NBA Conference Finals Part 2: The West – Hero Ball v Team Basketball

In our piece on the Eastern Conference, the point was raised at the vastly differing playing styles of the two combatants ( the Lebron-centric offense vs the ball and player movement of the Celtics). The clash to come out of the West also features teams that approach the game from totally different perspectives.

The Houston Rockets were the best isolation team in the NBA this season. Their best player, James Harden, averages a league-high 1.20 PPP and Chris Paul is number 2 at 1.11 PPP. As a team, the Rockets average over 1 PPP. Isolation based offenses have limitations; they can get stagnant, as the other players have a tendency to stand around and watch the ball handler attempt to break his man down. They also can be easier to defend as “hero ball” offense allows the other four players to more easily key on the main guy. Though Houston has the two best isolation players in the league, by the numbers, trying to get your baskets primarily in that manner can be terribly draining ( the argument could be made that is what happened to James Harden in last year’s playoffs).

The Warriors play a style that is predicated on moving the ball and using that and player movement to create good shots. When a team plays this way it forces the defense to stay engaged because any lapse in focus can result in an open shot for Golden State. Ball and player movement based offenses are more difficult to defend because there is always some sort of action happening that the defense has to account for. Another benefit of this style of play is it keeps more players engaged because more than one or two guys are touching the ball on a given possession.

Through the first three games of this series, we’ve seen both styles have their moments, and so far the Warriors have prevailed twice. Ironically, the one game where the Rockets actually had movement away from the ball ( and P.J. Tucker, Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon going bananas) they won rather handily. I’m not sure their iso-heavy, hero ball attack is sustainable and reliable enough method of play to pull them through against high-end teams over the course of a playoff series. It may win them a game or two but it may ultimately cause them to come up short.

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