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Does Miami’s championship prove that any system can work with the best talent?

Sep 22, 2012, 5:00 PM EDT

Miami Heat player LeBron James hoists the championship trophy as team mate Dwyane Wade looks on stage at a rally in Miami, Florida Reuters

This is something I just kind of stumbled on this morning while reading a post from earlier this month about how Pat Riley said about how smallball is “who (the Heat) are, now.”

I, and others have written a lot about how the Heat’s lineup to finish the season, with Chris Bosh playing a combination 4/5 and LeBron James playing a combination 1/3/4/5 was indicative of how the league has developed more and more into a smallball league. And we’re seeing several teams this season playing faster and smaller. Boston was already playing Kevin Garnett at the 5 last year, Denver is talking about Danilo Gallinari at the 4, The Mavericks will likely have lineups with Dirk Nowitzki and Elton Brand as their 4-5 combo, and the Knicks have made noise about reserve lineups featuring Amar’e Stoudemire at the 5 and Carmelo Anthony at the 4.

Do the Heat represent some sort of illustration of how the league has shifted?

Maybe the better question is if Miami is a great example of how what matters is talent, and how that can make any system, even smallball, work.

The common joke response to “what did Miami do to make smallball work?” is “Have LeBron James” and while that can get annoying after a while, ignoring everything that Erik Spoelstra and company put into the structure of the offense, it does present a bigger part of the puzzle. James enables the Heat to be able to have success with his system. And while they may not have had success with the Triangle, or Princeton offense, or Seven Seconds or Less, they have made this one work, despite its limitations, because of the strength of their roster. Not every system would (or did) work for the Heat. See: 2011. But this one does.

And it opens up the idea that perhaps the secret to these super-teams lies in unconventional answers to traditional questions, even if they rely on some key cliches long-term. The Heat are still a defensive team first. The Nuggets brought in Iguodala to improve their defense. But the idea that speed can’t be successful when the playoffs come is being proven wrong with the caveat that you need to wreak havoc with stops and turnovers on defense first.

There’s not a great chance of success for teams who are not Miami to win with smallball. But in the long-term future of the NBA, it does show that if you get the right pieces, you can win it all with the kind of play that so often gets disregarded as “not playoff basketball.”

  1. michaeljordanseviltwin - Sep 22, 2012 at 5:43 PM

    Knicks with Amare at the 4? So the only two guys who play defense (Tyson Chandler & Camby) would be on the bench? Great idea.

    • sellahh - Sep 23, 2012 at 7:12 AM

      You obviously mean Amar’e at the 5 because he’s actually a 4, sir.
      But you’re just following cliches while the Knicks were actually a good defensive team last year, some of that has obviously was Chandler’s great impact but learn the basics.

      • sellahh - Sep 23, 2012 at 7:13 AM

        And how this post goes 18-1 is beyond me. You guys obviously either don’t watch basketball or read this site after Saturday night’s fever.

      • borderline1988 - Sep 23, 2012 at 6:57 PM

        Was all Chandler. Sorry, but I’m not giving any credit to Amare.

        Chandler has the same impact on a defense as Dwight Howard does for Orlando. Orlando was a top 3 defensive team in 2009, and believe me, it wasn’t b/c of Turkoglu or Rashard Lewis.

      • michaeljordanseviltwin - Oct 1, 2012 at 5:30 PM

        Indeed I meant to say Amare at the 5, typo.

        I recently looked up the Knicks defensive efficiency and was shocked to learn that they were fifth in points per possession. NYK finished 21st the previous season so I’ll give some credit to Woodson but most to Tyson Chandler. As far as their future lineups; I’d stick with Amare at the 4 and Carmelo at the 3/4, leaving Chandler or Camby on the floor at all times to clean up their messes on D.

  2. mikeewright7 - Sep 22, 2012 at 5:44 PM

    Im so tired of PBT writers making it seem like Miami started this small ball crap,
    They took a page out of Boston Celtics book, The Celtics started it when KG (who is a PF) started at the 5 and Miami and whoever else
    followed that trend!

    • michaeljordanseviltwin - Sep 22, 2012 at 5:56 PM

      Ever heard of Don Nelson? Small ball has been around for a long time, fella.

      • mikeewright7 - Sep 22, 2012 at 6:18 PM

        I dont mean in general, like first ever, im saying as far as last season Bosh didnt go to the 5 until after KG was being the 5….Every PBT report makes it seem like boston and other teams are following that trend when its the other way around….

    • miamatt - Sep 22, 2012 at 8:31 PM

      I don’t know what part of this article states or implies that Miami started this “small ball crap”. The reality is Miami really figured out who they were after Bosh went down and they put Battier in the starting lineup alongside James in sort of “combo forward” roles. When Bosh came back it was clear that Battier needed to start and that left the 5 as Bosh’s logical role on this team.

      The reason the article focuses on Miami is that they actually WON A CHAMPIONSHIP with this approach as opposed to teams like the Celtics whom… didn’t. The point is that using a system that maximizes your talent is the key, rather than playing it safe by relying on cliched solutions. Traditional solutions led Miami to have guys like Ilgauskas and Dampier getting minutes in the playoffs two years ago, for gawd’s sake.

      Besides the fact that it is ludicrous for YOU to imply that the CELTICS invented small ball, it’s not like Bosh never played the 5 for the Heat before. It’s just that after he missed time with injury it was obvious that the most important thing was for Miami to put their best players on the court, regardless of what their respective “ideal positions” were.

      I can understand you being frustrated, though. After all, since Miami came into the league in ’88 they have been to more finals and won more championships than the Celtics. And that gap is going to get a lot wider before it gets narrower.

      • sellahh - Sep 23, 2012 at 7:16 AM

        I agree sir. To an extent, because i dont like your statement ‘miami figured out who they were’. It’s true, really… but what Miami really figured out to me that basketball is a 5on5 game and even LeBron James himself cannot make up for the likes of Big Z, Pittman, Juwan Howard or Dampier. They simply put up their best 5 on the court and that’s why they won, to me.
        And give this LBJ guy some credit, you’re acting like it’s all some ‘smallball system’ where in reality LBJ carried this team with his all-around, 1-5 ability.

      • miamatt - Sep 23, 2012 at 11:03 AM

        I like how concisely you were able to state your point, @sellah. Indeed, it really comes down to play your best five and make whatever strategic adjustments are necessary to make it work. And yes, it was as much about this LBJ guy taking his play to an historic level as anything else. It is a bit revisionist and overanalytical to get read too much into any one team’s championship(s). It pretty much always comes down to the most talented team that stays healthy, has some luck go their way, and playing their best basketball when it counts.

    • michaeljordanseviltwin - Oct 1, 2012 at 5:33 PM

      True the Celtics realized first that they created problems with KG at the 5 while Miami only committed to small ball in the Finals when Bosh got healthy but Battier was playing well as a starter. The Heat are now committing to the smaller lineups while Boston drafted a couple big guys… so they may have KG back at the 4.

  3. eugenesaxe - Sep 22, 2012 at 8:42 PM

    It proves one system can work when you have one of the best players ever using it.
    Seriously, are you guys outsourcing this weekend’s articles to the basketball-ignorant or something?

  4. proballerslounge - Sep 22, 2012 at 9:37 PM

    Dwight Howard and Lebron

  5. mojosmagic - Sep 22, 2012 at 11:02 PM

    It proves that talent trumps coaching.

  6. tcclark - Sep 23, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    The Sixers have been playing smallball for years, to make up for a lack of talent and size (thanks again Billy King for drafting 37 wings who can’t shoot). This isn’t a new thing. Teams have been able to win with Smallball. What I’m wondering is why so many other teams are moving toward this, as if the Heat won because of smallball and not because they have three of the best players in the NBA.

    This i sthe trend now though, and I’m just Thankful that my Sixers continue to buck the trend. Now that everyone’s going small, they would lose their speed advantage, so now they’re going big. It’ll be interesting to see how these smallball teams play against the Sixers when they have Evan Turner playing the point and the shortest guy on the floor for them is 6’7. How will Bosh and Lebron at the 4 and 5 play against two 7 footers in Bynum and Hawes?

  7. jimeejohnson - Sep 23, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    The Heat’s performance, and especially LeBron’s, was just too much for the Western Conference champ, the OKC Thunder. The only team to threaten the Heat’s run was the Celtics, thanks to a combination of talent and great coaching. Miami’s sweep of OKC was completely unexpected, but if the Thunder get back to the finals, expect them to play a lot better than they did in their first crack at a title. Durant is unbelievable, but LeBron IS the greatest basketball player in the world.

    PS: not a Heat fan, but certainly respect and admire them.

  8. manchestermiracle - Sep 23, 2012 at 12:36 PM

    All it really shows is that no system is successful without talent.

  9. deiong - Sep 23, 2012 at 8:27 PM

    only thing it proved is that the nba is now scripted even more so then before by sternie boy. move over wrestlilng here comes the paper champions of scripted basketball..

    • paleihe - Sep 24, 2012 at 11:26 AM

      Ohh, conspiracy theory. Please, let me know exactly how “sternie boy” scripted the Heat as the champions.

      And why didn’t he script it the first year? Is it because he didn’t want it to look scripted, so he intentionally forced the Head to lose the first year? Or did he want the Mavs to win it?

      This is just so intriguing!

      • deiong - Sep 24, 2012 at 6:44 PM

        he thought they could win it themselves, but they were unable to. so yea thanks :)

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