It's easy for the casual basketball observer to look at the Heat's roster and figure out why this team is so good.
LeBron James? Dwyane Wade? Chris Bosh? Do they really need anything else?
If these last three seasons have taught us anything, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. The Heat do need more than just the Big 3 can give them.
Compare the 2010-11 roster to last season's roster if you really need proof. In '10-'11, the first Big 3 season, the Heat played Joel Anthony and Mike Bibby more than 20 minutes a game over the course of the playoffs. Anthony played 27 minutes a night and averaged 3 points and 5 rebounds a game. I'm as big of a supporter of the Warden as you'll find, but, uh... That's bad. And Bibby? He shot 28% from the floor. Yep.
Last season was a totally different story, and as you might imagine, the results were different. The Heat got contributions out of veterans like Ray Allen and Chris Andersen instead of guys like Bibby and Anthony.
While it's easy to look at LeBron's stat line from that first season and compare it to last season and say "that's the difference", it's not that simple. You don't win games with three players. You win games as a team. And that's what the Heat had last year.
And this year, as insane as it may seem, that team might be even better, and it has nothing to do with the stars.
The Heat are getting contributions, major contributions, from a variety of unlikely sources.
(All stats courtesy of 82games.com or nba.com/stats).
Perhaps the most surprising contributor on this year's team is Rashard Lewis. In 2011-12, Lewis, as a member of the Washington Wizards, averaged only 8 points a game and shot 38% from the field, as well as 24% from behind the three-point line, where he made a living as an NBA player. He seemed finished. Well, maybe not.
While Lewis' numbers themselves don't stand out, the impact that he's had on the team as a whole does. In 19 minutes a night, Lewis is contributing just 5.1 points per game to go along with 2 rebounds. But with Lewis on the court, the Heat are 21.6 points better per 100 possessions. Twenty. One. Point. Six. The Heat have an offensive efficiency of 121.5 while Lewis is in the lineup, which is 9.3 points better than when he's not on the floor.
And Lewis isn't the only surprising contributor this season. While I've always been a bigger Norris Cole fan than most people are, even I've been stunned by his development this season. Last season, the Heat were 11.6 points worse per 100 possessions with Cole on the court than with him off the floor. This season, they are 17.7 points better when Cole plays. That's kind of a big turn around (#analysis). In particular, Cole has been great on the defensive end. He's holding opposing point guards to a PER of just 8.3 this season, whereas an average PER is 15.0. Cole has also established himself as a legitimate deep threat, shooting 44% from beyond the arc, up from 35.7% last season.
Shortly after joining the team midway through last season, the Heat rattled off 27 straight victories, so perhaps Chris Andersen having another positive season isn't so surprising. But still. The numbers themselves are staggering. With Birdman on the floor, the Heat have a defensive efficiency of 99.2, an improvement of 12.2 points compared to when he's off the court. The Heat are also rebounding an additional 6% of their own missed shots (they rebound 25% of their misses with Birdman on the floor, compared to 19% without him), which is a pretty sizeable change.
And now the man I'm sure you've all been waiting for, BEASLEY. When the Heat signed Beasley to a nonguaranteed contract this offseason, a lot of people laughed. A lot. I imagine the only person laughing now is Pat Riley. Beasley's numbers are easily the most incredible of the bench players. The Heat have an offensive efficiency of 136.8 with Beasley on the floor. For context, the best offensive efficiency in the NBA is 110.7, which belongs to the Heat. That's 26.1 points better. To say that's amazing would be an understatement. Small sample size aside, Beasley has filled a critical role for the Heat this season, and it seems that he's done a good job of putting his old chucking ways aside. Beasley is shooting 59% from the floor (and 50% from deep), and averaging 10.6 points in 14.6 minutes per game.
Beasley has been a much needed spark off the bench in basically every game he's played so far this season, a role that was occupied by Norris Cole last season. When the Heat have gotten lazy in the middle of games early in the season, Beasley has been there to light a fire in people by actually putting points up. Too often last season the bench would come in and play uninspired basketball, and deficits would spiral from 8 to 15 and then too large a burden would be placed on the starters to come back. Beasley helps ease that pain, if nothing else.
The scariest thing about this post? I haven't even mentioned Ray Allen or Shane Battier. Or Greg Oden, who we might see eventually. When this team was formed, people wondered how Pat Riley would be able to put enough quality talent around the Big 3 to form a competitive team.
I think he figured it out.
Next 5 Games
|Phoenix||Mon 11/25||7:30 PM EST|
|@ Cleveland||Wed 11/27||7:30 PM EST|
|@ Toronto||Fri 11/29||7:00 PM EST|
|Charlotte||Sun 12/01||6:00 PM EST|
|Detroit||Tue 12/03||7:30 PM EST|
Last 5 Games
|Orlando||Sat 11/23||W 101 - 99|
|@ Orlando||Wed 11/20||W 120 - 92|
|Atlanta||Tue 11/19||W 104 - 88|
|@ Charlotte||Sat 11/16||W 97 - 81|
|Dallas||Fri 11/15||W 110 - 104|