Who Will Serve As Miami Heat's Sixth Man Next Season?

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Who Will Serve As Miami Heat's Sixth Man Next Season?
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Miami Heat's Norris Cole, Shane Battier, Ray Allen

As the Miami Heat shift their attention toward a third straight NBA championship, there are questions surrounding who will ultimately serve as the team's sixth man.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers are the only members of the Heat to start every game they appeared in during the 2012-13 campaign. Each of those four players, respectively, also led Miami in minutes per game on their way to a second title. 

Just behind Chalmers in that category was Ray Allen, who averaged 25.8 minutes while appearing in 79 games last season. Shane Battier, who did the majority of his work off the bench, averaged one less minute than Allen.

Norris Cole and Udonis Haslem directly followed Battier in terms of minutes per game as the only other players on the Heat roster to average at least 18. 

So who, then, will serve as the Heat's sixth man next season?

To answer that question, the production of Allen, Battier and Cole must first be analyzed while also projecting who else could emerge as the top reserve on the Heat's bench.
  

Ray Allen

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Ray Allen will enter the 2013-14 campaign as a 38-year-old shooting guard in his 18th professional season. Despite the NBA miles Allen has logged, however, he is still the likeliest choice as the Heat's sixth man.

During the 2012-13 regular season, the 10.9 points that Allen averaged where more than any other player on the Heat roster outside of James, Wade and Bosh.

He was also the only player outside of the Big Three to average double-figure points in the playoffs. 

Besides his individual scoring, Allen was also a critical member of the winningest five-man lineup for Miami last year. According to 82games.com, among the five-man floor units to log at least 100 minutes, the group that included James, Wade, Bosh, Chalmers and Allen posted the highest winning percentage at 76.6.

Shane Battier

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Miami Heat's Shane Battier

Among the top three sixth man candidates for Miami, the 20 games that Shane Battier started last season represent the highest total.

There is also a chance that Battier could become a starter in 2013-14 on an even more consistent basis.

While he only averaged 6.6 points and 2.3 rebounds during the regular season, Battier consistently impacts games in different ways. His diverse skill set enables Battier to defend multiple positions while spacing the floor by knocking down shots from the perimeter.

He was also a part of the second and third-best five-man groups to log at least 100 minutes for the Heat last year.

The lineup featuring James, Wade, Bosh, Battier and Allen posted a winning percentage of 70.3. Another group that included Battier alongside the Big Three and Chalmers won at a 69.2 percent rate, according to 82games.com.


Norris Cole

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Miami Heat's Norris Cole

During the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Norris Cole looked like the point guard of the future for the Heat.

Against the Chicago Bulls, Cole scored 18 points twice while averaging 11 for the series on 69 percent shooting in only 23 minutes of work on a nightly basis. 
If Cole can somehow replicate that for a full season, he could assume the role of sixth man in the very least.

The challenge for the emerging talent from Cleveland State University is whether he can develop consistency over an 82-game schedule.

Despite the numbers Cole posted during the Bulls series, he only averaged 6.1 points during the playoffs after scoring 5.6 in the regular season. Among the Heat lineups to log as many as 100 minutes, the highest winning percentage that Cole was a part of also only finished at 52.3 percent.

The talent, athleticism, youth and ability to defend on the perimeter are certainly there with Cole moving forward, however, and the better he can become at using those gifts the better his chances of winning the sixth man job become.


Other Candidates
 

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Miami Heat's Udonis Haslem

Alongside James, Wade, Bosh and Chalmers, it's possible that Shane Battier could emerge as the fifth starter based on what he provides on the defensive end.

Last season Udonis Haslem, with 59 regular-season starts, was the fifth starter for Miami most frequently. 

If Battier starts in 2013-14, Haslem could emerge as a potential sixth man candidate. During the 2011-12 campaign, Haslem came off the bench in 54 of his 64 appearances to average six points and 7.3 rebounds. 

With Mike Miller waived via the amnesty provision, other potential candidates could include Chris Andersen, Rashard Lewis and free-agent center Greg Oden.

Both Andersen and Lewis each averaged less than 15 minutes per game last season though, and Oden hasn't played since 2009.


Conclusion

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Miami Heat's Ray Allen

Even though he's less than two years away from his 40th birthday, Ray Allen remains the ideal choice as the Heat's sixth man in 2013-14. 

His ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the floor allows Allen to be substituted effectively for any member of the Heat's already versatile starting lineup.

The biggest issue for Allen will continue to be his ability to defend. But stepping onto the floor with the majority of the Heat's starters, before then matching up with the opposing team's second unit, should help combat those inefficiencies. 

Allen's overall durability, consistency and big-shot making ability on the offensive end will continue to provide significant value for the Heat's chances of securing a third straight championship in 2013-14. 

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