Why Miami Heat Will Be Worse Than Expected During 2014-15 Season

The Miami Heat are typically projected to enjoy a fairly successful season in the first year of the post-LeBron James era. 

ESPN’s NBA Forecast (subscription required) has the defending Eastern Conference champions riding Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to a 45-37 record, giving them the No. 5 spot in their half of the NBA. Similarly, Bleacher Report’s Josh Martin sees the Heat winning 43 games and finishing one spot lower in the final standings. 

USA Today‘s Adi Joseph is the most optimistic of the bunch, giving Miami a 46-36 record, one that leaves it behind only three other squads in the weaker Eastern Conference. 

But why?

It’s tough to forecast a team that only lost one star, even if that happens to be LeBron James, to undergo such a massive drop.

Though they “only” secured the Larry O’Brien Trophy on two separate occasions, the Heat had been to the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons, achieving a feat that hadn’t been matched in decades. In the wake of all that, having them struggling to earn a playoff berth is sometimes going to be perceived as nonsensical. 

Except it’s not. 

 

Issues with the Starters

Miami’s starting five seems just about set in stone heading into the regular season: Mario Chalmers—who has the least firm grip on a spot, as he could be replaced later in the proceedings by either Norris Cole or Shabazz Napier—Wade, Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Chris Bosh. 

It’s a fine group of basketball players. There’s no doubt about that. 

Bosh, as he explained to ESPN insider Tom Haberstroh, is expanding his game. But then again, he’s also entering into some uncharted territory.

“I haven’t had to be that guy,” the makeshift center said. “I played with the best player in the world, I didn’t have to be the alpha. But now I get to see if I have it in me and not many people are going to believe I have what’s necessary. But that’s what makes it exciting.”

Let’s go ahead and assume that Bosh does have what’s necessary, which may be a flawed assumption in and of itself. He’s perfectly capable of shouldering a huge offensive load while simultaneously providing some underrated defensive abilities to the Heat cause. 

But with him serving as the biggest player on the court, rebounding is always going to be an issue for the Heat, just as it was for the Finals-bound iterations of this franchise. That was OK then, but it’s not anymore. 

Basketball-Reference.com shows that the 2013-14 Heat finished No. 29 in offensive rebounding percentage and No. 24 in defensive rebounding percentage. However, they made up for that by shooting scorching numbers and maximizing the value of each and every possession. 

Miami’s 55.4 effective field-goal percentage was easily the top mark in the league, and that’s largely due to James’ overall offensive brilliance. In fact, it was so much better than the percentages posted by every other NBA team that the gap between the Heat and San Antonio Spurs (No. 2) was as large as the one between San Antonio and the Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 6). 

In the 1,072 minutes that the four-time MVP was not on the floor, though, the Heat posted a 51 effective field-goal percentage, one that would’ve fallen just outside the top 10. The offensive rebounding woes become a little more problematic in that situation, which is the one faced by the current squad. 

If Bosh can shift back to power forward and play with a true center, it’s less of an issue. But who’s going to necessitate such a change? The version of Chris Andersen who turned 36 years old this summer? 

Beyond the big man who, once more, is a fantastic player and has a set of individual skills that, if anything, is underrated, there’s also reason to be concerned about both Wade and Deng.

The latter declined after leaving the Chicago Bulls, and there’s a solid chance he’ll fail to be the same player he once was during his All-Star days, having been essentially run to death by Tom Thibodeau throughout their communal time in the Windy City. 

“A fresh start could serve as the remedy for Deng’s unmemorable stay in Cleveland…” wrote Shandel Richardson for the Sun Sentinel. “Returning to the Deng of old, the player who James once referred to as one of the toughest matchups in the league, is more the focus than the name he replaces in the starting lineup.”

That return is easier said than done for a 29-year-old small forward who played at least 37 minutes per game in four of his last five seasons. It likely would’ve been 5-of-5 had he not been traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he would’ve had an outside shot at leading the league in minutes per game for the third consecutive campaign. 

For a player who thrives on energy that’s problematic. 

But let’s add to the growing list of assumptions. Bosh is going to be a fantastic centerpiece, and the inevitable rebounding woes won’t matter. Deng will show nearly unmatched resilience and remind everyone of his All-Star form. 

What about Wade? The fact remains that he’ll need maintenance days to stay healthy throughout the season, and it’s highly improbable he avoids sitting out roughly 20 games over the course of the regular season. 

When he’s healthy, Wade is fantastic and plays like the best per-game shooting guard in basketball. He’s a game-changing player even at this advanced stage of his career. Problem is, you have to participate in games in order to change them. 

There’s really no doubt that the starting lineup has talent, but there are plenty of question marks encircling it at this stage of the festivities. And that’s saying nothing of the point guards. 

 

The Point Guards

Neither Chalmers nor Cole had a season to write home about in 2013-14, both failing to build upon prior campaigns and stake their claims as integral parts of the Miami organization. Chalmers was particularly awful during the NBA Finals, while Cole had failed to hold down a prominent spot in the rotation prior to the systematic dismantling at the hands of the Spurs. 

Obviously, that’s not good. 

The arrival of Napier should help, but there’s only so much a non-lottery point guard can do during his rookie season. He’s been improving throughout training camp and preseason, and there’s a solid chance he becomes a starter or primary backup before he can be called a sophomore. 

That’s more due to Chalmers and Cole’s overall futility than his immediate ability to make an impact, though.

And therein lies the problem. 

When James was calling South Beach home, having a good point guard was a luxury, not a necessity. The ball was rarely in the hands of a floor general, after all. NBA.com’s SportVU data shows that Chalmers, Miami’s starting 1-guard in all 73 of his 2013-14 appearances, averaged 51.6 frontcourt touches per game. 

Forty-nine players throughout the league had more, though the Heat admittedly had fewer frontcourt touches as a whole than most squads. Time of possession was even more telling, as you can see below:

The Heat are all the way down in the penultimate spot, better than only Patrick Beverley and the Houston Rockets. Seeing as the point guard rotation was bad enough to earn a net player efficiency rating of minus-1.2, per 82games.com, rather easily the worst mark of the five positions last year, that was a good thing. 

But what happens now that the position is more important following the departure of the league’s premier ball-dominating forward? 

The floor generals aren’t going to be much better, barring an unforeseen breakout to stardom from Napier, and they’re bound to be handed quite a bit more responsibility. After all, James commandeered 5.1 minutes per game of possession in 2013-14, and the ball has to go somewhere else now. Without him serving as a primary facilitator and playmaker for the offense, the point guards matter far more than before. 

As you might have guessed, that’s not a good indicator for Miami’s hopes of putting together a sparkling win-loss record. 

 

Where Is the Depth? 

Even more troubling, though, is the depth. Well, really the complete and utter lack of it. 

According to Rotoworld’s depth charts, Miami’s second unit will likely be Cole, Danny Granger, James Ennis, Shawne Williams and Andersen. Beyond that, the Heat boast the services of Napier, Shannon Brown, Udonis Haslem and a collection of completely unproven players. 

On a team like the Portland Trail Blazers, one that can actually give the vast majority of the available minutes to the starting five, that’s acceptable. It’s all about building up a lead and hoping the second unit doesn’t throw it away during the short time it spends on the court. 

But what about when age dictates bigger roles for the bench players? 

We already know that Wade is going to sit out fairly often in order to preserve his knees for the stretch run or an attempted series victory during the postseason. When that happens, either Granger or Brown will be forced into the starting lineup, further cutting into the team’s ability to put together a serviceable bench. 

If Deng needs an outing off on the same night as Wade—a distinct possibility—Miami could be forced to turn to Chalmers, Brown, Granger (who may be completely washed up), McRoberts and Bosh with even less depth than before. 

This is one of the league’s older squads, but head coach Erik Spoelstra will inevitably be caught in a pickle. Does he risk wearing down Wade (33 in January), Bosh (29), McRoberts (28 in February) and Bosh (31 in March) by forgetting he has a bench at his disposal, or does he risk putting a terrible second unit on the floor? 

There’s no good answer, even if Ennis continues lighting the world on fire, as he so often has during the preseason.  

 

Ultimate Finish

It may seem as though I’m predicting nothing but doom and gloom for the Heat, and that’s really not the case. Compared to last season’s squads and the rest of the versions from the James era it might seem like it, but not when brought into the context of the current Eastern Conference. 

There’s a strong chance this is still a playoff squad, even if it’s one that only sneaks in as a No. 7 or No. 8 seed and has its fans sweating until the closing portion of the regular season. It’s only the lofty expectations that see Miami in the top half of the Eastern Conference picture submitting its name as a playoff lock that won’t be lived up to. 

Though Kevin Pelton’s real plus-minus projection system has Miami slated to win 48 games, per Haberstroh (subscription required), the SCHOENE forecast is a bit more problematic: 34-48. Here’s what Haberstroh has to say about that: 

Moreover, SCHOENE isn’t convinced Bosh can shoulder the load. It sees Bosh delivering below-average production next season while contributing just 4.3 WARP. It’s worth nothing SCHOENE‘s closest statistical comp is Donyell Marshall, who was more of a 3-point shooter than a banger down low at this point in his career. Bosh told ESPN Insider in July that he wants to expand his game back to the block next season, but he insisted the Toronto CB4 “is never coming back … I think I’m a much better player.”

The Heat’s season will hinge on whether Bosh is speaking the truth. With an aching Wade and an overwhelmed Bosh, SCHOENE sees the Heat falling apart next season. 

Another way of arriving at a win total is by utilizing Basketball-Reference.com’s projections for win shares per 48 minutes, which is based on the admittedly flawed Simple Projection System. Let’s do exactly that, divvying out a reasonable number of minutes during the average game to each expected member of the rotation:

It’s worth noting that I’m being as generous as possible in forming this idealistic rotation, handing the starters as many minutes as realistically possible and not even accounting for the notion that players can miss games. That’s why the backups have fewer expected minutes than they’ll likely play per game over the course of a season. 

Even with all those faulty assumptions made in order to boost Miami’s hopes, those projections have it coming in with a 46-36 record. That’s essentially the upper ceiling, especially because the WS/48 numbers are already quite favorable for Bosh (0.152 last season with James protecting him from defensive attention) and Wade (0.149 last season, which was the latest in a three-year decline).  

What happens when Wade misses 20 games, there are inevitably minor injuries that keep starters out for a handful of contests and the lackluster bench is forced to take on even more responsibility? That’s when it’s not entirely inconceivable that the team could struggle to keep the record above 0.500. After all, those 46 wins come in an injury-free world, which isn’t exactly true to the reality of the brutal 82-game NBA season. 

Fortunately, the saving grace for the Heat is geography. They play in the Eastern Conference. 

Even finishing right around 0.500 should have them competing with the Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks for the No. 7 seed, and there’s enough talent in the starting five (especially because, again, McRoberts doesn’t get enough credit for his impact) that they should be the best of that group. 

But the Heat as a playoff lock? Even in a best-case world, there’s not much of an argument to be made there. 

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Miami Heat News: Heat Sign Larry Drew II

The Miami Heat front office have decided to add point guard Larry Drew II, son of Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Larry Drew, Sr. Drew appeared in 11 games with the Heat during the Orlando and Vegas Summer Leagues where he averaged 4.4 points, 3.6 assists, and 1.6 steals while shooting 50 percent from the three-point line.
Drew also spent considerable time in the D-League last season as he helped guide the Sioux Falls Skyforce to the playoffs. He appeared in 41 regular season games, including 36 starts, and averaged 11.4 points and 7.0 assists while shooting 47.4 percent from the field.
Since NBA teams are allowed to designate four players released from their training camp for direct assignment to their D-League affiliates, it is expected that Drew will be waived and added to the Heat’s D-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
Drew is not expected to be in uniform for the Heat’s final two preseason matchups beginning with the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night.

The po…

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Heat beat Spurs 111-108 in overtime

Shabazz Napier scores 25 points, Heat beat Spurs 111-108 in overtime

      
 

 

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Heat beat Spurs 111-108 in overtime (Yahoo Sports)

SAN ANTONIO - OCTOBER 18: Shabazz Napier #13 of the Miami Heat attempts a free throw against the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center on October 18, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Rookie Shabazz Napier had 25 points, including four free throws in the final minute, and Miami held on for a 111-108 overtime victory over San Antonio on Saturday night in the teams’ first meeting since the Spurs routed the Heat in the NBA Finals.


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Heat win first game of preseason, beat Warriors (Yahoo Sports)

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 17: James Ennis #32 of the Miami Heat shoots the ball against the Miami Heat during a game on October 17, 2014 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Chris Bosh scored 21 points and Luol Deng and Shawne Williams added 19 each to help the Miami Heat win their first game in the preseason with a 115-108 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Friday night.


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Golden State Warriors vs. Miami Heat 10/17/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Golden State Warriors looked to continue their strong preseason showing on Friday night, when they faced the Miami Heat. The Warriors’ explosive offense had been red-hot all preseason, but they faced a tough test from a veteran Heat squa

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Heat 0-4 in preseason, working through ‘process’ (Yahoo Sports)

MIAMI (AP) — Erik Spoelstra wanted Wednesday to be a full-contact practice day for the Miami Heat.

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Horford returns as Hawks beat winless Heat (Yahoo Sports)

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 14: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat shoots a free throw against the Atlanta Hawks during the game on October 14, 2014 at AmericaAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)

MIAMI (AP) — Paul Millsap scored 23 points and Al Horford made his return to the court to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a 109-103 victory over the Miami Heat in a preseason game on Tuesday night.


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Atlanta Hawks vs. Miami Heat 10/14/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Miami Heat looked to get their preseason on track on Tuesday against the Atlanta Hawks. The Heat have struggled in the post-LeBron James era, dropping their first three preseason games, and they faced a talented Hawks squad with the outside shooting prowess to give them trouble.

Watch the video for full highlights.

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Miami Heat: Who’s Hot, Who’s Not Through First Week Of Preseason

The Miami Heat have played a collective total of three games thus far, going winless in the process.
The highlight of the Heat’s preseason through one week of play was their overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers this past Saturday. The game marked the first time LeBron James played his former team, Miami, since signing with the Cavs in July.
The Heat trailed by as many as 20 points, but rallied back to force the game into overtime.
While much of the attention during the game was placed on LeBron and his former ‘Big Three’ castmates, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, younger players such as James Ennis and Shabazz Napier were the real stars of the game.
The preseason is not as significant for established players such as Wade and Bosh, as it is for evaluating young players and rookies such as Ennis and Napier. Both players could play key roles in the rotation for Miami in the upcoming season.
While the wins and losses aren’t important during this time of the year, the evaluation of playe…

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