NBA Finals Preview

It took a year for us to get right back where we left off at the end of 2012-13, Heat v. Spurs, the rematch.  Let’s run through the some interesting tidbits about the rematch.  But first a few notes on the losers from last round:

Pacers Can’t Score

Typically, coming pretty close to the NBA Finals but not getting there is either a great thing or a crushing defeat, depending on expectations.  If you told a Pacer fan that the team would get to the Conference Finals and lose to the Heat in six games, you would probably have gotten that as the “worst” acceptable outcome for the season.  Where things change, though, is that the Pacers really hot start raised expectations.  At the end, though, the Pacers are a slow, defense-first team.  The question is whether they can upgrade the offense and keep the formidable defensive system as effective.  The Pacers are designed to be ugly offensively.  There are a quite a few players who looked offensively challenged as Pacers, only to improve once moving on to a more scoring friendly system (see Gerald Green, Darren Collison), while Evan Turner looked terrible in Indiana after playing okay in Philly’s up-tempo system.

Only one Pacer this season had more offensive win shares than defensive win shares (Chris Copeland, 0.6 offensive and 0.4 defensive).  Even noted defensive turnstile Luis Scola had -0.4 offensive win shares and 2.8 defensive win shares.  It will be tough to inject more offense into this team without changing who they are defensively but something probably needs to be done.

How can the roster be changed to upgrade the offense? Aside from Lance Stephenson, the key Pacers are locked into contracts for next year and, depending upon what they do with Stephenson, they need a good draft pick or to trade a key player to change the makeup of the roster.  First let’s start with Stephenson.  He is a great defender and a decent offensive player.  His offensive numbers are average(ish) but it is easy to see how he could put up better numbers in a more offensively inclined system.  On the other side, the Pacers don’t really need more defense now and he has shown to have questionable judgment at times.  (As an aside, Stephenson’s antics with LeBron this year weren’t that big a deal.  They weren’t effective but acceptable enough attempts at gamesmanship.  I was more concerned with the terrible shots he can take and the fact that he tried to trash talk LeBron a few years ago when Stevenson barely played).  Given his youth, a deal under $8 million per year for three or four years is a good deal.  I understand the ambivalence some might feel but Stevenson should probably be back.

The name that might be worth trading is Roy Hibbert.  He is still a really good defender but his offensive game has really declined (career low 13.5 PER this season when he never had previously been lower than 15.9).   For some reason, Hibbert can’t score anymore.   His effective field goal percentage was a career low .440% and he had the fewest dunks of his career (27).  If the Pacers can get a good scoring front court player or a really good point guard for Hibbert, they should consider trading Hibbert and expanding Ian Mahinmi’s role.  This is not to say that Hibbert should be traded but that the idea should at least be on the table.  If the Pacers bring everyone back, they should be good again but the scoring could become a real issue.  Right now, only Paul George and David West are above average scorers.  West, the second best scorer, is going to be 34 and could decline soon.  Combine that possibility with Hibbert’s problems offensively, and there is reason to think that the Pacers might slide a little unless offense is addressed.

OKC Thunder’s Issues

There are a ton of questions coming out of OKC’s loss.

-Does Westbrook shoot too much?

Kind of.  He takes some truly crazy bad shots in crunch time but it doesn’t matter.  Well, it matters but his positives are so great that the shooting issues are relatively minor in comparison.  Westbrook is only 25 and put up a career high 24.7 PER and has shot as well as ever on a percentage basis.  He does need to calm down and the three-point shot is still below average (.318% this year, .280% in playoffs).  If he can inch up to 35%, Westbrook would be almost unstoppable.  Barring injuries, Westbrook should be the best point guard in the NBA soon.  His lack of traditional point skills don’t matter.  No need to overreact about losing to a great Spurs team.

Any help for Westbrook and KD?

The big stat is that of the Spurs series is that the Thunder had no secondary scorers (only 5 Thunder scored in the final game of the season).   This has always been the case though, even when James Harden was around.  Here’s a list of the Thunder top three scorers the last few years:

Season Team PPG Durant PPG Westbrook PPG 3rd Scorer Off Rating
























Since losing Harden in 2012, the Thunder are no less efficient and the third scorers have been about as prodigious.  Yet, it is clear that the Thunder need another reliable option in crunch time of big games.  Not a superstar per se but someone who can create a shot in a pinch.  Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson are both potential in-house solutions.  Even if one (or both) develop, OKC should also look outward.  A stretch forward would provide a nice contrast to the plodding Kendrick Perkins.

-Should OKC be disappointed with 2013-14?  Is the window closing?

Certainly, OKC was the favorite coming into the season but lost to a better team.  Yes, windows can close for unforeseen reasons but there is no reason why the Thunder, with two of the five or six best young players in the NBA< shouldn’t be among the best teams in the NBA the next two seasons (at least).


On paper, the Spurs look better.  They have a league best 8.00 SRS and the Heat’s SRS is the lowest since LeBron came to town (4.15).  The Heat, right now, have the lowest SRS of a Finals team since Boston put up 3.37 in 2009-10.  The fact is that Miami looks tired.  We touched on this at the beginning of the season but getting to four straight Finals is really rare and really hard.  At some point, even a talent like LBJ can run out of gas.  On the other hand, LeBron is a transcendent talent.  He used that skill set to help pull out a series the Heat very well could’ve lost last year against San Antonio (the Spurs actually outscored Miami 684 to 679 during the series).  But the teams aren’t quite the same as last season.  The Spurs are better than last year and Miami is worse.

A Study of Finals Rematches

This season we have our first rematch in the Finals since 1997-98.  In the post-Bill Russell Era, there have been six instances of Finals rematches (we exclude the Bill Russell Era because the Celts won pretty much every year, no matter who the played).  Past performance of these post-Bill Russell Finals rematches also favors the Spurs.  Take a look at each rematch:

Bulls/Jazz (1997 and 1998):  Bulls won both times

-Pistons/Lakers (1988 and 1989): Lakers won the first, Pistons won the rematch

-Lakers/Celtics (1984 and 1985):  Celtics won the first, Lakers won the rematch

-SuperSonics/Bullets (1978 and 1979): Bullets won the first, Sonics won the rematch

-Lakers/Knicks (1972 and 1973): Lakers won the first, Knicks won the rematch

Besides Michael Jordan’s Bulls, none of the teams that won in the first match up won the rematch.  Again, this is not ironclad proof that the Spurs are a lock but it is yet another nice indicator.  Basically, barring injury, the Spurs look like the better team with the all evidencing pointing to Tim Duncan getting yet another title.  Prediction:  Spurs win 4-2.


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