If the NBA put together a yearbook at the end of each season—now that it occurs to me, the fact that it doesn't is mystifying—the Miami Heat would win more senior superlatives than that guy on your high school’s lacrosse team who played concert piano, never missed a day of school and had teeth like an orthodontist’s kid, though his dad was a NASA engineer.
Among the titles their goofy visage would appear under: Most versatile.
Even as they age a bit and from time to time appear a touch worn down from the 67 extra games they’ve played over the last three postseasons, the Heat can kill you in an extraordinary number of ways.
Miami can make hay in transition, slow things down in a half-court game and, even on the defensive end, it enjoys the lavish benefit of employing the most flexible stopper in the sport.
Suffice to say, Erik Spoelstra has a lot of arrows in his quiver.
And like all else in South Beach, it starts with the Big Three.
Take Chris Bosh. The center is a truly unique basketball player. There isn’t a 5 in the sport who can match his combination of touch from down low and mechanically—and almost archaically—efficient mid-range game.
According to NBA.com, Bosh is converting 47.3 percent of his mid-range shots and a ridiculous 67.8 from within eight feet of the basket. The latter figure puts him sixth in the Association, right between two of his more ballyhooed teammates.
In fairness, Bosh is plenty ballyhooed within the Miami locker room.
“[Bosh] is our most important player, and he’s as steady and consistent as he always has been for the last two and a half years,” Spoelstra told Pro Basketball Talk in November 2012.
“He makes it look easy and he makes it look quiet, and yet he’s so impactful in the game. He was big under the rim and not just his scoring, but the big plays defensively at the end,” the coach added.
Even when he’s not touching the ball, the flexible center has an impact. Bosh’s shooting ability stretches opposing defenses to such an extent that they’re forced to make difficult, and retrospectively foolish, decisions.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel still didn't come right out and admit it Thursday. But it was Bosh—more than James—that he feared on that last play in Game 1. So psyched out by the threat of Bosh's versatility, Vogel kept shot-blocking center Roy Hibbert on the bench in a move that cleared the path for Miami's victory. It was a smart gamble that backfired.
Dwyane Wade is a similarly multifaceted player. Despite the scuttlebutt vis-a-vis his decline—scuttlebutt the author of this post has contributed to—Wade remains one of the hardest slashers to stop in the game and consequently one of its most efficient scorers.
According to ESPN.com, the veteran ranks eighth in the NBA among qualified 2-guards so far this season with a true shooting percentage of 59.3, a career high at 32.
While Wade’s waning athleticism has hampered him a bit on this front, ESPN.com notes that he remains the all-time leader in blocked shots among players 6’4” or shorter. Though he’s averaging a career-worst 0.7 blocks per 48 minutes in 2013-14, BoxScoreGeeks.com indicates that this is still nearly double what a typical shooting guard offers.
This brings us to LeBron James.
James is so dynamic in so many different ways that, at this point, even typing it feels stupidly obvious. He’s not only the greatest player in the NBA but its most protean. In fact, his versatility has become not merely a component of his greatness but its soul.
“James' best attribute is his versatility,” SBNation’s Mike Prada gushed after LeBron vanquished the Pacers in Game 5 of last spring’s Eastern Conference Finals. “He's capable of doing so many things on the court, allowing his team to find an answer every time they enter a tough spot.”
Of course, LeBron is exactly as multiple when the other guys have the ball. Just ask him.
"That's why I should be Defensive Player of the Year," he told the Sun-Sentinel after a February win over the Los Angeles Clippers that saw him guard each of Darren Collison, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. "One-through-five. Started off on DeAndre, guarded Darren Collison that one possession, so, you know. No one has ever done this before.”
James is exactly right. No one has done this before.
The Heat’s all-everything troika, stylistic versatility and intriguing bench presents the rest of the Association with a Whac-A-Mole dilemma: Commit to slowing James, Wade pops you. Focus on Bosh, James steals the game with a slicing drive. Eyeball Wade and Ray Allen puts another three-point shot between himself and Reggie Miller.
The league has run out of quarters trying to stop the Heat over the past two seasons. Opposing teams' pockets had better be full this time around.