NBA Season Preview: Miami Heat

Last Season: 54-28, 1st in division, lost in NBA finals to San Antonio

Changes: Added— Andre Dawkins (signed), Josh McRoberts (free agent), Khem Burch (signed), Luol Deng (free agent), Reggie Williams (signed),  Shabazz Napier (draft), Shannon Brown (free agent), Shawne Williams (signed), Shawn Jones (signed), Tyler Johnson (signed), Resigned—Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Lost— DeAndre Liggons (free agent), Greg Oden (free agent), James Jones (free agent), Lebron James (free agent), Michael Beasley (free agent), Lewis (free agent), Ray Allen (free agent), Shane Battier (retired), Toney Douglas (free agent)

For a team with the most to lose in free agency the Heat managed to resign 2/3 of their important players, add a former All-Star small forward, and a starting caliber power forward, and still somehow come up as about 1/3rd the team they were last year—oh, that’s right—it’s because Lebron James basically carried an otherwise bad team to the finals yet again.

Positions:

Point Guard: Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Shabazz Napier

Mario Chalmers isn’t a bad player. He also isn’t a good player. Miami’s inability to develop him into any kind of consistent starter over the last 6 years is pretty indicative of the poor coaching being provided there. Chalmers came out of college as three point ace, and spending the last four years catch and shooting from Lebron and D Wade and his 3 point percent has gone basically nowhere. 38% last year, still good, but that’s on under 250 shots. His free throw percentage is low for a guard who doesn’t provide much in the way of athleticism, ball handling, and passing abilities. Chalmers is an average defender—but I’d put his overall value below a guard like Patrick Beverly who bring that single talent in extreme. He’s not a scorer like Isiah Thomas—a player with much worse defense than Chalmers brings, yet is more valuable to his team. He’s not the kind of passer or ball handler than Rajon Rondo or Ricky Rubio are, two players with much worse shots than Chalmers, yet bringing a lot more value to the position.

Simply put, Chalmers is the worst of all worlds, bringing not a single above average skill. He is probably the worst starting point guard in the league, might rank in the 35-40 range if you stacked up all the point guards in league.

Norris Cole is basically a less polished, slightly younger version of Chalmers. Despite the neat flat top he won’t bring anything terribly useful off the bench.

Shabazz Napier was a good college player. But the Heat reached to draft him, making a poor trade in desperation mode because Lebron had tweeted good things about him. That’s not the smart way to run a basketball franchise. Handing another good college point guard to head coach who has already failed at developing not one, but two of this kind of prospects at the same position into another but a bottom 5 starter and a worse bench player? Sorry Napier fans, but if he stays on Miami he will not make it in this league.

Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade, Shannon Brown, Reggie Williams

Wade is on the downside of his career. His points and minutes per game have fallen every year since 2008. Think that Lebron being gone he is suddenly going back up from 19 to 26 or 30 points per game? Think again. Think the Heat can sit him all those games to baby his knee and still cruise in with a high seed like they did last year? Not likely. Wade won’t be able to crank up the minutes, won’t be able to sit out games, and won’t be able to crank up the scoring — in fact his scoring will likely drop again because, shocker— defenders won’t be leaving to double team Lebron anymore. At this point Wade is a sub-average defender at his position—he simply can’t keep up with elite players on the wing. His 3 point percent, never great, has fallen to 28%– basically a hindrance and a shot he should not be taking. But he can’t penetrate the way he did when he earned the nickname “flash” years ago.

So what does that leave Wade with? He’s at the point in his career that other elite shooting guards (Kobe, MJ) added killer post games that allowed them to extend their careers—Wade hasn’t done that. And if there was a story about him getting German platelet treatment in the off season I missed it. Don’t be surprised if Wade looks washed up without Lebron to shore up all his weaknesses.

Shannon Brown was in over his head as a primary backup 5 and 6 years ago on the Lakers. Last year he played an average of 10 minutes in a total of 10 games for the Spurs, and scored an average of 2 points. The fact that he will have to start games at some point this season when Wade is unable to go would be a huge concern for the Heat, except of course if they had a competent second guard of any variety that player would need to be starting at the point.

Williams is the same kind of player who should be on the deep bench, and only played in 3 games last year at OKC. He will be pushed into either starter’s minutes or primary backup minutes this season, which does not speak well again for the Heat.

Small Forward: Luol Deng, Danny Granger, James Ennis

I’m a Bulls fan, and I will always love Lu for what he did for that team. For years Chicago was able to pencil him in for 16 a game, A plus defense, and giving his everything on the floor. The bad news for Miami fans is this though—Luol’s worst two periods of his career (2008-2009 and last year post trade) came when he was under a coach with a “loosely defined” offensive system (Vinny Del Negro and Mike Brown).  I usually refer to these as “bad coaches”, and my thoughts on Spoelstra have been pretty clear already— his offensive system the last four years has been “hey Lebron, you’re awesome, just do whatever.” Deng will not do well in that kind of environment.

All that said, Deng was probably the third best small forward available after Lebron and Carmelo, so the Heat did well to pick him up.

Granger went from being a borderline All-Star starter, to a sub-average bench player very quickly. He has shown the spark off the bench since he’s been moved to that role, and hasn’t even shown the propensity to stay healthy since the injuries started. The Heat are counting on his being able to find a role and stay on the court, but having him as the primary backup is a gamble this year.

Despite being drafted a few years back, this will be Ennis’s first year in the NBA. He chose to go overseas rather than the D League when the Heat failed to sign him due to their cap situation. He may end up playing depending on injuries and whether or not Granger can fit in as a backup.

Power Forward: Josh McRoberts, Udonis Haslem, Shawne Williams

McBob is a useful player. He brings a toughness, and decent overall numbers, though he is not much of a scorer. This was a good signing for the Heat, and had Lebron come back and gotten the gang together he would have been a good addition as a role-player. But he’s not replacing the lost production that Lebron brought, or even bridging the gap between Lebron and Luol.

Haslem ostensibly brings defense, but typically he is just a thug. I don’t particularly understand why he is on this team at this point except that he has served his time as an enforcer and taken pay cuts to get to stick around. When McRoberts is on the bench the Heat will be getting no production from the power forward position.

Williams isn’t anything special as a reserve, but he might push Haslem for minutes—similar PER with higher scoring average. Either way, behind McRoberts there isn’t a lot here.

Center: Chris Bosh, Chris Anderson, Justin Hamilton

Unlike Wade, Bosh actually probably has a chance to return to or above his pre-big three production. He will legitimately be the first option in Miami now, and his shooting percentages haven’t dipped so with increased usage will come increased scoring opportunities/points. He’s the only in his prime All-Star left on this roster, so expect him to bump up above 20 in ppg.

Anderson is a true seven footer, an “energy guy” with good rebounding skills, quality defense and a strong PER. He’s the best backup on this roster, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Heat play some sets where they downshift Bosh when McRoberts needs a rest and play Bosh alongside Anderson.

Hamilton saw virtually no play in his rookie season so he is a complete unknown. But with an all-around thin roster like Miami has, even playing at the deepest position he may get some looks.

Outlook: This season could go one of two ways—one, all the new pieces fit, the Heat soar to a 5-7 seed and get bounced in the first or second round of playoffs the way they always did before Lebron. Or two—Spoelstra is exposed as an awful coach, Wade has an awful season, Bosh looks like the guy who hated his life in Cleveland instead of the All-Star from Chicago, and the Heat go down in flames. If I had to guess? I’d say the Heat are going to be your “surprise” lottery team this year.

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