Power Ranking Every Key Miami Heat Player Before Season's End
We're heading into the final lap of the NBA's regular season, when playoff teams start to jell and lineups are molded into postseason shape.
For the Miami Heat, it's always been a little bit more about the players. It's what the media focuses on, what the fans argue about and what the organization holds smoke machine-ladened celebrations for.
How Miami's lineup shapes up is largely dependent on who is hot, and who is not.
If certain three-point shooters aren't knocking down shots and see the bench, the lineup could swing from small to big as quickly as Kevin Federline at an In-N-Out.
It's important to look at how the current roster stacks up as we hit up some end-of-season power rankings, if only to have a better feel for how the Heat will look going into the playoffs as they chase a third title in as many seasons.
10. Udonis Haslem
I had Michael Beasley here, but Udonis Haslem's last two games give him the edge.
Beasley may have had the more impressive season in regards to points and playing time, but it seems Haslem better fits what the Heat will need in the playoffs—an offensive rebounder, heady decision-maker and size.
The Heat are warming up to bigger lineups. Coach Erik Spoelstra is playing Haslem more, and the team recently swapped guard DeAndre Liggins for center Justin Hamilton.
In the last two games, both Greg Oden and Haslem started at center with Chris Bosh moved over to power forward.
In those two appearances, Haslem is averaging seven points, 5.5 rebounds and 17.7 minutes per game. He's also only missed one of his eight shots. As we head into the playoffs, Haslem ranks higher than Beasley.
9. Shane Battier
To the left is Shane "Moons Over My Hammy" Battier's shot chart from last season, when he shot 43 percent from three-point range.
On the right, you see his chart from this season, as he shoots 33.5 percent from three.
It's been a rough season for Battier, at least for his perimeter shooting. You can see that he is scoring more often and efficiently in the paint than he was last season, but the Heat don't need that. They need Battier to play good defense, draw charges and, most importantly, hit three-pointers from the corner.
It's been almost as bad of a drop for Battier from the corners.
Last season he hit 88 of 191 shots (46 percent) from the deep corner. This season he's made 34 of 89 (38 percent) from the spot.
The recent struggles have gotten him benched the last two games and, if I didn't know better, I would have ranked Haslem over him. However, I have faith that Battier will turn it around. Maybe that faith is blind, or maybe it's based on his history as a streaky shooter.
His three-point shooting helps space the court and is a vital weapon for Spoelstra, who can design plays to get Battier open in the corner. When he's hot, the Heat are at maximum lethality.
8. Norris Cole
That confusing pile of lines and dots represents Norris Cole's progression of minutes per game as the season has gone on. You can see a minor, but steady, decline in his minutes.
While Cole has consistently been given playing time by Spoelstra, it has been less and less.
While it may have less to do with Cole's play and more to do with that of fellow teammate Mario Chalmers (more on him later), Cole's lapses on defense and poor finishing around the rim aren't helping his case, either.
Cole is an important part of this team. He can help jump-start the offense with his improved three-point shot and can create his own shots, but Spoelstra is going with Chalmers in crunch time and likely in the playoffs.
Cole's role as a backup point guard (and situational 2-guard) has a ceiling, and that ceiling is No. 7 on this power rankings list.
(I apologize for the boring graphic. I promise better pictures on the other slides.)
7. Greg Oden
My colleague Michael Pina didn't have Greg Oden ranked when he did his power rankings in January.
The likes of Joel Anthony, James Jones and Roger Mason Jr. were ranked over him. In fact, Oden wasn't even listed.
Why did Pina leave him off? Because at that point, Oden hadn't even appeared in a game.
Since then, Oden has appeared in 19 games, and he's even started three. He most recently logged 14 and 13 minutes in his last two contests.
His numbers aren't great, but his impact is obvious as a rim protector.
He is guarding the rim at a comparable rate to that of New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis, according to NBA.com's player tracking data, even though it is a much smaller sample size. He's also the second-best rim protector on the team, barely trailing Chris Andersen.
He might not be better than Cole or Battier, but he is certainly in front of them in the power rankings in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, doing enough to earn more run on this Heat team.
6. Ray Allen
Isn't that a cool action shot?! After two straight information graphics, we are back to the pretty pictures.
That's Ray Allen doing what Ray Allen does—shooting threes.
However, he isn't doing it as well as he has in the past. Allen is only shooting better than the rest of the NBA from the right corner and has his worst three-point percentage since the 2009-10 season, according to NBA.com statistics.
But Allen is still the ultimate floor-spacer for the Heat. Every coach, team and player in the NBA respects his stroke. No one wants to leave him open, and losing him on defense causes mini-heart attacks as fans watch him loop around an off-ball screen and get the pass in the corner.
If Allen was a chess piece, he would be the bishop—teams are better served being as close to him as possible. The further they drift away, the more dangerous he can be.
So why is he only ranked No. 6 (well, it's more like third of available spots, because we know who the top three are on this list already)?
Because while Allen has played well lately, scoring 14, 14, 25 and 22 points in his last four games, the next two players will be more important in the playoffs.
5. Chris Andersen
I have a more in-depth piece on Chris Andersen's play this season, so if this slide isn't enough for you, check this out.
To summarize, Andersen means more to the Heat than improving their rebounds per game and tattoos per square inch.
He ranks ahead of Battier, Cole and Allen because he is more consistent than those three. In fact, he is arguably the most consistent player on the team beyond James and Wade (knee).
You know what Birdman brings every night: rebounding, rim protection and a few good fouls. His offensive impact varies with what the defense does, which is expected for a low-priority scoring option.
Andersen has filled a lot of gaps since joining the Heat midway through last season. He is virtually the only player concerned with offensive rebounding—which is by design for a team that doesn't concern itself with offensive boards—and gives Miami a true center who can play in place of, or along with, Bosh.
Even though Miami has Oden this season, I expect that Andersen, with his experience and consistent play, will have a similar impact should the Heat and Pacers meet again.
4. Mario Chalmers
Just for a minute, imagine this team without Mario Chalmers.
Do you have images of Cole playing 33 minutes per game? Of Allen being worn out by Christmas because he has to be used more on the perimeter?
Of LeBron being forced to bring the ball up more, causing him to be less effective out of the post, thereby altering the general direction of the Heat's offense? Are you seeing this? Are you?
Now imagine this team without Allen.
Not as bad, right?
Battier, Bosh, Cole and Chalmers can all hit threes. Bosh is a fine rim protector this season, and the team has Oden for added size. Without Andersen, maybe the Heat don't trade Anthony and so they have him too.
Not having those guys would be bad for Miami, but not as bad as being without Chalmers.
Chalmers' scoring has certainly been down in March, averaging fewer than seven points per game and hitting just 33 percent of his three-pointers.
However, he has the third-highest plus-minus on the team, is second in assists per game and second in steals.
What has really impressed me about Chalmers, though, is his control of the game. Like Allen, he stretches the floor. After four seasons of the Big Three era, Chalmers has a great feel for what it takes to play alongside the Big Three. He runs the fast break well, finds open teammates and knows his place.
Chalmers has quietly become one of the most important players in the Heat's rotation.
3. Chris Bosh
Third on the team in points?
Third in minutes?
Third in field-goal attempts?
This shouldn't come as a surprise that Bosh is third in these categories. Bosh has been third in the power rankings ever since joining Miami in the summer of 2010, but that doesn't mean he hasn't gotten any better.
Bosh has improved his three-point shooting each season and is one of the best mid-range shooters in the game.
More over, his defense has taken a drastic leap from "meh" to "wow" by making major improvements in his positioning and help defense and his discovery of fronting opposing bigs to prevent passes into the post.
By now you know all of this, and you know the role Bosh plays in the spacing of the offense. You know he is the third-best player on the team, too, so let's move on.
2. Dwyane Wade
Wade may be in and out of the lineup this season, but it's been more in than out (does that count as two In-N-Out references in one article?) as of late, missing just two of the Heat's last 16 games.
He has looked healthy, shooting the highest field-goal percentage among NBA guards and scoring more than 20 points in nine of those 14 appearances.
Going into the playoffs, it looks like the Heat are on pace to get exactly what they wanted—a healthy Wade.
Wade may be just the No. 2 slide at this point in his career, but his pairing with the No. 1 slide of all slides has proven to be a force worth two championships and three NBA Finals appearances.
1. LeBron James
With a recent 61-point game and 25-point quarter, King James remains on his Iron Throne.
When it comes to true shooting percentage, James (65.2 percent) beats Durant (63.9 percent) and beats him in effective field-goal percentage, too (61.5 percent to 56.4 percent). He's also leading top scorers in field-goal percentage overall.
Need I say more?
James is the NBA's alpha dog, and as such, he is No. 1 in the defending champions power rankings. What really matters, though, is who finishes on top at the end of the season.
All statistics via NBA.com unless otherwise noted and accurate as of March 19, 2014. Follow Wes on Twitter @wcgoldberg.