Some of you may have noticed I was fairly off in my predictions for the Conference finals. If you didn't read that piece, do you remember which teams lost the series while only winning 1 game apiece? Those are the teams I picked to win.
One of my more egregious mistakes was in saying that the Thunder could bother Nowitzki and shut everyone else down on the Mavericks with their athleticism and ability to contest 3 pt. jumpers. 30 points from Nowitzki would not be enough to guarantee Dallas success, I wrote.
Well, if a guy scores 30 points on 15 shots or less, that kind of efficiency is going to murder you. Especially if it takes place in the 4rth quarter after 3 quarters of competitive play. The Mavericks team defense and firm team-ball offensive identity made them miles more assertive and confident than the Thunder in the 4rth quarter and that's how all those comeback victories were managed.
Identity is one of remaining obstacles for this OKC team before they can ascend to the level of NBA Champions and it starts with Durant. The Durantula does not yet understand how he can truly excel in this game.
He has one of the highest standing reaches in the game, can finish around the rim, makes his free throws, and can nail catch and shoot jump shots from anywhere on the court. Somehow he has concluded that his best offense comes from trying to take guys off the dribble from the perimeter and then setting for pull-up jumpers.
Even the best shooters don't make a high percentage of those shots and they do not often result in free throw shots. Derrick Rose did the same thing to a far greater extent and ruined the Bulls shooting less than 30% in the final 2 games while taking nearly 60 shots and maybe 15 free throws.
Kobe Bryant seems to have taught the rest of the league that the way to become a successful offensive player is to master the shot that everyone wants you to take and it is a recipe for low-scoring and boring basketball.
Durant should be finishing plays like Ray Allen, catching the ball off curls and screens and then shooting. He needs to take Dirk Nowitzki-high post game 101 this summer and learn how his face-up jumper and length can result in efficient offense. Watching him continue to attempt to take faster players off the dribble rather than backing them down and burying them with high-percentage shots and free throws is going to drive me crazy. This, along with some growth from young Westbrook, would take the Thunder to the next level.
Now Dirk and Lebron have a lot at stake for them in what story our modern mythwriters are going to tell about them. For Dirk, his status as a top 15 player of all time seems to be in question while Lebron is expected to win multiple titles with Wade to be considered a serious challenger to Jordan.
For those of us who can consider these matters untarnished by winning bias, there are different considerations for these two superstars in this very appealing finals matchup.
Dirk Nowizki, for a 7 footer, is an unspectacular rebounder and defender. In two of the departments in which you would expect an athlete with such physical advantages to excel he offers maybe average production. That said, he may be the most efficient scorer of his time and amongst the all-time greats. His ability to score in the high post is unmatched by anyone else in the game right now and when paired with his 3 pt. shooting, free throw percentage, and passing ability it makes him the most terrifying offensive option in the league.
Lebron James has a chance to make his case now as one of the 3 greatest players of all time, if he can guard Dirk as he did with Rose late in games, and stop the German. The King's ability to defend perimeter scorers, make weakside blocks, and ruin fast-break offense is an underrated element of his game. On that end of the court, he is maximizing the possibilities of his phenomenal athletic advantages.
I think he could stand to develop a high-post game as well, although at least his drives get him to the free throw line, but should he demolish Dirk after exposing the MVP that would make for a legendary playoff run.
As for this series, don't forget Jason Kidd, who has dominated games without scoring a lot, and Tyson Chandler who will be the strongest inside presence the finals. On the other side, the contributions of Haslem and Mike Miller push the Heat over the top into a massive juggernaut when they play well. Their health and success in this series should make for a Heat victory. Otherwise, it's anybody's game.
Crack-baby Athletic Association:
Great preview of the the Aggies that Sailor already linked, beating them is going to be a tall order and it's probably best for your enjoyment of next season if you pencil in that game and the RRS as losses. Not to say we couldn't win either, but if you count on it...
What terrified me in that article was that Aggies didn't mount a particularly effective pass-rush last season. What? You could read that in 3 ways: One, that without Von Miller they will be totally inept at getting to the quarterback. Two, that their growth as a young defense in the 3-4 already had to overcome a weak rush anyways so losing him doesn't sting. Three, Von Miller wasn't that great.
I'm going to go ahead and reject number three and postulate that if Miller's seasonal impact wasn't what you would expect that this is only because he was injured early in the season. Given that the Aggies do have some young talent coming up on the DL and at OLB I'm leaning towards number 2; the Aggies are going to grow a lot on defense this year and will no longer require Miller to cover up their lack of playmaking talent in getting to the QB.
While the Aggies offensive improvement is truly disgusting to me, what really concerns me is the prospects of long-term defensive ascendancy under DeyRuter. We need someone to snatch him up as soon as possible. A Big 12 in which we combat OU AND A&M for defensive supremacy is a dark world in which I would rather not fumble for light. Pray that we keep winning recruiting battles for the likes of Malcolm Brown because the defensive line gap is one of the major factors in keeping our Cold War with OU a 2-superpower contest.
Who will save my little boy? From Oppenheimer's deadly toy?...What may save us me and you is if the Russians love their children too..