Ranking Miami Heat's Most Effective Lineup Combinations
As time has passed, and wins have piled up, LeBron James has become less reluctant to admit the obvious.
Let’s be honest, guys. We’re not sitting here and saying this is not something special. This is an unbelievable streak. We’re playing great basketball. We’re winning in different phases of the game. We’re playing different styles. We’ve won every game, on the road, at home, double-overtime games, end-of-regulation games, whatever the case may be, we’ve been able to pull games out.
They have done so with their coach, Erik Spoelstra, continuing to pull out a number of lineups to fit specific situations. While Spoelstra has established a bit more consistency since the integration of Chris Andersen as a full-fledged, permanent rotation figure, he still can turn to one of the most versatile rosters in the NBA if he chooses to tinker.
So what lineups have worked best?
For that information, we turned to the new NBA.com stats site, set a cutoff at 63 minutes—or one minute for every game that the Heat had played through their 20th straight win, Wednesday in Philadelphia.
A dozen different lineups fit that description, with four different lineups getting at least 100 minutes of time together. One of them was the current starting lineup, with James joined by Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers.
But that lineup, while playing more than twice as many minutes (601) as any other, actually ranked sixth of 12 based on the chosen statistic, net efficiency rating per 100 possessions.
What follows are the first five.
5. Bench Mob: Cole-Allen-Battier-James-Andersen
Chris Andersen aimed and fired.
It wasn't the first time.
Still, it did mark a milestone, because his 20-foot jumper actually splashed down.
"I don't know how I feel about that yet," Erik Spoelstra said. "But I like everything else."
What's not to like about Andersen, who has provided defensive energy, rebounding aggression and now, even the more frequent lob flush since his addition to the Miami Heat?
The Heat are 21-1 in games he plays.
But if anything speaks to his impact, it is the success of a second unit that was often struggling prior to his arrival.
Spoelstra has mostly settled on a group anchored by LeBron James, but including Andersen, Norris Cole, Ray Allen and Shane Battier. In 71 minutes, it has a net rating of plus-16.3 per 100 possessions, making it by far the most effective lineup featuring both Cole and Allen.
That duo has struggled in other situations.
In fact, of the 23 Heat duos that have played at least 400 minutes together, only Cole and Chris Bosh (minus-3.4) have been a worse pairing, according to net rating per 100 possessions, than Cole and Allen (minus-1.3).
The other seven worst duos?
They feature either Cole or Allen playing with someone else.
For a while, it appeared it would take a miracle to find a workable five-man lineup featuring both.
Who knew the miracle would arrive with a mohawk?
4. No Point Guard Necessary: Wade-Allen-Battier-James-Bosh
Ray Allen used to run Dwyane Wade ragged.
Wade had grown tired of chasing Allen through screens, which was one reason the Miami Heat's star guard welcomed Allen this offseason. Another was that Allen's presence likely meant a reduction in Wade's minutes and burden.
That's worked out rather well, with Wade continuing to get stronger after offseason knee surgery and now enjoying the most efficient season of his career.
What's also working?
Playing the two of them together down the stretch.
That capability has allowed Erik Spoelstra to sit Mario Chalmers when the Heat's starting point guard is having an off night—and to go with floor-spacer, irritating-defender Shane Battier instead, along with LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
The "no point guard" lineup has the fourth-highest turnover ratio among the 12 most-used lineups, but—somewhat surprisingly with Allen on the floor—the second-best defensive rating. That stinginess (allowing just 39.2 percent from the field) has made up for its relative struggle (44.1 percent) from the field, second worst among the 12 lineups.
While there are still some kinks, the lineup does have the fourth-best net rating per 100 possessions among the 12 most-used lineups.
And you can bet you'll see it plenty in the playoffs.
3. The Finals 5: Chalmers-Wade-Battier-James-Bosh
Erik Spoelstra didn't intend to initiate a revolution.
Necessity required his invention—a postseason injury to Chris Bosh that required the Miami Heat coach to insert Shane Battier as a "small-ball" stretch power forward with a pedestrian center starter, with Battier's strong play mandating the retention of a starting spot even after Bosh returned.
That lineup—Bosh, Battier, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers—closed out the Celtics during the Eastern Conference finals, and then rolled the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games of the NBA Finals.
Spoelstra entered this season intending to keep the quintet intact, and did so even over Battier's warning that it might be difficult to sustain the success over 82 games. Miami's overall struggles to rebound, and Battier's brief absence due to injury, allowed Spoelstra to change course.
He inserted old standby Udonis Haslem as a low-minute starter, and Miami has had tremendous team success since, even if, oddly enough, its rebounding metrics remain slightly better with Battier flanking the other four.
Over the course of Miami's 20-game winning streak, that lineup—while not starting—has played 74 minutes together, and posted a ridiculous plus 52.1 rating per 100 possessions. That included a 12-2 sprint on the scoreboard during just three minutes on Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers. Meanwhile, during the 20 games, the new Haslem starting lineup was a merely respectable plus-12.1.
So don't be surprised if the "small-ball" lineup rises to the top of this chart by the end of the season, or if it resurfaces as Spoelstra's starting group of choice this postseason.
Certainly, the Thunder aren't itching to see it again.
2. Surprise Standout: Chalmers-Wade-Battier-James-Haslem
The Heat are not better without Chris Bosh.
That was evident during the 2012 postseason when Erik Spoelstra ran through his entire collection of so-called "big men" as Bosh recovered from an abdominal injury.
That included Joel Anthony, Ronny Turiaf, even Dexter Pittman.
That also meant undersized power forward Udonis Haslem playing a bit more center.
Bosh became the full-time starting center this season but—when he's missed time—Spoelstra has chosen to go small, using Haslem and Shane Battier with LeBron James in the frontcourt, and Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers in the backcourt.
You'd think that group would have gotten mauled on the boards, with no one above 6'8", and Battier hardly known as a bruiser.
Stunningly, though, that quintet has posted the best rebounding rate (80.8 percent) of the 12 lineups that Spoelstra has used most frequently
And while Heat fans aren't likely to see it much anymore, now that Bosh is healthy and Chris Andersen has arrived as a capable center option, it certainly has proven to be an effective stopgap.
In fact, in 94 minutes, its net rating per 100 possessions is just a fraction (plus-35.0 to plus-35.6) below the leader on this list.
Showing again that Haslem's hustle still serves a valuable purpose.
1. Offensively Explosive: Chalmers-Allen-Wade-James-Bosh
Ray Allen, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have combined for 36 All-Star appearances.
And it's the fifth guy (Mario Chalmers) in this group who probably has the most confidence.
We can argue whether that's always warranted, but there's no arguing with the offensive results when this lineup—one that features Wade and James at forward—is rolling.
In 86 minutes, it has posted the highest net rating (35.6) of any of the 12 most-used Miami Heat lineups. It has the best assist percentage, the best assist-to-turnover ratio and, by far, the best shooting percentages.
That's 58.3 percent from the field.
That's 53.8 percent from three-point range.
That's an effective field-goal percentage of 65.6.
That all equates to an offensive rating of 131.0.
That's been too much for many opponents—and it has been defensively sound as well.
That lineup spaces the floor while Wade and James run the wings, and it has been especially deadly in tight games and at home, where the net rating is 39.9.
That lineup wasn't available to Erik Spoelstra last season, but it is now...and it's one of many reasons why the Heat are a safe bet to repeat.
All quotes in this piece were collected through the course of the author's coverage of the Miami Heat.