The defending champion Miami Heat have made another fast start this NBA season, lighting up the scoreboard in the process with the league's best offense. However, despite the impressive offensive displays, the Heat do have some genuine concerns, particularly on defense, where the team is hemorrhaging points in a manner unfamiliar to that of the past two seasons.
Given that the core of this team has remained the same, it must be asked if the two most notable of the Heat's offseason additions in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis are to blame for the team's poor defensive play so far this year.
While neither Allen nor Lewis are regarded as elite defensive players, both have been on elite defensive teams in Boston and Orlando, respectively, in recent years. Although both men were acquired for their outside shooting ability, it would have been expected that the two would have been able to fit into Miami's defensive approach.
Yet the evidence points to contrary.
While it would be foolish to single out Allen and Lewis as the sole culprits for the Heat's defensive decline, they have certainly contributed to it. Their play this season, in addition to the team's approach with Allen and Lewis in the lineup, has seen Miami slip from a suffocating defensive team to simply an average one at this moment in time.
Miami's Defense in 2011-12
In 2011-12, Miami were without question one of the league's best defensive teams. During the regular season, the Heat were fourth in the NBA for both opposition points per game (92.5) and defensive efficiency (97.1). Those numbers were a significant improvement on the year before, the first season for Miami's "super friends" in 2010-11.
With the addition of Shane Battier to join Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, the Heat could rely on elite perimeter defense essentially every night. This was reflected by finishing fifth in the league for opponent field-goal percentage at .434. Additionally, being third in the league in steals meant Miami regularly found itself out in transition with devastating results.
By using James and his insane physical abilities to guard every position on the floor at various stages, the Heat's somewhat undersized frontcourt in Joel Anthony, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem were able to adequately guard the paint behind the team's elite perimeter defense, allowing the second fewest points in the paint across the NBA at 37.0 per game.
Furthermore, despite utilizing small lineups with James at power forward for much of the season, the Heat still managed to be ranked sixth in the NBA in rebounding rate at 51.1 percent.
The Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis Impact in 2012-13
Simply put, Allen and Lewis are having a dramatic impact on Miami's offense. Through 10 games, the Heat are averaging a league-leading 104.2 points per game at a dizzying offensive efficiency of 110.9.
However, it is what is happening at the other end that is causing some concern.
The following chart displays the extent of Miami's defensive decline so far this season, and their increasingly offensive-oriented approach.
By allowing 100.2 points per game, the Heat have dropped from fourth in the NBA in this category last season to an alarming 26th this year. Their overall defensive efficiency has seen an even bigger drop from fourth to 27th and they currently sit 28th for defending the three-point line.
So how are Allen and Lewis contributing to this substantial drop off? Is it their one-on-one efforts? For the most part, no. The drop off is actually significantly linked to the pair's impact on the offensive end.
With Allen and Lewis now on the roster, the Heat are trying to exploit an inside-outside advantage more than ever. The chart below shows how Miami's offense has changed by adding Allen and Lewis to the team to surround James, Wade and Bosh with two perimeter marksmen as often as possible.
By bringing in two of the NBA's best ever distance shooters, it makes sense to utilize their long range ability. Yet this is definitely having a profound impact on Miami's defensive balance.
By significantly increasing their three-point attempts, Miami are reducing the quantity of their trips to the foul line. While the tactic is obviously increasing their offensive output, it is stripping the Heat of the chance to control the tempo of the game and force their opposition into half-court sets after made free throws.
This bi-product from increased perimeter shooting means the Heat aren't pounding their opposition in the paint as much as they were last season, when James and Wade relentlessly took the ball to the rim, forcing contact and drawing fouls.
Additionally, three-point attempts also lend themselves to long rebound opportunities for the opposing team, leading to transition and fast break points at the other end. This is reflected by Miami slipping from third to 15th in the NBA for opponent fast break points so far this season.
The impact of Lewis and Allen is also being seen on the boards. The following chart shows the Heat's decline in rebounding this season compared to last.
While the absolute values don't appear to have dropped all that far, what those reductions mean in respect to the rest of the league is quite profound. The numbers presented in the above chart leave the Heat ranked 29th in total rebounds per game, 20th in rebound rate and 24th in offensive rebound rate.
Rebounding of course, is one of the most well-recognized methods for controlling a game of basketball. With their work on the boards declining, Miami are getting less second-shot opportunities, conceding more second-chance points and allowing their opponents to dominate the battle on the glass, thus removing their ability to control the game defensively.
The numbers also don't make for great reading for Allen and Lewis when individual defensive statistics are examined.
An integral member of the defensively stingy Boston teams, Allen has seen his defensive rating balloon so far this season. In 2010-11 and 2011-12, the 37-year-old held defensive ratings of 98.5 and 98.1 respectively.
As a member of this year's Heat, Allen's defensive rating has blown out to 109.7. Lewis' rating is only slightly better at 103.5. Most tellingly, the Heat's defensive rating improves from 109.1 to 98.6 when Allen sits, while it improves from 106.1 to 104.1 when Lewis leaves the floor.
Of course these ratings are influenced by the overall team performance on that end of the court, but nonetheless, they do provide an insight into both men's struggles on the defensive end this season.
These defensive ratings have a large correlation with the team's rebounding performance when Allen and Lewis are on the floor, as shown in the chart below.
With both these men putting up three-point attempts and lacking ability on the glass, the Heat are genuinely hurt on the boards when Allen and Lewis are in the game. As previously stated, this is preventing the Heat from controlling the game defensively.
The +/- lineup stats, small sample sizes withstanding, also show that the Heat's small lineup with Allen on the court isn't being as effective as hoped. Miami's starting lineup of Mario Chalmers, Wade, Battier, James and Bosh is +33 so far this season. When Allen replaces Battier, the lineup falls to +3.
Moving away from the statistics, there are other pieces of evidence that have highlighted the defensive struggles of Allen and Lewis this year, particularly in guarding the three-point line.
Examine the clip below, showing Wayne Ellington destroying the Heat with the three-ball in Memphis. On both of Ellington's opening three-point makes, Allen sits off of him, allowing the dangerous shooter air-space for comfortable looks.
Both occasions are inexcusable mistakes given that Ellington's strength is his shooting. Allen should be forcing the 6'5" shooting guard to put the ball on the floor, where he tends to struggle creating his own shot and getting to the foul line.
If you take a minute to watch the last three that Ellington makes, you'll notice Allen fails to close-out or crowd his opponent, leaving the man with the hottest hand in the building to fire up another uncontested look.
Lewis' attention to detail has also been lacking. In the following clip, you'll see Lewis help off of Steve Novak, a 43.5 percent career shooter from deep. With both Haslem and Wade covering the dribble penetration, there is no need for Lewis to collapse into the paint. At all times when Novak is on the court, he should be guarded all the way out to the three-point line given that he's not beating anyone off the dribble. It's this lack of attention to detail that the Heat didn't suffer from last season.
It's clear that Allen and Lewis are having a detrimental impact on Miami's defense. However, much of the drop off can be attributed to the team playing to the two men's skill sets on the offense end, which is clearly working on that end of the floor.
It also must be remembered that the Heat are still 7-3, and with the season still in its infancy, there is plenty of time to correct the faults that currently exist.
Yet who knows, given their devastating scoring at present, it might not matter if they don't lock down defensively as they did last season. With Allen and Lewis on board, they may be capable of simply out-gunning their opposition all season long.
However, if it all fails and the team bleeds points that they are unable to overcome, it's likely that the defensive impact of Allen and Lewis will be a significant contributing factor.
*All Stats accurate as of Nov. 17.