Having covered the Oklahoma City Thunder, keenly watched basketball more than 45 years and knowing my way around basketball-reference.com enough to be dangerous, here’s a prediction.
The Miami Heat, in seven games, will claim the most unlikely NBA championship in, oh, let’s call it recent memory.
Not as crazy as, say, the ’77-78 Washington Bullets, who turned a 44-38 regular-season into a world championship, but still a No. 5 seed winning four straight series that wasn’t supposed to win one.
Because Miami can beat you so many different ways.
Since the playoffs began, six members of the Heat have averaged double-figure points and four between 16.5 and 20.9; though Bam Adebayo’s grabbing 11.4 rebounds per postseason game, five others are grabbing at least four; four guys are dishing between 3.9 and 4.9 assists.
How can you pick against a team like that? How can you not pick a team that produces like an actual, you know, team?
Historically, it’s the best way to go win a championship, though you might not think so.
You might not think so because so many are so clearly not trying to win one that way.
You might think you’d want the man who leads the NBA in a stat called “win shares” on your team, because that would be James Harden, who’s led the league in the category five of the last six seasons, not to mention in scoring three of the last four.
It means, as best anybody can figure, Harden’s worth more victories to his team than any other player.
Or, you might think you’d want want to build your team around a player who makes everything happen, literally, because the ball’s always in his hands.
Again, a player like Harden, whose ’18-19 season was the second most “usage” heavy in the history of the league, behind only Russell Westbrook’s 2016-17 campaign, his original triple-double season.
Usage is the percentage — Harden’s was 40.5 last season; Westbrook’s 41.7 two years prior — of possessions one player, when on the court, concludes by shooting, being fouled or turning the ball over.
It seems like you’d want a player who’s literally a ball hog, for some of the NBA’s best players are prolific “users.”
The Nos. 7, 8 and 10 most usage heavy seasons in NBA history were turned in this season by Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (37.5 percent), Dallas’ Luka Doncic (36.8) and Houston's Harden (36.3).
The rest of the historic top 10 belongs to Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and DeMarcus Cousins.
It’s quite a list.
But you’d be wrong.
You’re far better off not building around a superstar, but two of them. Or better still, three who know how to share the ball with themselves and their teammates.
Perhaps the Heat can’t win because the Lakers, led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, are just too good.
L.A. may have two threats and the Heat a whole team of them but the Lakers’ two are too much.
That could be.
Or, maybe, even in a 3-point age, the Heat will remind us their model’s the more historically successful for a reason, that sharing the ball is the single greatest hallmark of championship basketball.
In the history of the game, no player who authored even one of the 20 most usage heavy NBA seasons led his team to a title and only one even played for one.
Jordan appears twice in the usage all-time top 20, but the first was his third year in the league, when the Bulls were swept out of the first round by the Celtics in ’86-87, and the last was in ’01-02, after he ditched retirement to become a Washington Wizard.
Bryant’s on the list twice, too, in ’05-06 and ’11-12, two seasons the Lakers didn’t get beyond the first-round of the playoffs.
Iverson appears on it four times, in ’00-01, ’01-02, ’03-04 and ’05-06.
He went to the NBA Finals the first of those seasons, the only one on the list ever to get that far. Of course, he and his coach, the great Larry Brown, co-existed that season. The next season they didn’t and the next one Brown was gone.
You might want a win-shares guy on your title-chasing team, but not if he’s also a huge usage guy.
Wilt Chamberlain appears six times on the top-20 all-time win shares list, Jordan four, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar three, George Mikan three, LeBron James two and Oscar Robertson and David Robinson one.
Jordan and Mikan twice led the league in win shares and won a championship. LeBron, Wilt and Kareem each did it once.
None of them, as you may have surmised, played the point. Wilt, Kareem and Mikan were all centers.
Fun stat: Kareem’s ’71-72 win shares total, 25.4, is five-plus more than any active player’s ever reached: LeBron, 20.3, 2008-09, the season Orlando knocked out James’ Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.
Really, one guy has never dominated the ball the way the ball gets dominated now and won anything.
Think about it.
Had Magic Johnson or Larry Bird handled the ball the way Harden handles it, there’d have been no room for Kevin McHale, Robert Parish or Dennis Johnson to enjoy Hall of Fame careers, nor for Kareem, Michael Cooper or even Byron Scott to beat you.
If the ball stopped in Steph Curry’s hands the way it has stopped in Westbrook’s or Iverson’s, Golden State would not have won three championships and played for another.
Maybe LeBron and Anthony Davis will have their way, or maybe a team that’s so much more than the sum of its parts, even suddenly, the Heat, will remind us how much fun the game can be.
I’ll take the team with a chance to do that.