Recasting the Miami Heat Role Players in LeBron James' Image
The Miami Heat took a step back this season.
This fact was most obviously on display during their historic thrashing at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs this June; when, according to ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton (subscription required), Miami’s once dominant D allowed the highest offensive rating in NBA Finals history, dating back to 1978. But Miami’s struggles were by no means limited to the championship road.
The Heat won 12 fewer games in 2013-14 than the season that preceded it. (Granted, the tumble came from a regular season that was bested by only 10 teams in NBA history.) Miami’s point differential, likewise, fell, from 7.9 to 4.8.
There’s plenty of blame to go around here. And the stars, surprisingly, aren’t exempt. Miami’s Big Three produced, according to Basketball-Reference.com, 29.4 win shares between them in 2013-14 after combining for 37.9 the season before.
But it’s clear that the nub of Miami’s problem was its bench. The Heat’s heralded supporting cast got very old, very fast. And if the franchise hopes to make a fifth consecutive Finals appearance this coming season—to say nothing of actually winning once it's there—Miami must make significant upgrades across the board in this area.
Fortunately, for South Beach denizens, it’s in a wonderful position to do just this. The Heat have an NBA-high 13 potential unrestricted free agents this summer.
Only Norris Cole is definitely under contract in 2014-15. And with LeBron and his two amigos, to all appearances, poised to return to Miami at a collective discount, the Heat should have the requisite shekels to return the rotation to something resembling the formidable units of seasons past. The salary cap is expected to be set at $63.2 million, with a $77 million luxury tax threshold according to USA Today's Sam Amick, and the Heat have just $1.4 million on the books before they (presumably) come to terms with James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
Now, these aren’t the big ticket items we’re focusing on here—the Kyle Lowrys, Marcin Gortats or even the Trevor Arizas the Heat are said by Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski to (rightly) covet—but the smaller pieces. The sixth, seventh, even eighth and ninth men who fill out the bench and, surprisingly often, make an enormous difference come playoff time.
Spencer for Hire
The primary malfunction the Heat have to correct this offseason is on the defensive end of the floor. And Spencer Hawes, suffice it to say, is not going to help that. But what he can do is shoot the daylights out of the basketball.
Between pit stops with tire fires like the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Philadelphia 76ers last season, the center posted, according to Basketball-Reference.com, career-highs with a 55.4 true shooting percentage, 41.6 percent mark from three-point range on 6.2 attempts per game.
He also scored 23.4 points per 100 possessions with Cleveland, which extended over the course of a season would have been, yup, a career high.
Hawes is also a sneakily effective passer for a big fella. According to Boxscore Geeks, he’s averaged nearly 80 percent more assists per 48 minutes than the average center over the past two seasons. He’s also just 26.
Imagining Hawes operating in Miami’s space-contingent offense is interesting. He’s not a perfect fit on Miami’s roster , but at the price he’s likely to command, he doesn’t have to be. Hawes earned $13 million over the last two seasons, but after being traded for two second-round picks and some flotsam at the 2014 trade deadline, he seems unlikely to earn quite as much this time around.
Reloading with the Matrix
Shawn Marion is 40th in NBA history in win shares. This isn’t necessarily relevant to the case that’s about to be made, but it speaks to a criminally neglected fact: Shawn Marion has had an unbelievable career. If he’s not in the Hall of Fame someday, we’ve all failed.
And here’s the thing about the Matrix. Even at the ripe old age of 36, he can still kind of bring it. He played 31.7 minutes a night for a very good Dallas Mavericks team that came much closer to knocking off the reigning champs than the Heat—or anyone else—did and played them at a reasonably high level.
While Marion isn’t quite the player he once was, he’s still a darn fine one. He’s a tremendous rebounder at his position and a plus defender, even at his advanced age. According to Boxscore Geeks, he led the Mavs in wins produced in 2013-14.
Heat fans will surely blanch at bringing another guy on the wrong side of 35 to a roster that was the oldest in the NBA during 2013-14, per Reuben Fischer-Baum of Deadspin, but let them.
The Heat didn’t lose because they were old. They lost because their old guys couldn’t play anymore. And this old guy, at the moment, still can.
Rolling Like (the) Thunder
Miami needs guys who can shoot three-pointers and play defense. Thabo Sefolosha can shoot three-pointers and play defense.
Not a great deal more is necessary here, but because of space obligations, we’ll press onward. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s erstwhile three-and-D maven is available this offseason because his stroke sort of abandoned him in 2013-14. We’ll let SB Nation’s Tom Ziller explain:
"After two straight seasons shooting better than 40 percent on three-pointers, Sefolosha hit just 31 percent this season. Also, Caron Butler eclipsed him in the rotation, so. Yeah."
Well, the Thunder’s recency-bias-induced shortsightedness can become the Heat’s gain here...because Sefolosha can play.
He’s still a very good defender and posts rebounds, steals and blocks at rates higher than his positional average. Additionally, field-goal percentage tends to be the most erratic part of a player’s statistical profile. So Sefolosha could very easily return to his 40 percent plus form from behind the arc.
The biggest problem with Williams is that he's remarkably passive on offense, with a supremely low usage rate (16.7 percent last season). He has the physical attributes to be an offensive force, but has never been assertive.
It may be folly, but the right coach could turn Williams into something valuable.
Or maybe just the right locker room is needed. If the issue is psychological, it’s hard to imagine LeBron James and Dwyane Wade—the quintessence of modern NBA leadership—couldn’t round him into form.
This, though, presupposes that there’s something wrong with Williams, which there really isn’t. While he may not have fully capitalized on his gifts—and who among us has?—he’s still been a quietly productive player across his nine-year career.
Take this: Williams is a very good, and willing, defensive player who routinely banged with bigger bodies as a member of the Utah Jazz the last two seasons.
"We've asked a lot of him with this group and playing against big guys," Jazz coach Ty Corbin conceded to the Salt Lake Tribune in January.
If he can play a similar role in Miami, and shoot something like the 36 percent mark he managed from three-point range during 2013-14, he could make for an able replacement for the departing Shane Battier.
King and the Hill?
Jordan Hill fits two key needs for the Miami Heat—players who can rebound and players who are good at basketball.
According to ESPN, Hill finished 14th in rebounding rate during 2013-14 and his 19.39 player efficiency rating placed him 11th among all power forwards.
Hill, despite his modest 9.7-point, 7.4-rebound averages of a season ago, has become something of an analytic darling the last couple of years.
He posted win shares per-48-minutes figures that were 40 percent better than the league average in each of the last two seasons, per Basketball-Reference.com, and according to the gleefully counterintuitive folks over at Boxscore Geeks, he finished 23rd in the Association in wins produced per 48 minutes this past season.