Interview With Neil Paine Part IV

"People were saying they couldn't win the way that they played, but I think that there's no reason that you can't as long as you execute, like you said, and as long as you put out a competent defense. The Magic are a lot better than competent on defense ... best Defensive Rating in the league. I haven't looked this up, but I think the team with the best Defensive Rating in the league has at least made the Finals, including this year, more than 60% of the time. If you get that #1 defensive rank, you're golden. The causation goes the other way. You got to be a good defensive team to do it and that means defense wins championships."

-- Neil Paine, Basketball-Reference

 

As promised, here is Part IV of my interview with Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference. 

 

In the final part of the Q/A, Paine analyzes the way Orlando has been able to become a title contender, discusses the strengths for both the Magic and the Lakers as both teams prepare to play in the NBA Finals, and more.

 

Enjoy.

 

Click after the jump for the full transcript.

 

I think the most important thing to take away from this is that there's different ways of winning titles. I think the Magic have proven that their way is a possible way of winning, that pretty much is ... play defense, shoot the three ball, and have a guy like Dwight to dominate in the paint.

You know, college teams have been following that format. Obviously the college distance is shorter, but Florida won back-to-back titles with dominant big men ... they had two with Horford and Noah, then guys around the outside like Brewer. There's a lot of resistance if you come up with different ideas of getting it done. Phoenix should have won at least one championship over the past few years, but they got screwed against the Spurs, that's well documented. 

 

People were saying they couldn't win the way that they played, but I think that there's no reason that you can't as long as you execute, like you said, and as long as you put out a competent defense. The Magic are a lot better than competent on defense ... best Defensive Rating in the league. I haven't looked this up, but I think the team with the best Defensive Rating in the league has at least made the Finals, including this year, more than 60% of the time. If you get that #1 defensive rank, you're golden. The causation goes the other way. You got to be a good defensive team to do it and that means defense wins championships.

Yeah, the adage that defense wins championships, purely from an empirical standpoint, holds true. As you said, you just pointed out that over 60% of the teams with the #1 defensive rating in the league were able to advance to the Finals at a pretty high clip. 

I get the feeling that people disrespected the Magic's defense, especially before the playoffs. Like they didn't feel like they were a great defensive team. It's b.s. ... they had the Defensive Player of the Year. 

If you watched the Magic during the regular season, they didn't do anything crazy. When we think of great defensive players, we think of the Battier's, that really having a calculated way of defending their player. If you look at Orlando, they don't come off as an amazing defensive team from purely an observing standpoint. You know, when the Pistons won it all in 2004, everyone marveled about their defense. That's all they talked about. 

But with the Magic, no one talks about it because they don't do some of the things you see from other defensive teams. All they do is play straight-up, and they have a guy like Dwight Howard to clean up the mess. It's as simple as that. Stan Van Gundy has made a concerted effort ... if you look at the numbers, it bolds true. Man up, force the opponent to shoot jump shots, do not foul them, do not put them on the line, and boom ... you have the formula for why the Magic are the #1 defensive team in the league. 

I'm sure he didn't go over the past stats of great defensive teams, and look at it. But if you think about it, those are the surest ways of getting low percentage plays because the mid-range jump shot is the worst in basketball, by far, in terms of points per possession and the free-throw is one of the highest points per possession items in basketball. If you shoot at a 75% clip, you're going to score well over 1.2 or 1.3 points per possession. Limiting those and encouraging the two-point jump shot and also being a great defensive rebounding team is the formula. 

 

The more I think about it, the more I'm leaning towards Lakers in 7. It's a very narrow range of outcomes, like you said, because I don't think the Lakers can blow it open. Whenever they get off to a hot start, they have the tendency to fall back on their heels and play not to lose and they end up blowing huge leads and play like crap. If Orlando can establish themselves early, like you said ... win on the road, make a habit of at least being competitive on the road, there's no reason why they can't win the series. I'm not saying they're going to, because like I said, L.A. talent-wise has Gasol ... is the best second option probably in the league, if you think about it. If you shut down Kobe, what are you going to do about Gasol. If you shut down Gasol, what are you going to do about Bynum, assuming Bynum plays like he's capable of, which is a pretty big assumption at this point but I don't know, maybe he'll turn it on. Talent-wise, there are definitely arguments for L.A.

 

For Orlando, their arguments are play great defense, we got this great pick & roll that's unstoppable, and shoot the lights out. If the shots are falling, Orlando wins. That's basically what it comes down to. They shot, what 42% or 43% against Cleveland, it was an absurd amount. Well, the stat head in me says ... well, that's going to regress to the mean, it's just going to, it has to, and they're not going to do it again. It's not like they just got lucky. Guys were rotating and they were just hitting shots and they were creating open opportunities through the pick & roll synergy and through getting Howard touches down low. Maybe Howard knew what he was talking about when he called out Van Gundy about the touches because the more touches he gets, the better they play. 

Clearly Orlando is going to fall back a little bit, from a numbers perspective, but if they continue to do the same things they were doing against Cleveland, which was simply dump it down to Dwight, he was smart enough to kick it out, and rotate the ball until they find an open shot. There's no reason why they can't keep doing it, it's just a matter of whether or not they can execute. 

They shot, what, 39% during the regular season so people were making a big deal about how "lucky" they were getting because they were making shots. It wasn't really that big of a difference, given the samples that they had. There's no reason they wouldn't shoot 43%, given that they were already a true talent level of 39%. 

 

I think it's going to be a great series. People are probably not going to watch it and it's not going to be as high, ratings-wise, like Boston and L.A. last year. Orlando doesn't have the sex appeal that [previous] matchup had but the basketball purist that wants to see a matchup, in which the tactics come to the forefront. Mike Brown didn't deserve Coach of the Year because he's not an X's & O's guy. They don't say LeBron, just bull rush the basket, and we'll see what we can do after that.

 

This is going to be a chess match between the elder statesman, Phil Jackson, the triangle and all the great things and then also Stan Van Gundy's offense, which is a spread offense, which is different but is also similar in a lot of respects to the triangle because you want to get that spacing. It's all predicated on spacing. You want to be able to work from the outside-in or at least from the post-in. Defensively, the Magic have, like you said ... it's straight up man-to-man and the fundamentals. Phil Jackson has always preached the fundamentals also, which is do your rotations, be able to recover, and don't get yourself into situations where you gamble. 

 

I think it's going to be one of the best finals that we've seen in the past few years. 

Definitely, from a tactical standpoint, it's going to be pleasing to anybody that appreciates good basketball. 

 

 

As always, I like to thank Neil for taking the time to speak with me. Our conversation was an excellent one. 

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