The past two NBA Finals games in Miami have been absolute blowouts and embarrassments for the Miami Heat. A team put together to win several championships, the Miami Heat is now down 3-1 in the 2014 NBA Finals, and the next game is Sunday night in San Antonio. I did predict that the Spurs would win in six games, but I never thought the Spurs would perform as well as they have this series.
I guess I gave the Heat too much credit by thinking it would go six games.
However, on a deeper and more personal level, I wondered why a team so talented as Miami could be beat so easily on their home court. Seriously, the Heat have LeBron James, the best player in the NBA, and arguably one of the best players of all time. Then I remembered that LeBron was left off the NBA’s All-Defensive team this season.
Clearly, he was left off for a reason.
If you’ve watched these four games between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, then surely you’ve noticed that the Heat have played very little defense. In game three, the Spurs scored over 40 points in the first quarter alone. Then comes game four, and everyone in the world figured the Miami Heat was going to come out on fire, score a ton of points, and play serious defense.
Let’s take a look at the starting roster of each team:
- Mario Chalmers, G, Kansas (USA)
- Dwyane Wade, G, Marquette (USA)
- Rashard Lewis, F, Alief Elsid HS (TX/USA)
- Chris Bosh, C-F, Georgia Tech (USA)
- LeBron James, F, St. Vincent-St. James HS (OH/USA)
San Antonio Spurs
- Manu Ginobili, G, Kinder Bologna (ARGENTINA)
- Tony Parker, G, Paris BR (FRANCE)
- Boris Diaw, F, Pau Orthez (FRANCE)
- Tim Duncan, F, Wake Forest (US VIRGIN ISLANDS)
- Tiago Splitter, C, Saski Baskonia (BRAZIL)
Arguably, these roster changes for every game, but do you notice any differences between the two?
I’ll give you three guesses, but the first two don’t count.
Without doing extensive investigative reporting on each listed player, I would venture to guess that each Heat player played in the AAU prior to their college and/or NBA career. Those on the Spurs roster did not.
I can speak somewhat intelligently about AAU Basketball since my 10-year-old son currently plays in a league. At least twice per week, not including tournament games, I sit back and watch the coaching in these games. Not just my son’s group, but the others, too. They participate in a series of drills to improve their dribbling and shooting, but passing and defense is often ignored.
In today’s basketball world, we want to see superstars. The players who can dazzle us with their dribbling and shooting skills are the ones that every college coach in the land wants. Therefore, the AAU leagues are now focused on giving the colleges what they require. If a kid is extremely talented, e.g. LeBron James, they bypass college basketball all together, and enter the NBA Draft immediately out of high school.
A paradigm shift in sports has occurred to a degree where defense has taken a serious back seat to offense. Look at football—the running back position has all but disappeared from relevance. The NFL is a pass-happy league, and it’s all about airing it all over the field. If a college QB has any semblance of passing proficiency, they are given a long and hard look by every NFL coach in the league. If you watch a Major League Baseball game, then you’ll see people sleeping in the stands, if they even show up, if the score is 2-1.
Then there’s the San Antonio Spurs, the anti-NBA team. A group of team first, “me” second players that make up a small-market team that gets very little fanfare outside of Texas. Their head coach, Gregg Popovich, known for his post-game interviews as well his success with the San Antonio Spurs, leads a team of starters that never sniffed an AAU team. They pass in order to get the best shot possible, not just a good one. They play incredible defense. They are a team, and have undefined the word “me”.
And they are about to win another championship.
Perhaps it’s time to re-think AAU basketball here in the United States. Clearly, the Miami Heat are still in a different reality since they are flirting with signing Carmelo Anthony, the poster child of the anti-team movement. Give Anthony the ball, and his teammates turn immediately to the hoop hoping they can get the offensive rebound in case he misses. But he tends to hit quite a few shots, so surely he’ll be offered a gazillion dollars to play in South Beach.
As for my 10-year-old son, his basketball future may not include AAU. Don’t get me wrong; his coaches do a great job coaching the skills they focus on, but in my opinion the training is incomplete. My son is also on a YMCA team, and the coach puts an emphasis on the team and not just scoring points. The conundrum for me is that I may make a detrimental decision that negatively affects his development.
I guess that’s life in a nutshell. We make decisions that are larger risks than others.
One thing is for sure: The San Antonio Spurs are proving what most of us have known for a very long time that synergy outperforms individual efforts. Great teams outperform superstars all the time, and the 2014 NBA Finals are proving it once again.