I don't know if even the most optimistic Heat fan could've predicted the great start that they are off to. After an offseason that was less then thrilling, filled with Michael Beasley's antics and a lot of upset Heat fans at the lack of moves made by Pat Riley, the Heat went into training camp preaching mature youngsters and the same defensive principles that were instilled during the previous season.
The things that needed to happen in order for Miami to be playing at their best are in fact happening. While its still very early, there hasn't been anything significant that has gone wrong. I wanted to take a closer look at why the Heat have been doing so well and hopefully the reasons they'll continue to win and be the surprise team of the Eastern Conference.
As we discussed throughout training camp and preseason, Jermaine was going to be the Heat's wild card. All he has done is look like the guy who made 6 straight all-star teams from 2002-2007. His only ‘bad' game was on the 2nd night of a back-to-back in which he was playing with a broken nose (sustained the night before against the Suns).
He is shooting 60.7% from the field, hitting the long-range jumpers and running hooks that he has been known for. He's averaging 14.3 points and more importantly 7.8 boards; in six games this season, he grabbed at least 7 rebounds in all but one. The only thing down are his blocks. He usually averages about 2 per game, but this year he's a tad under 1 (0.9 per game)...but in the Heat's last game (that big win against Denver), Jermaine blocked 3 shots, so hopefully it's a sign of things to come.
The Heat's lone off-season acquisition (technically, Carlos Arroyo came during the pre-season), ‘Q' is having perhaps the best all-around season of his career. After a relatively slow start to the season, he has become a major component in Erik Spoelstra's defensive minded system.
His D has been supreme all season, but his overall game has been kicked up a notch in the last three games. 18, 19 and 13 points to go along with 10, 9, and 9 rebounds are numbers that are pretty amazing, especially considering that he has also been arguably our best defender. Oh, and he's also shooting 43% from beyond the arc.
Overall Team Defense
From the inside to the perimeter, the Heat have been playing the best defense that I've seen from this team since the Timmy and Zo days. Just go through our roster and you can see improved defense across the board. Our centers, Jermaine and Joel, have been doing a great job of keeping opposing centers out of the paint and off of the glass. Remember last season, when getting out-rebounded was the norm? This year the Heat have only lost the rebounding total twice, and have grabbed 40 boards or more in each game but one.
Our perimeter D has been what I think is the most improved. If you remember, last season we would constantly get burned by outside shooting, but this year that is far from the case. Opposition teams are shooting just 41.6% against the Heat (2nd best in the league behind Detroit's 41.4%) and a minuscule 25.4% from beyond the arc, which is good for tops in the NBA.
Obviously we'll start with the guy who many are talking about as the (very) early favorite for 6th man of the year, Udonis Haslem. Now nobody really knew how he would react to being demoted to the bench after starting for the Heat for the last five seasons, but the move has appeared to be a stroke of genius. Haslem is averaging a double double (11.8 points and 10.0 rebounds), still providing shutdown defense and doing it all in 32 minutes/game. Maybe more importantly, U-D is still a leader both on the court and in the locker room. He may not be starting anymore, but he has been soaking up almost all of the 2nd half minutes at power forward, showing that he is still ‘the guy' at that position for the Heat.
This is not a knock on Michael Beasley, who I feel is still right where he should be as far as his progression goes. I think when people see guys like Brook Lopez, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose they assume that any high draft pick who doesn't dominate out of college is 'struggling'. Beasley is still very young and has a lot of talent around him. He has always been a first option around players that he could dominate; now he is learning how do just that but at a much higher level. Where he was picked in the draft is irrelevant now. He is going to be playing for the Heat for at least the next four years and will mature and improve the same way that Dwyane Wade did, showing vast improvements each season and becoming one of the best at his position.
Getting back on topic, another bright spot from our bench has been Carlos Arroyo. Last season one of our biggest weaknesses was defensively at the point. Mario Chalmers has some very quick hands but he gets beat off the dribble a little too easily, and last year coming off the bench was Chris Quinn, who is just awful on D. Now this year, Rio has shown some improvement but just the fact that we get to bring Arroyo off the bench instead of Quinn is huge. Carlos can hold his own on D and provide an offensive spark if needed, but don't under appreciate how big of an upgrade he is at his back-up PG position.
Then there are guys like Joel Anthony and Dorell Wright, who very quietly have been adding depth on both ends of the floor in limited minutes off the bench. Anthony has improved by leaps and bounds offensively; his hands no longer look as though they are made of stone. This is something that he and coach Askins have been working very hard on, his finishing ability. We already knew that Joel was a good defender and that he'd be among the league leaders in blocks if he got any kind of significant minutes.
Dorell Wright is still far from reaching the extremely high expectations that come along with being a 1st round pick in the NBA, but at this point I think that any kind of productivity is welcomed with open arms. What did we know about Dorell coming into this season? He can play excellent defense. His shooting has gotten better and better over the past 2+ years, although not many people would know it since for the most part he has worked on it during practice sessions with Erik Spoelstra. This year, all he's needed to do is play the defense that he can and hit the occasional shot. Throwing the expectations out the window, Wright has had a very productive season, although his role in the future is uncertain with guys like Daequan Cook and James Jones likely taking his minutes. Still, at this point he has been a very valuable bench player for the defense first Heat and should not be overlooked.
Sure, the Heat are already exceeding expectations...but nothing they are doing is above and beyond their capabilities. On the contrary, we still have not seen major contributions from Daequan Cook, who has been out with a shoulder injury, and James Jones, buried on the bench despite being one of our best outside shooters and usually a very reliable defensive player.
While I feel my list is pretty accurate, I'm sure there are things that some of you feel I missed as to why the Heat are off to such an amazing start. Please feel free to let us all know your thoughts in the comments, and hopefully this is all just scratching the surface on what could very well be one of the funnest seasons the Heat franchise has seen.