Yup, the pro-Heat ESPN.com knows no bounds to their enthusiasm over their own personal Dream Team.
Now, they've even declared Mike Bibby defense....well, defensible.
The 32-year-old point guard has developed a reputation as a matador who voluntarily ushers opposing point guards into the lane. Sometimes it looks like he's defending whilst waist-deep in a pool.
So how could the Heat, with their fourth-ranked defensive efficiency, possibly be interested in a defender with the mobility of a cardboard cutout?
Well, maybe he's not as defenseless as we thought. Perhaps a better question is: how bad can he possibly be?
Answer: Pretty bad.
The #1 tactic teams used against the Hawks offensively was to exploit the senior PG's gaping hole in his game. Bibby was incapable at any time of keeping his man out of the lane and was so bad, it was often called upon Joe Johnson and, brace yourselves, center Al Horford to do this job.
The only teams that didn't attack the Hawks in this manner are the teams that were ill-equipped to do so or fundamentally opposed to the tactic. Teams like, you know, the Heat.
Haberstroh takes to the stats to make his point:
Consider the facts:
- The Hawks are ranked 13th in defensive efficiency this season (above-average with Bibby playing all but three games).
- The Hawks were tied for 13th in defensive efficiency last season (above-average).
- This season, the Hawks were better defensively with Bibby on the floor than when he sat on the bench. The Hawks allowed 105.4 points per 100 possessions with him and 106.6 points with him riding pine.
- He grades out as an "average" defender this season according to data from Synergy Sports. The grade spectrum for a given player is as follows: "poor," "below average," "average," "good," "very good" and "excellent" depending on how many points he allows on every play he directly defends.
The case has been made that Bibby's overall effectiveness comes from playing with the best Hawks' defenders on the team, Al Horford and Josh Smith, nearly exclusively. Bibby has never had to come on the court with the likes of those on the Hawks "bench". It's that bench that features the guard who is as bad as Bibby at defending his man on the perimeter, Jamal Crawford. When Bibby and Crawford have been on the floor at the same time, I swear I can see Horford's heart rate increase 20 percent.
His on/off court numbers are an indictment of the lack of quality depth on the bench, rather than an abatement of the criticism due Bibby's defensive abilities.
If anything, Haberstroh should go back and write another love letter to Horford for his amazing defensive efficiency in spite of what he's had to work with at the perimeter.
Oddly enough, Bibby has held his own in one-on-one situations. When Hawks' opponents have zeroed in and driven on him, they have collected just 46 points on 68 plays (.68 points allowed per play). That efficiency ranks in the top 15 percentile in the NBA, along with Rajon Rondo, Ron Artest and LeBron James. Not bad company.
Mmmhmmm. Yes. The Hawks certainly felt like Bibby's defense was on par with those guys. This is a excerpt for the Epic Saga "Stats Lie."
If anything, a bleary eyes Bibby should send some candy to Al and Josh, thanking them for giving he and his agent some ammo for another long term deal.
"See, look right there. I'm still viable!"
Oh, and save some candy for Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, they'll be looking to collect soon enough.
Speaking of which:
Moreover, Spoelstra knows Bibby can't keep up with the game's quickest point guards. The Heat luckily have two defenders who can: Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. The Lakers face a similar dilemma with their aging point guard Derek Fisher and what do they do? They put Kobe Bryant on the Rajon Rondos of the NBA. Expect the Heat to deploy a similar strategy if the Heat can't stomach Mario Chalmers' erratic play.
I'm sure they'll do a better job at keeping up with them than Joe Johnson did this season and last, but it won't be just the "quickest" point guards, unless you're saying that group includes the top 75 percent of the league points.
Finally, some sobriety in the piece:
However, if you watch Bibby, he doesn't appear to be plugged in defensively. He lazily closes out shooters, waddles through pick-and-rolls and loses focus easily. A passive intensity won't be accepted as a member of the Heat. If he doesn't bring it, the Heat will have no reservations about burying him on the bench much in the same way they've dropped Carlos Arroyo out of the rotation.
Bibby must be uber-skilled to play in this manner and still put up all the defensive numbers Haberstroh communicates to us in this piece.
Look, we love what Mike did here in Atlanta, and he does add some value to a team in certain capacities, but to waste the time to write about how his well-earned defensive reputation is overrated or undeserved is quite comical.
If the standard of defensive play, as the bar is set in this last passage, is the difference between Mike playing or "burying him on the bench", most Hawks fans know how it will end. And no amount of statistical propping up will change our minds. We know better, and so will Mr. Haberstroh.