The Championship Manifesto

Today I’d like to give my theory on the best way to build a contender. Obviously not all contenders look the same, and there are many approaches aimed at getting the same result. For the sake of this article, I’ll only focus on the player personnel decisions a team should be making. Coaches play a huge role as well but I won’t be delving into that.

My model involves three basic steps. I’ll list them in order of difficulty, not in order of importance. In other words, number three is as important as number one, but it’s much easier to acquire those kinds of players.

1. Get Your Playmakers

Every team needs a few guys who can create their own offense. The stars, so to speak. Three is an ideal number, but two will suffice if the players are that good. If you have too little, it won’t work because opposing defenses will be able to focus on that one guy and take him out of the game. If you have too many, you’ll have guys stealing shots from each other, which drastically hurts your offensive efficiency.

Look at the contenders now. Boston has Pierce, Allen, and Garnett. Cleveland has James, Ilgauskas, and Williams (although Williams might not count). Orlando has Howard, Lewis, and Turkoglu. Los Angeles has Bryant, Gasol, and possibly Bynum. New Orleans has Paul, West, and maybe Stojakovic. Denver has Billups, Anthony, and potentially J.R. Smith or Nene. San Antonio has Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili.

One stipulation: these playmakers can not be liabilities on defense. In fact, none of your players can be liabilities on defense. Sure, sometimes you can hide weak players on defense with different schemes. But that inevitably leads to compromising some other area of your defense, and teams will figure out those schemes eventually anyways.

This step is number one because it’s the hardest to achieve. NBA stars don’t grow on trees, after all. However, there are numerous ways to acquire them. You can make a smart pick in the draft. Or you can create cap space and lure one with boatloads of money. Or you can trade assets such as youth or cap flexibility for a star. Still, it’s easier said than done.

2. Defend the Interior

In my opinion, the first thing you need to do to build a good defense is protect the paint. I submit that you need two solid defensive big men on the court at the same time, although some teams get away with just one (Orlando and San Antonio come to mind). With help behind them, perimeter defenders can crowd their man and take away the three-point shot, a key to offensive success (more on that later).

These big men shouldn’t be just shot blockers, though. They must understand positioning and help defense in a way that they don’t foul the opponent when they’re driving to the lane. Getting to the free throw line is one of the Four Factors, so you want to prevent that. What makes Boston and Cleveland so good in my opinion is that they both start two strong defenders in the frontcourt. That works wonders for your overall team defense.

3. Spread the Floor with Role Players

The third and final step is to acquire a lot of shooters that can also play defense. These players don’t have to be wings, either. In fact, one of your big men should be able to hit at least the mid-range jumper. Ideally, four of your five players can hit the perimeter shot, with the fifth being the center or power forward who bangs down low and goes for offensive rebounds.

The shooting big man is a tremendous bonus for success. If you can get a big who plays tough defense but also spreads the floor, you’re in the money. This guy accomplishes steps two and three for you. If he’s a playmaker as well, hold on to him for dear life, because he solves all three steps. However, if his defense is weak, don’t be too protective.

The prototype player for step number three is Shane Battier. He’s a defensive ace who spreads the floor. These role players are helped by the playmakers but also do the helping, too. With the floor spread out and no weak links on offense, teams can’t collapse the paint to stop the playmakers (they can, but they’ll soon regret it).

I made this step number three because I feel it is the easiest to obtain. You may not be able to get Shane Battier, but there are a lot of Shane Battier types of players out there. Generally speaking, the more of these guys that you can collect, the better.

Conclusion

I may add more to this later or expand on the existing steps, but this is my theory for now. In my opinion, if a team follows these three steps, all areas of achieving success are obtained. The team will be efficient on offense thanks to the easy shots created by the playmakers and taken by the role players. The team will be efficient on defense thanks to the strong interior play and the resulting tight defense on the perimeter.

Some of these things may seem obvious to people, and NBA general managers have probably already contemplated all these things and much, much more. However, I think it helps to get these things on paper (in this case, a blog). Front office executives have a general framework for building a successful team, and this is mine.

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