First Half Grades: Evaluating Every Heat Starter Heading into the All-Star Break

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst IFebruary 24, 2012

First Half Grades: Evaluating Every Heat Starter Heading into the All-Star Break

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    This first half of the Miami Heat season has been a whole lot better than last year's first half.

    The Heat didn't start out 9-8. They didn't have a players only meeting.

    There hasn't been trade rumors involving LeBron James, Chris Bosh or Mike Miller. James Jones and Juwan Howard aren't prominent players off the bench. Erik Spoelstra hasn't gotten fired five times, and the big three aren't having chemistry issues.

    They're even beating the elite teams.

    Chicago, Philadelphia twice, Indiana twice, the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio, Atlanta twice, Orlando, Boston and Dallas have all fell at the hands of the Heat. Sure is different from last year when the Heat went a combined 1-7 against the Bulls and Celtics.

    Instead, you're seeing what the Heat were expected to do when they were brought together on July 8th, 2010: win games. Miami has done that extremely well this season with 26 wins out of 33 games in a compact schedule.

    They are tied for the NBA's top record with the Oklahoma City Thunder and have a small lead on the Chicago Bulls for the top record in the Eastern Conference.

    This team is working so well because of the chemistry between the big three and the depth of this team. Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem have returned off of injuries and are finally healthy, Shane Battier adds another perimeter defender and Norris Cole adds another ball handler, a player who can run the fastbreak and one that can hit the mid-range jumper.

    It would be a shock if the Heat didn't win a title this year. You don't even have to be a Heat fan to share the same sentiments. They beat eight consecutive teams by at least 12 points, swept a back-to-back-to-back with each game on the road and have had the majority of these games decided by the fourth quarter.

    Most of all, however, they put a temporary end to Linsanity. The sensation had eight points on 1-of-11 shooting, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and eight turnovers in 34 minutes.

    Take a look as we grade how well the Heat's five starters have done in the first half of the season.

Mario Chalmers

1 of 5

    A legitimate candidate for the NBA's Most Improved Player, Mario Chalmers has been flying under-the-radar as one of the league's premier three-point shooters.

    Taking nearly five three-pointers per game, Chalmers is converting on 47 percent of his shots from deep, which translates to about two per game. He's shooting with a lot of confidence, catching his shots in rhythm and simply making the open shots that he receives during shoot-arounds.

    It was believed that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would attract attention leaving plenty of open looks for the shooters and it's finally beginning to show with Mario taking advantage of every opportunity he gets.

    There wasn't much expected from Chalmers other than not turning the ball over and hitting the open shots that he receives courtesy of his All-Star teammates.

    Chalmers is doing both extremely well this year.

    It's surprising too, since it was actually up to debate on what the Heat were going to do with Chalmers if he couldn't perform well for a third consecutive year. Mario had severely regressed last season averaging six points on 40 percent shooting, 36 percent from deep, and couldn't maintain a starting job over Carlos Arroyo or Mike Bibby.

    This year, the starting point guard position isn't up to debate.

    Even after the Norris Cole storm that enfolded early in the season, Chalmers was able to respond to the pressure of possibly losing his job. Mario has always played well under pressure and seems to perform at his best when there's a threat of him losing his starting job.

    Mario isn't even worried about losing that position anymore.

    He's got a firm grasp on it for the rest of the year and probably years to come if he continue being the knockdown shooter that he has suddenly become. He carries himself with a brand new demeanor that has him shooting with confidence and even playing aggressive as he's driving more than we've seen in the past from him.

    He recently tied a career high in three-pointers with six in a recent win against the Sacramento Kings. You couldn't ask for more from a player who once upon a time was the most frustrating player to watch on this Heat team.

    Not anymore. Unless the three-point contest throws off his rhythm, Chalmers should be good to go for the rest of the season.

    Grade: A

Dwyane Wade

2 of 5

    He's averaging three points, nearly two assists and nearly a rebound short of his career averages of 25 points, six assists and five boards per game.

    Yet Dwyane Wade is currently playing as good as he has since 2008 when he returned from shoulder surgery.

    He's shaken off a few injuries that he suffered early in the season and has recovered to have one an unbelievable stretch of games that's meant to tell you that LeBron James hasn't completely taken over this team.

    Averaging 22 points, five assists and four rebounds in 24 games, Wade is having one of his worst statistical averages since his rookie year.

    A foot and an ankle injury early in the season clearly threw him off of his game as he didn't have the same cutting ability or vertical leap that has aided him into becoming an elite player. It was the first time since the 2006-'07 season that Wade has sat out a large chunk of time, but you couldn't tell by the way he's been playing.

    Since returning in a home game against the New York Knicks on January 27th, Wade has given reason as to why he, not LeBron James, should be the MVP.

    In the past 15 games, he's scored 20 or more points on 13 occasions and 30 or more on two. Only a 15 point outing against the Chicago Bulls (his second game after coming back from an injury), and a 16 point outing against Indiana where he played in 24 minutes, held him back.

    There are two things about Wade we've noticed that have made his game even more dangerous than it already was. For one, his post game has improved by ridiculous margins.

    He was a quality post threat for a guard prior to this season, but it truly appears as if Wade took just as much time as LeBron when it came to working on his post game this summer.

    Wade has become automatic with his back to the basket and has been taking advantage of the number of guards who attempt to defend him in the post. The hook shot that he has created has become one of the staples of Wade's game this year as he continues to force the issue of getting his points near the basket.

    Perhaps the greatest thing we've noticed about Wade this year has been the increased arc in his jump shot.

    It appeared that Wade's jump shot was forever lost after so many surgeries. His free throws and jumpers were all coming out as line drives and it caused him to become an inconsistent shooter from anywhere outside the paint.

    However, Wade has seemed to get his shooting back in working order.

    His jump shot has been consistent all season long and he's actually shooting 80 percent on his free throws for only the second time in his career.

    With Wade gaining the ability to shoot again, it only prolongs his durability and longevity as an elite NBA player. The driving that he's capable of doing is something that only legends could perform, but that shooting is what's going to keep around and relevant for at least five more years.

    Despite injuries and a slow start to the season, Wade has come around and is just about in midseason form.

    Grade: B+

LeBron James

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    The hate is subsiding and as a result the masses are starting to realize just how historic of a season LeBron James is currently having.

    James is averaging 28 points, eight rebounds and seven assists per game on a team with two other All-Stars.

    While those stats are impressive, it still may not convince everyone that he's a unanimous MVP. After all, LeBron is averaging 28 points, seven boards and seven assists for his career, so this is nothing worth noting.

    The only problem is that his stats could be so much higher. The Heat have blown out their past seven opponents and James has been sitting out entire fourth quarters.

    What makes LeBron the MVP is the fact that he has his Heat at 26-7, led the team to numerous victories without Dwyane Wade and has shown more improvement in his game more than any other player in the league over the summer.

    He didn't stay in his home and sulk over his disappointing performance in the NBA Finals. LeBron went the smart route by getting some help so disasters like that never happen again.

    By enlisting the help of famed post threat Hakeem Olajuwon, LeBron got himself some help on how he could be a better player with his back to the basket. The Dallas Mavericks forced James to post up anytime he got near the basket, and with no knowledge on how to play with his back to the basket he struggled every time he was put in that situation.

    This is no longer the case.

    He still has a ways to go before it's perfectly refined but as far as we've seen, LeBron's post game has improved exponentially. He's hitting turn-around jumpers with ease, making hook shots and passing extremely well out of the double teams that he's always attracting. When he's posting up and attracting double teams, he will always find the open shooter or cutter thanks to his keen court awareness.

    Most importantly, LeBron is playing comfortable in his new situation. He's no longer an isolation player that relies solely on himself to score. Instead, he's relying on his teammates and finding ways to score when his teammates have the ball. The chemistry between him and Dwyane Wade has been amazing this year and it shows in the number of touchdown passes that they have hooked up for.

    Oh, he's also shooting a career high 55 percent from the field as a result of the team's philosophy of getting every shot attempt as near to the rim as possible.

    LeBron James is by far the league MVP and should be Finals MVP if he doesn't pull the nonsense that he pulled last May.

    Grade: A+

Chris Bosh

4 of 5

    His stats don't tell the story.

    Unless you've seen him play, you wouldn't guess that Chris Bosh is playing a whole lot more comfortable than he was in his first year with the Miami Heat.

    Averaging 18 points on 48 percent shooting to go along with eight boards per, Bosh is finally playing comfortable in this new system that he's forced to become accustomed to. He's the best shooting big man in the league, since Dirk Nowitzki fell off in the first half of the season, and he's playing with confidence and aggression.

    Key word being aggression.

    One of the biggest problems with Bosh last year was seeing him play with a passive mindset. There's nothing wrong with that when he's converting jump shots and stretching the floor, but it doesn't add as much versatility when he's limiting himself to being a jump shooter when we all know he's capable of doing so much more.

    Bosh's versatility is exactly why he can be considered one of the league's top power forwards. There aren't many other players in the league that can put the ball on the floor or shoot from as far out as 20 feet at his size.

    He's too quick for most power forwards to contain and that allows him to get to the rim with a lot less trouble than other bulkier forwards.

    There isn't much of a reason to criticize Bosh anymore. In fact, there wasn't much of a reason to criticize him last year.

    He was a primary option in Toronto and got the ball on every single possession. It's tough to go from a scorer who dominated possessions to a third scorer who might not even get the ball on consecutive possessions.

    As amazing as we make these players out to be sometimes, you have to recognize that a lot of these guys have to get into a rhythm. You can't just start giving them the ball once out of every three possessions and expect them to start making shots.

    Some players, like Bosh, need the ball in their hands to start out in order to make some shots and gain some confidence for the rest of the game.

    In fact, there's no clearer evidence of Bosh as an elite player than the time Dwyane Wade sat out. When Wade was out, Bosh became a second option and was suddenly thrust into a role as LeBron James' sidekick. In that stretch of games, Bosh had some of his best performances of the season, which includes four games of 30 points or more.

    Bosh is the most important player on this Heat team.

    His ability to stretch the floor and handle the ball is huge to a team that relies heavily on getting shots near the rim. With Bosh converting jumpers, it opens the floor for LeBron and Dwyane to thrive and do what they do best.

    CB1 is the X-Factor and the Heat become so much better when they utilize him to his potential.

    Grade: B+

Joel Anthony

5 of 5

    In a way, I feel like I'm disappointing the reader by ending this with an analysis on Joel Anthony's game.

    But how can you get mad? J

    oel Anthony is an MVP according to the Heat's fan base. The inspirational MVP at least. Anthony doesn't have the greatest stats or hands, but he's been excellent this year and worked hard, hustling on every play, going after every shot and never giving up on a play.

    Joel's shot blocking has been the staple of his short and awkward career.

    Despite being an undersized center at 6'9", Anthony isn't too bad of a deterrent in the paint. He certainly doesn't have the physical attributes of a center. He doesn't have the size or frame to deter slashers, but he does have the shot blocking awareness to earn a living.

    Anthony isn't a great center.

    In fact, he's probably the worst in the NBA.

    However, he's terrific when he's matched up against versatile power forwards that can put the ball on the floor and shoot because of his length and lateral quickness. You don't see it much, but Anthony is an athlete and can compete on the defensive end against any forward that relies heavily on their drives.

    He does a great job at keeping his assignment in front of him.

    Anthony has the athleticism to keep up with any quick forward, the strength to keep forwards out of the paint and the length to constantly block shots and frustrate his opponents into knowing that they were getting shut down by someone who can only dream of averaging five points per game.

    Speaking of offense, Anthony hasn't even been all that bad. He's only averaging three points per game, but he's actually developed a short jump hook that can fall.

    Of course, he only gets these opportunities on offensive rebounds or the off chance that the Heat actually attempt to feed him down low.

    You don't see that much often.

    Only when no one is on him and a member of the big three needs an open player to throw to will you see Anthony unleash that hook.

    Another awkward year for Joel and Heat fans couldn't be happier.

    Grade: B-