LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are both ball-dominant players, which makes the Heat’s needs at the point guard position fairly simple: They need a 1 who can stretch the floor by hitting open shots, guard his position, and spell James and Wade by assuming the ball-handling duties for stretches.
Those are modest expectations on the surface, but they become more impressive once we look at how few players are qualified play to that role.
Chalmers made 101 three-pointers in the 2011-12 regular season, good for 4th among all point guards. But none of the players above him on that list—Brandon Jennings, Deron Williams and Brandon Knight—shot the ball as efficiently from distance (38.8 percent) or from inside the arc (51.3 percent).
Among the top-10 three-point shooters at his position, Chalmers is also without peer as a defender. He’s big enough to “body up” most point guards and has good hands and anticipation (1.5 steals per game this season). And while he’s prone to the occasional ill-advised defensive gamble, he has gotten much better in this regard since his rookie season.
All told, while there are better point guards than Chalmers—much better in fact—he’s perhaps the most efficient packaging of the skill set the Heat need to complement James and Wade’s dominance at the rim.
Almost as significant, Chalmers has the mental make-up to thrive alongside the Big Three. Throughout his NBA career and this season especially, Chalmers has been the Heat’s whipping boy. When he blows a defensive assignment, he gets yelled at. When he fails to box out, he gets yelled at. When he drinks the last of the Gatorade, he gets yelled at.
Even LeBron James, who has always been loath to vocally challenge his teammates on the court, has shown no such reluctance when it comes to Mario Chalmers.
It takes a special kind of player to take the abuse on one play and sink a cold-blooded three on the very next. Chalmers’ upbringing as the son of an Air Force sergeant no doubt had a role in toughening him up, as did his time playing at Kansas under coach Bill Self, who has a reputation for tough love.
Whatever the reasons, Chalmers is one of a handful of fourth-year players in the NBA who could be so consistently berated without allowing it to undermine his confidence.
Though it may be apt to say his overconfidence.
Chalmers is a cocky guy. And while he normally plays within himself, he sometimes puts up the errant shot or commits an unnecessary foul, which is when his elder teammates see fit to tune him up. Sometimes it’s necessary to remind Chalmers to keep his focus on the bigger picture by laying into him with a few well-placed expletives.
And in an odd way, Chalmers’ willingness to endure such heavy-handed criticism balances a Heat team that has lacked leadership at times.
James and Wade have an uneasy détente in that James is the superior player but Wade is the more willing leader. Which makes the Heat flatter at the top of the “org. chart” than any other NBA team.
By being thick-skinned, Chalmers provides vertical structure; no matter who’s in charge between James and Wade, Chalmers will be bossed around. No matter who eats first, second or third, Chalmers will eat no sooner than fourth.
He acknowledges a hierarchy where the Big Three have struggled to acknowledge one themselves.
Examine each piece of the Mario Chalmers package on its own, and none will overwhelm. But consider his shooting, defense, big-game play and toughness in total, and you realize that there are few, if any, point guards that could have played this role for the Miami Heat.