Spoelstra changed his starting lineup before Game 3, going with a lineup that featured James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller instead of usual power forward Udonis Haslem.
James has given Spoelstra the ability to experiment, with Heat forward Shane Battier describing the four-time most valuable player as “the skeleton key” that can open all doors.
“We have a team of basketball players,” Battier said. “That’s what it boils down to. And it’s Spo’s job to put basketball players in positions where they can use their skills and I think that’s the way the NBA is going. It’s a little less traditional.
“The data that’s come out in the last five years, teams understand what wins and what loses,” Battier said. “Traditionalists say ‘Oh, the numbers can’t tell a guys heart and psychology, and that’s true. The numbers aren’t everything but what the numbers can do is mitigate risk and they make your margin of error a little smaller.”
Battier came to Miami from Houston, where General Manager Darryl Morey has helped set off a popular trend of basketball hires that place a high value on analytics. The Memphis Grizzlies recently hired former ESPN writer and analytical guru John Hollinger as vice president of basketball operations and Morey’s former assistant Sam Hinkie, a Stanford alum, took over as general manager for the Philadelphia 76ers last month.
Growing up in Houston, Alagappan said he has an appreciation for Morey, who has encouraged him to find another way to be around basketball. “I realized I didn’t have to be 6-foot-6 and super athletic to have an impact on the game. Maybe I can use what I’ve learned in the classroom and my creativity and a new idea and try to impact the game that way,” said Alagappan, who still doesn’t know if he’ll pick a career in basketball or a career in medicine when he’s done at Stanford. “So far, I haven’t had to choose. I think the day will come when I will, and I’m not sure. I really enjoy both and I’m going to keep trying to do both for as long as I can.”
Alagappan said his opinions have been met with some resistance, but he remains hopeful that people will eventually come around. “It will be come, but I don’t think it’s close, because the NBA is a big sport, it’s global, and it takes a lot of time to think about. But we think we’re on to something and we’ve seen enough people to agree that I think it’s worth fighting for.”