The conventional view of the Miami Heat after 2010 free agency: The Heat’s Big Three doesn’t fit. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are the same type of player. Who is going to play the point guard and center for the Heat?
The conventional view of the Miami Heat after 2011 free agency: Why didn’t Pat Riley upgrade at the point guard and center? Why’d he spend the taxpayer mid-level exception on Shane Battier? The Heat don’t need any help on the wings.
For the second straight time, Riley has rejected the conventional school of thought. He had an interesting take on the current incarnation of his team, likening it to the NBA champion 1987 Los Angeles Lakers team he coached. He said that Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper were "basically perimeters that played all different positions." He sees Wade, James, Mike Miller and Battier in the same position.
The comparison isn’t perfect, of course. James has drawn comparisons to Johnson since he was in high school, but Wade is a vastly superior player to Scott. Nonetheless, both teams have two Hall-of-Fame players (Johnson and Worthy; Wade and James) and two good, serviceable players (Cooper and Scott; Miller and Battier).
Throughout Riley’s press conference with Battier yesterday, the 2010-11 co-Executive of the Year emphasized the versatility Battier gives the team. As I mentioned before, Miami can now use a lineup of James, Wade, Miller, Battier and Chris Bosh that poses mismatches for other teams and surrounds the Big Three with two 3-point shooters. Even while Miller continues to work his way back from his sports hernia surgery, Erik Spoelstra can insert James Jones in Miller’s place and see how it works. The Heat’s versatility enables the team to resist conforming to the conventional way of playing basketball. A team doesn’t need to have a point guard on the court if James and Wade are already there.
Just as James and Wade will play the point guard at times, Bosh will spend more time as the center. He has added about 10 pounds of upper-body strength that will allow him to fight for rebounds with more effectiveness. Moreover, most teams do not have the traditional back-to-the-basket center. It appears that the Celtics will start Jermaine O’Neal, who is a true power forward, at the five this year. The Heat didn’t have a problem with throwing Joel Anthony and Chris Bosh at Joakim Noah, who only scores with tip-ins. To top it all off, Dwight Howard has asked for a trade out of Orlando.
The Knicks did add Tyson Chandler, who served an integral role to the Mavericks’ championship last year. But when one remembers that Miami had a 15-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 2 and a nine-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 4, one realizes that the Heat had chances to sweep Dallas despite Chandler’s advantage in the middle. Besides, Chandler can barely stay on the court for 30 minutes without fouling out and can’t create his own shot.
Expect Anthony and Bosh to share a lot of time at the five, which works well against the vast majority of teams. Dwight Howard, who will turn the Nets or the Lakers into contenders, stands as the only center the Heat should worry about. Riley had an eye toward Howard when he drafted the burly Dexter Pittman last year, though. With Pittman standing as the second- or third-string center this year as opposed to the standing as the fifth man in line, he should get playing time this year. We need to see what Eddy Curry can do, but he did say that he is willing to play defense and rebound.
Regardless of whether Pittman and/or Curry develop into serviceable centers, Spoelstra can still use his team's versatility against Howard. The principle of help-and-recover serves as the foundation for the Heat’s defensive scheme, and Miami can use its athletes on the wing to double- and triple-team Howard and recover in time to challenge shots.
Riley wanted to build a dynasty when he brought James and Bosh to join Wade. That is still the goal, and Riley has undeniably taken an unorthodox path, largely ignoring the point guard and center positions for two straight free agency periods now. But he may end up proving all the naysayers wrong.