The efficiency of the Miami Heat during their winning streak has made it confusing to figure out which lineup is the most effective and should be used more often.
This is simply because every lineup the team has thrown out has played above regular standards since the start of this recent stretch of wins.
That's why you don't hear any criticism surrounding coach Erik Spoelstra. It's not only because his Heat are winners of 14 straight, which ties a franchise record, but also due to the fact that his lineups and rotations are meeting expectations.
Having a healthy Dwyane Wade has helped in a huge way.
Prior to Wade's recovery, the Heat were allowing a lineup centered around Chris Bosh to lead the way at the beginning of second quarters. No matter how well the Heat had played in the first, the Bosh lineup always seemed to give up a portion of the lead the "Big Three" had built in the initial frame.
Those lineups were a mess, especially since it required Bosh to make up for the inefficiency of the backcourt featuring Norris Cole and Ray Allen. According to 82games.com, of the eight five-man units that have a negative plus/minus rating, the lineup including Bosh, Cole and Allen makes up four of those.
And having Cole and Allen in a unit represents six of the eight lineups with a negative plus/minus rating.
Now with Dwyane Wade recovered and back to his efficient self, the Heat, specifically LeBron James, can relax and allow their second-in-command to keep the game in check before the reigning MVP retakes the floor
Even the lineups that feature LeBron James at the end of the first and third quarters have found success.
The Cole-Allen-Battier-James-Andersen lineup is a plus-two, as opposed to the lineup that featured Joel Anthony instead of Andersen which was a minus-three that was only getting 1.02 points per possession.
The Heat's few weaknesses have become a part of their strengths.
Opponents can either make the charge at the beginning of the second quarter or possibly in the fourth, but even that's a stretch because the Heat will usually leave LeBron in for the first minutes of the final frame.
That's no longer a legitimate option. The Heat are now stocked with dynamic lineups that are either being led by superstar Dwyane Wade or a superstar, and then some, LeBron James.
If an opponent is in dire need of a comeback, the only legitimate opportunity they have is when LeBron isn't on the floor. That is because the five best five-man lineups in terms of a plus/minus rating all feature LeBron.
And it is the current starting lineup (featuring LeBron, of course, Mario Chalmers, Wade, Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh) that has the best plus/minus rating. That lineup gets 120-plus points, 1.14 points per possession and gives up 1.01 points per possession on defense.
Surprisingly enough, it's one of the Heat's finishing lineups that ranks as the most efficient on the offensive end. Garnering 1.35 points per possession is the lineup that features Chalmers, Wade, Allen, James and Bosh.
Speed kills, and even though that lineup is giving up 1.04 points per possession, their offensive output is unmatched by any other five-man unit that's featured.
The three most efficient offensive lineups, in terms of points per possession, all feature Chalmers, Wade and James. The only differences is Shane Battier being switched out with Ray Allen, while Haslem and Joel Anthony take Bosh's spot at center.
Those lineups may not be superior on offense, but their defense is among the best of the Heat's lineups. The lineup with Haslem at center is giving up 0.94 points per possession and the lineup with Anthony is giving up 0.93.
Somehow the lineup featuring Cole, Wade, Allen, Rashard Lewis and Haslem leads the team in points per possession given up by allowing only 0.89. There is another lineup also giving up the same amount, but it's one that features Chris Andersen, leaving the sample size a tad small to take seriously.
One of the more disturbing facts is how badly Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis have looked from a statistical standpoint.
There are six players on this Heat team with a negative plus/minus rating. Cole is at a minus-36 and has a winning percentage of 48.9 percent. Only Rashard Lewis' minus-64 plus/minus and 43.8 winning percentage is worse.
The Heat defense is giving up 1.14 points per possession whenever Lewis is on the floor. Only Dexter Pittman, who is no longer with the team, had worse stats. Lewis won't always get heavy minutes, but Cole is an integral part of the team that is constantly being featured in the lineup to start the second.
So it's safe to eliminate any lineup involving Cole or Lewis as the Heat's best.
It's also safe to say that any lineup the Heat should use more often includes each member of the "Big Three." Now this is the tricky part: constructing the entire five-man lineup that surrounds James, Wade and Bosh.
The two teammates will serve as the "glue guys" (excuse the cliche) that will enable not just a fluid offense, but also strong defense.
That means take out Ray Allen, right?
It's only when Allen is featured in that backcourt with Cole does his defense, or lack thereof, become exposed.
When you take a look at a separate finishing lineup that features a backcourt of Allen and Wade and a frontcourt of Battier, James and Bosh, that lineup is giving up only 0.96 points per possession.
There's the top lineup. That is the lineup that's going to win the Miami Heat another championship.
The reason for the elite defense stems from that lineup being featured in late-game situations. The Heat have proven time and time again that they are the league's best defense when they put forth the effort. That effort is usually seen in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter where the Wade-Allen-Battier-James-Bosh lineup is being consistently featured.
Allen doesn't get exposed as much as he does in the backcourt with Cole because he's being saved by perimeter defenders like Wade, Battier and James—as well as the shot-blocking ability of Bosh, who is sending back 1.2 shots per this season.
Plus, the lineup featuring Allen and Battier is confounding to opposing defenses. There was a moment in the Heat's recent victory over the New York Knicks that featured the dilemma when it comes to defending those two, as well as the rest of this Heat team.
The Heat pushed the ball up with their speed before the defense could react, leaving Jason Kidd on the wing to either go after Battier, a 44 percent three-point shooter, or Allen, a 43 percent three-point shooter. Kidd could only maintain the image of a statue as Battier hit a three-pointer to help give the Heat their first lead since the second quarter.
Placing Battier on the wing and Allen in the corner, or vice versa, while also having a 41 percent three-point shooter in LeBron controlling the ball leaves defenses in a pickle. The Heat rely heavily on spot-up shots, 25 percent of their offense according to SynergySports, and are shooting 41 percent on spot-up opportunities that come from beyond the arc.
They rank second in points per possession on spot-ups, tallying 1.06 per. This is exactly why Pat Riley made it a purpose to go after guys like Battier, Allen and Lewis in the past two offseasons instead of the big man that so many analysts thought the Heat needed.
While you miss out on the screens that Haslem, Anthony or Andersen would set, the facilitation of the Heat's winning-formation lineup stems solely from either a pass from LeBron to the interior off a cut or a pick set by Bosh. Miami is getting 1.31 points per possession off of cuts, but it's only 7.8 percent of their lineup.
Those cuts stem from screens being set within the perimeter—usually in order to free up Wade or Allen.
Wade is scoring 1.37 points per possession off of cuts and ranks 23rd.
Allen ranks 9th with 1.44 points per possession.
They're two unselfish veterans who know how to move without the ball, understand the tendencies of the defense and get open to take advantage of the double-teams that are created by LeBron.
This isn't the type of lineup that should be abused.
It's usage in the final minutes of games has the Heat at a 72.2 winning percentage, according to 82games.com. It is currently the fourth most utilized lineup by the Heat.
There isn't a need for changes to take place in the Heat rotation. With the possible exception of there being more Mike Miller and less Rashard Lewis, there is no reason for Spoelstra to begin tinkering with lineups that have enabled the Heat to win 14 consecutive games.
That might explain why the Heat just signed Juwan Howard to fill out the roster. There's no need for another ball-handler swingman, or big man. There is no need for any other player who can help support the rotation.
All of those positions are filled, and they will continue to be filled as long as the Heat are playing the best basketball of the "Big Three" era.
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