Coming off a morale-boosting victory, which saw newcomer Ray Allen hit the game-winning shot and Chris Bosh continue to make strides at the center position, the forecast for the Miami Heat appears cautiously bright.
Offensively, the Heat are firing on all cylinders, ranking first in team offensive statistics, shooting a league-leading 51 percent from the field at home, and, impressively, are improved across the board in each shooting percentage category (FG, 3-pt. FG, FT) as compared to last season's averages.
Defensively, however, they are still a work in progress, standing at or below the middle of the pack in categories of rebounding and blocks. The one saving grace? They rank sixth in steals on the road.
Now, mind you, the sample size that these numbers are based on is markedly limited at three games.
But, if you're keeping score, they certainly seem to have confirmed every belief and suspicion that many Heat fans had coming into the season.
Allen is shooting a career high beyond the arc.
Bosh is averaging more rebounds and points than he did during his last two seasons now that he is at center.
LeBron James is, well, LeBron James.
But have all those concerns about Dwyane Wade that started late last season gone away?
Here are initial report card grades for each player on the Miami Heat.
Players: Terrel Harris, Dexter Pittman, James Jones, Josh Harrellson
Review: Although Jones and Harrellson saw moments of action on the court, none of these four are rotation players. Harris is a hard worker, but he does not bring a particular skill set that merits taking minutes away from the Heat's more elite backups. Pittman came into camp in shape but has been a disappointment otherwise. Harrellson is still becoming acquainted with the system. And Jones is essentially insurance in case Mike Miller or Allen get hurt.
Player: Joel Anthony
Review: Anthony played seven minutes in the Heat's matchup with Denver, in which he was held scoreless on 0-for-2 shooting and had one turnover. Things also don't look to take a turn for the better. As Ira Winderman noted recently, the Heat appear more inclined to use big men who won't be offensive liabilities
For this reason, Anthony's most valuable contribution to this team moving forward may be as a trade commodity.
Additional comments: Some will argue that Miami could use all the muscle it can keep/get on its roster to deal with the more legitimate big men in the league. At the end of the day, however, the Heat have thrived with a lineup that has five offensive threats on the court. And one would suspect they will keep rolling with this formula until the wheels fall off.
Player: Mike Miller
Review: Miller has seen limited action and provided limited numbers thus far, averaging an unimpressive 33 percent from beyond the arc.
The positive focus, though, is that he is healthy and that Miami now has enough depth on the bench so that he can be "stored" for the playoffs.
Additional Comments: With Miller, the issue of health will always take precedence over offense, as he has proven himself a marksman in this league. From this standpoint, his production should be digested with a silver lining.
Player: Udonis Haslem
Review: Haslem's production has been a disappointment for Miami thus far. He is shooting 20 percent from the field and averaging 2.7 rebounds in 12 minutes of play. Furthermore, Rashard Lewis has all but replaced him on the depth chart.
Because Miami is limited among their big men, Udonis will still net about 12-15 minutes a game. But if Harrellson can emerge in the next few weeks with his shooting and rebounding, there is a possibility Haslem may fall as far back as 11th on the depth chart and even out of the rotation.
Additional Comments: Don't worry- I hate myself for giving an F to someone who has long been the heart and soul of this team.
Player: Rashard Lewis
Review: Signed to the veteran minimum, the expectations for Lewis coming into the season were very low. Thus far, he has been a pleasant surprise, averaging nine points and nearly four rebounds in 18 minutes of play. More importantly, he is averaging 63 percent from beyond the arc. And with the exception of his uneven performance in the Heat's most recent game, he has been the best big man off the bench for Miami.
Additional Comments: If Lewis can continue to give Miami quality minutes off the bench, there is an argument to be made that replacing Shane Battier in the starting lineup with Lewis could help Miami with its rebounding woes.
Player: Norris Cole
Review: In nearly 15 minutes of play, Cole has averaged 4.5 points and one assist per game while shooting 50 percent from the field. In essence, Cole's production and involvement in the rotation has been limited by two factors—the addition of Allen and his erratic ball-handling. But Cole still figures to be an integral part of the rotation, providing energy and shooting when he enters games.
Player: Shane Battier
Review: Like Cole, Battier has had limited production compared to last season. Nevertheless, he is shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc and providing good defense. Once again, the interesting question is whether Lewis will eventually replace Battier in the lineup to help Miami on the glass. But as of right now, such conversation would be premature.
Player: Mario Chalmers
Review: Chalmers surprised us all with an 11 assist debut on opening night. Immediately thereafter, his numbers dropped back down to earth, and then a bit further below. Chalmers has yet to make a three-pointer this season and is shooting a woeful 37 percent from the field. The only bright side? His assists are up to five a game. But how much of that is due to what was possibly an aberrational debut game?
Additional Comments: It is entirely possible that Allen replaces Chalmers in the starting lineup by the halfway point of the season. In fact, I think this is the biggest debating point for the Heat at moment.
Player: Ray Allen
Review: Allen has been the gift that keeps on giving for Miami.
Not only does his departure from Boston represent how Miami was responsible for breaking up the Celtics' big three, but he's a member of us now! Can you imagine how the image above must torment everyone from Danny Ainge all the way down to the fan sitting in the nosebleed section of TD Waterhouse arena?
But beyond petty rivalries, Allen has been a consummate pro and is quickly making his mark in Miami. With a career high of above .500 from beyond the arc, Allen's addition to the Heat has been as much of a dream for Miami as it's been a nightmare for Boston.
Additional Comments: We Got Ray!!!!
Player: Chris Bosh
Review: Remember how people used to joke about the Heat's big three being more appropriately named "two and a half men"? How people used to question whether Bosh was even an All-Star? Well, those days are long gone, and no player has benefited more from the Heat's new position-less philosophy. Bosh is currently posting his best numbers with Miami, averaging over 20 points and 9.3 rebounds. Oh, and he also had 40 points against Denver, a Heat high.
Additional Comments: The answer is maybe. The question—is it possible Bosh may soon become the second scoring option for Miami?
Player: Dwyane Wade
Review: Is Wade having a good season thus far? Yes. He is averaging 19 points and keeping his teammates involved while playing active defense. But we have yet to see him dominate a game since the Eastern Conference semifinals against Indiana. And this is the kind of thing you take notice of when it comes to superstars—and yes, Wade is still a superstar.
I just have one very important question to ask every Heat fan reading this. Two seasons from now, Wade will be a free agent and 34 years old. Let's just say LeBron decides to leave and so does Bosh. If you are Miami, do you still offer him the max? I say no.
Additional Comments: Any setbacks Wade incurs this season I blame on his inexplicable haircut.
Player: LeBron James
Review: James is averaging four fewer points than he has for his career while producing highs in rebounding and blocks. But the concept of "criticism" and LeBron James just seems irrational after all he accomplished last year. So, if you want to nitpick, you could argue that James should continue attacking teams in the post, where he was unstoppable last year in the playoffs. Outside of that, pencil him in for what looks like another MVP campaign.
Additional Comments: The Heat should introduce LeBron last in the starting lineup introductions. It's time.