Phoenix Suns v Miami Heat

Erik Spoelstra explains LeBron and Wade in pie charts

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Erik Spoelstra is a detail guy. The pregame whiteboard in the Heat locker room is likely the most detailed, organized one in the league — two columns of diagrammed favorite plays of the opponents, a column of sets the Heat want to run, reminders of the night’s focus on offense and defense down the middle. Spoelstra is s a guy who wants information and has worked hard to distill that knowledge down to his players.

That comes across in a fantastic Q&A NBA.com’s John Schuhmann (via TrueHoop). Spoelstra talks about the team’s use of statistics, but more importantly how to make those statistics mean something to the players.

Of course, when you talk Heat players, you are talking LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Early on while the Heat were figuring things out, statistics helped paint the picture.

They just needed time to learn each other’s tendencies and how they can impact the game when the other guy didn’t have the ball. They’re both much more active participants off the ball than they were last year or earlier in their careers.

I used a pie chart at the beginning of December to show how each one of them were scoring. For both of them, their comfort level was at the top of the floor, high pick-and-roll with the ball in their hands. The problem with that is we can’t have both of them running a high pick-and-roll with the ball in their hands at the same time.

NBA.com: Pie charts?

E.S.: I had to find a way to explain that we need more balance and we need to find other ways to score. Each guy needs to get two or three layups or dunks or free throws in the open court, get two or three on cuts, get maybe one on an offensive rebound, get a couple on post-ups, get a couple of catch-and-shoots.

And then at the end of quarters, we’ll run home run high pick-and-rolls. And they’ve really bought into that…. All of their pie charts have changed. Dwyane’s has probably changed the most, where now he gets a potpourri of different ways of scoring. He does it in all the ways I mentioned. Finally, at the end of games, we’ll get him in high pick-and-rolls, but he’s doing a lot of other things to be engaged and involved when it’s not a high pick-and-roll with the ball in his hands.

There is a backlash in some circles against the new wave of advanced statistics starting to be used in the NBA. But the fact is, it’s information. It’s information gleaned from observation (the stat is based on a recordable action in a game). A good coach, a good GM wants that information — especially if it challenges their preconceived beliefs. If a coach keeps going to a certain play or player in a key situation, and the numbers show it isn’t working, then there needs to be a discussion of why and what might work better. Statistics can help identify those moments and players.

What Spoelstra really seems to grasp is the secondary challenge — how to get that information to the players. For them the game is instinctual and muscle memory — you don’t want them slowing down to analyze things on the court. You need to present information in a way that players can easily absorb it and translate it to their game. Players will adjust, but the best ones want to understand why.

So, pie charts.

Watch it again: Epic dunk contest duel between Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon

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TORONTO — I am always hesitant to say a player/team/situation is one of the best of ever because the history of the NBA is filled with greats. We tend to overstate how good something current can be.  That said…

That was one of the best dunk contests ever.

Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon put on a show for the ages. Gordon had the best dunks of the night (in my opinion), but LaVine is consistently amazing, every dunk he does is flat out ridiculous.

Officially, LaVine won. In reality, we all won. Enjoy watching it one more time.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.