Winning an NBA championship is akin to a good recipe. You need certain quality ingredients and a way to combine them -mixing, stirring, whipping, or kneading- so they blend together properly. The recipe for making an NBA championship is in some sort like the recipe for brewing beer in that four ingredients are absolutely essential. In beer, those are yeast, hops, barley and water. In basketball, these four elements (along with a smattering of others) are essential to a winning recipe…
1) A pure scorer – This player must be able to get his own shot when the designed offense cannot. When play breaks down, particularly at the end of games as fatigue sets in, a team must have a go-to player who can create his own clean look without necessarily relying on his teammates. This isn’t to say that a team must have a selfish player, but let’s be honest – in the NBA, half of each game is played at a one-on-one level anyways. Prime examples in today’s game include Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant.
2) A paint defender – Think of the paint as a cave, and the hoop as a priceless relic in that cave. Every fortune-filled cave needs an angry ogre to defend from intruders. A championship team must have a physical big man who will block (or at least alter) shots and defend the paint from cutting offensive players. This forward/center has to force offensive players to think twice about getting to the rim. The NBA has evolved into a physical game, for better or for worse, and bruising interior play is now as commonplace as the pick-and-roll. The Dallas Mavericks NEVER would have won the 2011 Finals without Tyson Chandler patrolling the paint. Chandler made it his mission to do all the dirty work inside – playing physical post defense, grabbing rebounds, blocking shots, and levying hits if necessary.
3) A knockdown shooter – A team’s shooter does not necessarily have to live at the three-point line (see Richard Hamilton, 2003-04 Pistons) but he must be reliable from most areas of the court. The shooter cannot be hesitant to take an open look; some will fall, some won’t, but his confidence has to be consistent and unyielding. Note: the pure scorer cannot double as the knockdown shooter, as pressure needs to be alleviated from the primary scorer as needed.
4) Great team ball movement – Allow me to mimic a crotchety, old fundamentals-preaching coach for just three sentences: basketball (along with most other sports) is about timing. Shooters need to stay in rhythm by having the ball delivered quickly and in the right spot, and post-up players need the ball in a comfortable area, and before three defenders have already collapsed. It’s not enough to make the right pass – the ball should be in the right spot as well. This is a team effort, meaning it starts, not ends, with the point guard.
There is of course some subjectivity involved in satisfying the requirements, as each reader is entitled to assess players differently. Nevertheless, these are still the four most important aspects of a championship team, and can be applied to this season in weeding out the contenders and the pretenders. Here is my list of the NBA teams who satisfy all four criteria:
· Chicago Bulls
· Oklahoma City Thunder
· Los Angeles Clippers
· Memphis Grizzlies
· Miami Heat* – No one completely satisfies the paint defender category, as Joel Anthony is undersized and somewhat inconsistent. The Heat compensate for this deficiency by doubling (or tripling) up in nearly every other category though: three go-to scorers (Lebron James, Wade and Chris Bosh), a slew of great passers (James, Wade and Mario Chalmers) and two knockdown shooters (Chalmers and Mike Miller).
Honorable mentions (with lacking criteria in parenthesis) who fell just short of the requirements: the Celtics (a paint defender), the Mavericks (a paint defender) and the Knicks (team ball movement), with the cohesion of Jeremy Lin, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire still in question for the time being.
Who’s on your list?