Many expected that opening night would reveal the league's most explosive new offense. Most thought it would the wrong team. While the Lakers new starting five fizzled, the reigning champs revealed a new offense that was positively potent though. Miami's version of small ball is here to stay, and the Heat are gong to be tough to beat with it.
Miami shot .540 from the field as a team and committed only eight turnovers on the night. Their offensive rating was a ridiculous 127 as they scored 120 points against the Boston Celtics, one of the elite defensive teams in the league over the last five years.
The Heat have moved Chris Bosh to "center," LeBron James to "power forward" and Shane Battier into the starting lineup to be the "small forward" though I put quotation marks around those things because the traditional understandings of what those positions mean is completely out the window with the Heat.
What they have is five players on the court at the same time who are extremely versatile and who are interchangeable on multiple levels. Because of James ability to guard any player on the court, they Heat are able to do this offensively without having to pay a penalty defensively.
The result is that an offense that was extremely effective in transition the last two years, but which often struggled in half court offense, was ridiculously efficient in the halfcourt as well. They did so without any loss in their transition game as the videos below can attest.
There are three reasons the Heat offense is so much more explosive this year. First, they have no wasted bodies on offense as they have the last two years. Second, they have greatly improved three point shooting, which in turn improves the floor spacing for their superstars to drive the lane. Third, they have more production from the bench.
No Wasted Bodies on Offense
The last two seasons the Miami Heat offense consisted of James and Wade dominating the ball, Mario Chalmers camping behind the three point line in case he got a pass, and Joel Anthony being a veritable waste of space on the offensive end (though he did contribute defensively).
Overt he last two season Chalmers broke double-digits in assists only one time. It came in the final game of the 2010-11 season when none of the big three played a single minute. The most assists he had with the regular team was three.
Part of the new offense is to trust Chalmers more. He had the ball in his hand as James played more off the ball. The result was that Chalmers had the most assists of the Big Three era, 11, including this dime to Ray Allen to give the newest Heat star his first bucket with Miami.
Because there are fewer wasted bodies, Boston was forced to defend the entire team, not just James, Wade and Bosh, and the result was a ridiculous .544 night from the field by the team as a whole. The ball movement and spacing were a thing of beauty as the Celtics defense often looked disoriented and out of place and the Heat created wide open shots all over the court.
Improved Three Point Shooting
Last season the Miami Heat averaged barely five there-point field goals per game, ranking 20th in the NBA with 5.6. Last night they made eight of their 16 attempts. While it's premature to use a sample-size of one game to prove season worth of data has changed it's worth mentioning that they only had eight assists or more 15 times in 66 games last year.
It's also worth mentioning last year's leading three-point shooter, Mario Chalmers did not contribute one field goal from deep. Neither did Mike Miller who was their second best three-point shooter last year.
The reason this night can't be easily dismissed is that the Heat have added Ray Allen, the NBA's all-time leader in three-pointers made, and Rashard Lewis, who is eighth all-time in NBA history in three-pointers made.
In addition, the Heat inserting Shane Battier into the starting lineup gives them another three-point shooter there. In all five different Heat players made a three in their first game.
The Heat, who last year was best defensed by the zone defense is now flush with three-point shooters. When the Celtics went out to challenge the three, LeBron James was cutting to the rim for big finishes. When he wasn't Dwyane Wade was. When neither were, they found Chris Bosh.
The Heat displaying a three point-shot is akin to Superman growing a kryptonite immunity and wearing a vest made from the extraterritorial substance, an apt metaphor since the Heat offense with so many deep threats is other-worldly.
Note the spacing here as Lewis catches the ball behind the arc. When you have two players who have combined for more than 4,000 three-point shots catching the ball with that kind of space, you don't worry about zone defenses.
If the defense came out to challenge the shooters, then James or Bosh would cut to the rim for the finish or else the would-be shooter would pass the ball to Wade or James to drive through the open floor space for a dunk, such as what happens at the 1:28 mark of this highlight video.
Last year the Heat were one of the worst scoring benches in the NBA. According to hoopsstats only Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers received fewer than the 22.9 points from their bench. By contrast their opponents benches averaged 29.1 points per game.
That means that the Heat starters were effectively starting every game with six point deficit. So, while they might have had the most talented trio, those three were being asked to carry a bench that did't score and a starter that didn't score.
The thing that is scary about the Heat now is that they have scoring coming off the bench. Last night they scored 32 points off the bench, a nine-point boost from the previous season's average.
And, as with the scoring from deep, this is not likely to be an anomaly as the two new Heat, Allen and Lewis, chipped in the majority of that scoring. Last year's most effective scorers of the bench, Norris Cole and Mike Miller combined for only three points.
Part of what makes the Miami small ball so effective is that their new bench players fit in so well with the system the Heat are running. The offensive flow didn't seem to wane when the bench players came in. They can keep the pressure geared up full throttle for the whole game now.
There is one potential wart to this. While the offense was running smoothly whomever was on the court, when LeBron James had to go to the locker room for cramps the offense did hit a bit of speed bump but righted itself. The Heat still scored 27 in the fourth quarter without James.
More disconcerting is that the Heat gave up 31 points in that quarter. Miami is able to get away with this brand of small ball where most teams can't because of James incredible defensive versatility. He's big enough to guard most bigs and fast enough to guard anyone in the league.
The reason small ball doesn't usually work is that whatever gains you have on the offensive end you give up on the defensive end but James annuls that. When he went out the Heat lost that benefit and the defense slogged.
It's possible that Lewis and/or Udonis Haslem can take up that role as the season progresses. There's only so much you can glean from one game. What we can say from the Heat's opening night Boston Massacre though is that their offense is going to be as dynamic and explosive as any in the league.
With the Big Three finally finding a perfect comfort zone, Chalmers finally being utilized effectively, and the Heat adding profound depth to the bench, this team is going to be spectacular to watch.