Based on HEAT players' production in the playoffs so far, going big with a lineup of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem could be the key to dominating matchups with the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
This article uses the Estimated Wins Produced statistic created by sports economist David Berri. Average players increase a team's chance of winning 10% by producing 0.100 Estimated Wins per 48 minutes (Est.WP48) because an average NBA team produces a 0.500 winning percentage. See the HEAT Produced Page for more information.
There Are No Small Defenders, Only Small Forwards
LeBron James is the most productive HEAT player in the playoffs with an estimated 1.9 wins produced and increased the team's chances of winning by 25% per 48 minutes. In the regular season, LeBron increased the HEAT's chances of winning by 34%. The decline can be attributed to playing two tough defenses in the first 2 rounds. The Bucks and Bulls ranked 5th and 6th this season in production allowed at small forward. LeBron averaged 6.2 turnovers per 48 minutes against Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and the Bucks in the 1st round and only shot 48% against Jimmy Butler and the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semis. Paul George and the Pacers allowed the lowest production at small forward in the NBA, ranking 1st in opposing SF shooting percentage and just 17th in turnovers. LeBron should be able to maintain a similar level of production he provided against the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals and increase the HEAT's chances of winning by 20-25% per 48 minutes.
The real problem George and the Pacers defense pose for the HEAT at SF could be when they go small with LeBron at power forward and Dwyane Wade or Ray Allen at SF. Wade and Allen's production at shooting guard increased the HEAT's chances of winning by 27% per 48 minutes against the Bulls, but they decreased the HEAT's chances of winning by 51% per 48 minutes in their stints at SF (41 minutes total for the series). The big problem was Wade and Allen's shooting efficiency declined from 57% and 65% at SG to 22% and 15% at SF.
Since limiting the opponents' shooting efficiency is what the Pacers defense does best against small forwards, Coach Erik Spoelstra may want to consider changing his rotation to go with a big lineup that has LeBron at SF and Wade and Allen in the backcourt without a traditional point guard instead of the 3-guard lineup he used for stretches against the Bulls. Of course, this could be a moot point since the Pacers play Lance Stephenson (6-5, 210 lbs) at SG. His size could pose the same trouble for Wade and Allen that Butler did at 6-7, 220 lbs.
If Spoelstra doesn't play 3 guards, then he will probably play Shaved Monkey Nuts (aka Shane Battier) at PF. That won't help much since Shaved Monkey Nuts is the least productive HEAT player in the playoffs with an estimated -0.6 wins produced. He's decreased the HEAT's chances of winning by 15% per 48 minutes against the Bucks and Bulls. His performance is below average in every category except free throw shooting and turnovers. Last year, he decreased the HEAT's chances of winning by 7% against the Pacers. LeBron and Wade were able to Spo-proof playoff games when Shaved Monkey Nuts was on the floor last year, but it may be up to LeBron and Bosh if Wade's knee holds him back.
Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh are the best choices for Spoelstra at PF when he goes big, but I don't expect Bosh to see any more minutes at PF vs. the Pacers than he played against the Bulls because Cradle Robber (aka Chris Andersen) can't carry the additional workload like UD can. Cradle Robber's playing less than 14 minutes per game in the playoffs and has only played more than 20 minutes 26 times out of 133 games in the last 3 seasons. In limited minutes though, Cradle Robber's been productive. He ranks 3rd on the HEAT in estimated wins produced during the playoffs and increased the team's chances of winning by 40% per 48 minutes.
Productive big men aside, the advantage of playing a 3-guard lineup is that Norris Cole is the 2nd-most productive HEAT player in the playoffs with an estimated 1.1 wins produced. He increased the HEAT's chances of winning by 27% per 48 minutes against the Bucks and Bulls. Cole's playoff production is above average in shooting efficiency, scoring, defensive rebounding and turnovers. His shooting efficiency was 72% against the Bulls. The Pacers defense posted the 4th lowest shooting percentage allowed by opposing PGs in the regular season while the Bulls ranked just 13th - and that was with a healthy Kirk Hinrich. Don't expect Cole to shoot so well this series, but he would be the X-factor if he does.
Off the Hook Off the Bench
Cole, Allen and Cradle Robber are key to the HEAT matchups with the Pacers because they've been dominant off the bench in the playoffs. LeBron was the only HEAT player more productive than them against the Bucks and Bulls. If that production continues, then the HEAT should have no problem beating the Pacers in 5 games. If it doesn't, then the HEAT will need Wade, Haslem and Bosh to assume larger roles in the starting unit.
HEAT Produced: 2013 Playoffs
The spreadsheet below lists the wins produced stats estimated from all 2013 playoff box scores.
HEAT Produced: 2013 Eastern Conference Semifinals
The spreadsheet below lists the wins produced stats estimated from the box scores of the 2013 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Chicago Bulls.
The spreadsheet below lists the wins produced estimated from box score stats for the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semis.