(Part one can be found here)
On opening night of the 2014-2015 season the star of the victory vs. the Washington Wizards was Chris Bosh, but the story of the game was Norris Cole. Scoring a career high 23 points on 9-15 shooting and 3-7 from three, the seemingly odd decision to start a player who seemed to be less talented than Mario Chalmers looked like a masterstroke of brilliance for one night.
Then the rest of the season happened.
I take little pleasure in bashing Cole, by all accounts an extremely hard worker, great teammate, and affable personality who helped Miami secure two NBA Championships as an important cog off the bench, but his last season in Miami cannot be spun into anything more than disappointment. Cole shot a career low 38.6% from the field and 26.5% from three, absolutely killing Miami's spacing while misfiring on wide open looks from beyond the arc. Cole was never a great three point shooter, but he worked tirelessly to turn himself into a league average one the prior two seasons. Cole also seemed unable to harness his great athleticism and speed, as he continued to struggle to finish over defenders in the paint. He lost his starting spot 22 games in, but failed to regain his "energy off the bench" role after.
What will likely perplex many Heat fans is after being jettisoned to New Orleans in the Goran Dragic trade, Cole shot career highs 44.4% from the field and 37.8% from three in his limited time as a Pelican. He's been even better this postseason. Though his Pelicans were eventually swept by the Warriors, Cole averaged 11.7 points per game off the bench and shot 48.4% from the field through the first three games of the series and did an admirable job defensively on G
od of Destruction point guard Stephen Curry.
There's little explanation I can provide other than the change of scenery. New Orleans does have other ball handlers in Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, and Jrue Holiday, so perhaps this allows Cole to stay in his lane as a high energy backup, rather than deal with the more nuanced point guard responsibilities in Miami (especially when Wade was out). No matter how you felt about his play this season, we should wish him nothing but the best moving forward.
The sweet shooting rookie made the roster over Tyler Johnson during final cuts, but did little to show he deserved it. In four games, Dawkins shot 16.7% from the field and three. Hard to judge him, as he only played during garbage time, but Dawkins didn't offer the well-rounded game Johnson did to supplement his shooting. He has since flourished in the D-League, averaging nearly 19 points per game while making 42.3% of his three pointers.
I earlier described Chris Bosh's season as "uneven," but that word can be best used to describe free agent acquisition Luol Deng. Brought in to be a number three option as well as the top perimeter defender on the team, Deng just couldn't do enough to put the team over the hump. Many writers, local and national, have cited Deng's averages of 14.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 47% shooting, and 35.5% from three as a sign of his consistency, but offensively Deng was anything but. Miami went a robust 11-1 when Deng scored 20 or more points, but also went 4-14 in 18 games where he scored below 10 points. It seemed every time Deng would have a big offensive outing, he'd follow it up with two or three duds such as scoring a season high 30 points in Dallas, then following it up with a 5-point showing against Indiana on 2-10 shooting. He just couldn't bring it night in and night out on the offensive end and would be invisible on the court many nights.
In Deng's defense, Miami gradually moved away from his strengths as a cutter and required him to spot up for threes far more often due to their injury issues. Deng was supposed to form a keen partnership with passing savant Josh McRoberts, but that never could materialize due to Josh's injuries. Beyond his own game, he has had a very positive effect on rookie James Ennis, who seemed to pick up on Deng's "ghost" cutting as the season went along.
Deng generated a solid 0.92 points per post up, a number that ranked 2nd on the team behind Hassan Whiteside (0.93), putting him in the 70th percentile (Michael Beasley was actually first on the team, but he played too few games). Many fans (myself included) would often notice Deng missing what appeared to be easy lay-ups, but his FG% at the rim was a very solid 64%. He shot 47.1% on right corner threes and even though his defense is no longer at its Chicago peak, he still often guarded the other team's best player, whether it be LeBron James or even a point guard like Chris Paul.
Deng is a player who's varied skills best fit on a team that doesn't need him to fill up glaring weaknesses as Miami did. If Miami can surround more shooting next to it's core, Deng can better focus on his strengths and hopefully provide a bit more consistency with his own shooting. If Miami secures a draft pick in the lottery, drafting an NBA-ready wing can also further ease Deng's minutes load. Though only 29, Deng played a massive load of minutes under Tom Thibodeau while a member of the Bulls and it seemed to wear him down this year, missing 10 games with a variety of minor ailments.
Along with Hassan Whiteside, the acquisition of a talent like Dragic has given many hope for next season. Though Dragic played only 26 games with Miami after the trade, we quickly saw his strengths on display. "The Dragon" is absolutely magnificent at the rim, shooting 70% from there this year (both Phoenix and Miami) and has a great command of pace, pushing the ball far more than Miami's league last (at the time) pace would previously allow, but also knowing when to set up in the half court. Whether it's slicing through defenses on a fast break, or lulling them to sleep before scooping in some seemingly impossible flip shot, Dragic was a stark contrast to what Miami previously had to offer. He also possessed a decent midrange game and though his three point shooting percentage dwindled in his brief Miami time, he has a reliable and quick release that allows him to get any shot he wants on virtually any spot on the floor.
What I noticed most with Dragic that could be seen as a negative is that he'd often have huge starts offensively then disappear in the 4th quarter when the pace slowed down some. His 3.0 ppg in the 4th quarter (Miami stint only) was his lowest scoring quarter on average and it seemed he would often be too deferential to Dwyane Wade (who's own 4th quarter numbers I covered here). In his defense, he played most of the season in Miami with a bad back that he said slowed him down considerably, which was shocking considering how well he finished at the rim. If what we saw was "slow" Goran Dragic, then The Slovenian Speedster (I just made that up) can truly revolutionize Miami's offense next season with Chris Bosh returning.
With Dragic at the helm, Miami will need to play at a higher pace next season. While it appeared the pace picked up when Dragic came along, Miami still ranked next-to-last in pace when the season ended. A philosophical change like that takes time, both in conditioning the players and in altering the playbook. An offseason should do Dragic and the Heat staff wonders and he has expressed his desire to remain in Miami.
I don't have much insight to give on Goran's younger brother since he hadn't played a significant NBA minute until game 82 so I'll just share this.
From what I can gather from this game, it seems Zoran, a lefty like his brother, is a good enough shooter that you wonder if Miami should've given him some minutes earlier in the year to show some of his chops as Miami was floundering from beyond the arc. He can also attack the rim like his brother, but again this wasn't exactly high level NBA competition he was facing. Still, his skill set is intriguing enough that Miami should consider giving him a deeper look in camp and summer league next season. What's interesting is prior to the trade, Miami reportedly had interest in signing Zoran when he announced his intention to join the NBA (Zoran opted to sign with his brother in Phoenix).