Under the Radar: Miami Heat Storylines to Keep an Eye on
With players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen occupying much of the fans and media's attention, it's no surprise that a few of the Miami Heat's non-star players and their storylines have slipped through the cracks.
Take Mario Chalmers and the vast improvements he's made. Chalmers, the guy who often made baffling mistakes, the guy Heat players yelled at and criticized on the court for those mistakes, has played intelligent and playmaking basketball this season.
He may not grab headlines, but whether or not Chalmers can maintain this level of play has a significant impact on whether the Heat can repeat as NBA champions.
Let's take a closer look at Chalmers’ excellent start to the season and determine the likelihood as to whether his much-improved play will continue, as well as four other under-the-radar storylines from the Heat’s early-season games.
Udonis Haslem's Role
With the Heat utilizing more offensive-based than defensive-based lineups this season, Udonis Haslem's minutes (24.8 in 2011-12 and 16.9 in 2012-13) and production have decreased significantly.
Through eight games, U.D is averaging only 4.4 points and an even more surprising 4.6 rebounds.
Haslem has played better as the early-season games have progressed, grabbing 10 rebounds against the Atlanta Hawks on November 9. But on November 12, a game in which Haslem grabbed seven rebounds and converted five of six attempts from the field, he only played 15 minutes.
The 2012-13 Heat have placed a premium on shooters to complement the styles of their top two players, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. With Haslem's shot not what it used to be, it's fair to wonder where he fits in on this team.
Norris Cole's Improvement
With having a year's experience in the Heat's system and after going through his first full training camp, many expected Norris Cole to have a much improved season in 2012-13.
But offensively, the improvement has been minimal. After posting an abysmal 1.27:1 assist to turnover ratio last season, Cole currently sits at a slightly improved 1.4:1 ratio after eight games.
The issues with his shooting are still there (34.5 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from three-point land), especially disappointing considering Cole's excellent shooting in the preseason (9-11 on three-point attempts).
Still, Cole is a solid defender, which is why he has played at least 20 minutes in five of the last six games.
Through the first eight games, it's looking unlikely that Cole will become a more well-rounded player this season.
Mike Miller's Vanished Role
While Udonis Haslem's role on the Heat has decreased significantly, Mike Miller's has all but vanished thanks to the team's signing of Ray Allen.
Miller, who entered the season healthy for the first time as a member of the Heat, has only played more than seven minutes in two of Miami's first eight games. To this point, Miller has attempted as many three-pointers (eight) all season as he did in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals.
It makes plenty of sense to give Miller a smaller work load, as the guy's body is clearly fragile at this point in his career, but this much of a role reduction was unexpected.
With his rebounding ability (4.9 per-game career average) and three-point shooting ability (40.5 career three-point shooting percentage), Miller can still help this team.
But with Allen playing as well as he has thus far and Rashard Lewis proving he can still be a productive NBA player, the question is when will Miller help Miami.
Shane Battier's Shooting
The Heat don't need Shane Battier to be a big-time scorer, but rather a low-usage efficient scorer.
The results have been mixed so far, as he's shooting a solid 36.7 percent on his three-pointers, but shooting only 37.8 percent from the field.
Still. there's reason to believe Battier's shooting will improve. In the preseason, Battier continued his excellent shooting from the 2012 NBA Finals (61.3 percent shooting), and knocked down 15 of his 30 three-point attempts.
In the Heat's last two games, Battier converted three of six attempts (all three-pointers). Given the Heat's dependence on offense so far this season, they need this to be the start of Battier's shooting turnaround.
Mario Chalmers' Smarter Play
Heat fans have to be pleased with the way Mario Chalmers has played to begin the season.
He may not be shooting as well as he did last season (44.8 percent in 2011-12 and 38.2 percent in 2012-13), but so far, his overall game appears to be much improved.
Not only has Chalmers had two 11 assist games so far (he had zero double-digit assist games last season), but he also has played consecutive games (November 9 against the Hawks and November 11 against the Grizzlies) in which he had zero turnovers. To put that in perspective, the previous time Chalmers had consecutive zero turnover games was in February of 2011.
Chalmers currently has a 3.67:1 turnover ratio, which ranks sixth in the NBA. He won't be able to sustain that great of a ratio (1.56:1 in 2011-12), but he's clearly growing as a player.