The most entertaining NBA postseason that I can remember is coming to a close within the next two weeks, and we're closing it out with one of the most exciting potential Finals matchups: Dallas's "Dirk Nowitzki and the Virile Veterans" Experience vs. Miami's "Why, Yes, We Are Bigger/More Important Than Jesus" Ego All-Stars. (I loved that Joseph Kimberly Noah just referred to Miami as being "Hollywood as Hell." It was fairly apt, and I'm going to steal it when referring to egotistical jerks from now on, but c'mon Joseph Kimberly, give Hollywood some credit...) And while I did rate this particular matchup as the most potentially exciting and enthralling, I still would've rather seen Chicago here. I just can't stomach the thought of Miami hoisting the trophy.
Anyway, I'm going to do the "Which team has the edge?" concept with this, but instead of comparing each team's specific position players and bench against each other, I'm going to try to look at which team has the better "best player," the better "second best player," the better "third best player," and so on. How am I going to decide the difference between 2nd and 3rd best on each team (or 3rd and 4th, or 4th and 5th, etc.)? With my old standby: win shares. Specifically playoff win shares. Keep in mind, the win share totals aren't going to necessarily decide which team's player is better, they're just used to sort out the rankings on each side. (And I'll try not to let my blatantly obvious anti-Miami sentiments color this too much.)
(Dallas's players are listed first in each matchup; "WS/48" is just win shares on a per minute basis for each player, so it's slightly more helpful when comparing bench players. And you know what? I'm going to throw in PER just for comparison's sake/the hell of it. 15.0 is the league average for PER and 0.100 is the league average for WS/48.)
1. Dirk Nowitzki (3.0 Win Shares, 0.243 WS/48, 27.1 PER) vs. LeBron James (3.5 Win Shares, 0.252 WS/48, 26.9 PER)
We all know Dirk has been transcendent these past few weeks, but as much as I hate to admit it, LeBron has been absolutely killing it in the playoffs, too. They both do a ton of different things for their respective teams, and both teams need each of these guys to play at their absolute best to have the slightest shot at winning it all. So, on just this one, I'm going to say...
2. Jason Terry (1.8 Win Shares, 0.172 WS/48, 19.7 PER) vs. Chris Bosh (2.4 Win Shares, 0.192 WS/48, 20.3 PER)
Yeah, according to this, Chris Bosh has been the 2nd best player on the Heat. Weird. Wade had an absolutely atrocious conference finals, though. Not that it makes much of a difference either way. Both Bosh and Wade are better all around than Terry.
3. Jason Kidd (1.7 Win Shares, 0.153 WS/48, 17.7 PER) vs. Dwyane Wade (2.4 Win Shares, 0.196 WS/48, 24.5 PER)
Well, Wade's obviously better than Kidd at this point in their careers. Even though Kidd's been playing great lately and Wade's been pretty bad the last few games, I think just about everyone would rather have Wade than Kidd. (If they're looking at it objectively, and not emotionally, that is.) So it might be more accurate to say everyone would rather have a player with Wade's skill sets right now than Kidd's. That being said, you should never underestimate Jason Kidd. He's one of the all-time great point guards for a reason. The edge goes to Miami, but it might not be as big as you might expect.
4. Tyson Chandler (1.7 Win Shares, 0.182 WS/48, 14.6 PER) vs. James Jones (0.9 Win Shares, 0.166 WS/48, 11.6 PER)
Um, does anybody even want James Jones on their team? This is a guy who was drafted 49th overall, then traded for a 2nd round pick, then traded straight up for cash, then just let go before Miami signed him before the 2008-09 season. Ok, fine, he's not the worst player ever. He's... competent. That's the best thing I can say about him. Tyson Chandler's legitimately good. Not great, mind you, but good. He brings things to the table. You'd miss him a lot if he couldn't play. That's way more than you could ever say about James Jones.
Huge Edge: Dallas
5. Shawn Marion (1.0 Win Shares, 0.104 WS/48, 15.3 PER) vs. Joel Anthony (0.9 Win Shares, 0.098 WS/48, 8.2 PER)
Remember when Shawn Marion was great? Maybe not great exactly, but really, really good and uniquely talented? Well, guess what? When he's matched up against Joel Anthony, he seems that way again! Also, I refuse to find anything positive to say about anyone whose name is Joel and pronounces it Jo-El. Like he's from Krypton. Kal-El's/Superman's bastard half-brother and Jor-El's greatest failing. Yes, even more tragic than him not being able to save his home planet from exploding. It's pronounced "Jole," damn it! Rhymes with "hole!" Stop being stubborn and just admit your family read the name in the Bible without hearing it first and that they mispronounced without realizing it for the first nine years of your life. Come on, already! Just do it and let's move on!
Big Edge: Dallas
6. J.J. Barea (0.8 Win Shares, 0.140 WS/48, 19.1 PER) vs. Mario Chalmers (0.6 Win Shares, 0.088 WS/48, 9.8 PER)
Here's one where PER tells you everything you need to know.
Huge Edge: Dallas
7. Peja Stojakovic (0.6 Win Shares, 0.091 WS/48, 13.3 PER) vs. Mike Miller (0.2 Win Shares, 0.074 WS/48, 9.2 PER)
Remember when Peja Stojakovic was an All-Star, made the All-NBA 2nd Team, and finished fourth in MVP voting? Hint: it was seven years ago, in 2004. Remember when Mike Miller was Rookie of the Year? Yeah, me neither, but it was 2001. Peja's fallen a lot further than Miller has in terms of skill level, but then again, he had a lot further to fall. Even this far removed from his prime, I'd still rather have Peja than Miller. (By the way, that was a nice midseason pickup for the Mavs. That totally caught me off guard that that panned out at all for them.)
Slight Edge: Dallas
8. Brendan Haywood (0.6 Win Shares, 0.112 WS/48, 10.8 PER) vs. Juwan Howard (0.1 Win Shares, 0.091, 6.5 PER)
Oh, hey, two large corpses! Juwan Howard used to be kind of good. He was once an All-Star after all. In 1996. His second season in the league. One year before Kobe Bryant's rookie year. Two years before Tim Duncan's. So, just based on age and those numbers up there, I'm giving the edge to Dallas. (Yes, I know, Kidd's even older than Howard. But Kidd has something left in the tank. Howard does not.)
9. Brian Cardinal (0.1 Win Shares, 0.401 WS/48, 31.4 PER) vs. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (0.1 Win Shares, 0.056 WS/48, 10.9 PER)
Don't let those numbers fool you. Brian Cardinal is not Dallas's secret weapon. He's played only 7 minutes in the playoffs for a reason. He just happened to make the most out of those minutes. Otherwise he would be much lower on this list. Zydrunas isn't what he once was, but he's still better than Cardinal could ever possibly be.
10. Ian Mahinmi (0.0 Win Shares, 0.141 WS/48, 1.4 PER) vs. Udonis Haslem (0.0 Win Shares, 0.002 WS/48, 5.7 PER)
Yeah... Mahinmi isn't good. Haslem is. That's about it. (Haslem would be higher here, too, if he'd played the entire playoffs.)
Big Edge: Miami
11. Corey Brewer (0.0 Win Shares, 0.044 WS/48, 12.8 PER) vs. Jamaal Magloire (0.0 Win Shares, 0.130 WS/48, 11.4 PER)
Anyone remember when Magloire made the All-Star team? (2004.) How weird was that? Even weirder? He led the East in scoring that year. No, really. Look it up. He did! He probably would've been the MVP of that All-Star Game had the East won. I'm giving him the edge for that startling fact alone.
12. DeShawn Stevenson (-0.2 Win Shares, -0.035 WS/48, 2.2 PER) vs. Eddie House (-0.2 Win Shares, -0.386 WS/48, -11.4 PER)
Yeah, DeShawn Stevenson is awful, but look at Eddie House's numbers there. He's making Stevenson look Jordanesque. None of those are typos. Negative 11.4 PER! That's impressively bad.
Surprisingly Big Edge: Dallas
13. Caron Butler (0.0 Win Shares, 0.000 WS/48, 0.0 PER) vs. Mike Bibby (-0.3 Win Shares, -0.044 WS/48, 2.2 PER)
Butler probably won't play in this series. But Miami's had 13 guys play in the playoffs because of the return of Haslem, so I threw him on here anyway. And anything he gives Dallas will be an improvement over whatever Bibby does for Miami. Somehow Bibby has hurt the team more than House has according to win shares. Ouch.
So who do I think wins this series? Well, I'm terrified LeBron goes on a tear and just wins the thing by himself, but he couldn't do it against San Antonio in 2007, or Boston in 2008, or Orlando in 2009, or Boston again in 2010. Granted, his team is much better now, but he's still going to need help from either Wade or Bosh. And Wade hasn't looked great, and I don't trust Bosh to do much yet, so I don't know. Plus, I can't see Dirk allowing this to slip through his grasp. He just wants it more. Much more.
And you can tell because of one simple fact. One month from now, we all know what LeBron (and Bosh, and Wade) is going to be doing, regardless of how these Finals play out. He's going to be partying without a care in the world. Now, he'll probably have some different conversations depending on if he's just won the title or not, but one way or another, he's going to be kicking back at a party, reveling in the adoration of the masses. That's all he really wants.
He doesn't really care about winning, or being the best he can possibly be, or really even about basketball in general. He cares about LeBron. He cares about what people think of LeBron. You can tell it's bothering him more than he could ever admit that he's a "villain" now. He hates it. He hates not being universally loved. And I think deep down he knows that if he wins, everyone will just hate him all the more. I don't think he'll intentionally throw games. Of course he won't. But will there be a subconscious part of him working against himself? I don't know. I really don't. But it's going to be fascinating to watch how he handles everything over the next two weeks. And it's for that reason (and some wishful thinking/hoping) that I'm picking Dallas.