The 2014 NBA Finals features the two most efficient shooting offenses in the league. However, these two teams achieve these efficiencies using vastly different approaches. The Heat use a “pace and space”–style offense, led by the best player in the world, while the Spurs rely on an egalitarian, pass-happy philosophy, led by the best coach in the world.
You can explore the scoring abilities of the teams and the players using this interactive graphic.
The Miami Heat
The Heat’s offense has been staggeringly efficient throughout the playoffs, averaging 114 points per 100 possessions. They’ve been the best shooting team both in the postseason and during the regular season. But the “best shooting” title is a bit deceptive. While the team was outrageously dominant near the rim, they were relatively average as jump shooters. The Heat’s freakish interior domination can be summarized by this list. During the regular season 99 NBA players attempted at least 300 shots within 8 feet of the basket. Here are the top five in terms of scoring efficiency:
1. LeBron James, 74.9 percent
2. DeAndre Jordan, 68.2 percent
3. Kevin Durant, 66.6 percent
4. Chris Bosh, 66.5 percent
5. Dwyane Wade, 65.8 pecent
If good shots near the basket are indicators of healthy offensive ecosystems, then the Heat’s three primary scorers all being at the top of that list shows that the basketball bio-network in Miami is in pristine condition.
Miami’s system revolves around the same guy the entire NBA revolves around. During the regular season, LeBron James was the only player in the league to lead his team in assists, rebounds, and points. He has averaged 27.1 points per game in both the regular season and the playoffs, relying on a blend of interior domination and competent jump shooting that mimics his team’s overall scoring approach to a tee.
Last season, James led the league in both field goal percentage and total points scored inside of 8 feet. He would’ve repeated that feat again this year if it weren’t for Blake Griffin.
Away from the basket, James is much more ordinary. He made 40 percent of his midrange attempts and 38 percent of his 3s, which tracks closer to average than elite. The inside-outside dichotomy in James’s game nicely summarizes his overall abilities. Gregg Popovich knows all of this (he knows everything), so look for the Spurs to do what they did in last season’s Finals: pack the paint and have their defenders challenge James to beat them with his jump shot.
While James’s jumper may not be as sharp as it was last season, the health of Dwyane Wade more than makes up for a few percentage points. Wade, who was hobbled throughout last year’s playoffs, has had a renaissance during this postseason run and is poised to be much more of a factor in this rematch than he was in last year’s Finals.
At 32, Flash is no longer as flashy as he used to be, but he’s still potent enough to lead the team in scoring on any given night. Wade is somewhat unique for a 2-guard, in that he gets a majority of his points inside the arc and rarely takes 3s. That’s pretty rare for a shooting guard in the beyond-the-arc era.
Like James, Wade has made a career dominating near the basket, where his abilities to finish and get fouled make him one of the most difficult matchups in the league. The Spurs will try their best to also keep him away from the interior and reduce him to a jump shooter, which, given his astute cutting ability, is easier said than done.
While the Heat’s primary two scorers are busy trying to attack the rim, their third option, their key spacing agent, makes many of James’s and Wade’s attack lanes possible. Bosh is Miami’s primary midrange scorer and has become one of their more important 3-point shooters as well. Since arriving in Miami, Bosh has been one of the most reliable jump-shooting bigs in the league, making him a matchup headache for opposing bigs who are desperate to protect the restricted area.
During the regular season, the Heat’s Big Three of James, Wade, and Bosh accounted for 61 percent of the team’s overall point production per game. A big chunk of the other 39 percent comes from a cast of spot-up shooters who love to find open spaces along the perimeter and punish teams that collapse toward the paint.
The Heat shooting corps is led by Ray Allen, possibly the most overqualified spot-up shooter in NBA history. Allen is a big reason why the Heat led the NBA in corner 3s this season, but he’s not the only reason. More than 95 percent of NBA corner 3s involve an assist, and LeBron James ranked second in the league this year in assists on those shots.
San Antonio Spurs
Allen’s corner 3 may have vanquished the Spurs last season, but San Antonio returns with a litany of great shooters of its own. Its roster includes the 2014 3-point contest champion in Marco Belinelli, last year’s breakout shooting star in Danny Green, and Patty Mills, who ended the season making more 3s than either of those guys.
Like the Heat, the Spurs decorate the perimeter with a great group of spot-up shooters, and just like Miami, they are great at creating ways to get those shooters wide-open looks. However, while Miami loves the corners, San Antonio thrives above the break, where the Spurs led the NBA in efficiency, converting 40 percent of their shots, far and away the best mark in the league.
As a result, their team shot chart wears a big red helmet made of hexagons.
Tony Parker is the most creative scoring force on the Spurs. He remains one of the most accurate off-the-dribble midrange scorers in the league, hitting elbow jumpers and baseline pull-ups with steady efficiency. He’s also one of the craftiest little guys at the rim, and when he’s healthy he can amass a lot of points with floaters and layups.
Tim Duncan’s throwback performance during overtime of Game 6 last Saturday helped the Spurs topple the Thunder and reminded us of those times when he was the most feared matchup in the playoffs.
Modern-day Duncan splits his shots pretty evenly between the interior and the midrange. He’s still a great scorer close to the basket, but his midrange game has recently declined in efficiency. Two years ago, he made 44 percent of his midrange shots. Last year, that number dipped to 42 percent. This season he only made 37 percent of them.
While Duncan and Parker are the respective past and present leaders of the Spurs, Gregg Popovich has recently referred to Kawhi Leonard as the team’s future. In his first three years in the league, Leonard has already demonstrated incredible development, and if those trajectories continue, he’ll be a superstar before long. Leonard used a combination of rim attacks, pull-up midrange jumpers, and catch-and-shoot 3s this season to average 13 points per game.
Perhaps the best evidence of Leonard’s rapid improvements as a shooter occurs in his 2-point jump shots. Just two years ago, Leonard struggled mightily from the midrange, making only 33 percent of his attempts. However, this season Leonard was downright elite. Out of 125 NBA players who attempted at least 200 midrange shots this season, Leonard ranked fourth in efficiency, converting 49 percent of those chances.
Leonard will be one of the keys to this series, but not necessarily as a scorer. His ability to rebound and defend multiple positions is going to be important as the Spurs try to match up with Erik Spoelstra’s small lineups. But while lineup flexibility might favor the Heat, depth is clearly on the side of the Spurs. Not only do the Spurs have home-court advantage this year, they also have the deepest bench in the league, and that’s not a coincidence. The Spurs bench led the NBA in both minutes and production this year, and it has been a huge advantage for them in the playoffs thus far.
Manu Ginobili is the unquestioned leader of that fierce second unit. Ginobili, who played badly in some key moments last year, has been instrumental in some of the Spurs’ finest moments this year, including the last few minutes of Saturday’s victory in Oklahoma City.
While the Heat’s role players are generally older and slower than they were last year, the Spurs’ bench unit is both deeper and better than ever. And while each team’s superstars get most of the attention, the more this series comes down to the benches, the better chances the Spurs have of winning it.