With a flurry of signings, the Miami Heat has all but constructed the team it will field for the 2014-2015 seasons. What will the rotation look like?
Mario Chalmers – It remains difficult to gauge Chalmers based on last season’s performance. On one hand, he averaged a career high in assists per 36 minutes, set a career high in FG% (45.4%), and remained an above average three point shooter for the regular season. On the other hand, his Finals performance was so catastrophically bad that you can’t help but wonder if Chalmers will go through a Nick Anderson like post-Finals career flameout. With Chalmers, you always take the good with the bad because historically, he’s always had one “good Mario” game to balance out every “Wario” game, but for the first time, it didn’t happen this postseason. Still, Miami understood the big picture and gave Chalmers a contract that pays him the same annually as the last one did ($4 Million). Expect Chalmers to start for Miami and don’t be surprised if his assists shoot up further now that LeBron James is gone.
Norris Cole – The unfortunate truth with Cole is that he may have already peaked as a prospect. Lightning quick and a pesky defender, Cole has worked hard to improve his offensive game, but the dividends have been uneven. To his credit, he’s at least become a league average three point shooter after a dreadful rookie year and isn’t nearly as reckless driving in with no idea what to do. Still, he’s no good around the rim (49%, below the league average) and isn’t enough of a shooter from midrange or three to garner respect from defenses. With the drafting of Shabazz Napier, Cole has been thrown into trade rumors in order to shed his salary, but as of now, he will remain in the rotation, holding down the same backup point guard spot he had since his rookie season.
Shabazz Napier – In retrospect, you have to wonder if Miami would’ve been better suited drafting a wing. Napier’s LeBron-related exploits have been well documented and won’t be rehashed here. He’s a high IQ point guard with a solid jump shot and four years of college under his belt, but his limited athleticism impacted his finishing ability at the rim from day one. Sadly, his Summer League performance has been so dreadful that the D-League is quickly looking like an option (in his defense, reigning Rookie of the Year Michael-Carter Williams had a poor Summer League showing). He’s shot 30.3% in nine games, has more turnovers (40) than assists (36), and is even struggling at the foul line (67%), something he excelled at in college. Shabazz still has training camp to impress the coaches, but he’s on the outside looking in right now.
Dwyane Wade – Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Miami’s post-LeBron era will be to see if Dwyane can return to being the alpha perimeter player and being a 20+ point scorer again. The former NBA scoring champ’s efficiency has risen dramatically the past two seasons largely due to excelling at off-ball movements and cuts in sync with LeBron’s passing and dusting off a hyper efficient short range game filled with post ups and floaters in zones that are often among the worst for even star players.
Dwyane’s days of over 50% shooting may be gone with an increased offensive load. The minutes will increase and the maintenance plan days are likely through, as every Miami regular season game now holds significance. Every year fans clamor for Wade to work on the three-point shot, but there’s little evidence that will be a focus for him this offseason. With the shaky Deng sharing the lineup with him, Miami’s spacing could get a little cramped, but Wade is still one of the most creative and artful scorers in the league when healthy. Miami can ill-afford for Wade to break down in the regular season, but their reliance on him hasn’t been this high since 2009-2010. A good barometer for Wade will be to watch his free throw attempts. They have dwindled as he’s aged and got to under five attempts this past season. If he can regain and maintain his explosiveness, that number should rise.
Luol Deng – Still viewed as one of the most complete and talented perimeter defenders in the league, Deng is a much better offensive player than his sometimes awkward looking handle would indicate. Heat fans may remember a precocious 21 year old Deng and the “baby Bulls” eradicating Miami’s geriatric title defense in a four game sweep where Deng averaged 26.2 points and nine rebounds a game. Deng’s career trajectory ended up being quite different than what was predicted at the time. Rather than hunt for more shots, he took up the challenge of being his team’s top defender, and eventually worked on his range out to the three-point line to help accommodate Derrick Rose. Today Deng remains a peak two-way player and excellent locker room presence, but was reportedly unhappy with an immature Cavs team this past season. Many cite the past season as Deng’s worst in years, but before the trade to Cleveland he averaged 19 points, nine rebounds & nearly four assists for the Bulls, all career highs if they were to last a full season. In Miami, Deng won’t be burdened with such a painful minutes load as Erik Spoelstra has learned the intricacies of minutes management, but his role as a third option will not change. What’s paramount for Deng is that he at least returns to being a league average three-point shooter as the past few seasons have been unkind to him in that regard and his overall efficiency has also suffered playing for offensively starved Bulls teams. Deng should settle in to around 33 minutes a game and may man other positions from time to time if Spoelstra remains creative.
Danny Granger – Granger was once a prolific scorer, hitting threes and earning free throws in bunches, but injuries have largely left him a shell of what he once was. Being another year removed from his season-ending knee surgery may help and Granger showed a bit of his off-the-bounce game during his short stint in Los Angeles. In Miami, Granger will likely serve as a more of a hybrid forward if he can show that he’s up to it and try to be a chief floor spacer and defender. Though a career 38% three point shooter, Granger only recently began to work on being a more spot up friendly player and will need to continue to focus on the corner three that Miami often hunts for. Granger can still do a little off the dribble, but his peak days of earning foul shots are likely through as evidenced by a steep decline in free throw attempts. If Granger breaks down again, don’t be surprised to see the upstart rookie James Ennis leapfrog him in the rotation.
James Ennis – The springy Ennis is wowing in the NBA Summer League after a year spent playing in Australia for the Perth Wildcats. Averaging 15.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.33 steals while shooting 51.7% from the field, 48.1% from three-point range and 80% from the foul line in six Summer League games, the 6’8” Ennis projects to a bargain 3-and-D player for Miami. Perhaps the biggest hurdle remaining for Ennis is his position, as Miami has spent a lot of money on the small forward spot. With Miami currently thin at shooting guard, perhaps Ennis would be best served playing a bit out of position (for wings, the two spots are hardly discernible nowadays). His handle on the game is improving, but there is still a ways to go for Ennis and he has to show he can defend NBA wings to earn minutes.
Josh McRoberts – A multifaceted player, Josh “don’t call me McBob” McRoberts, like Bosh, worked hard on the three point shot the past season in order to accommodate his team’s floor spacing and to allow Al Jefferson to work in the post unimpeded. Suddenly, a once interior heavy player was taking only a third of his shots at the rim and over two thirds of his shot attempts were from beyond the arc (more specifically above the break). In Miami, McRoberts may be given a bit more variety in his game more akin to what Boris Diaw did for San Antonio (you think Miami was so shell shocked by what Diaw did to them that they signed a facsimile?). A peerless passer at his position and size as well as a solid athlete, McRobert’s high IQ game should mesh well with Spoelstra’s philosophy of ball movement and he’s more talented offensively than his modest scoring averages would indicate. He’ll still be firing threes, but should also get some high post work seeking out cutters and remains an excellent finisher on the break. McRoberts also showed an ability to blitz pick & rolls the way similar to how Miami operated, but with LeBron gone, Miami may now opt for a more conservative defensive system. It also remains to be seen if Miami goes with a McRoberts/Bosh pairing or if Miami will hunt for a true center, though that market is quite thin at the moment.
Udonis Haslem – The Mayor has again foregone quite a bit of money to return to his hometown team. I cannot heap enough praise on Udonis the person and what he has meant to the franchise. As a player however, Haslem has been reduced to more of a situational role. His once potent midrange jumper has gone flat in recent years and this has badly compromised Miami’s spacing. His rebounding rate remains consistent and he’ll continue to defend the post and make the extra rotation to take a charge, but Haslem has gone in and out of the rotation for a reason. His limited offensive game and diminished leaping ability means we’ll only see Haslem for certain matchups. He’s probably better suited as a nominal rotation center nowadays, but his size hurts him in that department. Haslem is always ready to contribute if a player goes down so don’t completely count him out just yet.
Chris Bosh – Is he a center? Bosh completely bought into Miami’s position-less philosophy, but without LeBron and a new burden in carrying the offensive load, will Bosh return to his natural position of power forward? No matter what he does, we know what Bosh is capable of and a sacrifice in minutes and shots are why his counting stats appear so unimpressive. In reality, Bosh remains a deadly efficient inside-out threat who can just as easily beat an opponent off the dribble as he can shoot over them. He has also morphed into one of the most complete and underappreciated defenders in the league, using his length and quickness to blitz ball handlers then sprint back to big men all before they have a chance to finish. Bosh is excellent at this, but as mentioned earlier, Miami could undergo a shift in defensive philosophy, which may hinge on whether or not they acquire another big man, in order to lessen Bosh’s burden on that end. Whatever the case, Bosh is Miami’s go-to option now so expect more attempts, especially inside, an area where Bosh vacated to accommodate LeBron. He was a solid and more frequent post up player in Toronto (posting up other power forwards) and used to earn a bundle of foul shots and Miami may need both aspects of Bosh’s game to return.
Chris Andersen – The Birdman posted arguably his finest season in Miami at the ripe old age of 35. Supremely gifted as a finisher and a hard working rebounder and rim defender, Andersen unfortunately suffered some debilitating injuries that he played through during the second half of the postseason and was all but useless in the Finals, where his leaping ability and mobility were gone. Still, Miami gave Andersen a sizeable raise (since his amnesty money from Denver has finally expired) in order to fend off an offer from Cleveland. Despite now being 36, Andersen plays like he’s ten years younger, doing nearly all of his offensive work on lobs, putbacks, and pick & rolls. his high energy style can fit on any roster so long as he’s playing 20 minutes a game. Miami will still need quite a bit from the Birdman and their hope is that father time doesn’t de-feather the high flying fan favorite.
So with all of that said, what can we expect the lineup and rotation to resemble? My best guess is the following:
PG Mario Chalmers
SG Dwyane Wade
SF Luol Deng
PF Josh McRoberts
C Chris Bosh
G Norris Cole
F Danny Granger
C/F Chris Andersen
Outside looking in:
SF/SG James Ennis
PG Shabazz Napier
F/C Udonis Haslem
Miami needs to sign one more player to have a minimum of 12 players. It could be 7-footer Justin Hamilton, or another upstart from the Heat’s extended training camp roster, but Pat Riley and the Heat have always valued veterans more than youth (for better or for worse). Ray Allen’s decision also remains up in the air as he could return, sign elsewhere, or retire and Miami could always use another pure center for added bulk (maybe bring back Oden?). This is also why I project Granger ahead of Ennis in the rotation even though Ennis may in fact be a better player at this stage. Granger has playoff experience and was once a proven scorer despite his recent struggles. Napier, as stated earlier, seems rawer than initially expected, but if Cole is jettisoned, he could become the new backup. Haslem will remain in his role as emergency big man and enforcer and will remain ready if his name is called upon.
Miami has done quite well for itself considering the disaster LeBron’s first departure initially had on Cleveland. They look to field a competitive roster as well as keep their flexibility in the future, specifically 2016 when stars such as Kevin Durant, and yes, LeBron James become free agents. A lot can happen in between then, but Miami is currently focused on getting out of what currently looks to be a more wide open East. My biggest concern with this roster remains the potential for injuries, but as is, this iteration of the Miami Heat expects to be a dynamic and engrossing one.