustration.

One key here worth emphasizing is the Warriors got back to switching most pick-and-rolls — that’s what they did all season, that’s part of why the “death lineup” is so successful defensively, yet in this series they increasingly went away from it (in part because of how they guarded Roberson). Switching is part of who the Warriors are, and while it will create some mismatches teams don’t want to stray too far from their core identity.

4) Stephen Curry needs to be MVP level Curry. Draymond Green needs to be his All-NBA self.
I’m not saying the same thing about Durant and Westbrook because I have no doubt they will show up with urgency in their games Saturday night. However, Curry and Draymond have been shadows of themselves in the two previous games in Oklahoma City, and if that happens again only one team is flying back to the Bay Area postgame.

Curry finished his drives a little better in Game 5, and at moments he blew by bigs switched onto him off of picks, something we have seen far less of this series than during the season. Green played well defensively in Game 5, he hit the boards hard, but he made some head-scratching offensive decisions. If the Warriors are going to force a Game 7, those two guys have to be elite in this game. The Warriors best players must lead. It’s that simple.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.