2013 NBA Finals: What the New York Knicks Can Learn From Miami, San Antonio
5 Lessons From the Heat and Spurs
Self-help books are as popular as ever, and everyone and their grandmothers are publishing guides to help people experience everything from enduring happiness to financial security, and if you read and digest this material slowly, maybe you too can experience the power of right now.
Either way, there should be an NBA equivalent to this publishing phenomenon: self-help guides for under performing clubs that hope to hoist the championship trophy one day. The San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat, this year’s NBA Finals teams, possess particular characteristics that could prove instructive to underwhelming clubs like the New York Knicks, who haven’t been to the NBA Finals since 1999. And when the Knicks last won in 1973, rock band Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon and the average price for a gallon of gas was 39 cents.
In other words, it’s been a long, long time. There are NBA clubs that are probably worse off, like the Charlotte Bobcats, Phoenix Suns or Sacramento Kings. Yet, because the Knicks are one of NBA’s flagship franchises, their playoff futility has been magnified a thousand fold. And Knicks fans are self-absorbed, anyway. If our team is performing badly, the sky is falling. And right now, in the aftermath of a second-round flame out, the sky is indeed falling.
So, in service to these manic, delusional yet lovable Knicks fans, here are five attributes of highly effective NBA clubs that call the cities of San Antonio and Miami home. Perhaps this advice can help New York win games and influence non believers.
Tacuma R. Roeback is a New York Knicks writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TacumaRoe, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google+
Knicks Need Thugs
The Heat are in the Finals thanks to LeBron James. But two of the Heat’s steeliest, craziest ball players also deserve credit for the team’s presence in the Finals: Chris Andersen (B.K.A. Birdman) and Udonis Haslem. The former NBA’s unofficial league leader in tattoos, can rebound, finish around the rim and crumple opposing forwards with a shoulder if need be. Plus, he looks like a refugee from Burning Man; the latter is the quintessential tough guy who possesses a withering glare and is rarely challenged by opposing teams. Haslem is a surprise, providing solid interior defense and has a steady 15-foot jump shot that stuns opposing big men like an uppercut to the jaw.
Those two guys were the intimidators that effectively deflated the Pacers and their resident wild boys Lance Stephenson and Tyler Hansbrough. Sure, the Knicks have J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin. But Smith isn’t on-the-court crazy, meaning he’ll do any and everything to gut punch his opponent and step on their throats. Martin, who is probably the roughest cat on the Knicks roster, was stretched thin by having to make up for his team’s lack of toughness on the interior.
Clearly, the Knicks should take note. They should consider importing a noted NBA bad boy via free-agency who has an edge to his game like a Matt Barnes or a Tony Allen. In all seriousness, every successful NBA team needs a thug, who can physically impose his will on the opponent or at least make them think he’s two tons of crazy. See Dennis Rodman and the Chicago Bulls (circa 1996-98) for reference purposes.
Strict Adherence to Hierarchy
Both the Heat and the Spurs have clearly defined hierarchies. These systems dictate the way each team executes offensively. The Knicks would do well to emulate aspects of both. It’s no coincidence that the Heat and the Spurs were one and three, respectively, in team field goal percentage during the regular season. Both finished in the top 10 in the offensive rating category and top five in average margin of victory.
Precision and efficacy are two adjectives to describe the Spurs and Heat. Tony Parker is the alpha dog because age and wear have rendered Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili as secondary options. While a combination of age, wear and priority have rendered Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the second and third options behind James. Unless James and Parker are off the court, both teams hardly deviate from that hierarchy.
Against the Pacers in the second round, the Knicks often lacked clarity on offense. Perhaps that was due to the presence of 7’2” center Roy Hibbert clogging the paint. The Knicks settled for jump shots, especially Anthony and J.R. Smith. The bad shot selection stifled the Knicks offensively. And it doesn’t help that when Smith and Anthony had the ball, the offense stalled. Even if lead players are at the top of the hierarchy, they must help their teams optimize each offensive possession. Anthony and Smith don’t do enough to involve their team in the offense. The Spurs and the Heat do and their offenses thrive because of the established hierarchy.
The Knicks can only win by playing small – two point guards in the backcourt, a 6’5” shooting guard at small forward and a 6’8” small forward playing power forward. What defines a championship club is its ability to play a variety of styles. Both the Spurs and the Heat are varied. While the Heat rely on creating turnovers to fuel their transition offense, they can win if they have to deviate from that style of play. The Heat like to play small, but it had to trot out a bigger lineup at times to bang with the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, which the Heat eventually won.
The screening Spurs are the same, having the ability to play big or small. They are especially adept at playing at a variety of tempos because of Parker, a virtuoso at pushing the pace.
The Knicks mostly excel in one style: a half-court game that relies on ball movement and three-point shooting. This is a good philosophy for the NCAA March Madness Tournament and its one and done format, where a hot shooting team can gun its way to the championship. It’s a bad fit for the NBA playoffs’ best of seven format; it’s hard to rely on a three-pointer to win the four games it takes to advance in a playoff round. Plus, opponents have the time to make adjustments and attack what teams like to do. As the Knicks look to cement their roster for the long term, they should look to implement players who have attributes that can enhance their roster. It will lend them schematic diversity, allowing them to implement a malleable offensive attack that can thrive under a variety of conditions.
Players Good At More than One Thing
The Spurs and the Heat boast stars and role players who are solid in multiple areas. James is the primary example, being the basketball hyphenate that he is, excelling in scoring, passing, jump shooting and rebounding. Lately, he has added a post game to his repertoire, which makes him the Swiss Army knife of basketballers, in that he boasts a bevy of tools.
Parker is varied in that he possesses a peerless ability to penetrate and finish in traffic. He is also an adept playmaker and defender. Duncan is a solid interior defender and scorer who has a decent mid-range jumpshot. Ginobili is a proficient shooter, penetrator and passer. Chris Bosh is a reliable mid-range shooter and finisher.
While, Knicks forward Anthony possesses one primary tool: scoring. Anthony is an average rebounder, below average passer and a subpar defender. Granted, he is a master scorer and is arguably the best scorer in the league. But when his shots weren’t falling with regularity, as in the Pacers series, he did not have another tool he could rely on to help his team.
What if Anthony was more adept at finishing around the basket and setting up his teammates for open shots? What if Smith utilized his ability to create in order to set up his teammates instead of himself? Also, what if center Tyson Chandler had a legitimate face up game and/or a reliable mid-range jumper in addition to being able to finish off pick and roll plays? It would’ve made life a lot harder for the Pacers. But alas, that moment has passed. Now, they are stuck watching the Finals on television like the rest of us. And while they’re watching, the Knicks should take some notes.
For Spurs And Heat, Fundamentals Prevail
What the Knicks see in these Finals are teams that are grounded in the fundamentals of basketball. The Heat and the Spurs play solid defense and disciplined offense. The Spurs Head Coach Greg Popovich is notorious for stressing the fundamentals. The Spurs are a traveling basketball clinic. They make their free throws, shoot three-pointers at a high percentage, and create turnovers. The Knicks can learn a thing or two from the Spurs, particularly in the way they play defense and rebound, the two most critical areas of team efficacy.
Championship teams play meat and potatoes basketball rather than relying on gimmickry. The Knicks have a myriad of shooters who can knock down long range shots, but against the Pacers, they needed guys to be better interior defenders and rebounders, traits that are the calling cards for championship clubs. It’s really a broken record, but the NBA Finals are reserved for those clubs that adhere to fundamental basketball principles. This series is no different. Let’s hope the Knicks' brass, their players and fans are watching.