QU4NTITY: So, the Finals start tomorrow. Name every player who’ll start a game this series.
AAKASH: San Antonio: Tony, Patty, Danny, Kawhi, Boris, Timmy, Tiago. Miami: Chalmers, Cole, Allen, James, Wade, Haslem… Wow, this team has no one.
QU4NTITY: Miami needs its “other” dudes to hit open threes and defend, but that’s it.
AAKASH: That’s true. With the Heat, it doesn’t matter much aside from the big three. All their “other” guys go from suck to suck a lot. The other day, on Twitter, Magic said, “role players will decide the series.” My thought? Only if you like San Antonio to win.
I mean what can Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, Rashard Lewis, and Norris Cole do? I guess they have to be amazing. But I feel like, at max, maybe two of the four will be “amazing” on most nights.
QU4NTITY: Birdman will do his thing.
AAKASH: Oh yeah! Him! His health is one of the big things I am interested in this series. Did you know he has a .248 WS/48 this playoffs? That’s better than Tim Duncan (.209).
So that makes five decent supporting players: Allen, Lewis, Anderson, Chalmers, and Cole. Eight players can totally win a championship.
QU4NTITY: On the other hand, depth is supposed to be an asset for the Spurs, though some of their guys don’t match up very well against Miami. For them, I say Duncan, Splitter, Green, Diaw, Kawhi, Manu, Parker, and Joseph all start games at some point in the series. I think Splitter starts game one and maybe two if the Spurs win. He’ll be out of the starting lineup by halftime of game three, though. If Tony misses time I think Pop will go with Joseph to start and pull him pretty quickly like he did with Bonner in the OKC series.
AAKASH: The San Antonio lineup is indeed very interesting. As opposed to starting, I think the key with them is, who are the seven to nine guys getting 20-30 minutes? We know they will be solid. In this case, I think the rotation for each position will pan out something like this.
1: Parker, Mills, and some Joseph
2: Green, Belinelli, and some Joseph
3: Kawhii, a mix of Green and Diaw
4: Duncan and Diaw
5: Duncan and Splitter
I don’t like Splitter much in this series, because the Heat can go super small. But when the Heat do play a Haslem or an Anderson, I think he needs to be in and ready to punish. I agree, the more likely outcome is he plays his way out of the starting lineup and the series sooner than later. But that’s tough luck for the Spurs, since they rely on two big men for their D. And the lineup I showed above was awfully light at the bottom.
The real action is up top. And there we differ. If Tony’s hurt, I think Pop should bring in Mills, not Joseph.
QU4NTITY: I keep thinking that Patty Mills is an option the Spurs didn’t have last year (technically they had him on the roster, but he’s clearly put in a lot of work since then), but I always forget that Gary Neal was a big part of their rotation. Is Mills better than Neal?
AAKASH: Patty doesn’t have the guts or three point accuracy in the clutch that Neal has—at least in the NBA; Mills was great as the main guy on offense for his team in the Olympics—but he’s a better “driver” so to speak. He’s also a true point guard and better ball handler. Offensively, it’s a slight advantage for Mills. On D there’s a bigger gulf. Mills is kind of steals-only in that department. Neal was pretty good. Overall it’s more or less even between the two guys.
QU4NTITY: Wait, was Gary Neal really a capable defender? Not that it matters a ton against Cole and Chalmers, but I remember him having a bad reputation on that side.
AAKASH: Bad reputation but not skills. Neal has good defensive win shares—like three times what Mills has. Anyway, isn’t Belinelli the real Neal replacement?
QU4NTITY: Can he get on the court in this series?
AAKASH: Why not? You can hide him on Cole/Chalmers/Battier type dudes and he spaces the floor.
QU4NTITY: Yeah but who does Tony/Patty guard in that situation?
AAKASH: One of the “other guys” from that very list. Unless, of course, it’s a Haslem-Allen lineup. In that case, Bellinelli may have to guard Allen. But I still I think that’s fine. He played for Thibs and Pop. He knows where to be. I hope Pop doesn’t overthink himself, like he did last year pulling Duncan, in not getting Bellinelli on the floor.
QU4NTITY: Marco just can’t play when Bron and Wade are both out there.
AAKASH: Maybe so. Who needs to defend them? Danny Green, Kawhi, and/or Diaw? With only the latter two getting serious time on Bron?
QU4NTITY: On the second point, yes, I don’t think Danny Green can guard LeBron. So if you figure he’s on Wade and Kawhi’s on Bron to start the game, then I guess you hope to put Marco in when LeBron or Wade comes out. Now that I think of it, I don’t really know what Miami’s rotations are like. Like you were saying they feel really thin this year. Maybe they start with Chalmers, Wade, Bron, Haslem, and Bosh, then Haslem comes out for Battier or Lewis. LeBron comes out for… Allen or Cole? And Wade shifts down to SF?
AAKASH: Miami has really weird rotations and lineups. Here are the stats:
The big lineup you said to start has not fared well, in this postseason or against the Spurs last year. Once you get Battier or Lewis into the mix, I really like Miami lineups. Wade at the SF has fared just great. I like him there. Even at SG size he gets in your face. In this series, Wade can even guard the center spot in an ultra small lineup – he can handle Splitter. That will be supremely useful.
QU4NTITY: Anderson should come in for Bosh when Timmy sits, right? So you’ve got Cole, Allen, Wade, Shane/Shard, and Birdman? And then LeBron subs in for Wade? I guess that works?
AAKASH: Anderson can’t really guard Duncan, but he’s valuable with his all-around hectic defense. I think that Wade-centric lineup is defeinitely interesting. I think we can agree their best lineup is: Chalmers/Cole, Allen, Wade, LeBron, and Bosh. They are unguardable when they go super-small like that.
QU4NTITY: Yeah, probably. Depending how well Parker plays, their best lineup could be PG-less.
AAKASH: Allen, Wade, LeBron, Bosh, Birdman?
QU4NTITY: Ideally one of the hybrid smalls could play instead of a big in that lineup, though with Bosh’s improved range you might be able to use him to space the floor instead of someone like Battier or Lewis. Actually, with Bosh’s range I’m surprised he doesn’t play more alongside Anderson in general this year. I guess against San Antonio the presence of Bosh and Anderson would allow Pop to roll with two conventional bigs on defense—which is what he wants.
AAKASH: They would also destroy on offense. San Antonio doubled the amount of times they went to Timmy in post ups against the Heat in the finals compared to the regular season last year. Timmy battering Bosh plus Splitter Diaw battering Battier/ Lewis is bad news.
QU4NTITY: Splitter’s not battering anyone, so I don’t think you have to worry about that if you’re Miami. I think they really like him for his screening ability and defense. If you’re Miami, you want to force San Antonio to defend you with only one big on the floor. That’s a knock against Bosh-Anderson lineups, but then again maybe the Heat can pull one of San Antonio’s bigs out of the paint with Bosh and involve the other in the pick and roll. That lineup as the potential to make things easier for Miami on the defensive end as well since you’ve “tricked” San Antonio into playing two bigs with limited range.
But I’m not sure. You like Rashard Lewis more than I do. What do you see him doing for them?
AAKASH: That has to be Miami’s angle, pull a big out. Alternatively, the Heat can play two bigs—with Bosh and either Anderson or Haslem—for stretches in the right plays. For example, in a Wade-centric lineup, they can crash the offensive boards to surprise San Antonio.
But you’re right, the big I really like on Miami is Rashard Lewis. He is the piece I think people haven’t really touched on when picking San Antonio in 7 – ESPN’s consensus prediction. Rashard just gives them a great element. He’s a stretchy guy who can defend big men passably.
QU4NTITY: Do you need a passable big man defender against San Antonio? They went with Mike Miller against Splitter down the stretch last year and it worked.
AAKASH: You do, and Rashard can guard whoever the Spurs put on the floor: Diaw, Bonner, Duncan, Splitter, Ayres. He’s not great on that end, but he’s a big plus on the other. Miami can start five guys who shoot the three. That is a second lineup in addition to their super small lineup to stretch the floor.
San Antonio’s entire defense against Miami is five guys with a foot on the paint. Do that if you dare with Rashard on the floor.
QU4NTITY: There’s no way he can guard Timmy. You just said you were worried about him checking Splitter in the post. There’s no way Rashard Lewis is guarding Tim Duncan.
AAKASH: Isn’t that kind of sad? Timmy is the older player, and by four years at that.
Really, no one can guard Timmy on the Heat, including Bosh. But Timmy gets tired, and the Spurs also do not feed him like they used to—the first half of last year’s game six being the exception.
QU4NTITY: I think it has more to do with their respective skill sets than age. Shard was never guarding Duncan in the first place.
AAKASH: He’ll be on him for stretches. It may not go well.
QU4NTITY: I think Battier gives you more in this series, so long as he can knock down open shots. I wouldn’t be afraid to go with James Jones on Splitter, either.
AAKASH: Interesting. Those guys seem so unathletic. I think I can beat Battier in a race. And Jones doesn’t seem to have Spo’s trust.
QU4NTITY: Unathletic? As opposed to Rashard “I Don’t Understand How I Got This Contract Either” Lewis?!?
AAKASH: Yeah! He’s +92 in these playoffs!
QU4NTITY: Because of his D on David West—who doesn’t exist in this series.
AAKASH: Lineups featuring two bigs—San Antonio’s system is literally based on them! Whenever SA trots them out, I think Rashard will be a swiss army knife.
QU4NTITY: But Splitter doesn’t post or bang at all. It’s all about motion for him—catching the ball on a roll to the hoop. Any sufficiently tall body can defend that if it is positioned correctly. I think Lewis is similar to Matt Bonner for San Antonio—he filled a particular need for one series and is going back to the bench for the finals. Lewis’ D on David West is probably overrated. I mean, Drew Gooden had an bizarrely effective stretch against West in a couple second round games. West has fallen off this season, which makes it even more bizarre that LeBron still can’t guard him at all. Anyway, in this Finals matchup Lewis doesn’t give you anything Battier can’t.
AAKASH: I could see that theoretically. But I’m not convinced. Just looking at Battier, he’s done.
QU4NTITY: Back on the topic of the Heat’s best lineup—you and I also disagree to some extent about Wade’s fit in Miami’s best lineups.
AAKASH: The Heat are going back to the ‘Let Wade and LeBron Drive’ system on offense. In a sense, they’re almost better off playing one of those guys at a time for the first forty minutes since both are at their most effective when they can dominate the ball and be the focal point of the offense. But then in the last eight minutes they seem to learn how to play together all of a sudden, and it’s great. They’re both elite scorers.
AAKASH: The real key that most analysts miss for me, though, is that Wade is back and healthy, providing his 90s style shooting guard spacing from beneath the three point line. He’s remarkable for a 6’3″ player in that he averages a block a game when he’s healthy and engaged. He gives them a huge advantage. He’s the second best player when everyone’s on the court. One of the key reasons I’m picking the Heat.
QU4NTITY: My problem with him is that he kills their spacing. Look at the videos at the top of this article. LeBron has such an easier time getting to the basket when Wade’s defender isn’t there getting in his way—though maybe some of this impression is based on Wade’s gimpy play in last year’s finals. If he’s healthy it’s possible he attacks the seams of the defense a little more effectively and force his defender to stick closer to him.
AAKASH: Yeah, San Antonio backs off Wade and James at the three. That’s true. But, Wade’s improved ability to penetrate anyway will be fun. The Heat stretch out with guys besides Wade. And Wade has other-worldly two point ability.
QU4NTITY: I think running the right plays is huge for the Heat if Wade and James are gonna share the court. I want to see Miami post James on one side of the floor and position Wade on the opposite wing, so there are three passes between him and the ball. The idea being that LeBron can draw help in the post, kick it to Bosh, Rashard, or Battier on the strong side wing and that guy can, in turn, kick it to Chalmers or Cole at the top of the three point arc. If any of those shooters have a shot they should take it, but if not they kick it to Wade on the weakside with the defense already having rotated a few times. Then Wade has a bit of a head start attacking the defense.
AAKASH: Definitely. Let’s check back later to see how much the Heats ran sets like this.
Overall, I like them to win the series, with LeBron’s “god mode” tipping the balance. Heat in seven.
QU4NTITY: It’s hard for me to separate what I want to happen from what I can actually see happening, so with that caveat I’ll go Spurs in seven.