How the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are Mirror Images
After all the drama of the 2013-2014 season, here we are. We witnessed perhaps the greatest first round in the history of the game, listened to perhaps the weirdest conversation from an owner we've ever heard, and watched the up-and-down nature of perhaps the weirdest team we've ever seen.
Through all of that mud, we now have clarity. We have the two best teams left.
In a rematch of last year's NBA Finals, it's interesting how similar these two organizations are - both on the court and in regards to roster construction. Sure, these teams benefit from having LeBron James and Tim Duncan, two top 10 players of all time. But when you're facing squads as good as the Thunder and Pacers (debatable how good they were), small things make the difference between going home and moving on. And these two organizations definitely do the small things right.
Although the Houston Rockets and Daryl Morey get a lot of publicity for embracing advanced stats - most notably, the eradication of the mid-range game in favor of three-pointers - the Spurs and Heat have been one step ahead for a couple of years.
Both Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra have been ahead of the curve in terms of the corner three and small-ball lineups. They are both brilliant in adapting to matchups, which is what the playoffs are all about, and adjusting their personnel and rotations to match the need.
For example, Spoelstra rarely used Rashard Lewis during the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs, but gave him significant run when the matchup dictated it during the Eastern Conference Finals against the big Pacers. Likewise, Popovich isn't afraid to use even the deepest parts of his bench, and that's one of the reasons the Spurs had the best record in the league this year despite no player getting more than 30 minutes a game.
From a statistical standpoint, they are the two best shooting teams in the league this year. That was also the case last year.
They're ranked first and second in the league in terms of FG%, eFG%, and TS%. As you would expect, both teams minimize mid-range jumpers - Miami scores 14.9% of their points from the mid-range, while San Antonio scores 17.2% from that area. While they don't jack up threes as much as the Rockets or Hawks (those teams shoot over 30% of their shots from behind the arc), they are both very efficient in that area.
The Spurs lead the league in three-point field goal percentage at 39.7%, and the Heat are at 36.4%. That's definitely a sizable difference, but the Heat's "on button" hit during the playoffs means better shooting. They have increased that 36.4% up to 39.5% - just ahead of the Spurs at 39.2% - during this playoff run.
Another thing that makes the Heat and Spurs stand out from the rest? Ball movement. When these two teams are on their top offensive game, it's the prettiest basketball you'll see. The ball zips around the perimeter while the defense scrambles until bam, Danny Green or Ray Allen nail a wide open three. Poetry in motion.
So you won't be surprised to know that these efficient three-pointers that the Spurs and Heat maximize are highly assisted. A whopping 86.4% of Miami's three-pointers during this playoff run have been assisted, and that's consistent with their 88.0% number from the regular season. San Antonio is right there as well with a 87.2% regular season and 84.5% playoff mark. These teams share the ball and devastate defenses in the process.
Having such effective, similar game plans and goals is easier when you have players uniquely created to fit their roles. Danny Green went from out the the league to starting for a championship-caliber squad. Rashard Lewis was "washed up" until the last round, and Norris Cole showed true value with solid point guard minutes and defense against the Pacers as well. In fact, the characters are pretty similar all around for these teams.
If we were casting a movie about this series, we interestingly have all the same characters on either side.
Coming soon, to a bar near you, the NBA Finals. Starring the following doppelgangers...
LeBron James = Gregg Popovich (the all-time genius)
Dwyane Wade = Tim Duncan (the franchise-changing veteran)
Chris Bosh = Tony Parker (the underrated Hall of Famer)
Erik Spoelstra = Kawhi Leonard (the brilliant prodigy)
Ray Allen = Manu Ginobili (the clutch sixth man)
I could even go on and talk about how the Birdman and Tiago Splitter are similar and how Danny Green is some combination of Shane Battier and Norris Cole. But you get my point. The pieces are all the same, they're just spread out a bit differently.
Both LeBron and Popovich are competing to be considered the best ever at their respective jobs, and ironically enough, are competing against former Bulls. LeBron will always have to live up to the Michael Jordan legacy, while Popovich will be considered in context with Phil Jackson and his 11 championships.
The Spurs were the dynasty of the 2000s, and the Heat are the reigning dynasty of the 2010s. It remains to be seen how much longer this rivalry will exist in its current form - Popovich and Duncan might be a title away from retirement - but let's enjoy it while it lasts. These have been the best teams for several years, and we had an epic seven-game series last year, including maybe the most clutch shot ever, courtesy of Jesus Shuttlesworth. I would expect nothing less starting Thursday.