Miami Heat 2011-12: Analyzing the Heat's Biggest Strengths and Advantages
As high as expectations were for this team, many would consider the season a failure. However, I feel quite the contrary: this is just the start of something great.
While getting off to a poor start at 9-8 last season, the Heat showed in the following 65 games that they were capable of being one of the best teams of all time. The Big Three of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James are still meshing together and should look a lot better in the coming years.
Miami has a lot of solid things going for them right now. Expect this team to come back healthy, motivated and hungry in hopes of bringing a trophy back to Miami.
Let's check out some strengths and advantages for the "love 'em or hate 'em" Miami Heat.
Two Key Role Players off the Bench
Miami was criticized often last year for lack of depth; however, when healthy they had a lot of talent on the bench.
Udonis Haslem has been a popular role player in Miami since coming into the league in 2003-04. While averaging 10 points and 8.1 rebounds per season in his career, it's his hard work ethic and heart that will provide the Heat with a crucial sixth man next season.
After suffering a foot injury early in the season, Haslem's productivity was greatly missed. Miami gave Haslem a chance as an undrafted free agent; expect him to give it his all to help secure another championship.
Pat Riley brought in a risky free agent in former Florida Gator Mike Miller.
While Miller is a threat from long range, he unfortunately suffered an injury to his shooting hand. However, allowing his thumb to heal properly over the offseason should help him get his shooting touch back.
Miller only shot 36 percent last year from three-point range but helped contribute on the defensive end. Being an underrated defender for his career, Miller has still averaged 5.1 rebounds a game.
When healthy, expect him to earn the questionable paycheck he was given.
Miami is in risk of losing a few players to free agency. Mike Bibby, Juwan Howard, and James Jones put in important minutes for the Heat when needed but are not sure things to come back. The good thing is they are replaceable, and it won't hurt them in the least to part ways.
An Improving Young Coach
Erik Spoelstra seemed to be on the hot seat before the season even started last year. By the season's end, he had proved to be one of the better young coaches in basketball.
Spoelstra is actually an interesting story for Miami. He began as a video coordinator for the Heat and slowly climbed his way up. After becoming a scout, Spoelstra was vital in helping Miami land Dwyane Wade via draft. In 2008 Spoelstra was finally named as the successor for Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley.
While still learning the ins and outs of coaching, he has a lot to teach his team right now. Spoelstra is a solid, defensive-minded coach who has a lot of basketball smarts.
Spoelstra dealt with a lot of criticism during the season but brushed it off to help Miami make a deep playoff run.
Let's not start calling for Spoelstra's head quite yet. He was outclassed in the NBA Finals but still has the potential to be a great coach.
Remember fans, Spoelstra has big shoes to fill. If the great Pat Riley has confidence in this guy, so should you.
Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony
Perhaps the two most important role players in Miami last season, Joel Anthony and Mario Chalmers came up big for the Heat.
There isn't enough that can be said about what Anthony does for Miami. While not the biggest center in the NBA, he helped hold down the paint for one of the better defenses around.
He will never wow you statistically, but his hustle and pestering style of play will have Heat fans cheering "MVP" for the Canadian.
The Heat front office gave this guy money for a reason: he's a true warrior.
Besides Anthony, Mario Chalmers might have been the biggest surprise player to step up. While Chalmers isn't in the top tier of point guards, he brings many valuable needs for the Heat.
He is never afraid to take a big shot and brings a competitive defensive demeanor to the table. Chalmers can run the court well and is improving his ball-handling skills. He also helps space the floor, giving much-needed space for James and Wade to do what they do best.
Look for Chalmers to re-sign to stay in Miami and for Anthony to continue being a factor.
Questionable Competition in the East
At one point it looked as if the power was shifting towards the Eastern Conference. Now that the West has won the last three NBA championships, that is up for debate.
What Derrick Rose did for Chicago last year was amazing. As the youngest MVP in history, Rose guided the injury-plagued Bulls to a top seed in the East over the heavily-favored Celtics and Heat. However, Chicago showed a lot of weakness, getting heavy competition from the eighth-seeded Indiana Pacers.
After they escaped Indiana and the Atlanta Hawks, the Heat provided a true formula for beating Chicago: stop Derrick Rose, stop the Bulls.
Without a true second scoring option, the Bulls will never succeed in a series against the Heat.
The Boston Celtics have a major issue when it comes to age. In a shortened season, the Celtics could be primed for another run at a championship, but they showed true weakness come playoff time last year. After annihilating a newly-put-together Knicks team, Boston fell short against the Heat.
It was Miami's fresh young legs that made the major difference in the series. The Heat ran the Celtics up and down the court and eventually back to Beantown.
Boston could use a few key role players to take a lot of pressure off of the aging stars, but without them the Celtics could be doomed.
The Knicks have two of the most offensively-talented players in the NBA in Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, but other than that no true threats. While Chauncey Billups is one of the better point guards of the decade, he will likely have a career-declining season at the age of 35. With no defensive intensity Miami will put up big offensive numbers against the Knicks.
Chris Paul is a possibility in 2012, but for now it's a two man show.
This could instantly make Orlando the best defensive front court in the NBA. However, the Magic have fallen off in the past few years after a Finals appearance. While gradually slipping down the power rankings, it could be time for Orlando to rebuild in hopes of satisfying superstar Dwight Howard.
If Atlanta decides to trade Smith, consider them no better than a possible sixth seed. As of now they are a competitive team who won a surprise playoff series last year. But with new ownership, losing a valuable sixth man and possibly exploring options for Smith, it could be time to initiate the rebuilding phase.
Yes, Miami has weaknesses, but they are truly the most complete team in the East. As it stands now other teams will threaten in the East, but the Heat are top dogs.
Miami Is an Ideal Destination for Veteran Players
Truth be told: Miami doesn't have massive salary cap space to work with. However, many veteran players chasing a championship could play a crucial role off of the bench.
A nice veteran pickup like T.J. Ford could provide Miami much-needed depth at the point guard position. While Ford isn't a veteran in age, he has had numerous seasons shortened due to injury.
Ford has the ability to lead an offense in his limited minutes and will always be a perimeter threat. A lot of his role would be based on the re-signing of Mario Chalmers, but he would still prove to be an asset.
Filling some depth at center should be an offseason focus as well. Big men like Jeff Foster or Eddy Curry could be cheap options to take up some minutes.
However, Miami could also go after a few pricier options. Names like Shane Battier and Samuel Dalembert could help the Heat's defensive approach.
Battier is capable of guarding some of the better small forwards in the NBA and at one time was a premier three-point shooter. Soon to turn 33, the clock is ticking away for Battier to win a championship.
Dalembert would have to take a major pay cut to play in Miami, but it is possible. He would most likely take over the starting center role and be a key player in the Heat defense.
While Dalembert wouldn't demand shots offensively, he would be an ideal fit as a big man for Miami. He rebounds and blocks shots well and can create second-chance opportunities offensively.
Miami could also boost their bench scoring with a few players like Michael Redd or Tracy McGrady.
A lot of the names Miami will consider are injury prone which could be a concern. However, when healthy these guys can fill specific needs to help the Heat contend.
While others worry about a lack of funds in Miami, I look forward to some potential key free agent signings post lockout.
The Big Three
Odds are you expected this one. The Big Three consists of the best player in the NBA, the best shooting guard and arguably a top five power forward.
The combination of Chris Bosh, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade proved to be lethal during parts of the 2010-11 season. During the first year these stars teamed up together, they showed a lot of ability and potential.
Wade and James were individually top five scorers in the NBA last season, and Bosh contributed nicely when called on. Combined, the three averaged 70.9 points a game.
Bosh has often been labeled as a soft player; however, he led the team with 8.3 rebounds a game last year. He was a solid third-scoring option for Miami, with the ability to open up the floor with his range or outwork defenders in the post. Often times Bosh stepped up whenever Wade or James were struggling to help push the Heat through the season. He may not be the biggest superstar in the game, but there isn't a better third option in the NBA.
Dwyane Wade is possibly the most beloved player to ever wear a Heat jersey. His passion, hustle and crafty play have made him a fan favorite since being drafted in 2003. After playing just three minutes of preseason basketball, it took Wade a little time to find his touch. However, he ended up having one of the better seasons in his career, averaging highs in field goal percentage and rebounds.
As far as LeBron James goes, he is still the best player in the NBA. He was clutch in leading Miami to the NBA Finals, but, unfortunately, that's where he disappeared.
James is one of the most complete players in history. Using his size, strength, and speed, James has shown success both offensively and defensively.
With a little mental focus James can help Miami win titles for the next few years to come. The MVP awards are nice, but a career is empty without a championship.
I would take this trio over any current NBA team. No, that's not a bold statement but instead a valid point: this team is dangerous.
They Made It Through the First Year
Has any team in NBA history been as highly criticized as the 2010-11 Miami Heat?
After a massive rebuild, Miami was put under a microscope and dissected by experts and fans alike. Rightfully so, this helped set a future trend for years to come in the NBA.
While facing accusations of cheating and taking shortcuts, the Big Three of the Heat faced the wrath and backfire of such a monumental move.
After a Finals loss, look for the hate to slowly evaporate and the focus of the NBA to move elsewhere.
Now the Heat can thrive...
With one year in the book, Miami showed a glimpse of their potential greatness and learned a valuable lesson. Nothing is a given in the NBA, especially a Finals victory.
Look for the Heat to work out the kinks and fix some chemistry issues to become a more complete team.
James, Wade and Bosh will become a better combination. Hopefully with a healthy supporting staff the Heat can relieve some of the pressure off the superstar trio.
With year two hopefully to come soon, expect big things from the Miami Heat.
I'll leave you with a bold prediction: Miami vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals. Heat in six.