Winners and Losers of Miami Heat's Week 3 of the NBA Preseason
I'd say wait until the regular season for the Miami Heat to establish what type of team the really are.
The 5-2 record indicates a healthy start and another step in the right direction towards an NBA title, but it won't be until midseason rolls around where we'll begin to get a firm grasp on just how devastating and lethal this particular Heat team can be.
Through seven games and two weeks of the NBA preseason, the Heat have given the indication that they could be a team like no other in the franchise's rich history of deep postseason runs and Hall-of-Fame caliber players on its roster. The roster and the potential implies that of a Heat team that could easily be on pace for a third consecutive championship if key players are healthy.
That means Dwyane Wade, who has played excellent basketball in his four appearances. Wade's health will be imperative in a fourth consecutive legitimate run at a title with a number of teams in the East improving and looking to take the Heat's crown. Miami has gotten by the skin of their teeth the past two years, going to Game 7 in the 2012 Conference Finals, the 2013 Conference Finals and the NBA Finals.
The road will only be more difficult. The preseason can be used not only as a way to weed out who will fill in the final roster spots, but will allow the coaches to see the final players added to the roster and if they're capable of breaking into the rotation.
Although it's unlikely now one of the newcomers can break the current rotation of Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Norris Cole and Chris Andersen, there is always the possibility a shooter or Greg Oden, if healthy, can earn consistent minutes.
Nearly every aspect of the Heat has shown out so far. Coach Erik Spoelstra has experimented to the point of borderline embarrassing futility, but Miami has been relatively competitive in most instances.
Perhaps the most important of this preseason is the hot start Miami has gotten off to defensively. That wasn't seen last year when Miami was attempting to integrate Ray Allen into the system. The team as a whole appeared to be a step slow, but that doesn't appear to be the case this year.
Miami is a game away from putting an end to their lengthy preseason schedule, finishing up with a home game against the Brooklyn Nets for the second time. Before then, we take a look at who or what have come up as the biggest winners and losers of the Heat preseason.
Winner: Greg Oden
After nearly four years of uncertainty and doubt, Greg Oden played basketball for the first time since December 5th, 2009.
And he made the most of it, too. He entered Wednesday night's contest against the New Orleans Pelicans with 5:15 to play and scored 12 seconds later on a dunk, coming off a designed post-up where he took advantage of a smaller defender that was unfortunately rotated onto the 7-footer.
It was his only attempt of the game in the four minutes he played. He also grabbed two rebounds, while also committing two turnovers and two personal fouls. Nevertheless, Oden just being back out on the court is worth fawning over, not just for the Heat but basketball purists, as well.
Oden was active in his few minutes on the floor, although each step and hop he took was like watching baby ducks try to cross a busy intersection.
He ran in a lineup that mainly featured starters, outside of Ray Allen being in place of Dwyane Wade, and played well with LeBron James, the two running a perfect pick-and-roll that forced Pelicans' center Greg Stiemsma to foul Oden or risk giving up another easy two.
The former number one pick of the 2007 draft has only played 82 games in a career that's been horrifically derailed by surgeries and setbacks that were a result of the surgery. He was waived by the Portland Trail Blazers in March of 2012 and was without a team until the Heat picked him up in early August of this year.
It's still completely up in the air, as it will be all year, what type of minutes Oden receives throughout the season. It will depend upon how much swelling arrives in his knee after a game or what type of matchup there is that night or plain fear of playing him and risking a significant setback in a next-to-meaningless regular season game.
Either way, as long as Oden's healthy, the Heat are a clearly better team than they were last year by adding a new dimension to their already volatile lineups.
Loser: Mario Chalmers
The preseason has not been friendly to Mario Chalmers.
The Heat's starting point guard has scored a grand total of 36 points on 39 shots in six games with the Heat, eclipsing the 10-point mark on only one occasion. He has already posted a pair of games without a single shot being made, including an 0-of-9 performance he had against Washington where he also missed all seven of his three-pointers and committed four turnovers.
He is shooting 31 percent from the field overall and 10 percent on three-pointers. Out of the 20 three's he has attempted, only twice have they put points on their scoreboard. Even his free throw shooting has dipped below his usual averages, shooting only 71 percent.
Although Mario hasn't exactly done anything to improve his stock, his starting job isn't in any sort of jeopardy. Norris Cole is firmly situated on the bench and the Heat are doubtful to use Chalmers as trade bait while he's set to become a free agent this summer.
As much criticism as he draws, Chalmers is a great fit for a Heat team that prides itself of getting out in the open court. Mario is one of the best in the league at getting his hands on the ball and intercepting passing lanes and initiating fastbreaks.
For every turnover he's given up this preseason, he's also taken each one of them back, recording 19 steals.
On the offensive end, the Heat just need him to hit the threes he was converting at a 40 percent clip last season and occasionally drive when given the opportunity.
Winner: Roger Mason, Jr.
Signed only a few days before the start of training camp, Roger Mason, Jr. was the first of Miami's non-guaranteed players to earn a contract with the Heat.
It's safe to say he's deserved it. The former San Antonio Spurs starter who shot 42 percent from three with the New Orleans Hornets last year has been one of Miami's most efficient three-point shooters this preseason. After taking and making his only three Wednesday night, Mason is converting his threes at a 44 percent clip.
His attempts have dropped the past three games, but he started out his Heat tenure making six of his first ten attempts from the land of three. He also scored a combined 27 points, while also proving to be far more than just a quality shooter.
What has surprised the Heat coaching staff more than anything is how impressive of a rebounder Mason is. The 6'5" forward has never averaged better than 3.1 rebounds per game, but is averaging nearly five in five preseason games with the Heat.
Twice he has grabbed seven rebounds, needing less than 29 minutes to do so in both instances. On top of rebounding and shooting, he's also proven to be a ball-handler and has shown that he's capable of playing a style similar to that of Mike Miller, who departed over the offseason.
With so many shooters on this Heat roster auditioning for a spot as the first shooter outside of the rotation to come off the bench, Mason may have set himself apart thanks to his intangibles.
Loser: Jarvis Varnado
It didn't take long for the Miami Heat to make a decision on several of their non-guaranteed hopefuls.
Aside from newcomers in Larry Drew and Charlie Westbrook being cut, the Heat also pulled the plug on the Jarvis Varnado project. One of the NCAA's greatest shot-blockers of all time out of Mississippi State was a second-round pick of Miami's in 2010, but his lack of offensive and rebounding skills kept him from being picked up for a second straight championship run.
Varnado will likely be sent to the Heat's D-League affiliate, but it will be a surprise to see if he gets picked up again by the Heat, barring a trade that sends Joel Anthony elsewhere. If Anthony is traded, Miami may be in need for a player with a similar skillset for the cheap to replace what Joel was able to provide.
It's the only way Jarvis could potentially make a comeback. He was a fouling machine in the summer league and Miami still gave him a chance, most likely on account of being on the championship team from last year year that he played eight games for. None of those games were in the postseason and his high in scoring with the Heat was four.
Varnado had his moments in the preseason, such as scoring six points and grabbing three rebounds in 14 minutes against Detroit, but his fouling demons haunted him as he recorded nearly as many fouls (10) as points (12) in six preseason games. He also shot 33 percent from the field and managed to foul out of that same Pistons game he only played 14 minutes in.
At least he made his impact felt in the short time he had.
The crippling blow to Varnado is the fact that he won't be with the Heat when they receive their rings and watch the banner drop in Tuesday night's opener against the Chicago Bulls. It's still incredible that he'll have more rings than some of the league's greatest players, but it still hurts to see those rings get delivered to your teammates while you wait your turn in the D-League.
Winner: Dwyane Wade
This spot could be occupied by Chris Bosh, who is also having himself a great preseason, but we'll ride with Dwyane Wade since there's more pressure on him than ever to perform to his elite standards.
Prior to the start of training camp, Wade offered no reassurance when he announced how he had only just returned to playing basketball in early August. There were fears that the knee that had bothered him in the postseason would continue to play a role, eventually setting up a decline that would ultimately impact LeBron's decision in the summer of 2014.
If Wade's going to play anything like he's been playing so far, LeBron, and nobody else, is going anywhere.
Playing in only four of Miami's seven preseason games, Wade's stats have gradually come to resemble to the numbers we're used to seeing from the three-time champion and former Finals MVP. He has dropped 25 points in the Heat's past two contests against San Antonio and New Orleans, scoring a myriad of those points on highlight-reel scores, fastbreaks, and mid-range jumpers.
He has shot a combined 20-of-31 the past two contests and is shooting 56 percent. He has dropped at least 14 points in the past three contests and has gotten to the line for at least four free throws in each of those contests, as well.
These are promising signs from Wade, even if it is only preseason. What type of numbers he isn't putting up doesn't matter. What matters is how well he is holding up physically through these contests, and he has yet to show any signs of fatigue or discomfort.
Loser: Heat Opponents
Take it for what it's worth, but the Heat have been showcasing those flashes of dominance they put on display during stretches of the regular and postseason.
It's only preseason. Trust me, I know. Nobody wants to put less emphasis on the preseason more than me. However, what the Heat have displayed in their seven preseason games is an indication that they may have the best team in Miami Heat franchise history.
Start from the bottom. That's not Jarvis Varnado and Juwan Howard rounding out of the bench, those two spots have now been occupied by players who could be deserving of a spot in a rotation on just about every team in the league. The roster is so deep that any of the 15 players Miami will employ could be subbed-in and that player would thrive.
Miami's bench has now become one of the strongest in the NBA. It's unbelievable how far it's come since guys like Howard, Eddie House and James Jones were consistently seen coming off the bench for Miami. It goes to show the type of quality work that's been put in by Pat Riley and the rest of the organization that has convinced guys like Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Chris Andersen to join for cheap over the past three years.
Losing Mike Miller hurts, but his role has been overstated. He had moments with the Heat. He was never able to consistently get out on the floor long enough to earn a role in the rotation. He missed more games than he could have potentially played in with Miami. He was never a fixture you saw every game as you see with Battier or Norris Cole.
In Miller's, Varnado's, and Howard's place, the Heat now have Mason, Michael Beasley and Oden. A 40-percent three-point shooter and a number two and one pick, respectively, replace a seldom-used shooter and two garbage-time players.
Who said the Heat didn't improve this offseason? We haven't even mentioned how excellent Dwyane Wade has looked, how effortless LeBron James is making the game look or how much more involved Chris Bosh is.
The Heat's challengers have improved, but there may not be a team as improved, especially internally and on a chemistry standpoint, than the Heat.