Well, there's no use in denying it... the Miami Heat are a pretty good ball club. They have three of the best players in the NBA, one of the greatest three-point shooters of all time, and a solid supporting cast that has helped them along the way.
That being said, a lot of teams got better this offseason, and with the exception of adding Ray Allen, the Heat pretty much just kicked their feet up and watched the offseason madness contently.
As they should, because they're still the best team in the NBA.
A lot of fuss is being made about the Los Angeles Lakers, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and even the Brooklyn Nets as potential suspects to knock the Heat off their very high, and very well-deserved pedestal.
But now, even more than last year when they were upset by the Dallas Mavericks in the championships, they are the team with a huge bullseye on the back of their uniforms. They're the team everyone wants to beat, and it's going to be difficult for Miami to kick it into high gear and go for a second ring.
Let's take a look at five players on the roster that are going to need to play some great basketball in order for the Heat to repeat.
NOTE: YES, there will be starters and excellent players on this list, NO I am not saying they're horrible and need to improve vastly. This article is about the most vital pieces of Miami's puzzle, and what they need to do to repeat as champions.
Okay, I know. I can already hear the shouts coming from Heat fans yelling at me because LeBron James is a three-time and the league's defending MVP.
He's the best player on the planet right now, and anyone who disagrees is crazy. Kevin Durant might be a better scorer (if only slightly), but LBJ does it all for this team. He has the passing skills of a point guard, the rebounding skills of a power forward and the shooting skills of basically every position on the court. He can do pretty much everything.
There aren't many players in the history of the NBA that can boast that kind of claim, and for anyone who thinks he's anything less than the best is just a biased fanboy of someone else. There are players that are close, but no one can do everything like LeBron.
That being said, if the Heat want to repeat, I think it's fairly obvious who is going to lead this team, and if LeBron falters at all this season, the Heat will feel the consequences.
He doesn't so much need to step his game up as much as he needs to keep his game going.
The king is the king, and LeBron is King James. No one in the NBA is as good as him and no one can duplicate the type of production he creates.
James will need to put together the best season of his career to repeat. He will need to be the team's facilitator, main scorer, a big time rebounder and a lockdown defender. If he isn't at least as good as last year, the Heat are going to find themselves struggling to make it back to the NBA Championship again this year.
Again, yes, I know that he's one of the best players in the game. He just is...there is no point in denying it as he proved it again last season.
All of his numbers were down across the board—except blocks per game and his wonderful field goal percentage of .497. Wade just looked tired sometimes when he was on the court. He's been battling some nagging injuries that come with age which, while not his fault, are still detrimental to the team.
I'm going to compare statistics between the 2011-12 regular season and his career really quickly:
Career: 25.2 PPG, 6.2 APG, 5.1 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 48.6% FG, 29.1% three-point FG
2011-12: 22.1 PPG, 4.6 APG, 4.8 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 49.7% FG, 26.8% three-point FG
Now, this is not a drastic drop off and pretty much all of it can be attributed to the arrival of LeBron James and Chris Bosh. For his entire career, Wade was the alpha-dog of the Miami Heat. Now he is working with two other players who are as good or better than him.
Wade needs to find more consistency in this three-point shot or, with the arrival of Ray Allen, completely take it out of his arsenal. 26.8 percent is just not good enough. There have also been talks about possibly starting Wade at PG with Allen's arrival, which would mean Wade would have to really refine his passing. For years he's been an extremely versatile player, last year included.
If the Heat want to repeat, he's going to have to step up and put up numbers similar to his career averages.
I think this one is fairly obvious. Allen had the worst year of his career last year and while he does still have some mileage left in his legs, he's going to have to put everything he has into this season.
Widely considered one of, if not the best, three-point shooters of all time, Allen has a wonderful career three-point percentage of .400. In last year's regular season he actually managed to shoot 45.3 percent from long range.
He was brought into Miami for a good price, right around $3 million. A bargain for someone who can be lights out from long range.
All of that said, if Allen lets his injuries continue to weigh him down like they did in the 2012 NBA Playoffs, that money is wasted.
Allen was more of a hindrance to the Celtics than an asset in the playoffs. He only managed 10.7 PPG, 1.0 APG and 4.1 RPG, he only shot 39.5 percent from the field and a shockingly low 30.4 percent from the three-point line.
If he comes into Miami's regular season putting up numbers like that, he will not be seeing much playing time. He's already likely to see a drop in playing time, just as a precaution. He's 37 years old, and 37-year-olds can't expect to play 36 minutes per game, especially with dips in production like Allen had.
He'll likely still get a solid 25-30 minutes per night and will have plenty of open looks at long range shots, with defenses constantly having to worry about James, Wade, and Bosh. Allen is going to need to take care of those open shots that he will get.
Miami lacked a consistent three-point threat last season, and they're expecting Allen to come in and shoot five or six three-pointers a night. He won't be asked to do much else, so hopefully the lighter duties will allow him to conserve energy and body fatigue. If not, the Heat might be in trouble next year.
Look, I'll be honest, and there's no reason not to be.
I do not like Mario Chalmers.
I don't think he's a bad guy. I've never met him. He could be the absolutely most wonderful guy in the world, but I can't stand the role he assumes in Miami. Chalmers plays PG, but he wants so desperately to be a superstar that he tries to play like a SG.
When you have three bona fide superstars on your team and you're a talented, but far from superstar point guard, what do you do?
You pass the ball. You pass the ball a lot. You create opportunities for others, you rack up as many assists as you can, and then if you have a wide open shot, then you take it.
I hate to be that guy (sorry Heat fans), but he needs to think more like Steve Nash and less like Russell Westbrook.
Chalmers shot a respectable 44.8 percent from the court last year (much better than his career 41.9 percent average) and he averaged 9.8 PPG in 28.5 minutes. The really glaring statistic here, though, is that he only averaged 3.5 APG this past season.
That is completely inexcusable. I understand that Chalmers has his own way of playing basketball and I applaud him for that. But when you play on the same team as Wade, James, and Bosh, and you are the point guard on the floor, it is your obligation to make more opportunities for others.
Chalmers was not an effective point guard last year (neither was Norris Cole), and he only had a player efficiency rating (PER) of 12.98, over two points lower than the average NBA player.
Chalmers needs to stop trying to be one of the big guys and he needs to do a better job of creating. If the Heat have a dent in their incredibly strong armor, he is it. Chalmers needs to basically reinvent the way he plays.
I thought long and hard about who I was going to put in this last slide. Chris Bosh was always going to be in the five, I probably would have removed LeBron to add Bosh. The Heat need some big help down low, and their current crop of centers are sorry. I just didn't know who to put here that deserved to be the starting center. Maybe rookie Justin Hamilton will come in and surprise some people.
But instead, I'll just say that Miami has a hole in the center, and someone needs to fill it.
Chris Bosh, a 6'11" power forward, should have something to do with plugging that hole.
Bosh has always sort of been the red headed stepchild of Miami's Big Three, the ugly little (velociraptor) duckling. He's been good for the Heat, but he hasn't been quite as good as he could be, and he's taken a lot of heat for that. Memes have even been created, like this gem.
Simply put, with virtually no one to take care of the center position aside from Bosh, he's going to have to do better in the paint. I'm not asking him to defend like Dwight Howard or Serge Ibaka, but he needs to do more. He's a fairly lanky dude, and it's pretty clear that he gets beat up a lot during physical plays.
Further, Bosh has to do a better job of snagging rebounds. LeBron is a good rebounder and takes some of Bosh's boards, but 10.8 RPG in Toronto down to 8.3 in his first season with the Heat down to 7.9 this past season? The dude is almost seven feet tall, it shouldn't be that hard to grab a few more rebounds, even with Udonis Haslem and James doing their parts.
Bosh has three inches on LeBron and they averaged the same number of rebounds last year. Udonis Haslem, who is three inches shorter than Bosh, played 11 less minutes per game and still drew in 7.3 RPG. Bosh has to step it up a little bit.
His defense needs work and it's pretty clear that he's not meant to play center, but with a team that is (at least for the moment) deficient of viable centers, Bosh needs to step up and do a better job of scoring in the paint, grabbing rebounds, and defending down low.