A season preview of the Miami Heat could be one of the easiest pieces to write. They will reach the NBA Finals; boom, there you go. It’s not quite that simple though. Of course the big three LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh are still in Miami in all their glory, holding the past two Larry O’Brien trophies in the face of all the doubters and naysayers (myself included), and proving to everyone that they can set aside their egos and come up big when it matters most. These three have etched their place in the history of the game, and for Wade and James, their place among the best basketball players ever to step on a court. The same cannot be said for their other players however. Yes, Ray Allen is one of the best shooters of all time, but he is not the player he used to be. Yes, Mario Chalmers is a very good young point guard, but he has had lapses in judgment with the ball. The final two teams that faced the Heat in the playoffs showed that while they may be the best team in basketball, they do have chinks in their armor that can be taken advantage of.
There is little debate that LeBron is the best player in basketball today. In the past he had legitimate gripes against his game; he settled for contested three pointers too much, he had no offensive post game, he deferred to teammates too much, or he didn’t defer enough. It seemed as if there was even one game or one situation in which he came up short for whatever reason, he was blasted for not coming up with the answer like Michael Jordan did. He went to work on his post game last summer with Hakeem Olajuwon and answered that question in a big way. There was no doubt that he had the physical tools to be a great post player, he just didn’t seem to have the knowledge of the moves, and most importantly the will to overpower his defender in the block. During last season, he settled for the fewest three pointers in his career, aside from the lockout shortened 2011-12 season and his rookie year. He shot 56.5 percent from the field overall, a great number for a player that takes the tough shots that he does at times, which was the best percentage in his career. He averaged 7.3 assists per game, the second highest per game average in his career. He also for good measure had the most assists in the league during the playoffs. Granted the Heat played more games than anyone else during the postseason, but that is still an impressive statistic. I’m not forgetting about his defensive game either. He is a good rebounder and shot blocker, can steal the ball at seemingly any time, and is like trying to move a semi in the post. After being named to the All-NBA first defensive team for the past five seasons, suffice it to say that he is one of the best defenders in the league as well and a contender for defensive player of the year every season.
As any professional will tell you, there is always something to improve upon, and for him it seems to be getting to the free throw line and knocking them down when he gets there. He had the fewest attempts per game for his career since his rookie year and averaged around 75%. If he gets that average up to 80% or even 85%, he could easily lead the league in scoring every single year. It may have appeared at times that the Pacers’ Paul George or the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green found a way to defend him, but in the end it just wasn’t enough. Barring an unforeseen injury, LeBron will be among the candidates for MVP and help push the Heat toward a Pat Riley trademarked three-peat.
While injuries may have hampered Dwyane Wade last season, in the playoffs he showed flashes of his old self. He is a great scorer with a diverse arsenal of moves and range past the three point line, albeit inconsistent at times. Defensively he is a great player as well, with quick feet and hands and the strength to keep essentially anyone in front of him. While he may not be the top-ten player in the game overall that he once was, despite what some have said, he is still one of the upper-echelon guards in basketball and a great complement to LeBron. The issue with Wade coming into this season is his health. As mentioned earlier, he was hampered during the playoffs with knee issues and those issues don’t usually go completely away. There is the risk that he could re-injure himself at any time. If these issues show up again, the Heat could be in trouble without a competent replacement at the shooting guard position. Injuries cannot be predicted however, and with Wade currently at 100% after the offseason, the top one-two combination in basketball looks to be ready to dominate once again.
Chris Bosh is the “traditional” big man in Miami. He has a good game down on the block, with turnarounds and drop-steps to go along with a fade-away jumper. He has range on his jumper as well, but that is something he utilized too much last season. With LeBron’s improvement in the offensive post game, Bosh inexplicably found it necessary to wander out to the top of the key and the three point line. Having Bosh’s rebounding ability down low to go after the missed shots would be a great combination. He cannot do that when he goes out to the top of the key and beyond to look for his shot. The other players at the power forward and center positions do not have the length or are not reliable enough to fill this role. Bosh would be best served staying in the post alongside LeBron instead of trying to spread the floor.
Defensively, Bosh was exposed during the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers. Roy Hibbert and David West overpowered him and played great throughout the entire series. With the difficulty that Bosh had, the Heat were forced to put players like Udonis Haslem and Chris Anderson on Hibbert, match-ups that are also big advantages for the Pacers. It is hard to say how Bosh could improve himself so that won’t happen again. Maybe he could get stronger but there is obviously no chance for him to get taller. Bosh just needs to put more effort into denying the post feeds to players like the aforementioned Pacers and not allow them make a move. When he’s not guarding the traditional center/power forward types, Bosh is a good defender. He has good rebounding ability to go along with the ability to block shots. He also has the foot speed to keep the perimeter players in front of him. If Bosh can find something in him to guard the big bullies in the league, he would be a legitimate part of the big three, not just an afterthought that he turned into at times last season.
The rest of the roster in Miami may not be bare, but with the contracts of the big three they had to take some chances on some unproven talent to fill out their depth chart. Mario Chalmers is a good young point guard. He is a surprisingly good scorer and one of the best three point shooters on the roster. When LeBron or D-Wade get stopped in the paint, they have no problem dishing it back out to Chalmers for the open three. Defensively, he is yet another good player for this Heat team, making for one of the toughest team defenses in the NBA. He has great length for his size and is very quick. The main knock on Chalmers has been his relatively poor performances being the distributor for the team. While it is true that LeBron and Wade have the ball in their hands more often than not, Chalmers needs to average more than 3.5 assists per game as the supposed lead guard for this team. He does not commit a lot of turnovers, averaging just 1.7 per game last season, but he needs to be more consistent in his decision making. There are times where he has a major lapse in his judgment as to where the ball needs to go. If he can sure up that part of his game, Chalmers could be among the second tier of point guards.
Ray Allen is one of, if not the best shooter of all time. He holds the NBA record for three pointers made and attempted and is in the top 25 all-time in scoring. Allen has a picture perfect shooting form and will be the mold newcomers are put up against when looking at that aspect of their game. He was once a very good defender as well, in the top 50 all-time in steals. However, his age has limited his defensive ability and is his biggest question going forward. Will he be able to play at a high level and be an asset for the Heat coming off the bench and putting up points? He uncharacteristically had trouble at the free throw line at times last season. Is that something that will continue, or will he figure out what the problem was? Ray seems to be heading towards the final season or two in his career, and even though he came up big for the Heat when their backs were against the wall in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, there is no telling how much longer he will be able to be a difference maker.
The two big offseason additions for this team are two unproven, yet very talented players, Michael Beasley and Greg Oden. Beasley has showed flashes of being a good scorer and rebounder in the league, but his off-the-court issues have been very difficult for him to overcome, which is the main reason he is now on his third team and his second go-around in Miami. If he can find a mentor in town and stay away from the clubs in Miami at all costs, he could be a contributor off the bench, something that is needed. Oden, the former number one overall pick for the Portland Trail Blazers, brings the size and tough defensive ability that Bosh lacked last season, that is if he is healthy, and what a big if that is. Oden has only played the equivalent of one full season during his five year career. There is little risk with the minimum contract they gave him and a potential huge reward. He is a big body in the paint to defend, block shots, and rebound, but the injury history makes it tough to completely put your trust in him.
Make no mistake, this Heat team will once again be among the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference and contend for their third consecutive NBA championship. However, the aforementioned holes give some reason to pause and consider that they may not have another parade in town come July. If they can get Beasley and Oden to play to their potential, they have found two steals in the free agent market. The questions surrounding them are big ones however, and without production coming from the bench, a team like the Pacers, Bulls, Spurs, or Clippers will be waiting in the wings to take them down. In the end, the champ is still the champ and they have to be defeated until they are no longer the best team in the NBA.