Miami Heat Report Card: Grades for All Key Players Through First Quarter

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst IJanuary 23, 2012

Miami Heat Report Card: Grades for All Key Players Through First Quarter

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    The Miami Heat's 11-5 start hasn't gone according to plan, but we can all agree on one thing: the beginning of this season is a whole lot better than last year's.

    Also, injuries have continued to play a key part with Dwyane Wade falling victim to the injury bug. Ankle, calf and foot injuries have deterred him from playing at full strength as he's currently averaging career lows across the board. He's only played in two games at 100 percent, and the Heat are taking this on a day-by-day basis.

    The Heat are also attempting to integrate Mike Miller and Eddy Curry into the offense, while Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier also adjust.

    The record isn't all that impressive, but the Heat are making their point. Even though they've been dealt embarrassing losses to the likes of Golden State and Milwaukee, they've also secured wins over Dallas, Boston, Indiana, San Antonio, the L.A. Lakers and Philadelphia, each team nearly being a lock for the postseason.

    Being 16 games into 66-game season, we offer up a first quarter grade for the key players of this Heat team.

LeBron James

1 of 10

    Even though his team stands at 11-5, three games out of the No. 1 spot in the East, LeBron James is far and away the league's MVP.

    Averaging 29 points, eight assists, seven boards and two steals per, James has been playing like the player we knew him as in his days at Cleveland. With the core three-man unit beginning to gel and co-exist, James is fitting in, as less wires get crossed and easier scoring opportunities arise out of it.

    James has been making it more of an initiative to drive into the lane and it's shown as the Heat are scoring at a frantic pace in a time where teams haven't been scoring as much as they're used to. He's currently shooting 57 percent from the field and 47 percent from deep, leading this Heat team in scoring and helping to lead them in points per overall.

    Perhaps the greatest improvement we've seen from James' game, aside from the higher sense of urgency to drive, has been his post game. Deemed as a weakness in the NBA Finals when the Mavericks continually forced him into post ups, James has shown significant improvement over the course of the offseason after getting help from Hakeem Olajuwon.

    As a result, teams begin paying more attention to James in the post which causes double teams. When double teams occur, perimeter players or cutters are left open and James will find them nearly every time thanks to his high court awareness.

    Overall, there haven't been too many blemishes on James' record this year. He struggled with his free throws for a brief stretch which caused a few losses, but he's getting it back together as he's only missed three over the past three games.

    Grade: A

Dwyane Wade

2 of 10

    This picture perfectly represents Dwyane Wade's 2011-'12 thus far.

    It's been a rough ride for Wade in the new season. Suffering a foot injury in the third game of the season and then a scary ankle injury against Denver a few weeks later, Wade has sat out the past four games, and there is still no timetable on his eventual return. He's been listed as day-to-day since suffering the ankle injury on January 13.

    In nine games, Wade's averaging 20 points on 44 percent shooting to go along with five assists and four boards.

    With Wade out, the Heat could actually look at at this as a silver lining. Guys like LeBron James and Chris Bosh can better figure out their roles in the offense, while Mike Miller, Shane Battier and James Jones each get their chances to improve and adjust to the Heat's system as well.

    However, it is a significant drop off for the Heat. Even though this team is 5-1 without Wade, they're still not going anywhere against the Chicago Bulls or Oklahoma City Thunder without him. Dwyane can add a lot more to the equation than you think. He has no trouble at all getting to the rim as he uses agility and quick change of direction dribbles to elude defenders at the top of the perimeter.

    The only reason why the Heat have been looking so good without Wade is because they're getting the LeBron of old. He gets to play in his comfortable element by being the primary ball handler, directing traffic and setting up the plays, but that's not what this Heat team is supposed to be about. This team is about complementing each other and the team needs Wade and James to complement each other if they want to win.

    There's no need to rush Wade back. It's not about how you start, but rather how you finish. The chances are that the Heat would much rather a healthy Dwyane Wade in time for the playoffs instead of meaningless games in the first quarter of the season.

    Grade: N/A

Chris Bosh

3 of 10

    It's time to start hopping on the Chris Bosh bandwagon, folks. There isn't too much room to show your displeasure and overall disdain for him when you notice just how much more comfortable he is with his relatively new surroundings.

    The 2010-11 season was a tough one for Bosh. Nobody gave him credit for willingly becoming a third scoring option with no trouble and he was constantly lambasted for struggling to adjust to becoming an offensive threat that didn't have the ball run through him. Even though he averaged 19 points and eight boards per last year, Bosh was still criticized for everything he did, mostly his passive play.

    Bosh has been a completely different player to start the season. He's looking like the Bosh of his Toronto Raptor days and is having fun on the court. He's not forcing anything, not relying on jump shots too heavily and is driving to the lane with such ferocity that it's actually given us one of our best poster dunks of the year.

    He's playing better because the Heat are putting more of their faith into him. He's getting more looks than last year which leads to him getting confidence. Bosh is a player that relies heavily on getting going early. When the Heat constantly feed him throughout the game, you're going to get points from one of the league's most consistent and versatile power forwards.

    Bosh is an asset to have on this team. He's one of the few power forwards in the league that is comfortable enough with putting the ball on the floor and driving, while also being able to hit the 20 footer at a consistent rate. He's an absolute force to have and it adds a whole new aspect to the Heat's game when they allow Bosh to do what he does best.

    Averaging 20 points on 52 percent shooting to go along with eight boards per, Bosh has showed unbelievable improvement from last year. Stats don't even begin to tell the story of how significantly he's improved.

    Grade: A

Mario Chalmers

4 of 10

    In some athletes cases, it takes a little bit of a positional battle to get them going in the right direction.

    There's no player more proof positive of this than Mario Chalmers. He's always responded well to pressure on and off the court. He's not afraid to hit the big shot late in a game and he usually plays well when there's a player that could be battling for his position.

    After rookie Norris Cole's game against Boston, Chalmers knew he had to step his game up in high gear.

    Sure enough, Chalmers began to play well. He's played underwhelming basketball over the past two seasons after a solid rookie year, and many suspected that he could be benched in favor of the quick rookie if he continued his sub-par play. Cole was quick and didn't make too many mistakes, unlike Chalmers who can be a turnover machine sometimes.

    The 2011-12 season has been a shining beacon for Chalmers. He's currently averaging a career high 12 points, hitting 45 percent of his three-pointers, dishing out five dimes and grabbing three boards per game. Chalmers is becoming less reliant on being just a perimeter threat as he keeps defense's honest with a solid driving game. He doesn't always come up with the points, but he will keep defenses aware of his presence.

    The 53 percent he is shooting is also a step up to the 42 percent he has shot for his career.

    Chalmers now has the starting point guard job down. He's not going to relinquish it anytime soon after withstanding the Cole front that swept through the Heat for the first few weeks of the season. As long as he continues to keep the turnovers to a minimum, hits his shots and makes the right plays, he'll continue to be the starting point guard.

    Grade: A-

Joel Anthony

5 of 10

    You may not have heard, but Joel Anthony has been playing amazing basketball this year.

    No seriously, he's played stellar. For a player that's 6'9" and has no business being a starting center in the NBA, you cannot ask for more out of Anthony than what you are getting this year. He's improved his stats across the board, isn't completely useless on offense and is becoming more of a well-rounded player than in previous seasons.

    The Joel Anthony we used to know couldn't catch a ball to save his life. For some strange reason, Anthony just couldn't get a grip on the basketball. He was getting the ball in good spots, but couldn't finish because of his inability to simply catch the ball and then finish with authority.

    Whether it was just a lack of fundamentals or feeling too much pressure on being that open, Anthony became a liability because of how inefficient he was on the offensive end. However, it seems that the Heat coaching staff has spent a lot of work on Joel's offensive game as he has been scoring more and now has an actual repertoire of moves.

    The Heat aren't exactly giving him post up opportunities, but he has a decent hook shot that can fall at a consistent rate. He's currently averaging four points per on 56 percent shooting. Four points per may not seem like much, but it is for a player like Joel.

    Aside from his offense, Joel's coming up big everywhere else. He's grabbing five boards and sending a shot back per game, and he's playing the usual outstanding defense he's been playing for his career.

    Grade: B

Udonis Haslem

6 of 10

    The injury bug hasn't completely let go of Udonis Haslem. Judging by his offense thus far, Haslem still looks like he should be wearing a three-piece suit let a lone a Miami Heat uniform.

    Usually looked at as the Heat's automatic mid-range shooter, Haslem has yet to fully adjust to playing at full strength. He's shot 50 percent for his career, but is currently shooting 42 percent with the majority of his scores coming right near the basket off of offensive rebounds. The Heat are finding him for open looks, but Haslem isn't finishing like he has been throughout his career.

    Haslem has always had difficulties in creating his own shot. It's just becoming more apparent since he's been struggling with his jumper to start off the year. He's always been one of the Heat's most reliable mid-range threats and they hope to have him get going by the second half of the season. Don't forget that he missed nearly the entire 2010-'11 season with a foot injury either, that could affect any jump shooter.

    What Haslem lacks on offense, he quickly makes up for it on defense and on the boards. His rebounding has been helpful beyond words. With the Heat lacking a pure center and still developing Dexter Pittman and Eddy Curry, Haslem has picked up the pieces as the team's top rebounder. He's currently leading all of the NBA's bench players in rebounds per at nearly ten.

    His defense hasn't lacked. He's constantly frustrating opponents into difficult shots, executing successful double-teams and playing well as an individual and post defender. Injuries have not taken a toll on Haslem's defense as he's back to being the Heat's top post defender.

    Haslem's game is measured in the plays that you don't see in the stat column. He's always the one diving after loose balls, going after every rebound and playing his heart out. He's the warrior of this team and his hard-work ethic definitely transfers over to his teammates.

    Grade: B-

Shane Battier

7 of 10

    He's averaging only five points, two rebounds and less than an assist per game, but Shane Battier has made his impact felt in so many more ways than a stat column would tell you.

    With the third team on his NBA career after stints in Houston and Memphis, Battier had a little bit of trouble getting in rhythm with the offense on his new team. It might have been the quad injury he suffered in the preseason, but it was still surprising to see a consistent shooter like Battier not producing at his usual rate.

    Battier has shot 39 percent for deep from his career but is only converting at a 36 percent rate this year. He's greatly improved his scoring touch over the past few games as he finally gets into an offensive rhythm and begins to hit the open corner three-pointers that he's expected to make.

    What Battier does transcends just the physical part of basketball. He's a terrific individual defender, but it's that philosophy of his and his elite knowledge of the game that is aiding the Heat. Coach Erik Spoelstra has lauded over Battier's influence on his teammates.

    His smart, disciplined and fundamental approach to the game influences his fellow Heat teammates into playing a better game as well. That means smarter shot attempts, solid individual chances and not making gambles on the defensive end. On a Heat team that prides itself on defense, Battier is a perfect fit.

    His three-point shot will come. For now, just appreciate the tremendous defensive prowess of Battier.

    Grade: B

Mike Miller

8 of 10

    It's still going to take a little more time before Mike Miller begins earning 30 minutes of playing time per game.

    We'll still take what he's been dishing out recently. After thumb injuries threw him out of his element for the duration of the 2010-11 season and a sports hernia surgery kept him out for the first few weeks of the year, Miller has begun to show off what the Heat were desperately missing last season.

    That being a consistent three-point threat who could space the floor, as well as providing more than just offensive support. You may not notice it, but Miller is just as impressive a hustler as his teammates Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony. He's always hitting the deck because he's going after every loose ball or challenging the tree's in the middle for a rebound.

    That's why you don't see James Jones playing. He might have the solid three-point shot, but he certainly doesn't have the intangibles that Miller provides. The Heat gave $30 million to Miller and refused to utilize the amnesty clause for a reason, and that's because he's incredibly valuable in more ways than just being the guy to pitch a tent on the perimeter.

    It's only been three games, but it's obvious that his shot is much more improved than last year. He finally has his thumbs back, the most important body parts needed to be a consistent shooter. With the both of them now in working order, we can finally expect to see the Miller that shot 48 percent from beyond the arc in the year before he came to Miami.

    Three games is too small a sample size, so we can't give Miller a grade. Give it until the halfway point of the season before we begin to judge just how effective of a player Miller can be on this Heat team.

    Grade: N/A

James Jones

9 of 10

    When you play James Jones, you know exactly what kind of player you're going to get.

    He'll go out, take a couple of three-pointers, make a little less than half of them and then play some bad defense on the other end before he becomes more of a liability than an asset. It's been the same story all year for Jones and it's disappointing that he doesn't do more to improve his intangibles, such as rebounding, passing or playing defense.

    After receiving an increased role last year where he played 19 minutes per game due to the absence of Mike Miller, Jones has seen his minutes take a significant hit. He's only playing 14 minutes per game, which has been the standard since he joined Miami in 2008. Jones is receiving playing time in more games than customary, but he's not getting the same minutes because his game isn't as valued as someone like Battier's.

    This Heat team is too adamant about playing defense to have a guy like Jones on the floor. He's shooting 44 percent from deep, but it doesn't mean too much when he's giving up the same amount of points to his assignment on the other end. Jones is too slow and not strong enough to go up against opposing shooting guards and small forwards who have significant athletic advantages over him.

    Also, he loses his consistency after a few makes. It's odd, but I've noticed a significant trend where he's only hot in stretches. He'll hit a few three-pointers in the first half, but won't be hitting those same exact three-pointers in the second half. It could be the fact that he's getting thrown out of a rhythm due to an extended break, but it only gives more reason to have him on the bench.

    Grade: C

Norris Cole

10 of 10

    It's a blessing in disguise that the hype around this kid died down. Norris Cole may be a dynamic player who adds instant offense, but he's currently the type of player that's much more situated to coming off the bench.

    He's too young and inexperienced to be the point guard of this team. He's definitely fearless and an aggressive defender, but he's still not smart enough of a player to be a starter on this team. Even though the mid-range game is on point for this Cole, it obviously takes more than just being able to hit the occasional jumper to receive significant minutes on this team.

    The Heat already have gone through a lot of commitment, patience and frustration to mold Mario Chalmers into the player he is today. Norris Cole is essentially the same player with better defense and a more aggressive approach to the game.

    He's prone to take shots that he shouldn't be taking, runs one-man fast breaks that should be left for Wade and James, and makes careless mistakes that make you wonder if Chalmers has regressed until you realize that it's Cole who's made the mistake. 

    Still, this is a late first round pick that we're talking about. He was selected late because of the heavy abundance of point guards and he landed in the lap of the Chicago Bulls at No. 28. The Bulls traded him to the Heat shortly after. There wasn't too much of a need with Derrick Rose and C.J. Watson on the team, so he was expendable.

    Cole provides that quick burst of energy that teams love from their rookies. He can get a little ahead of himself at times, but you can't argue with nine points, three assists and two boards per from the No. 28 pick in the draft.

    Grade: B+