Sunday, November 7, 2010

Miami Heat Check: Chris Paul, NJ Nets Illustrate Depth Of Problems At Point Guard And Center

LeBron James declared Chris Paul the best point guard in the NBA twenty-seven hours after CP3 performed pick-and-roll surgery on the Miami Heat defense and defeated them 96-93 in New Orleans Friday night. CP3's 13 points, 19 assists and five steals were definitely more convincing than the four-point, 17-assist, five-rebound stat line Rajon Rondo posted against the Heat on opening night or anything offered by former all-stars Jameer Nelson and Devin Harris.

No matter how qualified LeBron's point guard opinion may be now, it will be even more qualified in ten days after the Heat face Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash during a five-game home stand. The Heat will be the arbitrators in the great point guard debate this season. Miami's league-leading defense is the perfect test in a game of show and prove, and CP3 passed it with flying colors this weekend while Harris did not.

This article will use Win Score and Estimated Wins Produced, statistical models created by Professor David Berri from the Wages of Wins Journal, to measure how much a player's box score statistics contributed to their team's performance. An average player produces an estimated 0.100 wins per 48 minutes (EWP48), a star player produces 0.200+ EWP48 and a superstar produces 0.300+ EWP48. More information on these stats can be found at the following links:

Weekend Game Recaps
The average point guard has only produced 0.016 EWP48 against the Heat this season. CP3 had the most productive game of any point guard against the Heat defense with 0.309 EWP48, surpassing the 0.263 EWP48 produced by Rondo.

CP3 provided 33 percent of the Hornets' production in their win over Miami. Another 59.5 percent was provided by Emeka Okafor, who produced an estimated 0.423 wins in 35 minutes (0.581 EWP48). CP3 created 26 percent of Okafor's production by breaking down the Heat defense and feeding him six assists on easy baskets off the pick-and-roll.

Many of the recaps for this game re-hashed the running story of the Heat's weaknesses at point guard and center, but the fact is that it was really a unique weakness defending CP3 that allowed he and Okafor to be so productive. Miami's defensive scheme pulled big men such as Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony away from the basket to defend the pick-and-roll because their guards could not contain CP3 coming off the pick. Before the game, Bosh said this scheme enables the opposing big men to grab offensive rebounds and easy buckets and that's exactly what happened in New Orleans.

No other team has been able to exploit that point guard-center match-up like CP3. Below is a list of the estimated wins produced by the point guard-center combination with the most minutes played for each team the Heat faced in their first seven games.

Team: PG & C (Combined Est. Wins Produced in Minutes Played)
Hornets: Chris Paul & Emeka Okafor (0.657 EWP in 71.2 minutes)
Celtics: Rajon Rondo & Glen Davis (0.397 EWP in 70.9 minutes)
76ers: Jrue Holiday & Thaddeus Young (0.170 EWP in 47.1 minutes)
T'Wolves: Sebastian Telfair & Nikola Pekovic (0.066 EWP in 51.6 minutes)
Magic: Jameer Nelson & Dwight Howard (0.029 EWP in 53.3 minutes)
Nets: Devin Harris & Brook Lopez (-0.110 EWP in 111 minutes)

Rondo was not as productive as CP3 exploiting the Heat at point guard and center, but he was still able to exploit it as an advantage for the Celtics. The production by Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young is misleading because all of that production came from Young using his speed advantage to take Udonis Haslem off-the-dribble instead of a pick-and-roll commanded by Holiday.

CP3 and Rondo have been the two most productive point guards in the league this season, so most teams won't be able to exploit the PG-C match-up the way they can. Deron Williams and Steve Nash were top five point guards last season, so the Heat will have to improve their pick-and-roll defense over the next 10 days if they don't want a repeat of what happened in Boston and New Orleans.

The pending onslaught of elite point guards comes with Carlos Arroyo experiencing a two-game slump.  His EWP48 for the last two games is -0.254. 

Speaking of slumps, nothing has brought Chris Bosh back to life this season like the New Jersey Nets front line. Bosh produced 0.483 EWP48 in his second game against the Nets after producing 0.293 EWP48 in the game at Newark, NJ. It was his best performance of the season and helped Bosh get his production back to being slightly above average for the season, but it will be interesting to see if he can be productive against the top 10 power forwards coming to the American Airlines Arena over the next 10 days - Paul Millsap (#2), Kevin Garnett (#9) and Reggie Evans, (#7).

Wade also had his two best games of the season against the Nets. He produced 0.525 EWP48 against the Nets Saturday night, which was actually a decrease from the 0.642 EWP48 he produced against them in Newark a week ago.

Unlike Bosh, Wade showed up against the Hornets. He was the second-most productive player in the game (behind OkaforAriza for the game-clinching three-pointer.

The spreadsheets below contain the Wins Produced analysis of the box scores for the Hornets and Nets games. You can also view them in at Google Docs (click on the spreadsheets labeled @HORNETS-110510 and NETS-110610).

The Big Picture
The most important development for the Heat this weekend was that Wade and LeBron James FINALLY connected on an alley-oop.

"Finally got an opportunity to throw him a lob. [I've been] trying to get one of those for seven games. He finally made one, let me say that," Wade said, according to

On a more serious note, in the big picture scheme of things, the Heat painted themselves as front-runners this weekend.  The Hornets game was the first chance to establish their dominance since opening night by beating a legitimate playoff team on the road.

In the Heat Streak article, I noted that teams Miami had less than a 60 percent chance of beating on the road should be considered "potholes" in the schedule, i.e. a risk to interrupt a winning streak. The Heat only had a 58 percent chance of beating the Hornets on the road, according to the win probability formula developed by Arturo Galletti, and they fell right into the pothole. The next chance for the Heat to prove they're a great team will be November 24th in Orlando where they currently have a 35 percent chance of winning.

In order for the team to hit my 75-win prediction, I need them to start winning those pothole games in addition to beating up on weaker teams like the Nets and Timberwolves.

The Heat's quarter-by-quarter performance also came into focus for the big picture this weekend. The loss in New Orleans was similar to the loss in Boston because the team got blitzed in the first quarter as the Hornets outproduced them by a margin of 0.622 estimated wins produced. Essentially, the game was won in the first 12 minutes.

The Heat average 0.175 EWP48 as a team for the season, which projects to 71.6 wins produced and would make them the second-greatest team of all-time. They only average 0.100 EWP48 in the first quarter, which makes them completely average and allows every good team to build a lead in the first 12 minutes. No one has accused Erik Spoelstra of failing to have the team ready to play like I did, and the players have blamed themselves instead, according to

"We need to learn that we can’t just show up," LeBron James said. "Every team from top to bottom is going to give us their best shot. We have to bring greater energy to the floor especially at the start of the game."

Dwyane Wade seconded LeBron's opinion. "They came out with a lot of energy," he said. "They jumped on us and that caused us to play from behind the whole game. That’s not the game we want to play."

My question - if the players know they haven't been starting off games with the right energy, then why hasn't the coach done anything about it yet? Will Spoelstra let the players figure it out for themselves when they visit Orlando in two weeks or will he be proactive?

The other issue with the Heat's performance-by-quarter is the way the team has been closing games. The fourth quarter has been the Heat's least productive with an average of 0.058 EWP48.

Why is this a big issue? Because it enables teams like the 76ers and Nets to try and steal games at the end. The fourth quarter against the Nets on Saturday night was the second-worst quarter of the season for Miami with an estimated -0.175 wins produced (the fourth quarter in Philadelphia was the worst with an estimated -0.218 wins produced).

If the Heat are going to be truly dominant, then I want them to keep their foot on the throats of every opponent. The below average players on the Heat roster have only played 2.4 percent of the available minutes, so it shouldn't matter who's in the game - they should be able to maintain the lead.

The Bigger Picture
The Heat have played three of the top four picks from the 2010 draft - Evan Turner (#2), Derrick Favors (#3) and Wesley Johnson (#4), as well as the 30th first round pick, Lazar Heyward. The spreadsheet below shows how their performances rank against the Heat.

Favors and Turner played like superstars against the Heat while Hayward and Johnson played like they were coached by Kurt Rambis and drafted by David Kahn. Go figure.

The Heat welcome number one pick John Wall and the Washington Wizards to Miami on November 29th.

You can find all of the updated stats for the Miami Heat's estimated wins produced for this season on the Heat Produced page.

Unless referenced otherwise, original game data used for this post was taken from and Some non-game data was taken from or powered by Nerd Numbers.

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