Dallas is proving something important in this year’s NBA Finals.
Dirk Nowitzki is braving every storm, injury and hint of history in taking on and dominating the Heat’s stellar defense. Nowitzki is rising to the moment and for a good part of this NBA Finals has brought his teammates along with him. Jason Terry and Shawn Marion have stepped up when needed — especially in Game Four when Nowtizki was ailing.
The dismantling of LeBron James during the last three games have served as a (partial) indictment of the superstar-driven team that the Heat put together last summer. And who knows, maybe Miami still has a run in them to win these final two games. The NBA Finals are far from over.
A few commentators are beginning to point out how Dallas is made up — four very good players surrounding one superstar. Nowitzki might be the series MVP (some are suggesting win or lose), but after him when do you pick the next Maverick in a fantasy draft of these two teams? And who do you pick?
Dallas is showing the rest of the NBA that perhaps it is quality and not quantity when it comes to superstars and role players.
This is a familiar refrain for Magic fans.
“The Magic aren’t chopped liver,” NBA Hall-of-Famer Rick Barry tells Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel. “They have talent just like Dallas has talent. They have some nice pieces. Jameer Nelson is a good player, Hedo Turkoglu is a good player. Jason Richardson is a good player. But they have to start playing their roles better, moving the ball better, playing better defense. That’s not talent; that’s execution.”
For the past four years, Orlando have looked to surround Dwight Howard with four very good players who can drive, spread the floor and score. The Magic’s success in the last four years has been predicated on Stan Van Gundy‘s defensive scheme and Howard’s ability to draw in defense and create space on the floor.
It has been largely successful because of Howard’s brilliance and presence on both ends of the floor. It has also been successful because Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson played extremely well together as perimeter scorer by committee with Turkoglu and Nelson putting in the best seasons of their careers under Van Gundy. Vince Carter came in and made things work.
But the Magic did not have the right balance or mix in 2010-11. And certainly after the trades, the supporting cast around Dwight Howard was downgraded.
If the Mavericks are showing anything it is that the one superstar formula works, if you have a great group of talented players in support playing at a very high level. The Magic had talent throughout 2010-11, but very few players played at a very high level — from Rashard Lewis‘ early season struggles to Gilbert Arenas‘ late season struggles.
That is not to say the way Orlando and Dallas have built their teams cannot work. The Magic made the Finals in 2009 using that formula and the Mavericks have ridden it into a fantastic run to the Finals this year.
“While having more than one star is the most accepted and recognized way to win a championship, there are other models,” Stan Van Gundy told Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel. “Dallas has shown you don’t need multiple superstars to contend for a championship. You certainly need a lot of very good players, playing well, playing together and defending.”
Doing it without a superstar though makes things difficult too. Remember this is also a Mavericks team that has been eliminated in the first round three of the last four years with largely the same roster.
The reason a player becomes a “star” is because they have reached a level of consistency where coaches know precisely what they will get each time he steps on the floor. Right now for Orlando, Dwight Howard is the only player the Magic can say that about. There were times when the Mavericks could only say that about Nowitzki.
Playing the one star game leaves you open to the dips that occur in the journeyman’s career.
This why I have to disagree with Bianchi (as I am sure a lot of you already do, but he brings up good points in the column I have linkeed to in this post). To build a lasting NBA championship contender, you do need two stars. Dallas is hardly just a flash in the pan, the franchise has had more than a decade of winning 50-plus games. But it should be no coincidence that Nowitzki has been the lone All Star on that team and has only two Finals appearances to show for it.
Stars are stars for a reason. Stars have the consistency and the ability to free up the other players on the roster because of the attention the defense must pay them. It is difficult to build the kind of team Orlando is looking to build without a second star, especially with the time the team has to do it.
But even Stan Van Gundy recognizes the Heat, win or lose, will be a contender for a title for a long time because of the extremely talented players on their roster.
“Regardless of the outcome of the Finals this year, the Heat will be and should be the overwhelming favorite next year,” Van Gundy told Bianchi. “That does not mean other teams won’t be right there competing with them for the championship, and I expect us to be one of those teams.”
So now, with Orlando taking a step back and becoming somewhat desperate to show Dwight Howard that Orlando is a place where he can win a championship, the Magic should look into acquiring that second star.
They need a guy who can take off the scoring load from Howard on a night-to-night basis. With some of the players Orlando has already, there is a good core of role players. But it is a struggle trying to figure out who is going to join Howard each night in the scoring column. And sometimes — especially in the playoffs — that leads to disastrous results.
The Magic have been connected at various times already this summer to Andre Iguodala and Monta Ellis. We all know the difficulty the Magic might have in acquiring that piece because of the team’s financial and contract situation. But somehow, someway this has to be the goal for the Magic this summer.
This is not to say that if they fail to do that, this is not a team that can compete and possibly win a title. The Mavericks have shown that when all the pieces are playing at a high level, the one superstar team can win. Just having another star makes it more of a sure thing.
Photos via DayLife.com.