By William Bixby
At the end of the 1st quarter of the NBA season, the Miami Heat are 8-7, and there are already rumors and grumblings that their coach, Eric Spoelstra, will soon be replaced by the team president and general manager, Pat Riley, if there is no drastic improvement in a very small amount of time. The Miami Heat are plagued by two problems that seem uncorrectable in the near future. One problem is structural and the other one is strategic. The Heat despite having superior talent at the 2,3, and 4 positions, suffer from extreme deficiencies at the 1 and 5 spots. And the extreme talent that Miami has are non-congruous on the basketball court. At the finish of the 1st quarter of the NBA season, the Heat are seriously under-achieving.
The Heat have major problems with inferior parts at important positions. Though they are physically more gifted than almost every team in the National Basketball Association overall, they were not well-constructed to win. The team has All-Stars at the shooting guard and power forward positions, the 2 and 4 slot respectively, and a certified Hall of Fame candidate at small forward spot, the 3. Dwayne Wade won a Finals MVP and a NBA championship. LeBron James is a 2-time NBA MVP, and Chris Bosh is a multi-skilled, multiple time All-Star. The three of them could form one of the best scoring trios ever hypothetically. With the talent that the Heat now possess, this team could possibly win multiple NBA titles. But, teams do not win championships in theoretical applications. To win in the league, every team needs solid play at the point and in the interior. And, at the point guard and center position, the Miami Heat are both under-sized and poorly skilled. Playing at point is an under-sized ball-handler, Carlos Arroyo, and a miniature shooting guard, Eddie House. And at the 5 spot, is a raw, offensively-limited center, Joel Anthony. The deficiency at the center position could be remedied with the addition of an over-sized rebounder. Center, once a talent-stocked position in the National Basketball Association, is now full of inept players that rarely score or block shots. Anthony was made in the same mold. However, with the firepower that Miami possesses, their center would need only to get extra possessions for the team with offensive and defensive rebounding and play sound help defense. Joel Anthony would be serviceable on any other squad in the NBA. But, because he lacks offensive prowess, superior size, and exceptional rebounding ability, he is a mediocre offering at center for this basketball team that is contending for a championship. The point guard position is where the Heat are reeling to find an adequate option. If Carlos Arroyo or Eddie House were the players relieving the starters, then their team would be a talented, championship caliber squad. Since they have both been starters, the opposing points salivate before they play the Heat. Carlos Arroyo can dribble the basketball. Unfortunately, he can not shoot it from beyond the free throw line. Since he is a small point and not exceptional quick or strong with the basketball, he does not penetrate or make assists. The fact that Arroyo plays matador defense further limits his time on the court and his contribution to the Miami Heat. Whereas Arroyo is under-sized, Eddie House is absolutely tiny. He is a good shooter from 3, but a sub par ball-handler. And though he is spirited on defense, he is not especially quick or strong, so he is overpowered or blown by regularly by the better point guards in the league. This year has had one of the better overall crops of point guards that the NBA has seen in recent history, so Arroyo and House are outmatched in nearly every game that they play. Louis Williams, a backup point guard, scored 12 points against him off the bench. Superstar point guards burn him for more than just points. Rondo had 17 assists against them. Chris Paul scored 13 pts and had 19 assists, while Deron Williams scored 21 points with 14 assists.The Miami Heat organization is scrambling to fill those positions with more cohesive parts to play with All-Star nucleus that they procured in the off season. The return of Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller from injuries should help fortify the point guard position somewhat. Both players give the Heat more size. Chalmers plays well on the defensive end getting deflections and steals and Miller should supply much needed efficient shooting on the offensive end. If the two mesh well with the Big 3, then the point guard problem may solve itself with time.
The center position is much less optimistic. Bosh, who looked like a good rebounder in Toronto, has been regularly out-rebounded by opposing power forwards and even by his two smaller teammates. And because he is still a better rebounder than his other teammates in the front court, the Heat are consistently out-rebounded by opposing squads. Illgaskus, Anthony, and Haslem all have pronounced flaws as NBA centers. Illgaskus is slow, methodical, and not at all athletic. If his 15 ft. set shot is not falling, then he is completely useless to Miami. Anthony blocks the occasional shot and is fairly athletic, but he is often sedentary and has a weak upper body. He also has no scoring prowess and few post moves. Haslem, though fiery and a decent rebounder, is completely under-sized. He gives up 3-4 inches to the power forwards in the league. At center he is 5-7 inches shorter than everyone that he guards. Unless the Heat find viable options at point guard and at center, they are destined to be defeated by the deep, well-rounded teams in the Eastern Conference, like the Boston Celtics and the Orlando Magic.
Despite having two positions that are over-matched on a nightly basis, the Miami Heat are still a better squad than their 8-7 record suggests. The Heat have three players that on any given night, can carry their team to a victory. However, the talent that they possess is being stifled by poor chemistry and misguided strategy. The primary focus of the Miami Heat has been the defensive side of the basketball. The idea that has spread through the locker room is that, regardless of whether the basketball is going in on the offensive end or not, you can always play tough defense. This logic is fundamentally flawed because two of the players on the floor are always incapable of defending their position well; the point guard and center are physically incapable of defending the opposition. Even Bosh has been a defensive liability at times. Without a great shot blocker, defensive liabilities can not be hidden, so the Heat need to focus on offense. They have the two of the best penetrators and one of the most versatile posts in the National Basketball Association all playing for the same team. However, when all three of them are on the court at the same time, the offense idles. All three players seem to defer to each other. If one player asserts himself at the offensive end, then the other two become spectators. The Heat, whether purposefully or not, are running isolation plays throughout the entire game. The answer to this offensive apathy is one of three different offensive philosophies. 1. Miami could have James or Wade play the point and run pick and roll basketball with Bosh. This leaves the other superstar on the other side of the court for the long jumper or weak side penetration. LeBron is the better passer, Wade is the better penetrator, and Bosh can either roll to the basket or slip out for a short jumper. 2. The Heat can run a modified triangle offense that focuses more on the cuts to the rim than on post play, since Bosh is the only effective post player. This would keep everyone moving, keep the defenses honest, and minimize the team’s only glaring offensive weakness, consistent post play. 3. The Miami Heat could incorporate a dribble drive offense. This offense should maximize the team’s offensive abilities. Running the dribble drive offense is predicated on having quick, athletic guards, and Miami has the two best guards in the league at getting into the paint. James and Wade would be positioned across from each other on the wings of the basketball court which will create spacing and keep the defense spread. The guard with the basketball attempts to penetrate. If he can score, then he does. When is he is cut off, he passes the ball to his teammate across from him. That guard penetrates towards the hole left in the defense by the first penetrator. If he can get to the basket, then he scores. When the defense converges and stops his progress, the ball is passed out for a long shot, to another penetrator, or to a cutting big man. Everyone is utilized, and no defense can stop that many talented players. Miami is not losing games because of talent, but they are losing because of their approach to the games. The Miami Heat need to change philosophy soon or it could cost the Heat a championship and Spoelstra his job.
The Miami Heat pulled a coup d’ etat when they convinced Chris Bosh, a multiple time All-Star, and LeBron James, the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, to join Dwayne Wade, their franchise player in South Beach. The organization persuaded their entire roster that winning was more important than their legacies, that championships were more valuable than money, and that they could make a greater collective history by foregoing their personal achievements. The Heat franchise is right. With a few slight changes in personnel and coaching philosophy, Miami could beat any franchise in the league. If the Heat wins multiple NBA championships, fans outside of Miami may even jump back onto the LeBron bandwagon. But if they do not win, and win quickly, then there might be drastic changes in the front office. And if that does not work, then the Miami experiment will be deemed a failure and so will its each of one of the talented trio.