Nichols and Dimes

Innovative Basketball Research

Finding the Achilles Heel of Each Remaining Playoff Team

As the number of teams still in contention for the 2009 NBA championship dwindles down, it’s important to note not only the strengths of each team but also the weaknesses.  All it takes is one major hole for another team to exploit and make you pay.  We’ve seen this happen countless times in the past.  So what is each remaining team’s biggest weakness?

Cleveland Cavaliers

Achilles heel: Depth

When you’re talking about a team as good as the Cavs, it’s really hard to find any weaknesses.  They’re pretty much good at every statistical category.  If I could nitpick and find one flaw, it would have to be their bench depth.  With Anderson Varejao now starting, the only bench player they have with a PER over 14 is Joe Smith.  Varejao, Big Z, LeBron, Mo Williams, and Delonte West are all great.  After them, there is a bit of decline in terms of talent.  But I should repeat: this isn’t a huge problem.  It’s just the best I can do.

Boston Celtics

Achilles heel: Offensive turnovers

In the regular season, the Celtics were the second best defensive team in the league and a strong sixth on offense.  This balance allowed them to stay dominant despite Kevin Garnett’s injury.  However, there’s been one area they’ve struggled in mightily all year: offensive turnovers.  In fact, on a per-possession basis, Boston was the third worst team in the league at taking care of the ball.  Who are the biggest culprits? Kendrick Perkins, Stephon Marbury, Tony Allen, and Leon Powe, to name a few.

Orlando Magic

Achilles heels: Offensive rebounding and forcing turnovers

For a team as good as the Magic, it’s a surprise that they rank towards the bottom of the NBA in the two statistics I mentioned above.  I’m especially surprised that a team with Dwight Howard can be so poor (third worst in the league) at collecting offensive boards.  If you investigate closer, you can see why.  The Magic’s two centers, Howard and Marcin Gortat, do a pretty good job of crashing the boards.  But Orlando also starts Rashard Lewis at power forward, and he has an offensive rebound rate well below average for his position.

Atlanta Hawks

Achilles heel: Defensive rebounding

One of the great things about the Hawks is that they’re so versatile.  Despite playing without a true center, they generally have good size and athleticism.  Thanks to having Josh Smith at the power forward spot, they can run with the best of them.  Unfortunately, you can’t run unless you grab the rebound first, something the Hawks struggle at (although they did just fine against Miami).  In the regular season, Atlanta’s defensive rebound percentage was seventh worst in the NBA.

Los Angeles Lakers

Achilles heel: Point guards

Derek Fisher is a solid vet who generally makes smart plays, but in terms of production he’s been lacking.  His PER of 12.1 shows how in many games he is quite a non-factor.  Thankfully his solid defense often makes up for this weakness.  Behind him on the depth chart, it doesn’t get much better.  Jordan Farmar has had plenty of ups and downs with the Lakers, and this season certainly qualifies as a down.  His PER of 9.9 is very low for a rotation player on a championship contender.  He shoots inefficiently and turns the ball over too much.  The Lakers must be careful: the Rockets have two good point guards in Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry.  Brooks has already shown what he can do.  It’s no surprise the Lakers have started to resort to Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic.

Denver Nuggets

Achilles heel: Offensive turnovers

Like the Celtics, one potentially fatal flaw for the Nuggets is their inability to take care of the ball.  Denver’s turnover rate is sixth highest in the NBA.  It’s not a shocking statistic, considering the fast and sometimes wild pace they play at.  However, it is a bit surprising considering that their floor general is Chauncey Billups, a very steady player.  The Nuggets with the highest turnover rates include Anthony Carter, Chris Andersen, Nene, and Dahntay Jones.

Houston Rockets

Achilles heel: Forcing turnovers

As always, the Rockets are a stellar defensive squad.  Their defensive rating ranks fourth in the NBA and they have defensive studs such as Ron Artest and Shane Battier on their roster.  In terms of holding the opponent to a low field goal percentage, gathering rebounds, and not fouling, they are great.  However, along with this steadfast approach comes a conservative attitude.  Guys like Shane Battier won’t gamble for a steal; they’ll stay in front of their man and force a tough shot.  In a way, this weakness may end up being one of their greatest strengths.

Dallas Mavericks

Achilles heel: Drawing fouls and forcing turnovers

In the 2006 Finals, there was a great deal of talk about the free throw discrepancy between the Heat and the Mavericks.  It is indeed true that Dwyane Wade spent a ton of time at the foul line (although partly thanks to Dallas’s willingness to foul Shaquille O’Neal and put Miami in the foul bonus early).  However, it is also true that the Mavericks have never been a great team at earning free throw attempts.  Three years later, it’s still an issue.  Jason Terry, Josh Howard, and Jason Kidd, three guys who don’t make a living at the charity stripe, run much of their offense.  Even the main man, Dirk Nowitzki, doesn’t get fouled a ton.  It’s simply not Dallas’s style.


May 7, 2009 - Posted by | Commentary

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