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What’s The Best Model?

Here we are.  The 2011 Playoffs.

Of course, there are lots of interesting storylines to talk about as the playoffs begin.  What interests me the most is the clash of styles amongst the teams still standing.

To set the table for that discussion, I think it’s worthwhile to identify who I think the 20 best players in the league are (otherwise, discussions about which teams truly have “star” power get complicated, as it’s easy to call lots of players “stars” but much harder to identify the ones who truly are).  In no particular order, I think the top 20 players, divided into “superstars” and “stars” are:


1.  Kobe

2.  Durant

3.  Rose

4.  LeBron

5.  Wade

6.  Howard


7.  Dirk

8.  Gasol

9.  Westbrook

10.  CP3

11.  Anthony

12.  Stoudemire

13.  Randolph (20 ppg, 12 rpg)

14.  Aldridge (22 ppg, 9 rpg)

15.  Rondo (11 assists, 2.5 spg)

16.  Ginobili (17 ppg, 5 apg, 4 rpg, 1.5 spg)

17.  Parker (18 ppg, 7 apg)

18.  Johnson (18 ppg, 5 apg, 4 rpg)

19.  Horford (15 ppg, 9 rpg, 1 bpg)

20.  Granger (21 ppg, 5 rpg)

We could probably debate a few of those guys (CP3, Anthony, and Stoudemire might deserve to be considered superstars, while Garnett, Pierce, Bosh, and Iguodala could be considered stars).  But, generally, it’s a pretty uncontroversial list of the 20 best players in the playoffs.  With that as background, the teams generally fall into a few groups:

NO STARS – Philly and Denver:  Both of these teams are athletic, exciting, and deep.  And neither has a chance to win more than one round, because they don’t have the necessary star-power.

ONE STAR – Dallas, Memphis, Portland, Boston, Indiana, New Orleans, Orlando and Chicago:  This is an interesting group. To me, the critical distinction among the teams in this group is that some of them have big guys who operate in the paint, playing alongside dynamic small guys.  Some do not.  The teams that do — Chicago, Memphis, Portland, and Indiana — are legitimate threats.  Dallas is better than it has been in years past because Tyson Chandler is an effective presence in the paint. But, Dirk, as great as he is, is not a traditional PF, and Kidd is no longer a dynamic PG.  New Orleans would be a threat, but for the crippling injury to David West.  Without him, there’s just not enough horsepower there.  Orlando, in my eyes, just doesn’t have the guards to go deep.  That leaves Boston and Chicago.  Before the Perkins trade, Boston had intimidating big guys and dynamic small guys.  Now they’ve lost the intimidation.  All is not lost, because, though they only have one of the top 20 players, it’s possible that they have four of the top 25.  They might be able to get by simply because they have so many guys who can win a game for them, but that’s less likely than it was before the trade.  Chicago is unique among this group, because it has a superstar guard playing alongside big guys who dominate the paint.

TWO STARS – Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Miami, and San Antonio:  The primary distinction among the teams in this group is that some have superstars and some do not.  Neither Atlanta nor San Antonio have superstars, but both have two stars playing with capable supporting casts (with all due respect to Tim Duncan, he is now a part of the supporting cast).  It’s rare for a team to win without a superstar, but Atlanta and San Antonio are threats — San Antonio specifically because it has the best backcourt tandem, and a very capable frontcourt.  New York is the wild card in this group, because, if Carmelo and Amar’e play like superstars, they might be good enough to make up for the glaring shortcoming on that roster; no big guys who intimidate anyone to play up front with those two.  Miami is the only team with two superstars, and also the only team that relies on Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony for major minutes.  That leaves Oklahoma City and LA, both of whom have a superstar and a star.

In light of all of that, I’ll make this prediction: I expect Chicago, LA, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City to rise above the rest. Chicago and LA both have superstar guards playing alongside big men who dominate the paint.  San Antonio and Oklahoma City both have overpowering perimeter tandems playing alongside big men who, while not as good as the bigs on Chicago and LA, are effective down low.  Which of those four will emerge as champion?  Stay tuned.





  • ZachNovakJr.

    No love for Chris Bosh or Josh Smith? How do you see those two vs. Granger? Based on the stars model, it seems like ATL over ORL in game one was no fluke (especially if Jason Richardson is not going to play like he did in PHX). Maybe we should be taking the Hawks and the points (8.5) tomorrow night…

  • Angry Young Man

    Comical to me how much the Knicks have sucked. I told you all CarMElo was not the kind of guy you want on a winning team. Of course he’s an amazingly talented athlete and scorer, but is he an amazing basketball player? Also, Amare was the force behind the Knicks’ turnaround, but he took a backseat once carMElo came to town, and look what has happened.

    Also, I think the Heat are going to win the whole thing. Which will serve only to prove the NBA regular season is a colossal waste of time, along with being a fabricated sham.

    Have a nice day.

  • Tweener

    Thanks for the comment, Novak.
    Nope, no love for Chris Bosh. Never have, never will.
    Josh Smith? That’s an interesting question. Looks like ATL might surprise a few folks, but, with two All-Stars, we probably shouldn’t be surprised to see them win a series.

  • Tweener

    Yeah, you sound angry.

    Comical that the Knicks have sucked? They were a team with a dangerous top-3, and a bunch of barely-adequate parts around them. Only one of those 3 was healthy for the whole series. This counts as comedy to you?

    Do you watch college hoops, Mr. Angry? If so, you certainly remember Carmelo’s team doing quite well when he was on it, don’t you?

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As all 3 of my devoted readers know, I have blogged frequently about how LeBron’s teammates in Cleveland were good enough to win a title with, and a bit less frequently about the flaws with the current Miami Heat roster (give me time, we’re only 25% through the season).  After all that blogging, I knew, as I watched the Heat put a beating on the Cavs last week, that I had some ‘splanin’ to do.  So, let me ‘splain…

In this posting, I talked about the importance of having players in the appropriate “slot” on their rosters, and said that the fortunes of a few teams in today’s NBA make more sense when seen through that prism.  (Apologies to those who were eagerly awaiting this follow-up; I said I’d elaborate on the point in my “next posting,” and then my next posting wound up being about Jim Boeheim.  Sorry.)

The Heat and the Cavs are two clear illustrations of what I’m trying to say.  I’ll start with the Cavs, who looked dreadful — not because they don’t have good players on the team, but because each player is playing one or two “slots” ahead of where he belongs.

To quickly go down the roster: Mo Williams is not capable of being the best player on a good NBA team.  But he’s perfectly adequate to be the second best player on a contender.  (Some people scoff at this, I know.  But they’re wrong.  Mo Williams is comparable to Jason Richardson, Vince Carter, and Roy Hibbert, each of whom is the second-best player on a playoff contending team.)  If Antawn Jamison is your second-best player, you’re in bad shape, but you could scrape by with him as your third-best.  Anderson Varejao was one of the best fourth-best-players in the league, and J.J. Hickson is a capable fifth-best player.  But, as the third and fourth best guys on a team, they are average at best.  Guys on the Cavs’ bench, like Daniel Gibson and Ramon Sessions, can play quality minutes on a good team, but can’t be expected to get an otherwise-deficient team over the hump.

Basically, the Cavs are one superstar away from having the pieces in place to be a competitor.  In other words, they were good enough to win with LeBron.  To be fair, I think they needed an upgrade in the third-best player slot, bumping Jamison to fourth and Varejao to fifth, in order to be dominant.  But, as far as holes on a roster go, a team that only needs an upgrade in the 3rd slot to be dominant is right in the mix of things.  So… just because they got pounded by the Heat, and looked hapless in the process, doesn’t prove that LeBron’s supporting cast in Cleveland wasn’t good enough to win with.

Then there’s the Heat, one of the most interesting experiments with an NBA roster that I can remember.  It’s not clear who the #1 guy is, because they have two #1 guys. Having LeBron and Wade in the top two “slots” on your roster has a chance to work simply because of the combined talent; they might  just be talented enough to overcome the fact that neither of them is really suited to be a “second” guy on any team.  And Bosh might one day become a capable “third” guy, but he has no track record of doing that.  All he’s ever been is the best guy on a terrible team.

After that, it gets ugly, especially with their current injuries.  Mario Chalmers is not good enough to be the fourth best guy on a championship team.  Joel Anthony, well, he’s not even a rotation player on a championship team!

The key here is Mike Miller.  In terms of talent, he’s clearly good enough to be the “fourth” guy on a championship team.  And, because he’s such a good spot-up shooter — capable of making a big impact while having the ball in his hands for only one or two seconds per possession if his teammates are creating good looks for him — his game is suited to be the fourth best guy on a very good team.

But there’s no guarantee that Miller will make this team much better.  For starters, he can’t do anything to change the fact that only one of the “top 3” guys on the team is in the “slot” where he belongs.  And, getting back to the earlier point about having guys on the floor who fill traditional roles on a basketball team (which I blogged about here), it’s not clear to me that a lineup of James, Wade, Bosh, and Miller is capable of greatness.  Sure, they’re talented enough to consistently beat about 85% of the teams in the league.  But what about teams with an excellent point guard and big man?  I just don’t see how that lineup stops Parker and Duncan, CP3 and West, Rose and Boozer, or Rondo and KG with any regularity.

More on that over the next few weeks, I’m sure.


  • your momma

    The knicks beat down reminded me of another NY beat down – when the Jets talked trash to the Patriots and got their butts handed to them – similar to the Knicks and the Heat. Did people forget that Lebron is the best regular season player in the NBA – I know Knicks fans will know that after the game. The knicks put up a good fight for the first half but the cream always rises to the top. I think Big Z had at least three blocks and D. Wade who is maybe 6’4″ got a big block on your premiere big man. Landry fields is a letter shy of what Cubans refer to as ropa vieja. Keep balling and keep your heads up Knicks fans – hopefully as much as all of you don’t want to admit it – you need Melo to become a top tier team.

  • TeesteBon

    Just popping in to say nice site.

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