Statistically supported egos are held in check. Good shots are passed up for great ones. Snipers are firing from all angles, and aggressive attacks are coming from the relentless infantry.
The Miami Heat have added a pair of championship banners over the last two seasons, thanks in large part to the Erik Spoelstra-led selfless, position-less offense. Yet, their 2013-14 attack may be more potent than ever—as terrifying as that sounds for the rest of the league.
Like the four-time MVP LeBron James who leads them to battle each night, the Heat aren't often viewed as an offensive power. Miami's swarming, suffocating defense makes it impossible to toss it in that box.
Remove that insatiable defensive energy, though, and the two-time defending champs are still the team to beat. You don't have to believe me; just look at what the stat sheets are saying.
By the Numbers
Following a 102-97 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in their last time out, the Heat have topped the century mark in each of their first six games.
Maybe that number doesn't initially jump off your screen, but it should. This is the longest-such streak to start a season in the franchise's 26-year history, via Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
It's a fairly simple—albeit ingenious—read-and-react system. The Heat initiate their offense, read how the defense wants to counter that set and then react to the defense's weakest point.
James might be the catalyst, but that job title could just as easily fall upon his All-Star running mates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. There are shooters, slashers and finishers around them, many of which fall under multiple categories.
"It's a no pressure offense," James told Winderman. "No one cares who shoots."
Wade leads the team with 16.2 field-goal attempts per game, which is tied for just the 19th most in the league. James barely cracks the top 25 with his 15.7 (24th), while Bosh nearly falls outside the top 100 with only 10.4 (84th) shots a night.
It's not as if any of them are struggling with their shots. Bosh is converting 57.7 percent of his chances, James comes in at 56.4 percent, and Wade is just shy of the 50-percent mark at 49.4.
But the battle-tested Heat know their biggest strength rests in their numbers. The more offensive threats that they can throw at a defense, the less that defense can react to stopping the top guns.
Having ready and capable shooters just one pass away leaves defenders scrambling to react to Miami's high screen-and-rolls. With a gunslinger like James under center, being one pass away simply means having two feet on the court.
It should come as no surprise then that Miami holds a considerable lead in assist percentage (74.9), even if there's a shocking feel attached to that figure:
This combination of willing passers and skillful scorers leaves defenses in a pick-your-poison predicament where all outcomes are deadly.
Still reading stuff that says Heat don't have structured offense. Entered game assisting on 74.9% of field goals. Would b all-time record.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) November 10, 2013
James might be the most selfless superstar in sports. Like he told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, he "could get about 35 or 40" points a night if he adopted a scorer's mentality.
The fact that we view him as something greater than a scorer doesn't change the fact that the guy gets buckets. Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant—those are real scorers, right? If that's the case, then maybe The King belongs in that category. After all, he has a higher career scoring average (27.5) than both the Durantula (26.6) and the Mamba (25.5).
That trickle-down effect is felt all over this roster.
Wade was a 25-point scorer before James' arrival, but he's OK with the 20.6 that have come his way this season. Bosh averaged 22.8 in his final five seasons with the Toronto Raptors but doesn't gripe about pouring in just 17.8 in a Heat jersey.
The fact is that all three of these players can still put up points in bunches, which is where the defensive puzzles start for opponents. Crowd one, and the other two will do damage. Have five defenders keep track of this trio, and the other two players on the floor will pummel the defense with three-point bombs.
An ideal offense attacks from all angles of the floor. But these Miami waves are more like an embarrassment of riches.
The Heat are the league's second-best shooting team within five feet of the basket (64.9 percent). Keeping Miami out of the paint doesn't exactly work, as this team is tied for the 10th-best shooting rate from 10 to 14 feet (42.9 percent). Force the Heat entirely outside of the arc, and you're playing right into their hands—they are the NBA's third-best three-point shooting team (42.9 percent).
Just like its superstar, Miami is a hard franchise to define. One word does come to mind, though: dominant.
Room for Improvement?
Perhaps the most terrifying part of the story is, yes, the Heat actually do have room to grow as an offensive machine.
Michael Beasley (career 14.0 points per game) remains an unleashed weapon. Ditto for 7-footer Greg Oden, who was an 11-point scorer and 60-percent shooter the last time he played regular-season basketball.
Wade (4.0) and James (3.7) have both been bitten by the turnover bug early on. Their resumes say that will change.
James has reportedly been dealing with back pain, via Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. In other words, his 25.8 player efficiency rating (tied for ninth best in the league) is going to keep growing.
Miami's transition game, once a staple of the attack, has become an ace up its sleeve for release at a later date:
This offense looks as good as it ever has, yet it still sits well shy of its ceiling.
Another sign of Heat's evolution: entered the game last in the league in fast break pts (8.8). That was how they used to generate offense.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) November 10, 2013
Add Miami's relentless defensive effort to the mix, and suddenly a three-peat feels less like a possibility and more like a formality.