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Mario Chalmers: NBA's most improved player?

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Heat swing guard Mario Chalmers is having a career season by playing intelligent basketball and being notably aggressive in Miami's new motion offense.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Something about Mario Chalmers always seemed to bother Miami Heat fans over the years.

It was the occasional questionable decisions, but they didn't have to do with his shot selection. They had to do with other strange things. Picking up a silly foul. An uncalled for turnover. Video of LeBron James yelling at him made empowered Heat fans to come down on a player who was a solid, affordable role player throughout the LeBron-era Heat with pitchforks laced with rattlesnake poison anytime he as much as made eye contact with a superior teammate.

He was always good enough for Miami to win a title with him starting.

Now he's proving he might be good enough to win an NBA's Most Improved Player award.

As often is the case, being the 'most improved' has a lot to do with getting the opportunity to do more of what you were doing per minute anyway, and Chalmers is doing just that. But to his credit, he is maintaining his above average efficiency in a primary scoring role and flourishing in a Miami offense that absolutely has needed his aggression with Dwyane Wade's recent hamstring issues.

Chalmers is gladly taking a career-best 9.5 shots per game, putting up a career mark of 14.6 points. While you would expect a dip in efficiency with the volume, Chalmers is shooting a blistering 49 percent from the floor, with a true shooting mark of 62 percent thanks to his ability to get to the free throw line like he never has. (True Shooting percentage, by the way, is a metric that accounts for the value of free throw shooting, 3-point shooting, and 2-point shooting into one statistic.)

The reason why Chalmers is maintaining this efficiency? His shot selection is smart.

Chalmers is living at the rim, where he is getting high percentage shots and free throw attempts, and beyond the arc, where his stroke has always been reliable. Although they can be a decent source of offense, it has been noted by years of data that mid-range jumpshots are less effective than offense at the rim and beyond the arc, where that extra point makes all the difference.

According to basketball reference, Mario has shot 80 jump shots this season, and 43 of them have been 3-pointers, where he is shooting a solid 34 percent.

More importantly, Chalmers has attempted 44 shots at the rim this season, the most of any shot split on the court.

In getting to the free throw line over five times per contest, more than double his previous career high, and shooting nearly 60 percent at the rim on a high percentage of his attempts, Chalmers has a formula to put up some efficient scoring for a Heat team that needs it.

Scoring at the rim will always be the best offense in basketball, and despite being just 6-foot-2, Chalmers uses his length, timing and body control to consistently get clean looks at the bucket. It's truly an important skill.

Take a look at his shot chart, courtesy of Vorped.

chalmers chart 11 24



There's a lot of activity in the paint, and a lot of activity behind that 3-point line. And ideally, that's where you want it.

(*Small observation: Chalmers is shooting 8-of-14 from the right corner, and 1-of-4 from the left corner. Yikes. He's loving that right wing.)

The Heat are 8-6 despite a few ugly home losses, and got two big division wins last weekend in large part because Chalmers has comfortably took on a primary role. This Heat offense, which I'll get to another day, has motion elements of pass and cut, with a lot of circle cut running and off the ball screening that looks to create mismatches in pick-and-rolls and isolations.

Chalmers is viciously attacking when he sees space, and letting it fly as intelligently as he can.

Even when Wade comes back, Mario Chalmers will contend for some sort of hardware this season, whether it be sixth man of the year or most improved, if he keeps playing over 30 minutes a night and being this team's third offensive option.

Luol Deng may be the squads third best overall player, but he strives off of off the ball offense to find his rhythm, and Chalmers is more of an on-ball creator, making Deng more comfortable as a fourth scorer.

Time to appreciate Mario Chalmers, Heat fans. He does and has always done more good than bad.