The preseason for the Miami Heat is just around the corner. We (myself, Diego Quezada, and David Ramil) thought we would tackle some of the questions that you are thinking about yourself. Enjoy, and make sure you add your own thoughts in the comments below.
1. What do you expect of Dwyane Wade this year?
Diego: Without LeBron James, more pressure falls to Dwyane Wade to carry more of the load offensively. He'll have to play more back-to-back sets by default. I expect the Heat to monitor Wade's minutes closely, but for him to return to form as an efficient scorer who will play around 65 games this year.
Matt: I'm trying to be optimistic about Wade because I think he is still capable of playing at a high level, but each year it seems he has some type of setback during the season. I would think he plays closer to a 70 game total and would like to see him eclipse 20 PPG. But I also see him wearing down at some point.
David: Physically, he seems prepared but, moreover, he seems mentally ready for the season. He'll have a few games (probably on Christmas Day) where he'll remind us of the Hall-of-Famer we've seen regularly. I think playing in 70 games is a realistic achievement and I think he'll come close to his production from last year (around 19 PPG).
2. Do you think Shabazz Napier will be in the rotation?
Matt: I don't. He had a very poor performance in the SL and he is behind two guys that know the system very well. Napier would have to take advantage of every minute he goes in the court to warrant some time. His most likely avenue to get on the court is injury or a trade.
David: No. Barring any injuries to Chalmers or Cole, I don't see how Napier cracks the lineup. Unless Tyler Johnson and Shannon Brown fail as backups to Wade (thereby forcing Chalmers into that role), I think Napier will have time to develop and provide insurance at the PG position. Plus, either Chalmers/Cole could be moved by Riley at some point...
Diego: The fact that the Heat traded up in the first round may signal that Pat Riley is confident in the point guard. But his poor play during the summer league was not an auspicious sign. My impression is that Shabazz Napier will get a chance early on, but will be on a short leash. At the end of the day, I expect Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole to stay ahead of him in the rotation.
3. Which newcomer do you think will be the biggest surprise impact?
Diego: James Ennis will emerge as a rotation player this year. After Luol Deng, Miami doesn't have much at the small forward position. Danny Granger may never return to his pre-injury Indiana Pacers self, and Shawne Williams amounts to little more than a shot in the dark. Ennis, an athletic player who was impressive in the summer league, may have a chance to prove his worth at the top level.
David: I'll say Josh McRoberts. Most peripheral fans think of him as a journeyman, an oddity with long hair and a scruffy beard. But they'll be pleasantly surprised by his shooting, ability to finish at the rim and solid passing skills. If he stays healthy, he'll be a solid addition to this team.
Matt: I think Danny Granger is going to play better than most people expect. I can see Granger really boosting the bench and providing a leadership in the second unit that has been missing. If Granger can be the type of defensive player he used to be, he's going to be a huge asset to the team.
4. Where will the Heat end up in the Eastern Conference?
Matt: I see the Heat finishing second in their division behind Washington and 4th in the Conference. I think the Heat have a good chance in the playoffs, but I believe Washington is younger and over the course of a season will end up with a better record.
David: Tough to answer, especially considering how much the health of Wade and Deng can impact the season. I think a 3rd- or 4th-seed is likely, with around 48-50 wins. They could advance as far as the ECF, if their collective postseason experience proves to be an edge over less-tested teams like Chicago or Cleveland.
Diego: The Heat will finish with the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, winning between 45-50 games. While not measuring up to the production of the Big Three Era, Chris Bosh, Wade and Deng will all have solid seasons and lead Miami to a good season. Miami will bow out in six games in the second round against the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James.
5. What will be a successful season for the Heat?
Diego: Pat Riley didn't resign himself to a year of tanking after he lost LeBron James. He got Luol Deng and event sent out a video message to Heat fans telling them to expect a good, energetic team. A successful season will therefore mean the fourth or fifth seed in the East and a competitive - if not won - first-round series.
Matt: Making it to the ECF would be exceeding the expectations I believe. So if the Heat can give a really good second round matchup, that should be counted as a success. I think we can all be realistic, and enjoy watching a new team at the same time.
David: For me, it'll be about providing maximum effort all season long. That was something we haven't seen for four years because, frankly, it wasn't necessary given the talent on this team. If a benchmark achievement is needed to quantify this, I'll say winning a first-round playoff series would be successful; advancing further than that would be beyond expectations.