Warriors, Rockets are best and worst of the new NBA

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 7.17.27 PM

The Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets playoff series exemplifies the disparity between the well-oiled machines that make up the top-tier teams and the clunkers that limp across the finish line.  While both teams excel at bombing the ball — Golden State and Houston ranking 1-2 in three point attempts — I think that is where their similarities end.

Daryl Morey, general manager of the Rockets, is known for the value he places on the 3-point shot.   He’s also known for the value he places on analytics.  He uses the most advanced technologies as tools for evaluating players and determining what their skills qualify them to do.  So he seeks an offense that emphasizes the 3-point shot that the Rockets do well but the Warriors do so much better.

No one is denying the growing importance of The Three.  It is clearly the trend.  In fact:

“This year was the first in NBA history the league as a whole attempted more 3-pointers than free throws.” –Kevin Pelton

My problem stems from teams forcing the three or, worse, forcing a player to sacrifice an inside game to become a spot-up corner shooter.  The Warriors can score from all ranges, though it does seem they’re most dangerous the father they are from the hoop.

Their head coach, Steve Kerr, allows his offense to develop according to what the defense gives him.  They run on- and off-ball screens to create opportunities, but they are not confined to a three-ball offense.  Their varied attack allows players to be happy and energetic in their pursuit of a win any way possible.  You don’t see Warriors lamenting a missed 2-pointer from a foot inside the 3-point line.

It also helps when you have one of the deepest teams in history, as the Warriors do.  What makes their bench so good is that everyone understands his role and gives a full effort even if it’s only for 8 minutes a game.  A good team will find players that fit its system, and a good coach will utilize these players in positions that maximize their effectiveness.

Can you believe that Andre Iguodala is the reigning Finals MVP, makes more money than Steph Curry and Harrison Barnes and still comes off the bench?  I can.

Far too many teams — and inexperienced coaches — distribute playing time based on contract terms and perceived stardom.  The Warriors do not. 

The Warriors proved their adaptability in Game 2 of the Rockets series. They won with relative ease – 9 points — despite the absence of the reigning, and probably anew, Most Valuable Player, Steph Curry.  He was held out of the game, much against his will, because, as Kerr pointed out, he had “a cushion.”

In other words, as long as the Rockets don’t beat them, Curry rests.  As much as he minimizes his injury, it’s a concern any time a superstar is limping and wincing.

The failure of the Rockets to be competitive against a team that’s missing its best player brought embarrassment to the entire organization.  Morey is under fire for being a mathematics wizard who’s clueless about chemistry.  And for staying so long with J. B. Bickerstaff as the “interim head coach” in the wake of Kevin McHale’s termination.

Bickerstaff, a respected basketball strategist, was thrust into an imploding situation.  He might be a good coach in the league once he has some control over his own system and team.

But I am bewildered and at times enraged by his inconsistent and bizarre utilization of his players. 

Unlike the Warriors, the Rockets have no game when their superstar isn’t in it.  The Rockets’ offense isn’t a team-enmeshed system but is designed to boost the abilities of one ultra-talented player.  When James Harden is off the court, the Rockets’ players seem adrift, much unlike their Warrior counterparts without Curry.

Late in the season, Morey brought Michael Beasley from China to be an offensive leader when Harden sits. However, Beasley had stretches of multiple games without seeing more than 5 minutes on the floor.  Although Beasley appears to have leadership skills, they are of little use if he doesn’t play.  Players are led by those who play.

And it’s not like the Rockets have adequate leadership when Harden is playing.  Television commentators Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal have ranted about Harden’s lack of leadership.  He seems to have no positive influence on his teammates.  The Rockets have been seen frequently bickering on the court as they try to run their plays against Golden State.

Meanwhile, Golden State’s offense functions at an ultra-high level when Curry is playing and when he isn’t, when Kerr is coaching and when he isn’t.

As much as I, being a Rockets’ fan, want to dislike this Warriors team, I cannot feel anything but admiration for their selflessness, their grit, their gracefulness on the court, and off.  They embody so much of what makes a good and great team that I’m hoping they put up the best playoff record ever, 16-2, to go with their Best Ever 73.

Comments will post after a short period for review