Miami Heat team president Pat Riley has a plethora of questions to answer after his roster fell short of winning a third straight NBA title. Those queries start with the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—who could all exercise early termination options—but surrounding the All-Stars with worthy role players will be the biggest challenge.
One such role player, and one who has been around for Miami’s four-straight Finals trips, is Mario Chalmers.
The 28-year-old veteran was AWOL throughout the series against the San Antonio Spurs after seeing his stats dip from round to round. He notched 4.4 points, 2.8 assists, 3.2 fouls and shot a woeful 14.3 percent from long range against San Antonio.
His struggles on offense were matched by shortcomings on defense, where ‘Rio couldn’t stay in front of Tony Parker or out of foul trouble.
Through Games 1 and 2, Chalmers had eight personal fouls and eight points.
“I’m still the same guy,” Chalmers said after Game 2, per the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman. “I’m that anxious guy, that energy guy that wants to do what he can for his team, help make everything right. And I just got to figure out a way to stay on the court longer.”
Head coach Erik Spoelstra said of his starting point guard, “He needs to be more attentive to technique and earlier in his thought process,” per Winderman. “Things are happening very quickly obviously at this level of competition and your preparation before they play happens is paramount.”
Again, Chalmers is 28 years old. He isn’t an inexperienced rookie adapting to the professional level. He reached the NBA Finals three times in a row prior to 2014—winning two championships in the process. Game speed shouldn’t be an issue for him at this point of his career.
Still, Chalmers’ confidence was shot. He missed all of his field-goal attempts in Game 3, finishing with two points, three turnovers and four fouls.
His struggles continued and forced Coach Spo to make a change. Chalmers lost his starting gig for Game 5 and wasn’t subbed in until five minutes remaining in the third quarter—when Miami trailed by 21 points.
The former second-round pick didn’t do his free-agent stock any favors during postseason play, but should Riley decide to bring him back?
The Case For Chalmers
First of all—and not surprisingly—the six-year pro wants to come back, per a tweet from CBS Sports’ Matt Moore:
Whether there’s mutual interest is the biggest question.
Still, he’s been a reliable role player in Miami for many years and had arguably the best regular season of his career. He averaged 9.8 points, a career-best 4.9 assists and a career-high 2.9 rebounds in 73 games (all starts).
Chalmers has proven himself as a solid complement beside James, Wade and Bosh because he isn’t your typical ball-dominant floor general.
While he can create offense off the dribble by penetrating and either scoring or dishing off to teammates, his biggest strength is spotting up for three-point looks.
Throughout 2013-14, Chalmers shot 41 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers, according to NBA.com; that mark was better than 2014 MVP Kevin Durant (38.1 percent), former MVP Dirk Nowitzki (39.9 percent) and Heat teammate Ray Allen (39.7 percent).
Chalmers’ ability to stretch the floor as a deadeye, spot-up shooter is a huge part of what makes aggressive drives from James and Wade so effective. Both of those All-Stars excel when finishing at the rim, but that’s partly because defenses can’t comfortably collapse. If they do, the former Kansas standout will be ready to knock down shots from deep.
Chalmers is a prototype that fits well in Spoelstra’s system, because he can play off the ball out of the point guard spot. Nevertheless, his poor showing in the playoffs was far from ideal.
The Case Against Chalmers
Only one player in Riley’s regime has a guaranteed contract for 2014-15: Norris Cole.
Unfortunately for Chalmers, the 25-year-old Cole is a threat to take over the starting point guard role moving forward.
The incumbent backup is a significantly less efficient catch-and-shoot player from beyond the arc. He shot 34.8 percent in such situations, per NBA.com, which simply doesn’t measure up to Chalmers’ prowess from long distance.
With that said, an argument can be made that Cole is the better defender.
Chalmers’ defensive numbers were inflated to some degree, since he was playing alongside a loaded starting lineup. Even so, Cole received a slightly better defensive grade in Adam Fromal’s B/R NBA 200 breakdown of point guards.
He wrote, “This would be the reason Cole receives significant playing time for the Heat. Both on and off the ball, Cole is a pesky defender who knows that preventing points is his calling card. The flat-topped 1-guard understands the trap heavy scheme, and he thrives in it.”
The Spurs exploited Chalmers’ defensive capabilities in a big way. They attacked him relentlessly, forcing referees to tab him with personals. Could Cole have done a better job? There’s really no way to know. But if Chalmers is in an offensive funk, he doesn’t bring more to the table than Cole.
If Spoelstra is confident that Cole can make strides with more playing time, using cap space to enhance Miami’s undersized frontcourt—rather than on Chalmers—is a viable option.
What Should Miami Do?
Ultimately, the Heat should elect to keep Chalmers in the locker room—especially if they deem his postseason struggles an anomaly.
He had a 19-point and a 20-point performance during the 2013 NBA Finals, so he’s proved in the past that he can step up on the big stage. His slump certainly wasn’t the only reason why the Heat went home sans rings (looking at you, D-Wade).
Unless Miami can find a significant upgrade at the position for the right price (unlikely), then keeping Chalmers for point guard depth is an easy and familiar option.
Locking him up early in the offseason would allow Riley to focus on more important endeavors.