The Miami Heat are led by three stars, but the role players have played significant and saving roles in each of their championship runs.
They didn't have the right role players or chemistry to beat the Dallas Mavericks the first year, so that summer they signed Shane Battier to be the glue guy.
They went on to win the title, with Battier playing a key small-ball role guarding Serge Ibaka against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals. That same series Mike Miller hit seven three-pointers to help clinch the Big Three's first championship.
Ray Allen joined the club for the next run, and we all know what he did. The team picked up Chris Andersen midway through the 2012-13 season, too. Without Andersen, Miami would have surely lost to Roy Hibbert and the Pacers.
This season, the Heat have made adjustments to their supporting cast, cutting Mike Miller, trading Joel Anthony, signing Roger Mason Jr. and later replacing him with Toney Douglas, and even doubled down with Greg Oden and Michael Beasley.
Judging by precedent, someone will have to step up at some point in the playoffs. So who's it going to be?
Norris Cole or Toney Douglas
Both Norris Cole and Douglas have had their share of playing time lately, but when the rotation tightens, one may end up getting the short stick.
The backup guard position presents an interesting dynamic. I'll let Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel explain it:
"At this point, Cole has banked some long-term faith from Erik Spoelstra. But it is reaching a point where you can question Cole playing 24:29 after halftime on Friday (against the Minnesota Timberwolves) and Douglas 7:56."
There is something to be said for Douglas even making an argument so quickly after joining the team. Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick described why he's been so refreshing for the Heat:
Douglas has certainly done that since getting an opportunity with the Heat, starting 12 games, 10 of which the Heat have won. His energy on defense has been helpful to a team that has slogged through much of the regular season. He has done an especially good job hassling ball-handlers and sticking with them through screens. At times, though, he has been a bit too hyper on offense.
When Dwyane Wade and Allen are back in the rotation, this battle becomes less important. I could see Spoelstra going with need when it comes to the backup point guard, but if one of these guys step up, it could help make the decision easier.
A vulnerability for the Heat earlier this season, Udonis Haslem has already stepped up his game in the second half.
Before the All-Star break, Haslem was the worst on the team in both offense and defense, according to NBA.com statistics, allowing more points and scoring fewer points than any other Heat player per 100 possessions. As a result, his net rating of minus-13.2 was by far the worst on the team.
Since the break, he ranks just below James on offense and is the team's best defender.
His return to the lineup has lit a spark for Miami, with Mario Chalmers saying that "he's the heart and soul of this team."
More specifically, Haslem presents an obstacle for Hibbert should the Heat and Pacers meet in the playoffs. Check out how he keeps Hibbert from getting near the rim in the teams' last meeting.
Or this next play, when he goes from running Paul George off the line to blocking Hibbert's shot—a hustle play in which he becomes a one-man wrecking crew the way James, Wade and Andersen can.
With the Oden experiment likely over and Battier struggling, Haslem has cracked the starting five and will need to keep up his recently stellar play in the playoffs, especially if they meet Indiana in the conference finals.
Can Rashard Lewis be the Neo-Mike Miller?
Miller was never a consistent contributor for the Heat, but in the playoffs, he was good for a breakout game here and there or draining a three-pointer without a shoe. Miller's time in Miami was heroic, but his contributions as a savvy three-point shooter can be replicated.
Lewis could fill his shoes. A veteran who is among the NBA greats in terms of volume of three-point shooting, Lewis certainly has the potential to get hot.
|Rashard Lewis Among the Best 3-Point Shooters|
|1. Ray Allen||2963||40.0%|
|2. Reggie Miller||2560||39.5%|
|3. Jason Kidd||1988||34.9%|
|... 8. Rashard Lewis||1781||38.6%|
Couple that with the recent struggles of Battier and Lewis may see more playing time. He may not play a huge role, but he may have to step up should Spoelstra call his number.
It seems as if LeBron James has had to carry the offense more this season, but his usage rate is in line with what it has been the last four seasons.
However, if it seems to you like Wade and Chris Bosh have been relied upon less this year, you would be correct. In fact, Wade and Bosh have been used less and less each of the past three seasons.
In turn, Miami has relied more on its supporting cast. So when defenses get stingier in the playoffs, the impact of the role players could be marginalized if none step up. That means James would have to shoulder more of the load, a la Game 6 against the Boston Celtics in 2012.
Hopefully for James, Wade gets healthy and Bosh starts scoring more points (averaging about 14 points in the last 14 games), or someone else steps up.
All statistics via NBA.com/Stats and accurate as of April 7, 2014, unless otherwise noted.