LeBron James is at the center of many of the Miami Heat's most surprising statistics in 2013-14.
After dropping three of their first six games, the Heat bounced back with 10 straight wins, rocketing to second place in the East. They're behind only the Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers in terms of the league's best records.
Though Miami's rise back to the top was seemingly inevitable, the way the team accomplished that feat wasn't entirely predictable. After all, who could have foreseen Michael Beasley having the second-best PER of any Heat player through the first week of December?
Let's look at some of Miami's most surprising statistics through Dec. 4, then determine whether they're maintainable (buying) or fluky (selling).
LeBron James is at it again.
Heading into the 2013-14 season, 'Bron had improved his field-goal percentage in each of the past seven years. The odds were against him making it eight straight this year, though, after shooting an eye-popping 56.5 percent from the field in 2012-13.
Not only is James outpacing his career-high shooting percentage from last year; he's annihilating it. Through 18 games, he's knocked down 59.5 percent of his shot attempts, second on the team behind only Chris "Birdman" Andersen.
For Birdman, who mainly scores off rebounds and shots close to the basket, shooting 61.8 percent is solid but unspectacular. For James, who's frequently relied upon to create shots for both himself and his teammates, shooting nearly 60 percent is a remarkable, stop-the-presses-type accomplishment.
It wouldn't be a total surprise to see James' field-goal percentage tumble slightly as the year progresses, but the days of him shooting under 50 percent appear to be gone for good.
Now that he's gained a firm understanding about the value of each possession, he's consistently eschewing lower-percentage mid-range shots for those closer to the basket or three-point attempts.
Looking for a sign of the impending zombie apocalypse? Michael Beasley's PER of 22.0 in 2013-14 is a great place to begin.
After being arrested for alleged marijuana possession this past summer, the Phoenix Suns gave up on Beasley one year into a three-year, $18 million contract. The Miami Heat, who drafted Beasley second overall in 2008, quickly decided to take a gamble on him with a one-year, non-guaranteed deal.
The reunion had all the makings of a happy marriage, so long as Beasley could keep out of trouble. Instead of being relied upon as a main offensive option, this Heat team simply needs Beasley to come off the bench and shoulder the scoring load against opponents' second units.
Combined with the tutelage of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Beasley seems to finally "get it." Through 18 games, he's shooting a career-high 54.7 percent from the floor and is Miami's fourth-highest scorer (11.1 points per game) despite only averaging 17.2 minutes a night.
Beasley's success this season makes for a storybook reclamation tale, but the odds of him maintaining the second-highest PER of any Heat player (behind only LeBron James) seem slim. Instead, he's likely to finish the season behind both D-Wade and Bosh in terms of PER, settling somewhere around the 18-20 range.
The Miami Heat aren't just racking up wins in 2013-14; they're blowing out opponents left and right.
Through 18 games, the Heat have a 8.06-point average margin of victory, per Basketball-Reference, the third-highest in the league (behind only Indiana and San Antonio). In eight of their 14 wins, they've outscored their opponents by at least 10 points.
Part of their dominance can be attributed to the mediocrity of their Eastern Conference brethren. Per Basketball-Reference, Miami has played the easiest schedule in the league to date, with a strength-of-schedule rating of minus-2.90.
Only three of Miami's first 18 opponents—the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks—currently sit above .500. The Heat can't be blamed for their opponents' early-season struggles, but it's also not quite time to start planning another championship parade in South Beach.
Despite their lackluster opposition, Miami's point differential doesn't scream fluke on first sight. After all, the team posted a 7.87-point average margin of victory in 2012-13 despite only having Chris "Birdman" Andersen around for half the year.
As the Heat's schedule gets tougher—they'll face off against the Indiana Pacers twice in eight days in mid-December—their average point differential will likely fall a bit. Playing in the East should allow Miami to fatten up its average margin of victory throughout most of the season, though.
As easy as it is to buy into the Miami Heat's average margin of victory, it's tough to give much credence to the team's defensive rating to date.
Currently, the Heat rank sixth in the NBA with a defensive rating of 102.3. That's a slight upgrade from the 2012-13 season, where they finished the year ranked ninth in DRtg, allowing opponents to average 103.7 points per 100 possessions.
Having Chris "Birdman" Andersen around for the entire year in 2013-14 certainly helps Miami's defensive acumen, so Miami's improved DRtg shouldn't come as a total surprise. But as noted on the last slide, Miami's strength of schedule necessitates taking these statistics with a massive grain of salt.
Frankly, if the Heat weren't beating up on the easiest schedule in the league, it would be cause for concern among the Miami faithful. They'll be put to the test in a few weeks by the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors.
If Miami can emerge from those three matchups and still have a top-six defensive rating, it'll be time to take this defensive improvement seriously. Until then, it's likely a result of the team's paper-soft schedule more than anything else.
Heading into the 2013-14 season, LeBron James had never averaged fewer than 37.5 minutes per game in one year.
This season, he's playing only 35.6 minutes, marking the first time he's ever cracked the sub-36-minute-per-game mark.
It's not as though this should come as a total surprise. The addition of Michael Beasley opened the door for Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to buy James a few more minutes of nightly rest.
As much as the Heat would like to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, they know that LeBron's health is the most critical factor for their three-peat bid. If he's worn down in April and May from playing too many regular-season minutes, securing home-court advantage could be all for naught.
LeBron could start seeing a slight uptick in playing time if an injury sidelines Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade for an extended period of time. Otherwise, expect him to hover closer to the 35 or 36-minute mark throughout the regular season.
Quick trivia: Which Miami Heat player ranks second on the team in terms of effective field-goal percentage, third in both win shares per 48 minutes and true shooting percentage and fourth in PER?
If you guessed James Jones, congratulations! You're as stupefied as I am.
Nothing against Jones, who's a perfect break-glass-in-case-of-Dwyane-Wade-injury option off the bench, but his WS/48 mark of .180 is preposterous. That's higher than the WS/48 figure of both Wade (.145) and Chris Bosh (.174), albeit in a much smaller sample size.
Seeing as Jones has only appeared in five games and played a total of 52 minutes, his WS/48 mark appears destined to plummet soon enough. Before Miami's Dec. 3 loss to the Detroit Pistons, he and James were the only two Heat players with a WS/48 above .200.
The same goes for his PER, true shooting percentage and effective field-goal percentage. Before the Pistons loss, Jones touted Miami's top eFG% and TS%, but he tumbled after going 0-of-4 from the floor in 11 minutes against Detroit.
Jones appears to be the Heat player most due for some serious regression to the mean in the coming weeks.