Miami Heat: Do New Additions Allow for a 'Positionless' Lineup?

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst IJuly 22, 2012

MIAMI, FL - JULY 11:  (L to R)  Miami Heat President Pat Riley, Ray Allen  and head coach Erik Spoelstra announce the signing of Allen at AmericanAirlines Arena on July 11, 2012 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I'm not the type of person to guarantee things. Not even guarantees like the Miami Heat winning a championship next year after the acquisitions of veterans Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.

The two were brought onto the team solely for the purpose of stretching the floor. Pat Riley made it a crusade to go after those types of players, and he got them because he's Pat Riley. But also because the team just won a championship.

As a result, both players took pay cuts and are now members of the Heat.

On offense, the Heat are golden. They'll have two of the league's top slashers and arguably the best shooting big man playing alongside two players who can keep attention at the perimeter.

In doing so, it opens up the lane and prevents opponents from packing the paint as a means to restrict the driving of James and Wade. It's everywhere else on the floor that could raise some questions.

This Heat team is heavy on two elements: defense and versatility.

Everything about this team revolves around the defensive intensity and pressure, including the offense, where the Heat attempt to start as many fast-break opportunities as possible. The Heat do so because they have a huge advantage in that aspect; nobody is stopping a LeBron James and Dwyane Wade-led fast break.

Allen and Lewis don't exactly fit into the mold of defensive stoppers, nor versatile players. Allen can play at the 2, or occasionally at the 1 and 3 against the right opponent. Lewis can play the 3 and 4. However, they still don't completely fit into the idea of playing without a position.

"Playing without a position" refers to players who can dabble in a little bit of everything on the floor. They're not specialty players, but rather versatile members of the team who can score, rebound, pass and defend out of their comfort zones. It's a tall order asking two aging veterans to play out of their comfort zones at this point in their careers.

Surprisingly, 37-year-old Allen is going to have less trouble adjusting. He's still an incredibly intelligent player who knows how to make his influence felt in every facet of the game. While he won't be expected to become a defensive stopper, he can still adjust to possibly playing significant minutes at the 3 when LeBron plays at the 1.

It's Lewis who should worry the Heat if they want to continue playing with a "positionless" lineup.

Lewis is coming off of two horrifically bad seasons, which included knee troubles last year. Standing at 6'10", the Heat expect him to provide some sort of help when it comes to rebounding. They'll live with Lewis not being a defensive stopper, but they're going to absolutely need him to provide some stats in the rebounding column.

It's what's currently holding the Heat back from possibly starting Lewis at the vacant power forward position. With Udonis Haslem struggling as he did last year and Chris Bosh showing success at the 5, the Heat may be keen on the idea of throwing Lewis into the starting lineup.

However, they also have to think about how he's going to affect the team if he doesn't fit into the dynamic. The Heat can't afford any weak points in their lineup. Their entire defense relies on creating pressure and each player working together to correctly rotate. That's how the Heat make up for their shortcomings down low—with constant pressure and rotation along the perimeter in hopes of forcing a turnover.

Lewis, as well as Allen, will be expected to play in this "positionless" dynamic. They will play as if they are equal on the defensive end to their teammates. With those two on the floor, the Heat will need to keep creating turnovers in order to prevent either player from being involved in too many one-on-one situations.

This whole idea of a roster composed of players who constantly play out of their ideal position is one of the key reasons the Heat are the reigning NBA champions. This team was built on players making sacrifices and leaving their comfort zones, which only carried onto the court when guys like James and Wade had to learn how to play off each other instead of waiting to take turns.

The Miami Heat knew what they were getting into when they signed three of the league's top players in the span of a summer.

They knew they'd possess a definitive advantage whenever those three were on the floor, and even when just two of them were playing together. A lineup including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh meant that drives would happen frequently, which would lead to the role players receiving open looks.

It's a simple enough concept and, sure enough, it proved to be the winning formula. What we often fail to acknowledge are the incredible lengths it took to get to that point. Winning the 2012 NBA championship didn't just happen because three incredible players joined together and received some help along the way.


It was only believed to be that easy. It wasn't until the Heat's backs were against the wall that they finally began to realize what it would take to win.

The key point in this experiment was Game 4 against the Indiana Pacers, three games after Chris Bosh went down with his injury. Miami was down 2-1 and looking desperately for ways to keep up with the Pacers' size. The very next game, LeBron James records 18 rebounds as he and Shane Battier spent a lot of time playing at the 4 and defending David West, among others.

As a result of James' sudden interest in grabbing rebounds, the Heat ended up winning the game, and won the series two games later. The trend of James and Battier playing at the 4 continued throughout the postseason, even when Bosh returned.

It wasn't a new idea, however. With James thriving at just about every position on the floor, it led the Heat to this idea of a "positionless" lineup. James Jones and Mike Miller make for a good comparison.

Even though the Heat could have really utilized Jones' shooting ability at certain points, they continued to go to Miller because of his intangibles. Unlike Jones, who is restricted as a specialty player, Miller can do a little bit of everything on both ends of the floor.

The Heat love their versatility, which is why some skeptics are put off by the idea of veterans Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis getting significant playing time. Both players will receive plenty of playing time, especially Allen. Rashard could be given significant minutes, and even a possible starting job, if he can commit to both ends of the floor and fit into the Heat system.

What matters most, however, is that they can play multiple positions and provide some necessary versatility. As stated before, they both can, which means that the "positionless" lineup is going to continue in Miami. The Heat aren't going to simply switch up a winning formula for two free agents.

This organization knows what they are doing. They have yet to commit one wrong move since the Big Three came to be, and they're certainly not going to sign two key players with the purpose of switching things up.

Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, like everybody else on this team, will be expected to play versatile ball with a commitment to both ends of the floor.