What Can the Miami Heat Expect from Mike Miller When He Returns

John FrielAnalyst IJanuary 19, 2012

Mike Miller won't shoot 6-of-6 from beyond the arc every night. I'm terribly sorry to disappoint those who believe in fairy tales, but it's not going to happen.

However, I will tell you this. If Dwyane Wade gets healthy again and Mike Miller maintains his health throughout the regular and postseason, the Miami Heat will be extremely difficult to stop on their way to a championship.

Since July of 2010, the Heat have had it all to win a championship. They've got their slashers (LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, big men (Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem) and sharpshooters (Mike Miller and James Jones). Unfortunately for them, the team has yet to play at 100 percent. Not once since the time that all these players were brought together have the Heat played at full strength.

Last year was a mess. Not only did the big three have to gel within their new surroundings, but they also had to deal with the losses of Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller. While many will discount these two and pass them to the side, those two could have played key roles down the stretch that the big three couldn't possibly do consistently.

Both players were there for the NBA Finals, but they were hampered by injuries so drastic and nagging that they weren't nearly up to full health. It wasn't even until October that Haslem said he was healthy, and if you couldn't tell by Miller's shot for the entire season, you would notice that he wasn't up to par with the Miller that shot 48 percent from beyond the arc the previous year.

Haslem was missed for so many reasons that don't show up in the stat column. He has a hard-work ethic that tends to rub off on his teammates, can hit the mid-range jumper, is arguably the league's best rebounder and is the best defender of big men. When you attempt to replace him with Joel Anthony and Juwan Howard, you're obviously not going to get the same results.

I knew that Miller was definitely missed throughout the 2010-11 season, but I didn't realize to what extent until I saw him play healthy for the first time in a Miami Heat uniform against the San Antonio Spurs.

The purpose of bringing Miller was to not only have another scoring threat on the floor, but to have that main perimeter threat. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh aren't three-point threats. Mario Chalmers is coming into his own as one this year, but he was still wildly inconsistent last year. Eddie House was streaky all year, and James Jones doesn't provide any defense or intangibles to warrant playing time.

By the way, if you were wondering why you didn't see Jones that much this year, there's your reason. Coach Erik Spoelstra favors defense too much to have a player like Jones on the floor. He'd much rather have a defender and solid perimeter threat like Shane Battier on the floor before he puts Jones out there to guard the opposing shooting guard or small forward.

Back to Miller, though. He'll get playing time this year because unlike Jones, Miller provides a lot more than just three-point shooting. He hustles after every ball if you haven't noticed already, is a decent rebounder and defender and can create his own shot. If Miller maintains his health and continues shooting like he did in his first game back, you won't see Jones until garbage time.

On a team like the Heat, there's nothing more important on offense than creating space. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade aren't shooters, and they don't want to be. They're slashers, and they're content with being such. It's difficult for them to get open when the attention's focused solely on them, but it makes it even more difficult when there aren't any other consistent threats to look to.

The same goes for Chris Bosh. He's not primarily a slasher, as he can consistently hit the mid-range jumper, but he also resides within the perimeter. That causes even more problems for the Heat, as they now have two slashers and one slasher/mid-range shooter all attempting to get a shot off near the painted area.

A lot of wires get crossed in those situations. If you have three players, four if you add Udonis Hasle—who's usually on with those three, playing within the perimeter—you give the defense no reason to be worried about a three-point shooter. Even though those shots are only worth one more point, defenses will purposely adjust so that they can limit the three-point shooting of the opposition.

Since Spoelstra is so adamant about sticking to the plan and playing defense, that leaves the Heat in a bind. They have a whole bunch of players that like to drive and either Mario Chalmers or Shane Battier. Those two can hit their fair share, but no opposing defense will adjust just so that they can defend the perimeter shooting of Chalmers and Battier.

That's where a player like Miller comes in. Teams will adjust to Miller's three-point shooting because they recognize how consistent of a shooter he is. He's a 40 percent career shooter from downtown and has shot as well as 48 percent, which came in the year before he joined Miami.

Take note that it was also on a Washington Wizards team that didn't have many players attracting attention like Wade and James.

Three-point shooters space the floor. It's an obvious fact that we all know of. If you have a bunch of players that like to drive in and score around the rim, you're going to need a consistent three-point threat that can be there to kick out to and hit the wide-open shot. Miller has proven too many times in the past about his shooting abilities, and now that he's healthy, he can finally pick up where he left off.

As nice as it is to see Miller hustle after every loose ball, the Heat brought him here to shoot. He's supposed to be the shooter for the Heat. They gave him $30 million over the next five years for the sole purpose of being the shooter who can be relied on by the big three when they're being double or tripled teamed.

The beautiful thing about this Heat team is that there are constant double teams. Dwyane Wade is too quick to be contained by one player, LeBron James is too big and Chris Bosh is too versatile. Defenses are playing pick your poison against the Heat, and they have to force double teams because there are so few players that can guard either of those players and take them one-on-one.

Instead of allowing the offense to be stagnant with three or four players who are constantly working in the perimeter, the Heat now have the shooter that they've been waiting for. The Heat now have a player that can be constantly relied on both sides of the court and for so much more.

Miller isn't your standard perimeter player. He's not the type to shy away from contact like so many of these players that pitch a tent on the three-point line. He's going to rebound, defense and go after loose balls just like any other guard, forward or center. While it can get him into trouble as far as injuries go, we'll just have to keep holding our breaths until that actually happen.

Speaking of which, it wasn't the constant abuse on the court that took Miller out last year. The first thumb injury he had occurred in a practice during the preseason, when he somehow caught his thumb in LeBron James' jersey. For as many times as we've seen Miller leave it all on the floor, it's flooring that a freak injury like that took him out of commission for so long.

You need your thumbs if you're a shooter. They're the key component of a shooter's stroke, and it certainly didn't help Miller that he had not one, but two thumbs that were injured. Couple that with a shoulder injury and a few concussions, and you have a player that has more reason to be in a hospital let alone a basketball court.

With a healthy Miller, and now Eddy Curry making his debut, the Heat are one more step towards finally being at 100 percent. It appears that they can wait on Dwyane Wade, but they'll make due with Shane Battier and Mike Miller taking his spot. They certainly served their purpose in the Heat's win against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Now this team really has no excuses.