Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, May 5, 2017 at 9:00 AM
We’ve been talking to you here in JIM HURLEY’S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK pretty much since the internet was invented. And, one of our themes in terms of picking basketball winners during the postseason has always been “defense and rebounding wins championships.”
We told you that in the 1990’s…in the 2000’s…and every year up until this year. And, it was TRUE! Even the teams with great offensive weapons generally won championships (in both college and pro hoops) because they thrived defensively and on the glass as well as having a star scorer (or two). You couldn’t go the distance with a mediocre or worse defense. You had to shoot lights out to win if you couldn’t grab many rebounds.
Now there are a lot of teams who can shoot lights out!
It’s not that shooters are more accurate these days…though it’s certainly true that long range specialists are more accurate. The key has been getting open looks. The NBA in particular is no longer about pounding the ball in the post in hopes your big guy can get something close. It’s not about “giving the rock to Kobe” or whoever your team’s stud is and watching him go one-on-one. Analytics taught basketball teams that even the most generic NBA shooters are more accurate WIDE OPEN than Kobe is guarded. Get your shooters wide open shots, and they’re going to drain many of them. Those from behind the arc are worth more on the scoreboard too.
Right now, defenses haven’t yet figured out how to solve this riddle against the very best offenses. Well, Golden State has to a degree…which we’re more likely to see in later rounds (if they can stay healthy). Rotations are sometimes a step late in the best of times. When defenses get tired, they’re two steps late. When defenses get demoralized, the rotations stop happening. Having big rim protectors doesn’t do much for you if the other team is raining three’s. Having little guys protect the arc doesn’t help you if the opposing point guard can wreak havoc on drives.
We’re not ready to concede that the era of defense and rebounding is over. Golden State would have to lose to Houston in the Western semifinals, or to Cleveland in the league Finals to convince us. Golden State plays great defense (which is clearer once you adjust for their fast pace), which will likely be the tie-breaker in June.
But, it’s clear that there are going to be MATCHUPS where defense and rebounding matter a lot less than they used to. Having a good regular season defense may not mean much vs. Houston or several other of 2017’s playoff teams. Having a mediocre or worse defense gets you obliterated!
As you handicap this weekend and beyond, we’d encourage you to prioritize it this way:
*Three-point weaponry (the more the better)
*Point guard’s (or point forward’s) scoring/distribution combo potential
*Defensive depth (the ability to stay fresh defensively for 48 minutes)
*Rebounding (which will matter when the treys aren’t falling)
*Zig Zag type intangibles from the trailing team
You don’t throw out the stuff that used to work. You react as needed to the new realities of pro basketball. The Washington Wizards basically bounced back in Game Two vs. Boston, but the game went overtime so underdog backers got hosed. Home court is going to matter, we think, in at least a few Game Three’s after the first site switch.
But…what’s going to matter MOST is still the inside-out games of the most talented offenses. Their success or failure is going to drive pointspread covers…and Over/Under results.
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