Coming into training camp, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra raved about the way each of his point guards had prepared for the season—with Mario Chalmers working primarily on his passing and Norris Cole on his shooting.
Early signs were promising.
Cole hit an absurd 7-of-9 shots from three-point range in the preseason, after making just 27.6 percent as a rookie. Then, in the first four games of the regular season, Chalmers did something he didn't do all of last season, posting double-digit assists in a contest—with a pair of 11-assist, one-turnover gems.
So what's happened since?
Cole's percentages have actually dipped from last season, down to 36 percent overall and 23.5 percent from three-point range. Even so, Spoelstra has granted him increased playing time, largely because Chalmers hasn't shown any consistent ability to handle opposing point guards at the point of attack, which is leading to breakdowns in the Heat's help defense.
When asked recently why Chalmers has developed a foul habit, Spoelstra was succinct: “Everything that we’ve talked about. Early, stance, feet first, awareness, alertness, sense of urgency, discipline.”
Since his last 11-assist game, Chalmers hasn't had more than five in any contest and is averaging just 3.3 during that stretch. And, as a shooter, he is below his career accuracy overall, from three-point range and from the free-throw line.
So, does it matter? That's a reasonable question, considering that the Heat won a championship with this same duo last season.
On the next five slides, here's the case that it does:
(Note: All quotes for this piece were collected as part of the author's coverage of the Heat for the Palm Beach Post. All statistics were accurate as of Sunday morning.)