So far the meme by the sports media on the Pacers / Bulls series is that the Bulls have just come out slowly, which they need to correct, and that the superior play at the end of games has carried them to victory. The implication is that if they solve their lackadaisical attitude, their problems will be solved.
The larger meme / story
This analysis of the series fits well with larger NBA marketing effort and common perception of today's basketball.
That story, supported by many on this forum, is that despite basketball being a team sport, it is carried by superstars who can take the team on its shoulders and through spectacular and athletic play, win the day.
The Pacers, without a bona fide superstar (no knock against Danny Grainger, who has played a generally very good series), have little hope if their opponents play to their potential.
The other meme
All this is well and good, except that readers should consider that it is all false.
For in the games I am watching, the Bulls are not coming out flat. They are getting outplayed. They are being out teamed, out hustled and out defended.
And it is not the Bulls who are coming through at the end of the game nearly as much as it is the Pacers who are self-destructing with sloppy play and self-induced errors. IF the Pacers would believe in themselves, they could easily be winning this series 3-1.
In support of this story, the Grizzlies are actually enjoying even more success playing team basketball and beating a team with a number of superstars and rated number 1 in the league.
The meaning of the story
If my story is correct, then basketball is still more a team game than implied. Good teams who play well together can overcome a few superstars, whose value and salaries have been over-estimated.
And that story has very real implications on playing tactics and recruiting and training.
1. Teams who wish to avoid the burdening cost of a superstar must populate their teams with adept players from 1-10 positions and attack the inherent weakness of the statistically one-sided payroll of their opponents. IOW, most NBA games, even in the play-offs can not be played at full speed because their superstars can not put out 100% effort over 48 minutes. A more equitably talented team can take advantage of this weakness by playing more rested players at a generally higher energy level and speed. Given the talent of the Pacer bench, they actually have the opportunity to employ this strategy, but have generally not taken advantage of it.
To disagree with this argument, you must structurally argue that ability drops off precipitously not just from superstar level, but from starter to bench levels, in the NBA. I find it difficult to believe this given that playing time or lack of it, often is a larger predictor of consistent performance. Also, given the sheer number of top level players into the league, I believe it is hard to argue this point.
2. An effective strategy to emphasize the team sport is to actively recruit capable players that do not demand superstar salaries, AND PLAY THEM. In this scenario, a roster approach of two lines is preferable to a substitution approach. The reason this approach makes sense (taking a lesson from hockey) is that the team is more important than any one player. But some players play better with each other than others; it is their synergy and what they create together that is more important than their individual talent. Sympathetically, groups of players create their own personalities; the Goon squad on the Pacers before they disbanded is a good example. But in hockey there are better ones, where this phenomenon of team sports is not only appreciated but nurtured line by line.
The explicit challenge to the opponent is that they need to match your intensity the entire game, or risk collapse by the fourth quarter. Said another way, the team is betting their second line is better than that of the other team, if the opponent chooses to respond to their tiredness by playing their bench.
It is possible to win the NBA with a team approach despite the marketing efforts of the NBA and ESPN. The Pacers are much closer than they think. They just need to ignore the hype and believe they can do it.
Please discuss. Thank you for reading.