Can’t Beat Superheroes with Heroball

You hear it all the time. It’s the end of the game, the big moment. Who takes the last shot? Who gets the ball. And with the way Joe Johnson prevailed so often to close games this year, with the way Paul Pierce has in his career, you heard it alot around the Nets too. You also heard it in Miami, in 2010. When the big 3 formed, much of the conversation focused on who takes the last shot in Miami.

Miami has the correct answer to that question, and Brooklyn doesn’t: the answer is that it does not matter, and you just run offense.

Late in games, when a team’s best player attempts to go 1 on 1 to get his shot, we tend to call it “heroball”: one guy trying to be the hero. ESPN has done extensive work on the dangers of heroball — even when you analyze the greatest “clutch” players like Kobe, Pierce, Joe Johnson, and others, you tend to find a trend: by and large, teams perform better in the clutch by running a play that produces a good shot: for a shooter taking a good shot, whoever he is, as opposed to force feeding one player. Even if that player is known as the maven of clutch. It simply makes sense: you run offense a whole game to get yourself good shots, as opposed to just milking one player. Why change in the clutch?

However, that view tends not to jive with how NBA players — the most prideful and competitive of men — think of a game. Many NBA players see the game in the same classic lens that we tend to discuss the game in. The end of the game is about “who wants the last shot,” and “the great ones want the ball in the closing moments.”

The Nets’ problem tonight: they have many players who think that way, perhaps have a coach who coaches that way late in games because he just played, and executed that way.

The Nets’ late game offense tonight starting at 94-94 with 2:13 remaining:

-Kevin Garnett isolation fadeaway

-Joe Johnson isolation miss with LeBron contesting

-Joe Johnson isolation miss, again with LeBron guarding him


Perhaps not as much with the first possession, but on each possession there was a common theme, not just tonight but also in Game 4 against Toronto and throughout the year: the Nets tend to decide who their best player is, or particular guy they want shooting, and go to him late, no matter the matchup.

That goes against what they do all game long, where their general gameplan is “move the ball, get switches which breed mismatches, attack the mismatch.”

Ironically, the Heat’s game sealing 3 came from Chris Bosh, off a play in which Dwyane Wade attacked the rim, LeBron — their clear best player — did not even touch the ball but set a screen — and the resulting doubleteams freed Bosh in the corner for 3. The team with the game’s best player, the world’s best player, who was asked for its entire first year together “who takes the last shot” learned the answer.

“It doesn’t matter who takes the last shot. As long as the team gets a good shot.”

In some ways, this is Kidd’s most notable flaw as a coach. He does many good things I’ll touch on more during offseason grading. He makes lineup adjustments in significant ways, like starting a point guard in Livingston in Brook’s place when he went down for the year. He’s flexibile enough to try things like Teletovic at center, Pierce off the bench. He’s toyed with Brooklyn’s defensive scheme, compensating for a lack of team speed and rim protector in an era putting a premium on each skill.

However, he can be pretty vanilla offensively, especially late in games. One wonders how effective his “attack the mismatch” offense would work if he did not have so many weapons, and then when he abandons it late in favor of heroball, things get messy.

It must be noted that many coaches, and successful coaches, have these issues. Lionel Hollins and Mark Jackson come to mind. And while Kidd may play favorites (some players have a quicker hook, others lose their minutes more easily, etc), that’s an issue with most all coaches. I also will add I’m one of Kidd’s bigger supporters: I usually take time to defend him aggressively on Twitter after games from those blaming him for any Nets misfortune.

While we’re on the topic of heroball as compared to Miami, if Kidd wants a model to learn from, look no further than the coach he’s facing in the second round. Rick Carlisle coached Spoelstra into a paper bag in the 2011 finals, and Spoelstra’s end game offenses in the 2010-2011 season were largely vanilla. He expanded his playbook in a strong way, and let’s see if Kidd can do so in a year.


Other Notes

-The season is not over. Yes, the Nets are all but cooked, but the key there is “all but.” You go to Miami and try to gut a win out. The Heat were a bit lazy in their round 2 closeout game against the Bulls last year, and you hope for the same. And if you get it done you try to force game 7 by doing the fans in Brooklyn proud. The slimmest of chances? You bet. But you never give up.

-After playing a good game overall, Deron Williams disappeared in a big way late in the game. His last 3 shots did not even catch rim (despite taking 2 corner 3’s and a layup), and that was just depressing to watch. Sometimes the ankles are the issue for Deron, but if he plays well a whole game then collapses late, you can’t blame the feet. Were it the ankle, he would struggle from the jump.

-While I don’t like questioning Kidd’s rotations, Kirilenko is incredibly impactful when he’s on, and tonight was one of those nights. He provides versatility defensively both inside and outside, makes timely cuts and passes which help offensively, and generally is inpactful. That was the case tonight, and on a night where a paint presence and defense on LeBron sorely lacked, he could have provided a bigger boost. His absence in the fourth quarter was conspicuous.

-Tonight is a crusher. The Nets played hard, did all they could to extend the season, tie the series 2-2, and it just didn’t happen. They would have beaten a ton of teams tonight, including last round’s Raptors, and done so handily. The playoffs are a brutal place.

-Please, again, stop blaming officiating for losses. After the fanbase really slammed the Raptors fanbase for doing that in round 1, it just comes off as hypocritical. Officials are not out there trying to rig games. The NBA sees all 30 owners as its clients, and deeply cares for the financial viability and healthful success of all 30 of its teams. It’s not going to ruin those relationships and kill fan goodwill by attempting to fix and rig NBA games through it’s refs. Just like the Nets beat the Raptors: not the Nets plus 3 zebras, the Heat are beating the Nets, not the Heat plus 3 zebras. Also, the Heat actually committed one more foul than the Nets in game 4; five more fouls if you don’t consider the four fouls the Nets gave late when playing the foul game.




2 responses to “Can’t Beat Superheroes with Heroball

  1. Entirely on point…except about refs. They don’t think about keeping owners happy. Think they think about the Russian? Think they thought about Sterling? Any objective observer can see the superstar slant. Defending the GOAT means no-calls become fouls. His fouls become no-calls. Pivot foot is not needed. Glaring is never a T. Yelling BS iut loud during free throws is just fine. He is the one thet subconsciously mind. But it is what one plays against him now. Just don’t ask to be the one to guard him. That is an undue handicap going into a game.

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