After acquiring rookie point guard Shabazz Napier out of UConn on draft day, the Heat may have addressed one of their biggest needs. Napier is a fearless scorer, and given the disappearance of Miami's point guards this postseason, that should help a great deal.
Norris Cole is still on contract as well, and it's not out of the question that Miami will look at the overall body of work for Mario Chalmers and retain him as an unrestricted free agent.
Let's assume, however, that Miami sticks with Napier and Cole for the time being. That should be a competent pairing, but they're inexperienced at a position where every team seems to have a really good player.
While the distributing and ball-handling of LeBron James (who we're assuming will be back) removes a lot of pressure from Miami's point guards, having a capable hand at the position could keep LeBron a little fresher and the offense running smoother. James has enough responsibility as is.
The problem is that the Heat may have limited assets in free agency to use on a position where they're already two-deep. With shooters and frontcourt depth and better forward pairing for James all required, point guard may be an afterthought.
While it's possible that major pay cuts are taken and the Heat can spend a bit on a starting point guard, there are so many other areas of need to address first. Point guards have always been de-emphasized in this system, so there's no reason to think it would suddenly be a top priority, even if Dwyane Wade's lingering knee trouble requires a little more help in the backcourt than in previous years.
In Nelson, however, Miami could cross a few items off its free-agent shopping list. After spending the first 10 years of his career with the Orlando Magic, Nelson was released and has become an unrestricted free agent.
Here's Mike Prada at SBNation.com:
Nelson has been Orlando's starting point guard since midway through his second season. For a time, he was considered a borderline All-Star and was certainly always one of the faces of the franchise.
But his game has declined significantly over the last couple years. He shot under 40 percent from the field both seasons and saw his usage rate -- the percent of possessions he ends with a shot, turnover or drawn foul -- drop to just over 20 percent this season. Orlando evidently decided that his leadership was not as important as his declining production.
While it's true that Nelson wasn't the player he once was, there is plenty of value in bringing in a veteran who can help mentor Napier (a small guard in his own right) and Cole. After all, this the same team that kept Juwan Howard around for years after his expiration date, so having a strong veteran presence on the bench could be a desire.
It's also important to remember that Nelson hasn't been working with the best hand in Orlando. Often times, it would be his job late in the clock just to get a shot up on the rim. He's no longer a bail-out option offensively who can take defenders off the dribble, as his percentages show, but he's turned into more of a distributor with time.
Nelson recorded a career-high 7.9 assists per 36 minutes last season, so you can see he's a veteran willing to make adjustments based on the changes to his athleticism and game.
Here's what Nelson told Josh Denton at NBA.com:
I’m not going to limit myself. As long as I can continue to work in the summer and prepare myself for a season, I feel like I’ll still be able to play. I feel like my brain will continue to be an asset for me. I feel like I’m smart enough to play the game even when I start slowing down. I don’t feel like I’ve slowed down that much, but I have gotten smarter about using my speed and quickness in spurts.
That intelligence could pay dividends for the Heat, as going through the lumps with a rookie point guard might not always be ideal, especially in late-game situations. Nelson could provide a calming presence, even if he'd likely shift from a career starter to a reserve.
Given the depth of the point guard position around the league and the amount of solid options available in free agency, big money might not be out there for Nelson.
Considering he already received some salary after his buyout with a Magic team going in a different direction, Nelson may be willing to take less money in order to latch on with a contender. Miami will have its options, of course, and whoever is willing to come the cheapest will give themselves a leg up on the competition.
Staying in Florida would make some sense if that's the goal for both teams, as Miami will undoubtedly be a title favorite should the Big Three return.
Here's Rob Mahoney from Sports Illustrated explaining why Nelson might be one of the best values out there:
Nelson went largely forgotten while caretaking for the rebuilding Magic, but now he's in position to help a winning team at a reasonable price. Nelson will have his suitors; not only is he still a quality backup option, but Nelson plays an intelligent, reliable game that is inherently good for rotational stability.
It helps, too, that Nelson is one of the few guards of his size (he's listed generously at 6-0) who isn't a defensive liability. He's strong enough to fight through screens and heady enough to challenge opponents in one-on-one situations, the value of which is clear in a market filled with one-dimensional players.
One of the best things Miami's point guards have brought to the table over the last few years is the ability to defend on the ball and pester opposing guards into careless mistakes. Nelson won't be nearly as aggressive in that regard, but he is capable of playing a physical brand of defense thanks to his size. He's a naturally wide body, so turning the corner on him isn't easy, despite his declining speed.
Even factoring in the average three-point shooting from the last two seasons, Nelson is still a career 37.4 percent shooter from behind the arc. With more open looks than ever, he could really thrive in a 15-18 minute role that will keep him fresh for the postseason.
So long as the price is right and he's willing to sign on for the veteran minimum after the other pieces have fallen in place, Nelson could provide some solid depth, leadership and intelligence at the point guard position that Miami could really use as it tries to get back to the Finals for the fifth straight year.
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