Will Norris Cole become a permanent backup point guard this year?
Although the Miami Heat will return most of their core group from last season, questions still remain. Who will fill the void left by Mike Miller? Can Norris Cole improve to the point that he isn't glued to the bench during the team's most important moments? Who will start next to LeBron James as Miami's other forward?
Read on as I attempt to answer these questions and more.
LeBron James will stand as one of the Miami Heat's starting forwards. But who will start at the other spot? Mike Miller, who emerged as the starter during the 2013 NBA Finals, is now in Memphis. Will it be Shane Battier, who started for Miami for the 2012 championship run? What about Udonis Haslem, who started most regular season games for the Heat last year? Could it be Michael Beasley?
The team plays better with Shane Battier on the court. He offers the three-point shooting and defense that helps unleash all of the Heat's versatility. But he is 35 years old and entering the final year of his contract with Miami. He probably shouldn't spend 82 games trying to ward off opposing power forwards for significant periods of time. Erik Spoelstra will probably do what he did last season: start Udonis Haslem so he can defend starting 4s, but give Battier more minutes because of his ability to stretch the defense.
One person could change that: Michael Beasley. After all, Beasley did earn the starting spot over Haslem during the No. 2 pick's second season with Miami. While he doesn't have Battier's shooting ability, Beasley is more versatile than Haslem and fits in with the Heat’s amorphous style. The former Kansas State star surely won't begin the season as a starter, but he could slowly gain Spoelstra's respect and earn the spot.
Prediction: Haslem will start in the regular season, and Battier for the playoffs.
Norris Cole made some strides for the Heat during his second NBA season. He improved his balance and form on his shot, which translated into a higher three-point shooting percentage. He had a few instances of great defense and made fewer kamikaze drives to the basket.
Nonetheless, Erik Spoelstra didn’t call Cole’s number when the season was on the line—Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals. Instead, Spoelstra went with Ray Allen, who played 41 minutes in Game 6 and 20 minutes in the decisive seventh game. Despite his advanced age, Allen is still a better player than Cole and offers more explosive lineups with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
Allen will still probably play 20 minutes a night, which he wouldn't get to solely as Wade’s backup. Cole and Allen will probably split some time backing up Mario Chalmers for the regular season. The question is whether Cole will continue to have a role when Spoelstra’s forced to only go with the players he truly trusts.
Prediction: Norris Cole will continue to improve and manage to stay in his role for the entire season. Allen will still play more than Cole, but Spoelstra won’t forget about the Cleveland State product entirely.
Mike Miller only appeared in 59 games last season and played an average of 15 minutes a game. For much of the season, he found himself out of the rotation. But he did manage to steal the starting spot for the Heat in the NBA Finals because Shane Battier was going through a slump. With Miller now gone, someone may have to emerge as that person who stays ready to contribute and can possibly have a few moments when they are most needed.
Miami has several candidates for the job: Michael Beasley, James Jones and Rashard Lewis. Jones filled in the role admirably during the Heat’s 2010-11 season because Miller was either injured or limited for virtually the entire campaign. Even though that was three years ago, Jones doesn’t really have any athleticism to lose with age and is still a great shooter in his own right.
Beasley certainly has the most potential of the three—Rashard Lewis is on the tail end of his career. Beasley also currently has a tenuous position in the NBA. It would follow, then, that Beasley would do everything in his power to ensure that this reunion with the Heat goes more or less smoothly.
But what niche will he develop? We know that Jones and Lewis are on the Heat for their shooting ability. Beasley won’t have the offensive freedom he had during his first two seasons with Miami, especially on a team with not only Wade but also James and Bosh. Beasley may have to reinvent himself as a three-point shooter, pick-and-pop guy who can rebound. His NBA life may depend on it.
Prediction: James Jones
Some may say that this rotation position is settled with Miami’s re-signing of Chris Andersen. And no doubt, Andersen was instrumental to the Heat’s success during the 27-game winning streak and subsequent championship run. His ability to catch and finish around the rim, block shots and generally provide energy served as a big upgrade over Joel Anthony.
But Andersen is now 35 years old. His usefulness would dramatically decrease if his knees and legs begin to wear out. The Heat signed Greg Oden for a reason, and he is only 25 years old. Oden, though, is coming off of a third microfracture surgery on his knees. No one would be surprised if he never plays another NBA game again—or manages to injure himself yet again. Miami still has Anthony and even Haslem, who have both manned the 5 spot at various times over the last couple of years.
Andersen will start the season as Bosh’s backup, but the coaching staff will keep a close eye on Oden and his development. He should get a chance to prove himself eventually this season, and he could possibly become a legitimate low-post threat and defensive monster. In Miami, Andersen didn’t play much at first. Once he got the opportunity to play, he showed that he is the Heat’s best big man aside from James and Bosh. Perhaps Oden will pleasantly surprise us all the same way.
Prediction: Chris Andersen
Although Ray Allen saved the Heat with his clutch three to force overtime in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, his first year with Miami was far from perfect. He averaged 11 points a game off the bench during the regular season—about what people expected of him—but was strangely ineffective during many road games. Instead of the star player who performs in any venue, Allen sometimes looked like the role player who doesn’t play as well when the crowd is booing him.
Mario Chalmers averaged nine points per game during the season and came through in some big moments—like scoring 20 points in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. But, like Allen, he was inconsistent. An improved Norris Cole would probably incentivize Chalmers to play well consistently; the former Kansas star has displayed complacency when he knows his job isn’t at stake.
Of course, the Heat’s newest addition, Michael Beasley, has a tremendous scoring ability and could help shoulder the load if help around LeBron James is in short supply. Beasley likely won’t have the chance to become the fourth wheel for this year at least, but the question still remains of whether Miami will have a consistently competent fourth option.
Prediction: Ray Allen