- Guest writer Danny Martinez
Now that we’ve passed the All Star Weekend, it's fair to judge where the Heat are in relation to their peers and their predecessors. To start the exercise of the latter, I collected the Win Shares of the Heat starters and James Jones. I looked to compare the Heat’s starting unit plus 6th
man to those of former champions. Using the most common Heat starting lineup of Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and James Jones, their total Win Shares came to 36.3 so far this season. I calculated each player’s contribution to this and created this pie chart:
Performing the same exercise for the past 20 NBA champions I was able to make some very basic comparisons to see whom the Heat most related to. Win Shares are not a perfect metric, but they provide a decent way to show a player’s contribution to their team. Showing them as a percentage of a team’s top-6 production makes comparisons fairly easy, and pretty accurate.
It is no surprise that the Heat’s three top performers dominate the win share total. Together they make up for 75% of the top-6’s win shares. Looking through past champions that got similar production from the two, three and four positions I found three teams to be decent comparisons:
The 1993 Bulls got substantially more production from the point guard position, so they were eliminated. The Bulls’ top three performers in 1992 accounted for more of the teams production than the Heat’s have, thus the best comparison is the 1991 Chicago Bulls team.
The key difference between the 2011 Heat and the 1991 Bulls is the position of dominance. Michael Jordan led the way for the Bulls, and on this Heat team the top performer is LeBron James. MJ dominated as a Shooting Guard while Scottie Pippen, the Small Forward, was second in command. On the Heat it is flipped, with LeBron leading the way and Dwyane Wade holding down the second spot. Both teams have third wheel Power Forwards (Horace Grant and Chris Bosh).
After concluding through Win Shares that the 1991 Bulls were the best comparison for the Heat, I dug a little deeper to see if there were any other similarities. Turns out, there were many.
The Miami Heat struggled from the outset of the season, going 9-8 in the first 17 games. This was far from what was expected. At the 20 game mark, the Heat were sporting a 12-8 record, but did have a strong point differential (+8.2) indicating that they were better than their record showed.
The 1991 Bulls struggled early as well. Coming off of the 1990 season in which they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Pistons, the Bulls lost their first three games. They recovered and stood at 12-8 through 20 games (the exact same record as the Heat) and had a point differential of +7.55 indicating they were better than their record.
The next 20 games for the Heat were spectacular. Aided by a somewhat forgiving schedule and practice time together, the Heat went 18-2. This put their record at 30-10 overall with a point differential of +9.08.
The Bulls "second twenty" was also very strong. They cruised to a record of 16-4 through the time period and were 28-12 through 40 games with a point differential of +7.93.
After various injuries to James, Wade and Bosh the Heat stumbled through their next fifteen games going 13-9. This has left them at a record of 43-19 and a point differential of +7.6. For what it’s worth, the expected W/L record according to Basketball Reference is 45-17 (it’s based on point differential).
Through 62 games the Bulls were 47-15, with a point differential of +9.8. The Bulls ultimately finished the year 61-21, good for first in the Eastern Conference and second in the NBA. Despite the Heat’s recent struggles, they are in position to reach the 61-win mark. It would take a record of 18-2, with every remaining game against a top team at home. I believe they’ll fall just short and finish with 58 or 59 wins (John Hollinger’s playoff odds has them finishing with 57).
Overall record aside, there are more similarities between the two teams. The Heat’s pace is 91.4, 18th
in the league. The Bulls pace in 1991 was 95.6, 19th
in a 27 team league. The efficiency difference for the Heat is 7.5(best in the league), and the efficiency difference for the Bulls was 9.4 (best in the league). Both teams are highly efficient, scoring while limiting their possessions. The ‘91 had an efficiency average of 4 (1st
ORtg and 7th
DRtg), while the Heat have an efficiency average of 5th
, which is their ranking in both ORtg and DRtg.
Against the other top three seeds in the East and the top four in the West the Bulls had a record of 10-11. They also had a record of 1-3 against the Philadelphia 76ers (the 5th
seed), a team they faced in the second round of the playoffs. Against "top competition" they were anything but stellar.
So far this season the Heat are 4-10 against the other top three seeds in the East and the top four seeds in the West. They have five games left against such competition, with four of the games coming at home.
There is one final important factor to note. The 1990-1991 was Michael Jordan’s seventh season in the NBA. He had advanced to two conference finals without being able to break through past the Pistons. His supporting cast was young and in the ’90-’91 season finally blossomed. Up until the ’91 season Jordan had played with zero players who produced 10+ Win Shares. In 1991 both Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant crossed the threshold, putting up 11 and 10.3 respectively.
The 2010-2011 NBA season is LeBron James’ eighth. He has advanced to the NBA Finals once, and the Eastern Conference Finals once as well. During his career he has never had a teammate accrue 10+ Win Shares. This season both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will.
The 1991 Bulls were a team that was on the cusp of greatness the previous two years. They broke through built around a nucleus of one superstar, Michael Jordan, and two other stars, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant. The 2011 Heat are a team thrown together before the season, trying to break through against the Boston Celtics. They are built around two superstars, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and one star, Chris Bosh. This year’s Heat are not the 1996 Bulls that went 72-10, but they may be the 1991 Chicago Bulls. Something tells me that they might be ok with how it turns out.
Danny can be followed on Twitter @DannyMartinez4