Talk of the Miami Heat tends to center around their athletic superiority, though to focus on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade's highlight-reel dunks is to sell the Heat short. Miami is a deep, well-rounded squad, masterful at virtually every aspect of the game.
Versatility is the key to the Heat's dominance, and that begins with James, who has the size, speed and skill to play every position on the floor. Wade is also a Jack of all trades, and Chris Bosh has a unique skill set for a big man.
Pat Riley has assembled one of the deepest teams in the league.
Coach Erik Spoelstra uses a nine-man rotation, which typically does not include sharpshooters Mike Miller and Rashard Lewis or defensive standout Joel Anthony. He has the luxury of being able to mix and match his lineups based on the opponent.
Spoelstra's innovative coaching provides the Heat with an advantage over other teams. Riley's former assistant has done a supreme job of integrating the Heat's role players into offensive and defensive systems built around the talents of James, Wade and Bosh.
Remember the Big Three's first season as a unit (2010-11) when James and Wade were figuring out how to play together? The offense was stagnant, relying on a heavy dose of isolations and predictable pick-and-roll sets.
Toward the end of last season, Spoelstra turned to a small lineup, with Bosh at the 5 and James or Shane Battier at the 4, giving Miami a three-point threat at every position. The Heat spread the floor by bringing Bosh out to the perimeter, which created new driving and passing lanes for their playmakers.
Spo introduced a motion offense based on misdirection cuts, which has kept defenses guessing.
For example, in the video below, instead of running a simple pick-and-roll, Battier set a screen for Norris Cole, then set a cross screen for Bosh, who set another screen for Cole, which created a lane for the point guard to get to the basket for the easy two.
The Heat also mix in a steady dose of James in the post, where he has been more effective than Bosh at drawing double-teams and creating shots for his teammates.
The Heat players' often-overlooked intelligence allowed them to immediately pick up Coach Spo's offense, which was not fully implemented until this season. Like the all-time greats, James sees plays and angles long before they develop. Wade has always relied on his craftiness as much as his athleticism, and Battier's understanding of the game is impressive.
Miami led in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) during the regular season (113.43) after finishing sixth last year (107.66), per Basketball-Reference. What makes the Heat so difficult to stop is the myriad of ways in which they can hurt teams. Defenses don't know what to take away from them.
James and Wade are deadly in the open court and both adept at breaking down half-court defenses off the dribble, as is Bosh when matched up against most centers. James is virtually unguardable one-on-one in the post and is excellent at setting up teammates when he is double-teamed. His teammates, while not as gifted in distribution, make the extra pass to find the open man.
That ball movement leads to plenty of open shots, and the Heat roster is full of shooters who can knock them down. James (56.5), Wade (52.1) and Bosh (53.5) all shot well over 50 percent from the field.
As seen below, three Heat players—Battier (.430), Allen (.419) and Mike Miller (.417)—finished in the top 20 in three-point field-goal percentage. James (.406) and starting point guard Mario Chalmers (.409) also shot over 40 percent from downtown.
As spectacular as the Heat's offense is, defense is their hallmark. Defensive stops keep them in games even when they are not hitting shots.
Miami's defensive scheme is built around the athleticism of James and Wade on the wing. They force turnovers by stepping into passing lanes, and their ability to cover other teams' perimeter players one-on-one enables the Heat to stick to their defensive rotations and contest shooters.
However, Miami's success on that end of the floor is based as much on effort as athleticism. Once again, that starts with James.
Equally as important as LeBron's ability to defend any position is his willingness to do so. Unlike many stars who coast on defense, James embraces the challenge of shutting down the opposing team's best scorer. And the King never gives up on a play. It has become commonplace for him to foil a fast break by chasing a player down from behind and blocking his shot at the rim.
The rest of the Heat players follow his lead. Chalmers and backup point guard Cole apply relentless pressure on the ball. Miami forced the fourth-most turnovers per game (15.9), via ESPN.
The team also protects the rim, averaging the third-most blocked shots (5.6), via ESPN. And that number has been higher since the Heat signed Chris Andersen late in the season. Miami has averaged 6.5 blocks per 48 minutes with the Birdman on the floor, compared to 5.1 when he is not, via NBA.com (subscription required).
Despite often using a smaller lineup, Coach Spoelstra's team is tougher than its opponents, both physically and mentally. The Indiana Pacers have tried to physically intimidate the Heat in the conference finals, as the Chicago Bulls did in the series before, to no avail.
The Pacers exploited the Heat's lone weakness in Game 4, out-rebounding them 49-30. Miami had the 21st rebound rate during the regular season (49), via ESPN.
However, Miami's subpar rebounding has been due to Spoelstra's preference for a small lineup. The Heat can match up with bigger teams when necessary, with Andersen and Udonis Haslem seeing extended minutes.
They let the Pacers know in Game 5 that they will not be pushed around. They reduced the rebounding margin to one (33-32) and instigated a couple of confrontations with Indiana. Andersen knocked Tyler Hansbrough to the floor, and Haslem got in the face of Pacers enforcer David West.
Through the unique challenges and expectations they have faced over the past few seasons, this team has developed a strong sense of camaraderie and mental toughness. It exudes the confidence that comes from winning a championship and knowing that it can always lean on the greatest player in the world in tight situations.
The Miami Heat are not just a superbly talented team with three elite players. It is an intelligent, disciplined, efficient and versatile unit, capable of defeating any opponent at any style of play.