As the 2008-2009 NBA regular season hits its stretch run and teams vie for playoff positioning, people begin to examine the season's storylines, whether it be the MVP battle, the resurgence of certain players, or the most playoff ready teams.
With that being said, people will most likely talk about the rise of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the LeBron vs. Kobe battle, the crowded Western Conference playoff picture, Dwyane Wade's comeback season, and so on. But, what people might not recognize is a nice, little story that has developed in Miami. And that is the formidable play from the Miami Heat's underrated rookie duo, Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers.
When most people think of the Miami Heat this season, they think of the return of Wade to dominance and his spectacular play as of late. While it easy to be amazed by Wade's heroics, it shouldn't overshadow Beasley and Chalmers performance this year.
Beasley and Chalmers are a rare rookie duo in that they both receive significant playing time and both have a significant impact on Miami's success night in and night out. But, the way this came into fruition is unique as well.
The Heat finished with the league's worst record last year at 15-67. They were a lottery team, hoping for and expecting the first overall pick in the 2008 draft. Everyone knew Miami was in need of a point guard, with Jason Williams signing with the Clippers and Chris Quinn not a viable NBA starting point guard. Sources around the league knew the Heat were targeting Derrick Rose as their selection and an answer to their point guard problems.
But, the lottery balls turned a different way for Miami, and landed them with the second overall pick and the Chicago Bulls with the first. Analysts then predicted Beasley might be the Heat's pick, but still questioned if GM Pat Riley would take O.J. Mayo or another point guard such as Eric Gordon or Jerryd Bayless. A bunch of different scenarios were discussed, but in the end, the Heat took Michael Beasley with the second overall pick in the draft.
With Beasley as their pick, it didn't solve their point guard dilemma. As the second round of the draft came around, the Heat only had the 52nd overall pick, which wasn't going to land them a gem. Riley remained confident and stayed on the phones all night until he was able to work out a deal with the Timber Wolves. Minnesota selected Chalmers with the 34th overall pick and immediately traded him to Miami.
Many people consider the trade a steal for Miami, as Chalmers pretty much just fell into their lap. The Heat left the draft happy, getting a player that was considered the best overall player in his draft class and acquiring a sturdy point guard late in the draft , who was expected to go higher after his notorious performance in the NCAA Championship Game last year.
Making the Beasley-Chalmers duo even more special was the immediate impact they had on the Heat. In the team's first game of the season, both Beasley and Chalmers started, which was the first time there was two rookies in the starting lineup for the Heat since Oct. 28, 2003 when Wade and Udonis Haslem started. Beasley had nine points in his debut, while Chalmers had a more profound effort, with 17 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds.
That was all rookie coach Eric Spoelstra had to see, as Chalmers was given the starting job and hasn't relinquished that position for the entire year. While he has had his rookie struggles over the course of the year, he has been consistent on both sides of the floor and provided the Heat with a much needed point guard of the future.
He has been able to score, assist, rebound, and excel from a defensive aspect. He is fourth in the league in steals, with 1.9 per game and leads all rookies in steals by a pretty large margin.
While some critics have doubted Beasley's rookie campaign, saying he is not disciplined, lacks maturity, and can't play defense, I don't think the Heat would have taken anyone else if they could back to draft night and do it over again.
Beasley has been a consistent threat off the bench, providing a much needed scoring boost when starters like Wade and Haslem are on the bench. He is a very talented offensive player, that has a smooth shot, quick feet, and the ability to knock down the 18-foot jumper (and the occasional three-pointer). He can also drive to the basket and draw fouls.
His main problem has been his defense. Coach Spoelstra has been displeased with his defensive efforts, which is part of the reason he doesn't recieve as much playing time as he probably deserves. But, Beasley is developing and maturing well in the Heat's system and it is only a matter of time before he becomes the beast he is predicted to be.
People like to talk about how Miami has a great young, core that features two rookies in their regular rotation, but not many people really understand how unique and how valuable this rookie combination is. So many things had to fall into place for both Chalmers and Beasley to be wearing Heat uniforms. And luckily for the Heat, they did.
The combination has been very effective for the Heat and is a large reason for Miami's turnaround this year. They have already more than doubled their win total and have a chance to triple it by year's end. But, Beasley and Chalmers have done more than just that in Miami. They have shifted the makeup of the organization. Pat Riley teams are generally teams that are based off of veteran leadership and he usually surrounds his superstars with faded stars that have paid their dues in the league.
Just look at Miami's championship roster if you need evidence. Riley surrounded Shaq and Wade with veterans such as Jason Williams, Antoine Walker, James Posey, Alonzo Mourning, and Gary Payton. The team had no rookies or even second year players in their regular rotation that year.
But this year is completely different, as the Heat are one of the youngest teams in the NBA and rely on their younger players for success. In addition to Beasley and Chalmers, sophomore Daequan Cook gets regular playing time. This Miami Heat team is very different from year's past and it's special because it will set a precedent.
Riley will now start to trust younger players. While he will still surround Wade with veterans and experienced players, he won't hesitate to bring in fresh talent. Beasley and Chalmers are two very special players that will have an impact on the Heat roster for year's to come.
They are a unique duo that has fit right into the Miami system. They respect their elders and listen to players like Wade and Haslem on a nightly basis. And with that, the veterans ask a lot of their rookie teammates. They have high expectations for them and want them to deliver on a nightly basis. For rookies, Chalmers and Beasley certainly have a lot of responsibility.
"Of all the other teams in the playoff race right now, I don't think anyone else is playing rookies or second-year players like we're doing. Whatever minutes they're getting, Michael especially, it's because he's earned them," Coach Spoelstra said.
Coach Spoelstra, Wade, and Haslem all trust the rookies to perform and won't let them have rookie mistakes. And in a time where the Heat are battling for playoff positioning, there is no room for mistakes.
Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers are some of the best rookies the Heat have had in franchise history. They will have an impact on the Heat for years to come, but they will always be remembered as that very special rookie duo.