We’re nearly midway through the 2013-14 season, and the defending champion Miami Heat have so far played their expected part. The team is 27-10, first place in their division and second place in the Eastern Conference.
Most of the roster is the same from last year, but a few new faces—and quite a bit of improvement across the board—have invigorated a team that remains the favorite to win it all until they lose.
Here's a ranking of all 14 players who've suited up for the team this season, based on how well they've played so far, and what their impact will be in the months to come.
Joel Anthony has played 37 minutes and appeared in only a third of Miami’s games, so there isn’t much to evaluate based on his “play” this season. But that’s sort of the point. Anthony gives Heat opponents a five-on-four advantage, thanks to his total incompetence on offense.
His range is restricted to within two or three feet of the basket, and even at point-blank range, there’s a little uncertainty on whether he’ll actually convert. Anthony is one of the largest players on the team, and he’s not bad at rebounding the ball. But Miami has adopted a style that thrives with speed instead of size.
Anthony is all but guaranteed to pick up the $3.8 million player option for next season, in which case the Heat should seriously consider buying him out to get as far away from the luxury tax as they possibly can.
James Jones beat out Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to win the three-point contest in 2011, the same year LeBron James and Chris Bosh came to Miami. It was his third year with the organization and will go down as his most relevant moment as an NBA player.
Jones is one of basketball’s smoothest three-point shooters, where he’s a career 40.0 percent sniper (40.2 percent in six seasons with Miami). The one tiny problem here is that he’s completely inept in literally every other area of the game.
For that reason Jones isn’t a member of Miami’s rotation. He’s appeared in just 10 games and only Anthony has played fewer minutes. The three-point stroke is still available whenever the team needs it (he’s made nine of 17 attempts this season), and it wouldn’t be a shocking surprise to see Jones rewrite himself into history with a huge shot or two this postseason, a la Mike Miller.
Roger Mason Jr. was brought in to add even more three-point shooting to a team that creates more open looks than anybody else.
Unfortunately, he’s yet to prove his worth, going 34.1 percent from behind the arc in 220 minutes. But if he’s ever thrust into a marginally larger role, that number should rise. He shot 41.5 percent in 69 games with the New Orleans Pelicans last season.
Mason's three-point rate is an outlandish .733, meaning that’s how many three-pointers he takes per field-goal attempt. His role is singular and simple.
The 34-year-old former All-Star (and $118 million man) has been a surprise in his second season with the Miami Heat. His minutes are up nearly five per game, and he’s responded with a career-high three-point rate.
But Lewis’ ascension into the role previously occupied by Mike Miller was more due to necessity than anything else. He’s a tall, lengthy, somewhat versatile player who can theoretically create mismatches and stretch the floor.
He’s mistake-prone on defense, especially in smaller lineups where he’s tasked with being a back-line rim protector. Lewis is consistently slow to rotate from the weak side and is having the worst rebounding season of his career.
Now 33 years old with over 10 years and nearly 20,000 minutes under his belt, Udonis Haslem is no longer a workhorse on the low block. This year he’s been firmly on the outside of Erik Spoelstra’s rotation, 11th on the team in minutes and shooting a porous 38.6 percent from the floor.
Haslem is grabbing a career-worst 16.3 percent of all missed shots fired by Miami’s opponents. His playing style is a bit too rugged for the speedy style Spoelstra’s instilled, and it’ll only get worse before it gets better.
A “savior” of sorts for Miami last year, the team is currently never better on defense than when Chris Andersen takes the floor. When he sits, the Heat allow 103.1 points per 100 possessions. When he plays, they allow 99.4, which is the lowest stat on the team in this category.
Aside from Bosh, Andersen is the only stable rim protector on this roster. He’s also fourth on the Heat in PER, behind the obvious Big Three and first in true shooting percentage—a hair ahead of LeBron James.
Andersen gets to the free-throw line at a better rate than anyone on the team and understands his place within the its rapid-fire offense. He’s Miami’s best rebounder, an integral lynchpin who holds together the team’s most glaring weakness.
The improvement Norris Cole has shown this season is fantastic. After averaging a little over 19 minutes per game in his first two seasons, the 25-year-old is up to 25.5.
He’s shooting 42.1 percent from deep (up from a 35.2 percent career average) and is now reliable enough to stay on the floor at the end of games. Cole’s defensive pressure is tenacious on the ball. He makes solid rotations and is an absolute pest when the Heat trap a pick-and-roll.
According to NBA.com/Stats, Miami is 9.5 points per 100 possessions better than its opponent when Cole plays and 5.3 points better when he does not. For now he’s the backup point guard, but a permanent promotion could come sooner than later.
Miami’s starting point guard is repeatedly overlooked, this season especially. Right now he’s posting a career-high PER, free-throw rate and assist percentage. (He’s assisting on over a quarter of all Miami’s made baskets when he’s on the court.)
Chalmers is making nearly half of all his two-point field goals and growing on defense as one of the most underrated point guards in the league on that end.
His contract expires at the end of the year, though. And with a cheaper Cole waiting in the wings, it’ll be interesting to see whether Chalmers is playing on another team this time next season.
The glue that brings it all together. It’s beyond cliche by now to write that statistics don’t tell the whole story when you’re discussing Shane Battier’s nightly contribution, but it’s still so true!
He doesn’t turn the ball over (a 3.9 percent turnover rate is beyond ridiculous), sacrifices his body on defense so the stars don’t have to and leads the team in three-point field-goal percentage.
Battier is 10th on the team in scoring and seventh in minutes played. He’s 35 years old and one of the smartest basketball players in the league, if not the smartest.
His function within Miami’s scheme is more crucial than it could be on any other team, which makes judging his impact in a vacuum so difficult. His three-point percentage is down dramatically from last season, but he’ll be fine when it really counts.
Didn’t expect to see him this high? LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Bosh are the only players on Miami with a higher PER than Michael Beasley. They’re also the only three guys averaging more points per game.
He’s knocking down 44.4 percent of his threes, making him arguably the best three-point shooter on a team absolutely loaded with three-point shooters right now.
Unlike those guys, Beasley can create his own shot. He’s making over half his two-point field goals and is second on the team in total rebounding rate, behind Andersen.
Nobody saw this coming from Beasley, except maybe Pat Riley.
The best three-point shooter of all time is 38 years old but still puts the fear of God in defenses every single night. He might be shooting well below his career average on threes (down to 34.6 percent from 41.9 percent last year), but no defense cares.
And no defense is willing to leave him on the perimeter for a second. He spreads the floor, allowing driving lanes and passing lanes for the Big Three, and is even running his own stuff off the dribble a little bit. His free-throw percentage is the highest it's been in nine years, and his three-point percentage has never been higher.
Dwyane Wade has had a phenomenal year so far, and the only reason he isn’t a clear-cut second-place behind LeBron is his playing time.
Wade is wisely coasting through the regular season, taking it easy on his knees and sitting out nearly a game a week. He’s appeared in 28 of Miami’s 37 contests and been a force in basically every one.
Wade has the ninth-highest PER in the league. He's averaging 19.6 points, 4.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds a night. He isn't getting to the free-throw line as much as he used to, and he still ignores the three-point line, but he remains a consistent 20-point scorer in limited minutes. It's amazing.
Behind LeBron, Bosh is the most irreplaceable player on Miami's roster. He has size, stretches the floor with one of the most consistent mid-range jumpers in the league (and a three-point shot he's knocking in 33.3 percent of the time) and remains a vastly underrated defensive player.
Not only can he protect the rim, but Bosh is also devastating out on the perimeter. There he's quick enough to trap ball-handlers and force the opposition into dangerous swing passes that Miami's help defenders gobble up and take the other way.
He's a high usage player whose true shooting percentage is barely below 60 percent, and there's no reason to believe he won't make his ninth straight All-Star team later this season.
LeBron James should be No. 1 on all the power rankings. Nobody is better at the sport right now, and perhaps nobody has ever conducted such mastery on both ends.
James also guards all five positions and has the league's second-highest PER and true shooting percentage. He's completely off the charts in every way as an all-time great in his prime, and there's no greater pleasure as an NBA viewer than watching him play.
Stats are courtesy of NBA.com/Stats (login required) unless noted otherwise.
Contract information via HoopsHype.com.
Michael Pina has bylines at Bleacher Report, Sports On Earth, Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.