Miami Heat's Most and Least Improved Players of the Season

Sam RichmondCorrespondent IDecember 16, 2012

Miami Heat's Most and Least Improved Players of the Season

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    Compared to last season, the Miami Heat as a whole have improved in some areas, such as three-point shooting efficiency, and regressed in others, such as defensive efficiency. The same is true for the Heat's players as individuals: some have vastly improved from 2011-12, and others haven't much at all.

    On the positive side of things, just look at how Chris Bosh, the often-overlooked member of the Big Three, has performed this season. Even though he has to bang down low with bigger and stronger centers on the defensive end, Bosh is on pace to have by far his most efficient offensive season as a member of the Heat.

    While Bosh's "A-game" might not be better than that of Dwyane Wade, Miami's new center has been the second-best player on the team this season (behind LeBron James, of course).

    But unfortunately, there have been a few disappointments, including Norris Cole, who a few months ago seemed destined to be one of the Heat's most improved players this season. Cole has been a top-notch defender, but the progress expected of his offensive game just hasn't been displayed thus far.

    Let's take a more in-depth look at Bosh's and Cole's play, as well as the improvement or lack of improvement made by three other Heat players. 

    Note: Statistics are accurate as of Dec. 16.

Most Improved: Shane Battier

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    While Shane Battier was dominant in the 2012 NBA Finals, he played pretty poorly in the regular season that preceded it.

    In his first season as a member of the Heat, Battier shot 38.7 percent from the field, 33.9 percent from beyond the arc and 62.2 percent on his free-throw attempts while posting a career-worst 4.8 points per game.

    But Battier has been excellent this season. He's been valuable defensively as expected, and his long-range shot has been a nice weapon for the Heat. Through the first quarter of the season, Battier is averaging 6.7 points on 43.3 percent shooting from the field, 44.3 percent shooting on three-pointers and his free throws (70.0 percent) have also improved.

    Battier's improvements might go unnoticed at times, as they deal more with efficiency than overall output, but even at 34 years old he's absolutely stepped his game up from the year prior.

Least Improved: Mario Chalmers

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    Throughout his NBA career, Mario Chalmers has always been a bit of an enigma, but the former Jayhawk actually played pretty well last season. He posted career bests in shooting percentage from the field (44.8) and from three-point range (38.8) and the most rebounds (2.7), assists (3.5) and points (9.8) per game since his rookie season.

    There was a lot of regression talk surrounding Chalmers entering this year, but he began the 2012-13 season showing continued growth. He posted double-digit assists twice in the Heat's first four games after not topping 10 assists once in a game the year prior. He also cut down on his turnovers, which led to him spending much of November in the top 10 in assist-to-turnover ratio for point guards. 

    But as the season has progressed into mid December, Chalmers has looked more and more like that regression candidate he was in the offseason. His 3.67:1 assist-to-turnover ratio on November 13 has now plummeted to 2.13:1.

    Also, he's shooting south of 40 percent from the field, 32.1 percent on three-pointers, 70.4 percent from the line (79.2 percent in 2011-12) and is averaging 6.8 points per game. Chalmers is not nearly the on-ball defender that backup Norris Cole is, so 'Rio has lost a great deal of his late-game playing time lately.

    After his solid play last season and such a promising start to the season, there's no denying Chalmers has disappointed in 2012-13.

Most Improved: Rashard Lewis

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    Rashard Lewis began the 2012-13 season as a key member of the Heat's rotation, shooting the ball extremely well. In the first month of the season, Lewis shot 50.9 percent from the field and an absurd 55.6 percent from three-point land.

    But basketball is about more than just shooting, and Lewis' poor defensive and rebounding skills (1.9 per game for the season despite being 6'10") have led to him only appearing in five of the Heat's last 10 games.

    Still, when you consider how abysmal offensively he was last season as a member of the Washington Wizards, Lewis' 2012-13 season has to be viewed as a big improvement.

    In 2011-12, Lewis shot a pitiful 38.5 percent from the field and an even more atrocious 23.9 percent on three-point attempts. In the 16 games he's appeared in this season, Lewis has shot 48.6 percent from the field and 47.3 percent on three-pointers. Lewis has also seen a jump in his PER from 9.37 last year to 11.66 this year.

    As mentioned before, there's a reason Lewis is no longer seeing the floor very often for the Heat. However, at least he's spent the first quarter of the season knocking down his three-pointers at a high percentage, which gives him some value as a player, when last year he had essentially none. 

Least Improved: Norris Cole

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    Prior to the season, it would have made plenty of sense to predict Norris Cole being featured on a list of this nature; however, it wouldn't have been made thinking Cole would appear as one of the least improved. 

    There were many basic reasons to expect a big improvement this year from Cole, as he would enter the season at 24 years old and with a year of NBA experience under his belt. But much more than that was responsable for the hype.

    Cole had a great showing in the summer league, then in training camp he was commended by coach Spoelstra to the Sun Sentinel for his offseason commitment and then, after spending the summer specifically working on his shot, he knocked down nine of 11 three-point attempts in the preseason. 

    With that said, let's compare Cole's offensive statistics through the first 21 games of the season with his stats from the entirety of last season.

    2011-12: 19.4 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 39.3 percent shooting, 27.6 percent three-point shooting, 77.6 percent free-throw shooting, 2.0 APG, 1.6 TOPG and 7.99 PER.

    2012-13: 20.1 MPG, 4.8 PPG, 37.0 percent shooting, 27.3 percent three-point shooting, 66.7 percent free-throw shooting, 2.2 APG, 1.5 TOPG and 5.36 PER.

    It must be noted that Cole's on-ball defense has been terrific, which is why his minutes have climbed from November (19.9 per game) to December (22.7).

    However, considering that Cole wasn't a valuable offensive player last season, it's a bit unsettling that such little improvement has been made on that side of the floor in 2012-13.

Most Improved: Chris Bosh

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    With all the elite talent on the Heat's roster, it says a lot about how well Bosh has played that he's been Miami's second-best player this season.

    Despite being an undersized center, Bosh has been solid defensively and is improving in that regard as the season progresses.

    Offensively, though, Bosh has been outstanding, averaging .1 more points per game than he did last season (18.1 in 2012-13), despite taking more than two shots less per contest.

    Also, Bosh has been getting to the line more, where he's great (shooting 82.5 percent on FTs this season), and he has been remarkably efficient from the field. His current 54.5 shooting percentage is not only a 5.8 percentage increase from the 2011-12 season, it would represent a career best for him if the season were to end today. 

    On top of that, Bosh has a PER of 22.38 currently (18.94 last year), which ranks second on the Heat and fourth among all NBA centers. Considering Bosh's increased responsibility on defense this season, it would be encouraging if he were just playing to the level offensively he was last season.

    But Bosh has been even better this season, which is a big reason why the Heat still have to be considered the favorites to take home another championship next summer.