Although the Big Three have largely dictated how far Miami has gone over the last three years, timely contributions from bench players have helped push the Heat over-the-top in 2012 and 2013. Mike Miller made seven threes in the clincher against Oklahoma City, and Shane Battier made six triples in Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
And of course, who can forget Ray Allen’s three-pointer in the closing seconds of Game 6 of the Finals? Allen’s compulsive practicing paid off, as he prevented NBA personnel from roping off the crowd and starting a Spurs celebration.
Miami will attempt to three-peat with much of the same cast that won last year’s title. But Miller was amnestied, and Michael Beasley and Greg Oden have arrived aboard. With Allen and Battier aging, will they again have the responsibility to offer strong punches off the bench? What expectations should Heat fans have of Beasley and Oden, two former lottery picks?
Although this season could serve as the last in his illustrious NBA career, Ray Allen is still the Heat’s most important bench player. The 38-year-old keeps himself in excellent condition, so age hasn't had a dramatic effect on his abilities. He had an effective field goal percentage of 55.5 percent and made opposing defenses continually pay for leaving him open.
Despite good moments—a game-winner against Denver, the shot in Game 6—Allen disappointed in certain areas. He shot just 41 percent from the field in road games, compared to 48 percent at home. The Heat also suffered defensively when Allen stepped onto the floor. For regular season wins, Allen’s offense will offset his defensive liabilities. In the playoffs, the other Heat players will have to compensate for Allen on defense.
Like Allen, Shane Battier could play in his final NBA season this year. But Battier never had much athleticism to begin with, mostly relying on his intellect and skills to carve out a niche in the league.
The former Duke standout had a good season with Miami; he had a true shooting percentage of 62.3. Unlike Allen, Battier seldom attempted a two-pointer. That’s something Allen might want to emulate.
Battier will likely have another big role with Miami this year. Erik Spoelstra’s decision to start Udonis Haslem over Battier buttressed the Heat’s bench and allowed Battier to benefit from the penetration of James and Dwyane Wade. He will again have to stretch defenses and use his defensive versatility and do so admirably.
Having Chris Andersen for a whole season will help Miami tremendously. Andersen’s simple ability to catch and finish around the basket prevented the Heat from playing 4-of-5 offensively when Joel Anthony played.
The Birdman had a true shooting percentage of 63 percent and made 18 consecutive shots in one stretch of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Andersen is a perfect fit for Miami on both ends of the floor. He fits in very well with Miami’s help-and-recover defensive system and established himself as a good screen-setter. His continuing strong performances may prevent Greg Oden from garnering much playing time this year.
In two NBA seasons, Norris Cole has won two championships. He should not rest on his laurels though, because he still has some room for growth. Cole improved his three-point shot and emerged as a pest defensively. He scored 18 points in both Games 2 and 3 of the second-round series against Chicago.
But he also had a tendency to look invisible in other games to the point that Spoelstra never called his number in Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals. He’s actually had a negative rating for offensive win shares in both of his NBA seasons.
Cole has to gain Spoelstra’s trust, and he has to develop consistency in his three-point shot and defensive pressure.
As the backup point guard, Cole also has to keep Mario Chalmers from getting complacent.
In a move that surprised many, the Heat recently signed Michael Beasley. This non-guaranteed contract represents a low-risk, high-reward reunion for Miami. Beasley likely won’t get minutes over Battier or even Haslem, so he’ll have to learn how to pay his dues.
He also can’t act as the ball-dominant scorer he’s always been, instead working on his three-point shot and rebounding to become a complement to the Big Three.
But Beasley has a huge incentive to make this work. After failing to live up to expectations in Minnesota and Phoenix—two rebuilding franchises—and suffering from disciplinary actions, this contract could represent Beasley’s last chance at an NBA job.
Since he has a good veteran group around him, perhaps Beasley can take on the “Mike Miller role.” He won’t play much, but hopefully he can make a few threes and contribute with toughness when he does.
Part of the reason Oden signed with Miami was because would have no pressure. He signed with the two-time defending champions, a team that already has a pretty set rotation. He can continue his rehabilitation from his third microfracture surgery at his own pace and only play when he feels ready.
Oden will never live up to the player who was taken ahead of Kevin Durant in the NBA Draft, but the Heat and Oden have an interest in making this work. Andersen is 35 years old and only signed a one-year contract last summer. This signing likely is for the next few years. Hopefully, Oden will show some promise this year with some solid defense and good offensive work in the post.
Miami’s other players—James James, Rashard Lewis and Jarvis Varnado—will likely have a negligible impact on the team this year.