Daniel Christian (PTH): Kevin, appreciate you taking some time to answer a few questions for Peachtree Hoops about the Heat. I'll get right to it:
Miami is off to a reasonably hot start and Chris Bosh looks like the first option everyone knew him to be from 2010. How has Miami's offense changed without LeBron James? What new additions/ former role players have helped ease the transition and does this team have a sustainable recipe for success?
Kevin Kraczkowski (HHH): As to the first part of your question, James' departure could have left a gaping hole in the rotation. Instead, Dwyane Wade has stepped up and played in each of Miami's first eight games straight, something he only did once last season. His minutes are unchanged, holding steady at 32, while his points per game have increased from 19 to 20 and his assists per game have climbed from 4.7 to 6.4. In addition, Chris Bosh has shown that he hasn't lost a step despite playing second- and third-fiddle the last four seasons. He's looking like that first option that he was for the Toronto Raptors for seven seasons before joining Miami. Excluding last night's outlier, he's averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds per game, a far cry from the 16 and six he put up last year.
As far as new additions and role players go, Chris Andersen hasn't been himself, and has missed a lot of games. Both Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers have been feast or famine, and Josh McRoberts hasn't quite gotten back to full speed yet, although his passing is nearly LeBron-like already. The real positive has been Luol Deng, directly replacing James' minutes in the rotation. In the Dallas game, he shot 13-for-19 from the field, including four three pointers and finishing up with 30 points.
Kevin Kraczkowski: Atlanta seems to be a three headed scoring monster, with Kyle Korver, Paul Milsap, and Jeff Teague all averaging 16-17 points per game. Which of these players do you want holding the rock down by two with one second to play?
Daniel Christian: It obviously depends on the situation and opponent, but in most cases, as a fan, I'd like to go for the win. I think a play with a few different wrinkles is the right idea, but the end goal should be to put the ball in the hands of Korver, especially if there's only one second to play as you said. I say this for a few different reasons, one being that it's easier to inbound the ball outside the arc from a side out-of-bounds play, the second being that Korver's three-point percentage on the season is well over 50%, so the goal should always be to give the man some room and let him shoot. In those situations the Hawks usually have Pero Antic passing in the ball. He's tall so he can see over the defense, and he's a little bit of an expert at long distance passes. He's also always a threat to trail in after the inbounds pass for an open three.
If the Hawks have something like 20 seconds to work with, though, I want the ball in Jeff Teague's hands. He's the best playmaker on this team. Some might like a Millsap iso, especially after his last game, but he can be pretty sloppy with the ball. Ideally, some Teague-Horford pick-and-roll action would occur, but it seems like Horford is still working his way back to game-form after last year's injury.
I'll pose the same question to you, there's one second to go and you have the ball out of bounds down two. Who do you go to? Does that change if there's 20 seconds left? What sort of action is Spoelstra looking for in these situations without LeBron at the helm?
Kevin Kraczkowski: It’s funny you would assume my answer last season would have been LBJ, because if you had asked me then, I would have said Ray Allen.
This year, I'm going to go with Chris Bosh. He made some insane buzzer beaters the last few seasons, including three last year. He's sinking a respectable 36% thus far this season, and has increased his three-point shooting percentage every year that he's played for Miami.
Now, if I had 20 seconds left, I would want Shabazz Napier, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts, and Shawne Williams on the floor. Napier and McRoberts are world-class ball handlers, and the other three are either deadeye long-distance shooters (Williams), clutch (Deng), or both (Bosh).
You mentioned Pero Antic. What is Pero Antic? He's got a low 2-pt shooting percentage and doesn't rebound very much for a guy his size. I liked him as a 31-year-old rookie last year, but I also didn't think he had much room for growing as a player. Has he added anything to his bag of tricks?
Daniel Christian: Antic has probably hit his ceiling already, but he's a perfectly effective back-up big in the NBA. He's actually a gritty defender down low (no rim protector, but someone who isn't afraid to bump bodies) and he's a three point threat with some sneaky good passing skills. The Hawks are happy with him going forward as a rotational piece, and he's an integral part of Atlanta's three-point-centric offense.
Is Josh McRoberts expected to fill a similar role in Miami? He was an underrated free agent signing this off-season, and I think he has real value for this Miami team coming off the bench or even starting at the four. How do you see him being utilized under Spo once he's up to speed?
Kevin Kraczkowski: McRoberts is a scary good ballhandler and an outside threat. Coach Spo hasn't yet seen fit to start him, but he's perfectly capable. Thus far this season, he has more fouls (21) than points (18), but he's the third most affluent rebound collecter per minute on the team, behind infrequently played Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh. Still, he's only been playing about 12 minutes per game. I expect his statistical net worth to increase with his minutes, which should level out at around 26-30 per game when he's ready.
Like Miami, the Hawks are a pretty poor rebounding team. Who do you think will win the battle of the boards tonight - and will an advantage in that department ultimately dictate the winner?
Daniel Christian: It’s probably a crap-shoot, but to be honest I can't say I really ever expect the Hawks to win the battle of the boards, so I'll say Miami.
And it won't necessarily decide the game. The Hawks shoot a lot of threes, so as long as they force some Miami turnovers they can make up for a deficit on the glass in other ways.
I'll go ahead and throw in one last question for you: how would you identify this Miami team? Are they a legitimate contender in the East in your eyes? To this point, what is the Heat's future looking like, for the rest of this season and beyond?
Kevin Kraczkowski: I took a lot of flak on my preseason prediction, 38 Miami wins, an eight seed, and a first-round exit, so I'm going to temper my response with that in mind.
Thus far, they've looked better than my prognostication. If I had a chance to update their chances, I'd say they're probably going to finish with between 44 and 48 wins, earn a four or five seed, and finish the season as the Eastern Conference runner up. As far as defining the team as a legitimate contender, I guess it would depend on which Heat team decides to show up. A lot of that hinges on how well the point guards perform. As stated earlier, Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers are both prone to spectacular plays followed by boneheaded mistakes, often in the same minute, but sometimes for whole games. A lot of this will fall on rookie Shabazz Napier, who has been getting a lot of fourth quarter seasoning in the early going. He seems to perform the same whether it's a "high-pressure" situation or not, which bodes well for the future.
The future looks pretty good. The Heat are set up pretty well for when the new TV contract goes into place here in two seasons. Will they sign LeBron again? Anything's possible, but I wouldn't bet on that particular thing happening.
I'd like to thank Daniel for his insight into the Hawks. For more on Atlanta, you can check out his blog at Peachtree Hoops. In the meantime, continue to keep checking back here as gametime approaches.