It surprises me that so many bloggers and commenters here love Joel Anthony unabashedly. Granted, he's a hustle player with great work ethic and a good defender. He blocks shots and he rebounds.
Lost in the shuffle of his 16-rebound performance in the last game, however, was the fact that Anthony scored zero points and took zero shots in 43 minutes. Some fans actually praise this, citing his unselfishness and awareness of his role.
There's a problem here. When Lebron James and Dwayne Wade have bad shooting nights, and someone else on the court plays 43 minutes and doesn't take a shot, it isn't a coincidence. The Heat are basically allowing opponents to play 4-on-5 all night.
I'll just come out and write it, definitively: The Heat will not win the 2011 title if Joel Anthony is a significant part of the rotation. Or Erick Dampier. Or Juwan Howard. They simply will not be able to get past the Celtics if they have a non-offensive entity on the court.
The Celtics are a great defensive team, and they make outstanding defensive rotations. Putting a terrible offensive player on the court is magnified against a good defensive team, because they are more disciplined - they follow their scouting reports, they don't rotate hard out to bad shooters, etc.
The point of my fanpost here is this: This team should be trotting out lineups that are higher risk, but higher reward - lineups that actually have a chance of beating the Celtics in four months. That's all that really matters anyway. People can beat their chest over a Joel Anthony loose-ball dive, or a 10 rebound night against the Raptors, but it's literally meaningless if his game won't translate against the conference's top team. And I don't think it will. He brings too many deficiencies to the court.
So, what lineup should the Heat be experimenting with?
The first three are obvious, while the last two completely fly in the face of common wisdom. Mike Miller and James Jones can't be on the court together - they play the same position! Miller and Jones are Wade and Lebron's backups! You need a hulking center for defense! You need a true point guard!
And this is a case where I completely disagree with the common wisdom. Lebron and Wade are two of the most versatile, multi-dimensional players in the game. Now that they are acclimated with each other, it is time to test that versatility. Lebron needs to truly test the limits of his unselfishness here. Is he willing to (gulp) play some minutes at center? Is he willing to be the backup at power forward? Because if he's not, this team probably can't get past Boston. Their best chance to get past Boston is by running the Celtics off the court with a blazing fast, small lineup, and Lebron taking his lumps against the Celtics' centers. Sure, he'd get banged and bruised up in the half court, and the Heat would allow some offensive rebounds. But the Heat have the talent to dictate the pace of a game. They proved it against the Clippers. The Clippers were so scared of the Heat's transition attack that they actually stopped crashing the O-boards. This is the power of the Heat's "small" lineup - it can dictate the pace of the game on its own terms.
Is it really even a "small" lineup? Really, what I'm suggesting is only that the Heat eschew the typical lumbering NBA center. At every other position, the Heat is actually quite big. Bosh (6'10"), Miller (6'8", and a great rebounder), Jones (6'8"), and Wade (6'4") would actually make a huge 1-4. The mismatch is only in the paint, where 6-8, 260-lb. Lebron James is guarding Kendrick Perkins and Shaquille O'Neal. This lineup is daring Kendrick Perkins to beat the Heat. Daring him to score 30 points. I don't think he can. What I do think would happen, is that he and Shaq would miss a lot of chippies, the five good-sized Heat on the court would scrap for the boards, and I think they would run the Celtics off the court in transition.
This is their best, nay, their only chance to win. They will not win a half-court game against the Celtics. Their offense isn't good enough, and the Celtics' half-court offense is too good. So, the Heat might as well start training and preparing now to play in the way that gives them a chance to win it all in 4-5 months.
So, here's the eight-man rotation for the playoffs that I'm envisioning:
*Between LBJ, Bosh, and Ilgaukas, I'm suggesting that exactly two of the three are on the court at all times, manning the C and PF positions. Never all three on the court (not enough shooting and floor spacing, IMO), and never only one of the three (too small).
*Bosh gets his wish of avoiding minutes at center, because I'm suggesting that Ilgauskas and Lebron get pretty much all the minutes there. Bosh guards the other team's PF, which he is very successful at. Lebron is much beefier than Bosh, anyway.
*Chalmers and Arroyo are never on the court together (pretty much the current arrangement). However, there will be occasional times when neither player is on the floor.
*The "crunchtime 5" might be LBJ/Bosh/Jones/Wade/Miller. There's plenty of ballhandling there, even without a true PG. Come playoff time, I think all five of those guys should be playing 35+ minutes a game. That's how much better I think they are than the rest of the rotation.
What do you guys think? Clearly, I am a small-ball proponent, and I admit that's my bias. The common wisdom is that small-ball doesn't work in the playoffs, but my rebuttal is that teams seldom try it with truly great players. For example, the Cavs always went big with Lebron in the playoffs, and I think it was huge tactical error. They tried to play the Celtics straight up, tried to put Shaq on Garnett, and it was a tactical disaster. Never once did the Cavs try to just blow the Celtics off the floor with a small lineup that featured Mo Williams and Gibson on the court at the same time to stretch the floor, with Lebron/Varajao at the 4/5. They continually played two offensive liabilities at the same time, and not coincidentally the Celtics tore them apart.
I hope the Heat will not make the same mistake this season.
I'm not guaranteeing the "Lebron at center" plan will work. But I want Lebron to be courageous and unselfish enough to try it, and I want Coach Spo to have creativity to give it a chance. We will never know what Lebron looks like at center, with four great shooters surrounding him, until someone gives it a try.