Breaking Down Why the Miami Heat Don't Need a True Center to Thrive

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst IJuly 24, 2012

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 25:  Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat talks to the crowd during a rally for the 2012 NBA Champion Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on June 25, 2012 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Miami Heat knew they would be a team that would have to compensate at certain facets.

With a large amount of money invested in three players, the Heat didn't exactly have the funds to sign a center. They come at too high a price and are often risky investments due to the higher possibility of facing an injury.

Dwyane, LeBron and Chris were each making $15 million or more and had another $10 million per year invested in Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem.

Haslem was basically the team's best rebounder by this point, although Chris Bosh could have very well been after averaging 11 boards per game the previous season with Toronto.

However, both players were power forwards; Haslem stood at a mere 6'8" and Bosh's game was more suitable playing as the team's stretch-four.

From that point on, the Heat haven't had a reliable center. In fact, they haven't had one since Jermaine O'Neal prior to the egg he laid in the Heat's 2010 first-round series against Boston.

Haslem, Bosh, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erick Dampier, Jamaal Magloire, Juwan Howard and Dexter Pittman have all been given minutes at the five and each one has provided few answers.

Bosh, however, showed the most promise, especially late this season when he had his best rebounding numbers starting at the five. Even though he doesn't play like it sometimes, Bosh stands at 6'11" and is capable of rebounding the ball when he's playing aggressively enough.

The only problem is that he's comfortable at the four and there isn't much certainty to Bosh consistently defending players who will have a size advantage on him.

Coach Erik Spoelstra will most likely continue to give minutes to Bosh at the five in order to gain a larger sample size of how well his team plays when the pure power forward is out of position.

Even if Bosh isn't the center the Heat need, does the team actually require a center in order to continue seeing success?

Because for a team that has made it to two consecutive NBA Finals, winning one of them, the Heat haven't given much support for the criticism that goes on about how Miami can't keep up with the bigger teams of the league.

What most critics don't realize is that the Heat have gone through some of the league's tallest teams to get as far as they have in the past two seasons.

Last season, they played a Chicago Bulls team that possessed a definitive size advantage. With Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah in the starting lineup and Taj Gibson and Omer Asik coming off the bench, the Bulls were supposed to devastate the Heat with second-chance points, extra possessions and high-percentage shots near the rim.

The Heat, playing with an injured Udonis Haslem mind you, were out-rebounded by the Bulls in their conference finals series, yet still came away with a 4-1 victory. This happened because the Heat didn't allow the Bulls to beat them with their size.

Instead, the Heat made their physical advantages outweigh the Bulls' advantages, utilizing speed and defense as their keys to victory.

Fast forward to the Heat's second-round series against the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers were big enough as it is and only appeared larger once Chris Bosh went down with an abdominal injury.

Indiana, sporting a 7'2" Roy Hibbert, David West, Lou Amundson, Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Granger, were sure to beat the Heat with an even larger size advantage than the one the Bulls possessed over the Heat the previous season.

The series nearly ended the same way, too. The Heat won the series 4-2, with LeBron James doing some heavy lifting on the boards, including 15 rebounds in Game 1 and 18, to go along with 40 points and nine assists, in a pivotal Game 4. Once again, Miami used speed and defense to beat a team that had a size advantage.

Even against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Heat were at a mismatch with the league's leading shot-blocker in Serge Ibaka and bruiser Kendrick Perkins on the opposite side.

The Heat won that series 4-1; because they made Ibaka and Perkins irrelevant. Once again, utilizing their speed, LeBron's newfound ability to post-up, and stingy defense made an opponent's size advantage not as significant.

Also, the fact that those two were constantly in foul trouble due to the drives of Wade and James was a big help as well.

This organization knew that they weren't going to find a pure center anytime soon. It's no secret that a center who can average 10 points and 10 rebounds, and capable of playing defense, will cost somewhere near the $10 million per year range. Even a center capable of performing the bare minimum would run the Heat at least $5 mil.

That's why you saw the Heat making pickups like Erick Dampier and Ronny Turiaf; they're all they can afford. Did you also happen to notice how both those players played a minor role in both postseason runs?

Had Bosh been playing healthy, we might not have even seen Turiaf; similar to how we saw Juwan Howard when Udonis Haslem was hurt.

The Heat don't use these players because they've found ways to win without having a pure center on the floor.

Opponents may have the advantage of size, but the Heat have just about every advantage on the floor and that's how they win games.

Outside of utilizing talent alone, the team collectively attempts to get shots near the rim or open along the perimeter, getting into the open-court, and forcing their opponents into foul trouble because of the high frequency of Heat' drives.

What team doesn't have a flaw in their roster? It's the teams that compensate and utilize their own advantages that come out on top. We only know so much of the Heat's issues at center because they're the team that's easiest to criticize when, in reality, they don't actually need a pure five.

The Heat's biggest advantage is the fact that they have enough advantages to compensate for their lack of a pure center.

Although they may be beaten on the boards by a team like Chicago or Indiana, they'll still more than likely come out on top; because they have two of the league's top players and a stretch-4 who can hit jumpers from anywhere.

Speaking of Chris Bosh, his worth to this team is far more than any center could provide. His role is to grab rebounds and hit jumpers from as far out as the perimeter.

The Heat don't ask of him to be a rebounder of Kevin Love or Dwight Howard's level nor a defender of Howard or Tyson Chandler's level. All they ask of Bosh is to hold his own on defense and the boards, and to stretch the floor.

There isn't a center in this league capable of doing what Bosh does for the Heat on the offensive end. Miami signed Bosh, not because they were expected rebounds and defense, to open up the lane for James and Wade. Signing a low-post player only meant more congestion in the lane, making the jobs of Wade and James far more difficult.

Having a big like Bosh on the floor is exactly what the Heat require--a power forward who can open up the floor for the Heat and provide some more versatility. That is far more important to the team than a center who's only going to clog the lane on the offensive end and then only hurt the team when he gets into foul trouble.

Plus, does a center really fit into the Heat's dynamic of getting out into the open-court and utilizing athleticism and quickness on defense to force turnovers?

The Heat already have a shot-blocker, even if he is undersized, in Joel Anthony and have gone through a plethora of lumbering centers who did nothing other than provide some temporary resistance.

A center has no place with the Heat, especially during their postseason runs. Miami is constantly attempting to tire out their opponent with athleticism on both ends of the floor, which is why it is much more common to see the team run a small-ball lineup that would feature Bosh at the five and either James, Battier or Haslem at the four.

Small-ball has proven success. Why fix it if it isn't broken?

If obtaining a true center was what the team needed, it would have been a guarantee the Heat would have gone after Marcus Camby instead of Ray Allen.

Like the genius he is, however, Pat Riley knew that spacing the floor and opening up more lanes for his two superstars is the much smarter tactic that's going to lead to more success.

The Heat just won an NBA title without a true center and with their best starting big man nursing an injury for the final eight games of the postseason. Is lacking that presence inside an issue? What about missing that star-studded rebounder? All those flaws have led to nothing other than wild success in only two years.

Miami doesn't have a choice in this matter, either. Like I stated before, they're not going to find a true center worth having with the money they can give out.

Darko Milicic is their only choice and that's only so because he was recently bought out and is planning on making $5 million this year on top of whatever contract he receives.

Still, this team can manage with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis; don't you think?


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