Why Miami Heat's PG Problem Is the Most Overblown Story in the NBA
Particularly if the team in question employs players with the versatility and skill to handle multiple roles on both ends of the floor. And, in the Heat's case, if two of those players—LeBron James and Dwyane Wade—happen to be among the best non-point-guard distributors in basketball.
To be sure, Miami's stock of "traditional" point guards was and remains decidedly sub-par. According to 82games.com, the Heat's "ones" combined for a paltry player efficiency rating (PER) of 11.4—well below the standard league average of 15—and contributed just 5.5 assists against 3.9 turnovers per game.
Much of the blame for that putridity falls on the shoulders of Mario Chalmers. Among point guards who averaged at least 20 minutes per contest in 2011-12, Chalmers ranked among the 10 most turnover-prone despite also placing in the bottom-10 in usage rate, which is defined by Hoopdata as the "percentage of offensive possessions used by a player during his time on the floor."
Chalmers, then, has been anything but a top-notch floor general for the Heat. Then again, in Chalmers' role, as another of Miami's sharpshooters, and with superstar teammates as gifted as his, he didn't, doesn't and will never have to be.
It's a credit to Miami's cause that LeBron is as spectacular a ball-handler, creator and facilitator for someone of his physical profile. The Heat were at their best last season after they turned over the proverbial keys to their offense to the three-time MVP.
LeBron proved to be perfectly comfortable with the ball in his hands and took excellent care of it. He led all small forwards in usage rate last season, but had only the 23rd-highest turnover rate among "qualified" candidates, per ESPN's John Hollinger.
Whether he's operating from up top, on the wing or in the post, LeBron is brilliant at orchestrating an offense and setting up his teammates for success. Of his 6.2 assists per game last season (tops among small forwards, by the way), 2.9 of them (46.8 percent) resulted in baskets within 10 feet of the rim, according to Hoopdata. That's a remarkable frequency for a player on a team devoid of offensive options on the interior and only further illuminates how good James is at creating easy opportunities for others.
At the heart of James' proficiency at the point is his "basketball IQ," or, in layman's terms, his ability to make the right basketball play at any given moment. He's drawn criticism in the past for passing up shots in crunch time, but more often than not, the play he makes is actually the right one from such a perspective.
And when LeBron needs a breather and/or when head coach Erik Spoelstra would prefer to use him off the ball, Dwyane Wade can step in to run the show, as he did prior to James' ascension. According to 82games.com, Wade compiled a PER of 29.8 when he played the point, his best at any position, and held opposing floor generals to a dismal rating of 10.7.
Granted, he spent only a small portion of his time at the point, but the fact that he fared so well in that role shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. He's comfortable with the ball in his hands— he ranked second in usage rate but just 51st in turnover rate among shooting guards, according to John Hollinger—and registered better than 4.2 assists for every bad pass he attempted last season.
Can the Heat win another title without a true point guard?
On the whole, Wade's 4.6 assists per game made him the second-most helper-happy two-guard in the NBA, behind only Monta Ellis.
Unfortunately for D-Wade, his age (he'll be 31 in January) and his ailing knees make it difficult, if not downright imprudent, for him to play major minutes at point guard on both ends of the floor. As effective as Wade is at the position, Erik Spoelstra must employ him there carefully and sparingly so as to keep him fresh and healthy for as long as possible.
That's not too pressing of an issue considering LeBron is as prolific a "point-forward" as he is on the offensive end. And, to Chalmers' credit, Miami's de facto point guard is surprisingly effective at his position on defense. His size, length and hands allow him to pick his man's pockets (1.5 steals per game) and helped him to hold opposing point guards to a below-average PER of 13.6 in 2011-12, per 82games.com.
In essence, the Heat play point guard "by committee," which actually makes more sense given their circumstances. After all, if you're Erik Spoelstra and your two best players are LeBron and Wade, wouldn't you want to have them on the ball as often as possible?
By all accounts, this strategy, though unconventional, has worked quite well for the Heat. They ranked fifth in the NBA in offensive efficiency and third in scoring margin during the lockout-shortened campaign, per Team Rankings.
Most importantly, they won often enough—46 times during the regular season and 16 times in the playoffs—to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy at season's end.
And if a team climbs all the way to the top of the NBA, does it really matter how it gets there?
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