Enemy Lines: A rival scout sizes up the Heat
2012-13 Record: 66-16; won NBA Finals
Notable Losses: F Mike Miller
Coach: Erik Spoelstra (sixth season with Heat)
The Heat have totally bought in to being a defense-first team. The pieces they brought in the last couple of years, guys like Shane Battier and Chris Andersen, think defense, and that has helped. Most of these role players wouldn't have a significant impact on other teams. But in Miami, they all buy in to team defense and they play extremely well off the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Give Pat Riley credit: He has found pieces that fit.
The biggest deal the last two years is obvious to anyone: LeBron James. His level of play has been off the charts, and it has raised everyone else's. His game has become more efficient. He's taking quality shots. He's not settling for as many long two-point jumpers, but he's also become a better three-point shooter. You also have to look at how Miami has changed its offense to incorporate more movement, making it harder for defenses to load up on LeBron.
Wade doesn't attack the rim with the abandon that he used to. His first few years, he averaged nine, 10 free throws. Last season, he averaged 6.2. I don't think he has the explosiveness to finish plays consistently. Whether he has been pacing himself or lacks that lift, he hasn't been doing it. It affects his three-point shooting as well. He shot only about one three per game last year. When he doesn't have the legs, he doesn't feel comfortable taking those shots. I think coach Erik Spoelstra will do whatever he can to keep Wade fresh.
The chemistry between LeBron and Wade has been great the last two years. I didn't think they had any chemistry in their first year together. The entire offense was "your turn, my turn." Now, the pecking order is clear: There's LeBron, then Wade and Bosh, then the rest. Wade is seeing the level at which LeBron is playing and, whether it's maturity or the effect of injuries, he has stepped back a bit and it's made them a better team.
Bosh is a jump-shooting big man. He plays in the post much less than when he was the No. 1 option in Toronto, keeping the floor spaced for LeBron and Wade. He's a great shooter in that elbow area. There are times when you wonder why he's not being more assertive. He can afford to do that as the third wheel. But he has to give them more at some point as Wade continues to go downhill. They don't have a tremendous front line. For them to be really good, to get to 60-plus wins, Bosh has got to step up his game.
Ray Allen is comfortable with his role at this stage of his career. He can come off the bench, and on the nights when he gets hot, he can still play big minutes. He still prepares exactly the same way as when he was a 35-minute-per-game guy. Defensively, Miami plays a similar style to what Allen did in Boston, which helped him adjust last season. The Heat also put in a couple of offensive sets that the Celtics ran for Allen. He still does a great job of running his man into screens and getting separation.
The Heat can afford to take shots with Michael Beasley and Greg Oden and hope the team's culture can get to them. Beasley is only 24 and Oden is 25. They're still young guys who can be contributors if they can get it right. With Oden, we'll just have to wait and see whether he can come back from his knee injuries to contribute as a rebounder and defender.
Beasley is a teaser. One out of every 10 games he makes you say, Wow. What could he do if he got his mind right? But he is inconsistent on both ends of the floor. He has the physical tools to be a factor defensively, but he tends to play for steals and doesn't act concerned about stopping his man and rotating to help. He is most comfortable standing on the perimeter and shooting jump shots. He doesn't take advantage of his size and athleticism to get inside and post up more.
Andersen was like Beasley or Oden last season. He came in without expectations; whatever he gave them was great. And he turned out to be an important player with his energy, finishing ability around the basket, rebounding and shot blocking. This year will be interesting. Now, they are depending on him to be consistent with that effort. Can he do it at age 35? He burns bright for a short period of time. Over 82 games, he has probably had two years out of his career where you say he has been productive.
Anderson's midseason arrival last year helped cut into Joel Anthony's minutes. Anthony gives you everything he has. He's a very good shot blocker and help defender. He doesn't have any shooting range, which is something Udonis Haslem gives them from the 4 or 5. Haslem shot the ball well last season, and you know he'll rebound and battle.
Battier plays team defense as well as anyone. He has a great mind and he sacrifices his body. He didn't shoot well in the playoffs until late in the NBA Finals, but during the regular season he was deadly on corner threes. Overall, though, you could see a little drop-off in his play, and I wonder if, at age 35, this will be the last year he is really productive.
Because LeBron and Wade can handle the ball so much, they can get by with Mario Chalmers at point guard as long as he makes shots and is not turning the ball over. That's all they ask him to do, and he is more than capable. Those are the same responsibilities for his backup, Norris Cole, who was an improved three-point shooter last season. Chalmers is a good on-ball defender, and he creates steals that ignite their fast break. Sometimes he tries to do too much offensively to try to prove himself, and that's when teammates really get on him.
Losing Mike Miller means someone is going to have to take those shots. Is it James Jones? Rashard Lewis? Miller wasn't just a shooter for the Heat, either. He was an underrated passer who moved the ball well. He had a good dynamic with LeBron and Wade.
Spoelstra doesn't get the credit he deserves. One of the hardest things for a coach is to get players to buy in to what you're doing. And he's done that. That success is so underrated.