Coach: Maturity Growth & Miami’s Conversion
Most times, we talk about the evolution of players in terms of skills, athleticism, or game understanding. Perhaps a player adds the ability to post up effectively, or they increase the consistency in their jumper. They trim down, or bulk up, and the lost or added weight allows them to compete more effectively. Or maybe they start seeing the second line defenders better, or recognize options out of ball screen situations more readily.
Occasionally, though, a player’s evolution has less to do with these characteristics and more to do, quite simply, with maturity. A simple recognition of how they fit into a broader team concept, and the development of an obsession with winning above all else, are the earmarks of this newfound maturity.
This season, two players have demonstrated this growth beyond all others, and it has led to major success for them individually and for their teams.
J.R. Smith is not doing anything particularly new out on the court. However, he is paying a lot more attention to the little things, and there is a useful maxim that the little things make big things happen. In the past, Smith would put his focus and energy into doing the big things. As a result, his game tended to be filled with moments when it would all come together, and he would outperform everyone around him. But the vast majority of the time, this would not necessarily lead to wins, and the times in between outstanding successes were filled with frustration.
Now, however, Smith seems to be putting his attention into small items, which allows his natural talent to shine through at the right times, and the frustration that used to dominate has been minimized. He is rebounding the ball at a better clip on the defensive end, which gives him an anchor for stability. Offensively, his shot selection is much better, as he is taking less threes but making them at a ridiculous percentage, while increasing his shots inside the arc. He is simply making the most of his opportunities, which is not what could have been said in the past.
Another player who has made something of a leap in his maturity level is Rudy Gay. Unlike Smith’s development, Gay’s isn’t apparent from looking at the statsheet. However, there is one area where he has been extremely impressive.
As an offensive player, Gay has always been at his best on the move – he is able to catch while running and turn his momentum into a positive situation. However, his taking advantage of these situations was opportunistic in the past. Now, however, he is hunting them. This means a subtle recognition that these plays tend to bring more success than others, and the maturity shows in a lack of stubborn attachment to his previous way of doing things. Instead of trying to complete low percentage plays, he is identifying and seeking out high percentage ones. As a result, it looks like he is “letting the game come to him,” when in reality, he is adapting his game to find the things he is best at.
These spikes in maturity are welcome additions to teams that thought they could contend prior to the season, and now appear to be well on their way. In both cases, one of the central reasons their team is mentioned as a championship-caliber squad is because of the development these two players have had so far this season. Barring setbacks, expect them and their teams to continue finding more success.
Miami’s Powers of Conversion
The Miami HEAT have struggled to assert the defensive identity that has overwhelmed opponents in the past. However, they have established a much more dynamic presence via their ability to convert from the defensive end to the offensive end with precision, speed and purpose. Once their defensive commitment is re-asserted, their ability to convert will only be accentuated.
Conversion is the ability to change from defense to offense or vice versa. For Miami, converting from the defensive end to the offensive end is truly a thing of beauty. With multiple ball-handlers and lane fillers, alongside shooters who can sprint to space and unlock the floor, Miami is fearsome in transition. Mario Chalmers and LeBron James are impressive converting turnovers or defensive rebounds into fast break opportunities, and they are pushing it nearly every time and forcing teammates to catch up.
In addition, Miami has committed to getting the ball up the floor quickly after their opponent scores as well. This puts constant pressure on the other team, and it takes advantage of the fact that the HEAT simply has more talent than most opponents. In fact, the easiest way to identify a Miami in-game slump is by how they are bringing the ball up the floor. If it’s with speed, any slump is temporary in nature – but if they are walking it up, things may not be quite as pretty.
Early this season, it appears Miami’s desire to get out on the break and convert may be affecting their ability to finish plays defensively. This is a growth area for the HEAT and their ability to make the necessary adjustments to close out a possession and then convert to a new one is critical. Once that happens, however, this team will be scary, and it will likely cement them as best team in the league.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Tuesdays at 10AM Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @AnthonyLMacri.
Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Macri is the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of the ASEAN Basketball League (the first regional pro sports league in Southeast Asia), setting and executing a strategic vision for basketball and business development, league operations, and marketing. Previously, Macri served as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, as the business manager at the IMG Basketball Academy, and has coached at two nationally ranked high school programs. The Coach’s Notebook is a weekly feature on HOOPSWORLD.