Tag:Carmelo Anthony
Posted on: March 3, 2012 8:43 am
Edited on: March 3, 2012 9:13 am
 

Can we get smarter at building teams?

Research suggests the Magic may not have built around Dwight Howard the right way. (Getty Images)
By Matt Moore

So there's this big sports analytics conference called the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. If you're an NBA hoophead/blognut/basketball freakazoid you likely have already heard about it, since most of the writers who like to stretch beyond the tired cliches tend to spend a lot of effort talking and writing about this thing. 

The event's held at MIT with a bunch of "wicked smaht" people talking about a number of things that would likely bore you to tears if you're not a fan of sports geekery. It's not athletes talking about swagger (though NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver dropped a reference to that Friday which was hilarious), or about clutch (though there was a panel on how pressure impacts players). It's people that work in front offices and behind the scenes (for the most part) talking about regression analysis, paradigms of alternative thought, and correlation (not so much causation). 

It's easy for a lot of people to toss this stuff to the wind. It doesn't fit with how we usually view sports, and how we usually view sports is fun. It makes it complicated, it hones in on stuff that's too specific (a common complaint from players and coaches who love the forest, hate the trees), and it sounds like stuff that's too dense to take anything actionable from.

That's the trick. It's like what blogging really is about (besides funny videos, photoshops, and poor syntax). You have to search through the mess, take out the interesting components, and try and put them into a bigger perspective. What follows is an attempt to guide you through two compelling research papers presented at the conference, and why you should care about their results. 

Big 2’s and Big 3’s: Analyzing How a Team’s Best Players Complement Each Other

One major takeaway from the Big 3 results is that the data shows that, cluster 8, the multi- faceted small- forwards who are very good 3 - point shooters, are great players to build a team around, as long as there aren’t any similar players among the most talented players on the team. Very good results occur when these small- forwards are surrounded with a variety of player - types; the Big 3’s with the highest coefficients (7 - 8 - 12, and 8 - 10 - 12) both include players from cluster 8. This was true with the Big 2’s as well.  

Robert Ayer presented this study which had its methodological quirks. (I would have liked to have seen a better efficiency model than the one provided and even accounting for minutes, we should never be using per game numbers for anything more than a highlight clip for toddlers at this point.) But overall the thought process was really ineresting. Essentially, he classified players, factored their efficiency, and then ran analysis to discover what worked and what didn't work together. It's like using all of the data from NBA history to create models of the players we describe in broad terms and then using advanced metrics to figure out which of those archetypes should be used together to build a team. 

The Rub: Putting a pure point with a dominant center may not be as effective as pairing a versatile wing with a little shooting ability with the same dominant center.

The explanation: This calls into question the idea of the point-guard-big-man fit. For example, Dwight Howard, it has long been thought, needs to play with a great pure point guard. But his greatest success has been with a versatile three who could run the pick and roll and had some three-point shooting ability, in Hedo Turkoglu during the Magic's 2009 run. The analysis suggests that Howard would do better with, say, Andre Iguodala, who can defend, distribute, rebound, and score when called on, versus say Deron Williams. This doesn't mean that the two aren't a good fit. It just says it's possible that if you consider Deron Williams and Andre Iguodala equal talents in terms of their relative skillsets, that Iguodala and Howard might find more success from a production standpoint. 

It also speaks to how Otis Smith's move for Vince Carter in 2009 may have been the right move. If you improve upon Hedo Turkoglu's three-point shooting with Carter while keeping the same versatility, it's a win. The flaw may have been over-estimating Carter's diminished ability as a passer due to age. 

The fact that so much success was gleaned from wings in the study, be they versatile passers or high-volume scorers, suggests a radical shift in traditional thought about the strength of players. Wings are most often criticized regarding their tweener status while classic big men and point guards are idolized, outside of the exceptions like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. Turns out your small forward can have a huge impact on your winning percentage simply due to his position. 

In another real world application, high-scoring small forwards fit well with high-scoring 2-guard, but high-scoring power forwards and those same small forwards did not make the list of good matches. So there's that, Knicks fans.

The Rub: Having two players that do the same thing on your team isn't just bad, it's really bad. 

The Explanation:  Sacramento brought in John Salmons, Isiaiah Thomas and Jimme Fredette to a back court that already featured  Tyreke Evans and (presumably, in restricted free agency) Marcus Thornton. The idea was shots on shots on shots on shots. But instead, you have several players essentially with redundant skill sets, and the paper points out this stuff kills teams' production. 

A practical application of this is an assault on the best player available concept towards the draft. It's fine to draft a player like the one you have now, as long as you move one or the other, or do not play them together. The negative impact the study reveals in redundant players suggests that there's no point in stockpiling at a position if the two players are essentially the same.

A counter to this though lies in a confounding wins vs. production element from the paper:

Most observers would think that a Big 2 from the same group would not fit as well; this is partially contradicted by this analysis. While multi- faceted small forwards who shoot 3’s don’t fit well together (8 - 8, - 4.046), teams with two high scoring 2 - guards (2 - 2, 3.97) have historically over - performed their expected win total, given the team’s overall talent level and coachi ng skill. Digging a bit further into the data, nearly all of the teams with multiple high - scoring 2 guards played at a higher than median pace; although further analysis would be required to state conclusively, this is perhaps instructive on  the style of play that teams with two high - scoring 2 - guards should employ.
So pretty much if you want to stick two gunners on the floor together, that's allright. Some real world examples of this might include the 2011 Hawks which employed lineups featuring Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, and to a certain degree the Nuggets with J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony. The best example featuring a fast team might be the Seven Seconds or Less Suns with Leandro Barbosa and Johnson.

Takeaways: When you're building a team, you need to avoid big men stepping over each other. But you can duplicate shots, if you run in a fast-pace offense. However, you should look before you leap because it turns out small-forwards are pretty important by all accounts.

NBA Chemistry: Positive and Negative Synergies in Basketball

Why is Chris Paul for Deron Williams a mutually beneficial trade? Overall, our SPM ratings rate Chris Paul and Deron Williams nearly the same, but with differences in skills. Paul is a better ballhandler, Williams a slightly better rebounder, and Williams is better at offense and defense.

The SPM framework predicts that Chris Paul is a better fit for Utah because he creates a lot of steals (3.1 steals per 48 minutes (“SP48M”)), while no one else in the New Orleans lineup does (West 1.0 SP48M, Stojakovic 1.1, Chandler 0.7, Butler 0.9). Utah, on the other hand, has many players who create steals (Kirilenko 2.0, Boozer 1.5,  Millsap 1.7, Okur 0.9, Williams 1.4). Because defensive steals has positive synergies in our system, Chris Paul's  ballhawking skills fit better in Utah, where he can team up with others and wreak havoc to opponents' ballhandlers.

Conversely, why would New Orleans trade for Deron Williams? Our framework predicts that Williams is a better offensive fit with New Orleans. There are negative synergies between two good offensive players since they must  share only one ball, and the New Orleans starters take fewer shots than Utah’s. At New Orleans, Deron Williams  would not need to share the ball with so many players.  

Allan Maymin, Philip Maymin, and Eugene Shen presented a doozy of a numbers-fest which took a non-traditional spin on advanced plus-minus. In short, how well does a team do in a specific area like rebounding or turnovers versus their opponent when a player is on the floor versus off. There were some methodology issues in this one as well, but the concept was intriguing. 

The Rub: The get-at here is that player skills are irrelevant if they don't mesh with the team. Their kicker was the Paul-Williams trade concept, which says that both teams would benefit if they made a trade for each other's guard because of who the rest of their teams were. 

The explanation: This goes back to building around a star. In short, you can build good players around a great one but it doesn't matter if those other players' skills aren't complimented by the strengths of your star. We focus a lot on bringing in talent around a player. But bringing in offensive weaponry when your star's biggest impact on other players is defensively is missing the point. It's not about trading the best player, it's about finding the best players to surround them with. 

This seems obvious, but look at how many teams create logjams with their decision-making. For years the Warriors have been a defensive nightmare despite having two guards who both need the ball in the backcourt. The paper also touches on ball-handlers being redundant with one another because there's only one ball to share. The success of dual-point-guard lineups seem to contradict this measure, but in those situations, the players do thrive because one player takes on a scoring role. Understanding role play is crucial to this and it would be great to get coaches' thoughts on these ideas. 
Posted on: February 29, 2012 12:26 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 12:30 pm
 

Melo must change to be great

Will Carmelo Anthony's legacy be more than just that of a pure shooter? (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore
 

Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com writes Wednesday of how Carmelo Anthony has a chance to be special and thus far... simply hasn't. Doyel specifically outlines a fact debated and wrought over constantly when it comes to Anthony, the fact that he is primarily a scorer. In these here blog circles, it's a bit more narrow than that: Melo can best be described as a volume shooter. Scorer's can be efficient, sharp-shooting, bucket-filling maniacs who don't excel at much of anything else, but what they do, they do exceptionally well. Anthony, on the other hand, is going to shoot roughly the same amount from game to game. There are nights when he's going to be brutally efficient. There are nights when he's going to be brutally inefficient. The approach never changes. And that may be the biggest problem of all with Anthony's game.

Doyel talks about the threat of winding up like a pre-Boston Kevin Garnett, what with the high praise and no substantive playoff success outside of a single season. Two thoughts there:

  • The immediate response is to bring up Anthony's Nuggets' 2009 run to the Western Conference Finals. There are a number of things to note in that regard, however. First, the Nuggets' second-round win over the Mavericks was about as tough as a series that short can be, with a crucial non-call on an intentional foul late providing quite a bit of drama in the proceedings. Second, the West that year was paper thin. It was essentially the Lakers and that's it. This isn't to take away from that Denver team, but it needs to be noted. And third, that Denver team was the same as it was for years with Melo; their success was as much due to Anthony's brilliance as it was to George Karl's ability to coach around Anthony's talents. The two things worked side-by-side, they just didn't necessarily work together. It was like "The Nuggets do this, this, and this well, and also Carmelo Anthony is very good." 
  • Doyel mentions that Garnett did everything else in his time in Minnesota, "scored, rebounded, assisted, defended, hustled, led."
And it's that last part that seems particularly relevant as the Knicks continue to try and adjust to life with his nearly entirely new lineup from the start of the season (and without a major trade!). Jeremy Lin, J.R. Smith, Melo, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler. How does Anthony fit? We've talked about some x's and o's, but there are some other questions invovled.

For starters, most volume shooters are that because they are not good at any other particular area. Is Anthony that kind of player? Well, no. He's averaged 6.3 rebounds for his career, with a high of 7.3, very good for a small forward. Anthony can have games where he controls the defensive glass. What about passing? The 2009 Western Conference Finals run from Anthony's Nuggets featured him dishing 4.1 assists per game. He had a 19.8 percent assist rate that season (percentage of team assists), higher than any regular season for Anthony before... this one? We'll come back to that in a minute. And what about defense? There are metrics I could run at you, but let's just say this. 

The Nuggets' most successful season with Anthony, that 2009 run, came when Anthony became a lock down defender for about 30 games. He was simply phenomenal. That may be the most frustrating thing about Anthony, who is widely regarded as a turnstyle defensively. He can be an excellent defender. He can lock up guys, destroy their spacing, ruin their day. He just... doesn't. 

The key for Anthony may be honestly to get as far away from one of his biggest mentors' approaches as possible. Anthony and Kobe Bryant share a kinship in their approach to the game. But Bryant's success in essentially doing things his way 100 percent of the time is nearly impossible to duplicate. Maybe if Anthony had Phil Jackson, it would be easier. But he doesn't. And if he wants to be successful right now, moving away from an intractable approach and towards a dominance in versatility is the best thing for him. He needs to do everything.

There are signs Melo is trying. He worked off ball for much of the first-half against the Heat, making cuts to get to the rim. It was only after the Heat had buried the Knicks (and Lin) with their suffocating defense that Anthony returned to blistering the offensive flow with Isolation sets shallow in the shot clock. His assist rate, as previously mentioned, is the highest of his career at 22.7 percent, over four per game. He's clearly trying to get his teammates involved. He's eighth among small forwards playing 30 minutes or more this season in assist rate. With the kind of talent around him, is that enough? How much can we reasonably expect?

The answer's not in the empirical, it's in the perceptible. The shift needs to continue to be Anthony working to get out of his comfort zone. Bryant has remarked several times about hoping Anthony doesn't shift his approach due to the criticism. Thing is, that criticism isn't (always) unwarranted or about devaluing his elite gifts as a scorer. It's about fit, and flow, and making the Knicks the best they can be. Michael Jordan got to play the way he wanted because he was the greatest of all time. Kobe Bryant has been able to because he's the second greatest shooting guard of all time and he was granted a team specifically built to provide him with the best support possible. Anthony is trying to fit in with a team of good players, and he is not one of the greatest of all time.

Anthony can do something "special" as Doyel describes, but he's got to become versatile, he's got to take the same approach to the other parts of the game that he does to scoring. He's always going to get the ball late with a chance to win. He's always going to get a chance to rise and fire. But for it to matter he has to take on the rest of the things that make up a complete game. 

Anthony can be great, if he chooses to be. Making this Knicks team work isn't easy. When life is hard, you have to change.
Posted on: February 27, 2012 12:05 am
Edited on: February 27, 2012 10:43 am
 

LeBron James wants to 'take back' late turnover

Fourth quarter. LeBron James. Again. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ben Golliver   

ORLANDO -- Another big stage, and another big mistake. This one doesn't really count, but don't try telling LeBron James that. 

The Miami Heat's prodigiously talented forward began Sunday night by dancing during playing introductions, shimmying with a wide smile for a global television audience. He ended it looking away from the camera, struggling both to maintain eye contact and to keep his head up.

That transformation is one we've seen before, and it was brought on by an all too familiar set of circumstances: the ball was in his hands, the game's outcome was in the balance and the fourth quarter clock was ticking towards zero.  Given the opportunity to win or tie the 2012 All-Star Game, James chose to do what he so often did during the 2011 Finals: He passed. Twice. 

With the East trailing the West, 151-149, James handled the ball out of an inbounds play, opting to find New Jersey Nets guard Deron Williams, who popped open on a screen, rather than attack the basket. Wiliams launched a deep three, which rimmed off. After a scramble for the ball, James came up with possession with roughly five seconds remaining, and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant hawking him near midcourt. James took a few dribbles to his right as New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony popped open to the top of the 3-point line, calling for the ball. Instead, James looked off Anthony and attempted to fire a pass through traffic to Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who was cutting in from the left corner.

The pass never had a chance, as Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin stepped over to easily intercept it. The East was forced to foul immediately to stop the clock, and the West went on to win, 152-149.

"I'll get over with it," a dejected looking James said during a post-game interview on TNT. "I can't turn the ball over like that, let my teammates down like that."

Later, in a post-game press conference, a somber James explained what was going through his head on the final possession.

"I seen my teammate open for a split-second, I told him I seen him open the first time and I didn't release the ball," he said. "When I tried to throw it late -- that's what usually happens and it results in a turnover. Definitely wish I could have that one back."

Here's video of James' late turnover in the 2012 All-Star Game via YouTube user nbaus3030 and @Jose3030.


Williams told reporters that he was the "last option" on the designed play out of the timeout. 

"Coach drew up a great play to give me a shot. There were a couple different options, I was the last option. We went through it and we missed our shot." 

East coach Tom Thibodeau, whose Chicago Bulls were eliminated by the Heat during the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, said he considered calling another timeout after the loose ball but opted instead to let one of the league's best play-makers do his thing.

"He made a lot of big plays," Thibodeau said. "He made big shots, great reads. You have a scramble situation and an open floor, and you have a very dynamic scorer and a guy with great vision and good decision-making. You know, you can call a time-out and it allows the defense to get set, or you can trust his ability to make a play. Throughout his career, he's shown that he's capable of making big plays."

Given the overwhelming attention paid to James' late-game passivity against the Dallas Mavericks, how was this sequence of events anything but an absurd self-fulfilling prophecy?

James' reputation for late-game struggles added another chapter, and his turnover provided fuel for his critics while erasing an MVP-caliber performance. He finished with a team-high 36 points plus 7 assists, 6 rebounds and countless highlight reel dunks.  James even shot 3-for-4 in the fourth quarter, including 2 3-pointers, helping the East dig out of a 21-point deficit. Those shots and plays will be lost in another wave of "He doesn't want to be The Man when it matters" shouting. All the game-dominating good things disappeared with his fourth and final turnover of the game.

In a twist sure to intensity the endless "Kobe vs. LeBron, LeBron vs. Kobe" debate, James admitted that Bryant, a 5-time champion who has fashioned a reputation for never being bashful about pulling the trigger in late-game situations, was egging him on to shoot.

"Yeah, he was telling me to shoot it," James said. "You have some of the best competitors out on the floor at the same time. Not only me and Kobe, but D. Wade and [Kevin] Durant and [Anthony] and [Chris Paul] and all the rest of the guys. We all wanted to win, and it came down to the last minute or last seconds."

In those final seconds, James took the loss. And his reaction made it clear, because of the circumstances and the recent history, that he took it harder than you might expect given that it won't show up in the standings. No one -- not even a "King" -- likes to repeat the same mistakes.
Posted on: February 24, 2012 1:39 am
Edited on: February 24, 2012 1:48 am
 

Report Card: Sanity reigns


The Heat&nbsp''s defense swarmed the Knicks on Thursday in a win. (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore 

Each night, Eye on Basketball brings you what you need to know about the games of the NBA. From great performances to terrible clock management the report card evaluates and eviscerates the good, the bad, and the ugly from the night that was.

Notable Games: 
Miami 102 New York 88
Oklahoma City 100 Lakers 85

Heat's Defense Miami trapped on the pick and roll, attacked Jeremy Lin at halfcourt on his dribble, contested at the rim with Joel Athony, and made Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire disappear. Individually they are impressive. Collectively they are dominant.
LeBron James His 7-16 shooting percentage is the only thing keeping him from an A. Because James sets the bar just that high. 20 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals, 2 blocks. That's pretty absurd. His defensive work and ability to run the break and control the pace of the game was complete. Another MVP performance.
Joel Anthony How do you only get six boards as a starting center, score no points and get an A? Five blocks, and constantly limit every single baseline and wing penetration. Anthony was outmatched in terms of talent, as he usually is, and played brilliantly, as he has for most of this season.
Chris Bosh The only member of the Big 3 for Miami with a good shooting night, Bosh just kept plugging filling in baseline jumpers and at one point, shook Tyson Chandler something fierce with a step back jumper. Bosh continues a great season he gets no credit for.
Jeremy Lin Yes, he was tired. Yes, it was one of the best defenses in the league. And yes, everyone gets an off nigh. But Lin must cut down on his turnovers. This is not a usage issue. Four turnovers, five turnovers, sure. Lin had six in the first half, eight total, and that just kills everything New York does well with him. Lin did his best, but the bar has been raised for Lin and he couldn't reach it against the best competition he's had.
Amar'e Stoudemire If anyone sees Amar'e Stoudemire, please let us know. He hasn't been seen since the first half against Miami.
Carmelo Anthony Anthony looked good in the first half, moving the ball and moving without it. Then in the second half he faded, going more and more to isolation, and draining the Knicks offense. He had very little choice as the Knicks offense was drowning itself in a pool of its own vomit. But there's still not a measure of total comfort for Melo.
Miami's point guards Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers took it right to Lin and converted turnovers into points, managed the offense, and hit shots. Cole's aggressiveness continues to impress.
Kobe Bryant Twenty four points on twenty four shots. Kobe System. You're welcome.
James Harden It's not every night you get to beat up Kobe Bryant's shooting percentage, talk trash to him, steal from him and then outrun him in transition, and get the win. Harden was brilliant defensively, which isn't commonplace, Thursday night. Staring down Bryant and not backing down gets bonus points.
Kevin Durant 33 points on 22 shots, 6 assist, 3 steals and just 2 turnovers. The model of efficiency and tough shot after tough shot. You know, same ol' same ol' for KD.
Kendrick Perkins Perkins has not been great at times the past two seasons, but Andrew Bynum brings out the best in him. Perkins made some big plays and played the kind of tough defense he's known for. His follow dunk in the fourth quarter Thursday was a statement late that the game was over.
Pau Gasoly Another game, another disappearing act for the most controversial Laker of this era.
Russell Westbrook Westbrook didn't shoot well. He wasn't creating tons of assists, but he made a lot of plays like the one in the fourth quarter where he beat two Lakers to the ball, corralled it with one hand, kicked the break off blowing past two more Lakers, then dished a perfect laser pass to a cutting Harden for the dunk. Westbrook remains, as always, underrated.


E FOR EFFORT
DeJuan Blair (28 points, 12 rebounds, 0 turnovers)
Andre Miller (20 points on 10 shots, 7 assists, 2 turnovers)
Jannero Pargo (15 points in less than 20 minutes)
Posted on: February 23, 2012 10:41 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 10:49 pm
 

Linsanity meets LeBrontology in Heat win

LeBron James lead the Heat to a win over Jeremy Lin and the Knicks. (Getty Images)
By Matt Moore 

Magic and momentum can take you far in this world. Things happen in sports that defy logic and reason. They happen all the time in the NBA. The 8th seed Warriors with no discernible defense knocking off one of the best regular season teams of the decade in Dallas. The Nuggets toppling the Sonics in the 90's. Sundiata Gaines hitting a game winner. In football, Tim Tebow knocked off the Steelers. It only took injuries to half of Pittsburgh's team to pull it off. Sometimes the story is greater than the facts.

But eventually, there's science. Cold, hard, science.

On Thursday night, Linsanity got a cold dose of LeBrontology, as Miami downed New York 102-88.

It wasn't primarily James doing the damage, it was the Heat's suffocating team defense. It was Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier attacking Jeremy Lin's dribble, it was Wade, Chris Bosh, Chalmers, and Battier on offense. But James was the tip of the spear at both ends, and putting on another MVP performance in a big game setting with 20 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals,, and 2 blocks. Want proof this game mattered to James? 40 minutes, before the All-Star break. He contained Lin, forced him into traps, and the Heat took away Lin's right, then took away his dribble, and always, always, always started the break with one of their athletic wings streaking in for the finish.

It was a blitzkrieg, it was a bum rush, it was a stampede by Miami, and the Knicks were left trampled underfoot.

By the end of the game any hope of Lin turning on one of the furious comebacks he's created this year fell by the wayside, instead the Knicks reverted to B.L. (Before Lin) thinking, with Carmelo Anthony isolating for contested jumpers, the rhythm destroyed for New York. It was an impressive win, but far from a blowout.

The Knicks had things going for them, and in reality, this game represents well where the two teams are. The Knicks are dangerous, now. When Anthony is slashing to the basket, when Amar'e Stoudemire is taking advantage of opportunities, when Tyson Chandler is a force at the rim, and on any other night when Lin is able to create scoring opportunities, the Knicks have what it takes to make a playoff run and run to the second round. That they were over-matched is not indicative of the degree of this team's flaws, less than a week in with this complete roster.

The fact that Miami slammed the door so emphatically in the second half is.

The Big 3 scored 67 points, the bench gave them 27. But it was their game plan that shows what this team can do when it's in gear. The formula is simple. Turn the opponent over, run, run, run it down their throat. Rinse, lather, repeat. There will come a time when the Heat offense again looks pathetic, stagnant, pedestrian. But the Knicks caught them at a time when they are at their very best. This Heat team smothers your possession, dissects your ball movement, then punishes you with their speed and athleticism. I call it the Flying Death Machine for a reason. That New York hung in says a lot about their talent level.

Lin was sloppy, running into defenders, desperate to try and create space, contained on the drive and deterred from his sweet spots. The Heat can talk all they want about not adjusting their game to their opponent, but this was a concerted effort to cut the Knicks' mythological head clean off. With Lin buried, the Knicks offense was fine, for a while, but eventually it caught up. That may be the most impressive piece of the Heat's performance. Amar'e Stoudemire hurt the Heat in the first half. They made him vanish in the second half. The perimeter shooting killed them throughout the game, but eventually the Heat started anticipating the passes. They gave up a lot of size inside, but the bigger the game became, the better Joel Anthony (5 blocks) played.

And there was James, at it all, running and swiping and cutting and shooting. The Knicks were within ten under two-minutes. Lin turnover. Outlet pass. LeBron James emphatic dunk. The end.

Lin will adjust and get better, the Knicks will be fine. But this game showed itself to be another example of what we already knew.

The Miami Heat play above the rim, and a step above everyone else in the NBA right now. They are faster, stronger, better right now. 

It's science.
Posted on: February 23, 2012 4:15 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 4:28 pm
 

Knicks vs. Heat headlines: LeBron vs. Jeremy Lin


By Matt Moore
 

Okay, I'm going to use one pun here for this Knicks-Heat game Thursday night, and then we're going to go through the rest of it without a single one, not even Linsanity. But I have to get this one out there, OK?

This is Nuclear Lin-ter.

The unbelievable story of Jeremy Lin rolls into Miami at 7 p.m. EST Thursday night, and it's not out of this world to say that this is the biggest matchup of the season. The Knicks, 7-2 in the Jeremy Lin era (3-2 in their last five) take on the Heat on a seven-game winning streak, all by double-digits. The unheard-of phenomenon against the superstar monolith. It's David vs. Goliath, only Davis is armed to the teeth this time, with Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, and J.R. Smith. It is the story that's captivated the minds and hearts of the sports world vs. one of the truly most hated, yet incredibly awesome in terms of ability teams in the history of sports.

This is going to be fun.

With that, here are your Knicks vs. Heat Storylines.

A Question of Fit

The superstar teams have not come together seamlessly. There have been hiccups, problems, issues, complications, struggles and downright disasters. Last year's Heat team was a mess of athletic dynamos running into each other at times, and simply standing around ball-watching others. Things are different this season. The Heat have become a much more fluid offense, but there are still times when the hesitation presents itself and the defense can stifle the Heat into looking like four-year-olds playing four-square. Meanwhile, the Knicks were disastrous without Lin. Carmelo Anthony, point forward, was an era that lasted approximately five games before Mike D'Antoni realized that wouldn't work. Is Lin the engine that can make this go? In two games with Anthony back, the Knicks are 1-1. Anthony hasn't put up big numbers, neither has Lin. But the offense has been efficient and balanced. This game is a chance for each side to present its best offering as to how they've come to fit together. The Heat can demonstrate the pieces have assembled into the Flying Death Machine they've been this season. The Knicks can show they have the engine to make the parts work with a legit point guard.

Because if neither team fits well together last night, the other might run away with the game.

Guarding Jeremy Lin

LeBron James has already said he will guard Lin for portions of the evening, and that's no surprise. What will be worth watching is how Lin adjusts. James is a monster perimeter defender because, well, he's the size of a truck and has the lateral quickness to stay with absolutely anyone. Lin, on the other hand, does a terrific job at two things, forcing the split of the double-team (though that's where most of his turnovers come from), and managing that set in terms of when to pass and when to finish. He can force the pass sometimes, but in general he has a good sense of the set.

He's running up against a big problem in James, though. According to Synergy Sports, James forces a turnover on the pick-and-roll ball handler 23.1 percent of the time, which is extremely high. Think of how shooting 45 percent in any set is pretty decent, now imagine out of ten possessions, the player turns it over twice, and hits just three of the remaining shots (James holds those shooters to 40 percent shooting). With Lin's turnovers coming mostly out of the pick-and-roll as ball handler (26 percent of the time in a small sample size), this could be rough. Great defenses like Dallas' have struggled with containing Lin when he splits that double-team, but again, this is Miami. This is really the crux of the battle right here. The Miami shooters can contain the perimeter threats with their rotations, but the biggest offensive set threat happens if Lin gets loose out of that double. That will force the Heat to adjust which opens up things for Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. No pressure, J.

Rivalry Renewed

This isn't going to get the press of the other stars, but does anyone else realize this is Tyson Chandler facing the same Heat team he annihilated in the Finals? Chandler's ability to convert offensive rebounds is going to be key in this game. Likewise, the Heat need to get him in foul trouble early. Chandler can be neutralized which puts capable but not-standout Jared Jeffries in to battle Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem, matchups the Heat would much prefer. Chandler can crush teams if he gets going in the pick and roll or on tap backs. This is the biggest game of Chandler's season to date with the Knicks. He put the Mavericks into the list of champions over this team last year. How he dominates the glass will go a long way into deciding this game.

One-on-One-on-One-on-One

Oddly enough, the same sets which give Miami and New York their worst performances may be necessary tonight. I've railed on the Heat for going Isolation too much as I do with nearly every NBA team, and the rest of the world has done the same to the Knicks, especially Carmelo Anthony. But the Heat's pick-and-roll defense is so good, their rotations so well-executed, that the best answer for them may simply be to let Anthony and Stoudemire do work one-on-one. Getting the Heat away from playing on a string takes away their biggest defensive strength outside of sheer athleticism. And for the Heat, the Knicks' defense is better this year despite having mostly the same players as a terrible one last season. The reason is systemic, not individual, and the best way to answer that is to isolate those poor defenders, Anthony and Stoudemire (and Fields) and try and blow past them.

In short, going hero ball is actually not a bad plan tonight.

The Indescribable

This is one of those moments. You know, the ones that form the tapestry of a season. The Heat are bagged on about not closing out games against elite competition, and Jeremy Lin has been as clutch as it comes in the fourth quarter. Carmelo Anthony has been accused of not being able to fit in an offense. The Heat crowd is typically terrible. Amar'e Stoudemire and Chris Bosh both have their demons. Both teams will blow off this game. It's one game in a regular season going by in a blur. But this game means something. The Lin phenomenon has taken the world by storm. Can it beat the best combination of talent in the NBA? Can the Heat finally step up and answer their critics resoundingly in a key moment?

This one's going to be fun.
Posted on: February 21, 2012 1:19 am
Edited on: February 21, 2012 1:57 am
 

With Melo back in, fit with Lin questions begin.

Carmelo Anthony returned to the Linsanity but the Knicks lost to the Nets. Can they co-exist? (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore 

In a seasony as jam-packed with storylines as this one, you knew it had to happen like this. The Jeremy-Lin-lead Knicks played their first game with Carmelo Anthony back in the lineup after a five-game absence, with Amar'e Stoudemire, Melo, Baron Davis, and J.R. Smith all on the active roster, and of course, they lost. To the Nets. At home. Deron Williams, who was the player victimized when Linsanity started, made it his own personal mission in life to shut down, discourage, and otherwise outshine Lin on his way to 38 points and six assists. You can read more about Williams' vendetta from Ken Berger of CBSSports.com. But of particular interest long-term for the Knicks, Ken Berger spoke with a scout at Madison Square Garden who had this to say about how Melo fits into Mike D'Antoni's system which has flourished with Lin running the show. 
Straight from a scout who has watched Anthony’s career extensively, here are the issues: Anthony and Stoudemire like to operate in the same area of the floor, and that’s something D’Antoni has to figure out regardless of who the point guard is. The way Lin has played for the first 11 games of this run, it will be easier for him to figure out than it was for any of the other point guards the Knicks have tried.

Here’s the other, and perhaps more important issue: Anthony likes to set up and call for the ball in an area that is between the low block and the 3-point line, a little wider than most mid-post isolation scorers want the ball. Anthony has been effective his entire career from that area, because he has so many options from there. But he also takes up a lot of space, thus killing the corner 3-pointer – so crucial to D’Antoni’s style – on that side of the floor, and also crowding out the pick-and-roll and wing penetration. One game is a little soon to call it a failure, though I’m sure that won’t stop it from happening.

“We are not in panic mode,” Lin said. Now, back to the real star of the show.
via Against Lin, D-Will restores sanity - CBSSports.com.

Here's what that scout's talking about, from Anthony's shot chart for 2-point jump-shots this season with New York, courtesy of Pro-Basketball-Reference.com




Melo was just 4-11 Monday night, and there were two big caveats to this performance. His first game back from injury and you know there is going to be rust. Second, the Knicks have so many players who weren't playing together a month ago, there's a huge challenge for them to figure out the offense. For reference, here's what Melo's night from the floor looked like. You can see even in a tiny sample size that extended elbow effect. 





So you can see what the scout was talking about.  If you want an idea of the impact on the corner three, again, in a tiny sample size, or at least an idea of the difference in success for the Knicks when they turn to the corner three versus other options, here's a look at Sunday's shot chart versus the Mavericks. check the corner threes: 


Now observe the chart and corner threes against the Nets: 


Clearly the Knicks didn't produce as many corner three attempts or makes. Whether that's a product of Anthony or not is a complicated question with an unclear answer. But the results in a win and loss and three-point production do lead you in a direction of concern, though not something that can't be resolved easily with more time together for this group of players. 

Maybe most interesting was twice when Melo's penetration lead to buckets for Lin, once on the perimeter and once on a catch-pump-and-drive. So there are signs that this can work between the two. Amar'e Stoudemire looked better in this game, more active and aggressive, though he wound up with as many points as shots for what feels like the 20th time this season (in reality it was his tenth of 27 games). 

If anything Anthony seemed to be trying to make a point by passing, forcing up six turnovers and trying to create for Lin and everyone. Anthony is a scorer, but if he shoots, he'll be criticized. As it stands, he passed, so it's difficult to criticize him for it. It'll take time to figure out where to start from, where to finish, and how to manage Lin as Lin learns to manage him. 

Maybe more concerning than the Knicks' offensive effort were the problems of the Knicks systemically and Lin individually to contain Deron Williams. Williams is an elite player, and it's too much to ask Lin as young as he is to be an elite defender, but that was certainly more to blame than the Knicks' offensive issues. 

New York is a work in progress. The problem is that it takes time to figure out all their new parts and how they figure together. 

As someone famous said, they don't have time.
Posted on: February 19, 2012 12:07 pm
 

Melo out vs. Mavericks, Smith, Baron active

By Matt Moore 

The Knicks announced Sunday morning that Carmelo Anthony will not play vs. the Mavericks at Madison Square Garden. Baron Davis and J.R. Smith will both be active for the first time but are not expected to log heavy minutes, as Davis continues to work into game shape and recover from a back injury and Smith tries to learn the playbook having only gotten back to the United States from China within the past five days. 

Anthony will miss his seventh game with injury. Questions have been raised as to how he and Jeremy Lin will work together in the offense, due to Melo's tendencies towards isolation, versus the success the Knicks have had with Lin in the pick and roll set. Against the Mavericks, Lin will need the same kind of performance he had against the Lakers earlier this month. Lin's coming off of his first loss since gaining heavy minutes in the Knicks rotation. The Mavericks have a world of experience in defending the pick and roll well so it'll be interesting to see what approach they take with Lin and if Lin can recover from a series of poor games in terms of turnovers. If not, the Knicks could be on a losing streak and Linsanity could be fading from the popular consciousness.  

Seeing Smith operate in the offense without any real knowledge of the playbook should be an adventure as well.  
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com