A comprehensive guide to the key players in the season's NBA Finals.
Miami is a great scoring team that is especially dominant in the two key areas: near the basket and beyond the 3-point line. Their three main scorers, James, Wade, and Bosh, each excel close to the basket, and each has a decent 2-point jump shot.
Miami’s ability to score so effectively with their attackers — particularly James and Wade — opens up scoring opportunities behind the arc, the kinds of opportunities their offense wasn’t fully taking advantage of until this year. With the addition of Ray Allen, the Heat now decorate the perimeter with terrifying spot-up shooters who are designed to punish defenses anytime they help off the corners or wings. With LeBron at the controls, and Battier and Allen along the edges, the 2013 Miami Heat are potentially the best drive-and-dish team of all time.
As a scorer, he’s constantly improving, and this season he’s become a much better jump shooter. He’s become elite around the elbows, adding a new pull-up wrinkle to his scoring portfolio. He remains a beast near the basket, where, incredibly, he led the league in both points and field goal percentage this season. Nobody scored more points close to the basket this year than James, who made 459 baskets inside 7.5 feet this season, narrowly outpacing Dwight Howard, who ended up with 453.
Dwyane Wade can’t shoot, or so conventional thinking goes. However, I disagree and assert that Wade is still a decent midrange threat. It is true that he can’t really shoot 3s, which is very strange for an elite shooting guard, but he’s an above+average scorer inside the arc. He’s especially great close to the basket. When he's healthy, he can score and draw fouls better than just about any other guard in the NBA.
Chris Bosh remains misunderstood. He’s great near the basket, and he’s an elite midrange threat. He’s as good as, if not better than, Garnett and Duncan at those elbow jumpers. Given his size, his ability to hit long 2-point shots creates spacing and matchup nightmares for opponents. His Hall of Fame application will include lots of footage of him draining 18-footers from the right elbow, but this shot is also very important because it forces opposing bigs to clear out of the paint, giving Wade and James corridors to attack the basket.
When the Heat acquired Ray Allen from Boston, it seemed unfair. As if Miami needed another Hall of Fame scoring weapon. Allen provided Miami with a new means to space the floor on offense, opening up lanes for Wade and James. He remains one of the best corner-3 shooters in the league, and is particularly great from the left side, where he made almost 49 percent of his shots this year.
Shane Battier remains a cult hero to some. But as an offensive player his ability to catch, shoot, and make 3-point shots for Miami has been extremely valuable this year. In fact, no player in the league scored more points from the corners. Although Battier deserves a huge amount of credit for this, it’s also telling that 100 percent of his corner 3s were assisted, indicating that his teammates, and his coaches’ schemes, are also deserving of some of that credit too.
Chalmers is an underrated 3-point threat. This season he was especially potent from the right corner and the right wing, where he also hit one of the most famous shots in NCAA tournament history. Like Battier, Mario hardly ever shoots midrange jumpers.
If I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember Chris Andersen? If so, it won’t be because of his jump shot, which does not exist. Birdman’s best shots are putbacks and alley-oops. He’s been highly valuable to this team in part because of his ferocious energy in the restricted area, which manifests in key rebounds and the occasional fight with a Hansbrough.
If Norris Cole’s jumper were as great as his hair, the Heat would have easily swept the Pacers. But it’s not, and although he’s a serviceable point guard, his inability to score points would likely stick out on most any other team. However, Miami doesn't need points from Cole. He’s a decent perimeter defender, and could prove very useful in that role against Tony Parker.
I love Udonis Haslem. He gives the Heat some toughness, and also provides them with some continuity: He’s spent his entire career with the Heat, and he grew up in Miami. As a scorer, he’s kind of a poor man’s Bosh who can hit long 2s and keep opposing bigs out of the way of James and Wade.
After the Pacers successfully removed the Battier option from the Heat offense, Miami turned to Mike Miller, who made a couple of big shots in the Eastern Conference finals. Miller is one of those shooters, like Jodie Meeks, who seems to prefer the wing 3 to the corner 3. Miller may have just enough left in the tank to make a couple more big shots this series.
The San Antonio Spurs run the prettiest offense in the NBA. As Tony Parker bounces off a dizzying array of screens, his teammates are constantly moving and cutting, and Parker always seems to find an open shooter. It helps that they have one of the best bigs in NBA history on their team, too.
As a team, the Spurs are famous for the pick-and-roll, Duncan’s elbow and bank shots, Parker’s midrange shots, and their own batch of terrifying spot-up shooters. Despite having guys like Matt Bonner, Kawhi Leonard, and Manu Ginobili, no Spurs player made more of an impact beyond the arc this season than Danny Green, who led the team in points from each area behind the line.
As a scorer, Parker is one of the best midrange shooters in the NBA, and his abilities to make both elbow jumpers and perhaps the prettiest floater in the league are his core competencies. Parker rarely takes 3s, but when he does, he prefers them in the corners.
So far during the postseason, Duncan has averaged 18 points per game, despite facing some of the league’s best interior defenders, including Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol. The Heat offer no similar challenges to Duncan. Duncan has a beautifully asymmetric shot chart, which doesn’t seemed to have changed for about 10 years. He’s obviously great near the basket, but his signature shots come from the left elbow and near the left block.
Manu Ginobili should go down as one of the pioneers of “video game” shooting. He loves 3s and layups, but nothing in between; as a lefty attack guard, he was James Harden before James Harden was James Harden. Although he is older and more delicate now, Manu still fearlessly careens into the lane to score, get fouled, or flop.
Before the playoffs started, Chris Ryan asked me to name two players to watch during the playoffs. I said J.R. Smith, who flamed out against the Pacers (just like Dwyane Wade, by the way — the Pacers have a way of making scoring guards look terrible), and Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has been the third-leading scorer for the Spurs, behind Parker and Duncan. He is a very good corner man, but he also has the ability to attack the basket. He loves to pump-fake a closing defender, then blow by him toward the basket for a dunk or layup.
In a few short years, Danny Green has gone from unemployed to starting shooting guard in the NBA Finals. He’s a great example of how the Spurs can develop talent better than any team in the league. Green is the Spurs' most important perimeter weapon, and he can shoot very well almost everywhere beyond the arc.
More evidence of the Spurs' remarkable player-development system: Splitter's free throw percentage has surged from 54 percent to 73 percent in just two years. Zach Lowe suggested that Splitter's development was designed in part to ensure the Spurs could compete against larger and more physical teams like Memphis. It looks like that plan worked out pretty well.
Gary Neal gives the Spurs some decent shooting off the bench. He’s not spectacular by any means, but he can slide into the offense and generate points at a very adequate rate. Many teams, like Indiana, for example, would love to have a backup guard capable of playing either the point or the 2 and can run the pick-and-roll as well as Neal.
Matt Bonner is the pride of Concord, New Hampshire. Every 33-year-old basketball player from the Granite State has some story about the time that Bonner came through their town and torched their team and seduced all their women. Or something to that effect. Bonner is obviously a great shooter, but his playoff legacy this season will probably be playing some surprisingly solid defense on Dwight Howard.
Boris Diaw may have taken the greatest pleasure of all the Spurs when it came to sweeping the Grizzlies. I’m not sure if he read John Hollinger’s analysis of his game, but if he did, I’m sure he didn’t like this part: “Given his solid rep and career numbers in this area, one suspects he'll remain a quality defender as long as he lays off the pastries.” Now who’s eating pastries, John?
Enjoy the Finals, everybody!