Another year will pass, and it will be another year where the Miami Heat will find success, while their hard-working, video-obsessed coach will be overlooked.
It’s something that Erik Spoelstra has had no choice but to get used to. He’s put in an incredibly awkward situation with the Heat, at least in terms of his relationship with the media and the fanbase, as he is constantly blamed for the team’s failures, yet ignored during the team’s successful periods.
Even when his team won the 2012 NBA championship, did you hear analyst’s and Heat fans giving their due respect to Spoelstra? Hardly. LeBron James was the center of attention, but little credit was given to Spo’s bold move of starting Shane Battier and Chris Bosh against Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins–a move that basically neutralized Oklahoma City’s defensive-minded frontcourt.
Spoelstra is constantly attempting to find ways to make this work. As much credit as we give to James and Dwyane Wade learning to play off the ball and Chris Bosh adjusting to being a third option, the one facilitating these adjustments, creating plays to involve the whole team, and finding consistent minutes for his superstars is the one who is the second most criticized member of the franchise.
Not to mention, Spoelstra employs Pat Riley’s defensive style. It’s not as rough-and-tumble as the New York Knicks of the 1990’s, but the team does pack the paint like those former Riley teams. However, instead of beating up opponents, the Heat basically dare their opponents into shooting jumpers.
Miami will live with their opponents shooting jumpers, because they know they can’t fall for 48 minutes. And if they do? It doesn’t matter because they also know jumpers don’t fall for 48 minutes throughout a seven-game series.
Spoelstra also carries a defensive philosophy that doesn’t rely on individual defenders. Instead, the five players on defense work together on a string, constantly rotating and attempting to force turnovers by their opponent’s over-passing. It’s resulted in the Heat having one of the league’s stingiest and most aggressive defense’s in the league.
It takes far more than just having the right players to make everything work. Because, to be perfectly honest, this Heat team has pieces that don’t fit. They had to convert LeBron James into a post-player, still have trouble involving James and Wade on the same possession, and have yet to truly integrate Chris Bosh into the flow of the offense.
And yet, the Heat are NBA champions because they have a coach who is devoted to perfecting his craft and a team that is loyal and understanding. Just like James, Wade and Bosh, Spoelstra, too, has made critical adjustments to making this superstar-laden team work as well as a team with this much talent should.
Just because you have so many superstars doesn’t mean your team’s going to automatically become a championship contender. Look at the New York Knicks; equipped with two of the league’s top scorers and the Defensive Player of the Year, yet they’re predicted to lose in the first-round.
This isn’t the Heat team Spoelstra took over in 2008 that featured Dwyane Wade and a roster composed of aging veterans and inexperienced youngsters. Many critics fail to take into account that Spoelstra was going into his third year when he would take on some of the NBA’s biggest egos and most dynamic personalities. It only became more difficult with the animosity that arose from the team’s 9-8 start in their first year together.
You heard a lot about Spo then, but did you hear much of him when his team lost once in all of December? Didn’t think so.
Now he’s faced with another challenge: Working Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis into the rotation, as well as attempting to defend a championship for the first time in his four years as an NBA head coach.
Although Spoelstra’s offensive schemes don’t always come to fruition, he doesn’t need a complex offense for his team to consistently thrive. Because he has LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the team, there will always be someone open since it has become near impossible to defend either of those players with a single defender.
While some may say Wade’s on the decline, James is only getting better and with his post-game only becoming more advanced, he’s going to be attracting more defenders under the rim and away from the perimeter, where the likes of Allen, Lewis, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller and James Jones are waiting for easy three-point opportunities.
The shots are so easy, in fact, that the shooters on the Heat are actually worrisome of being left too open. It seems that might have affected Battier especially last season, as he shot a mere 34 percent from beyond the arc–well below his shooting percentage of 39 percent going into the 2011-’12 season.
Chalmers, on the other hand, prospered converting a career high two three-pointers per game on 39 percent shooting from deep.
This idea of being too open shouldn’t represent too large a problem for someone like Ray Allen. His mechanics have been perfected over his storied Hall-of-Fame career and he should be ready to hit shots, hand in his face or not. The 40 percent shooter from deep has already seen some success, recently converting 4-of-8 from beyond the arc in the Heat’s preseason win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Don’t look too much into the preseason, but there is room to get excited over Allen shooting as well as he did in Boston before he started dealing with nagging injuries near the end of his tenure. The fact that he’s hitting four three-pointers already is a step above what anyone else on the Heat has been able to provide on a consistent basis.
At the moment, the biggest questions aimed towards ‘Spo’ would have to relate to how he integrates Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis into the lineup.
Miami is absolutely stacked with shooters, even with James Jones set to face limited time and Mike Miller’s ailments set to take a bite out of his minutes. An even larger dilemma is the fact that all of these shooters fall into the category of wing players, with Chris Bosh and Josh Harrellson, who may not even make the final 15-man roster.
Basically, you currently have six perimeter shooters attempting to find minutes at four positions, although it is more than likely the Heat would prefer to have Lewis working at the three.
What this means to Spoelstra is finding a way to get his best lineups in the game, as well as mixing and matching until he finds which lineups work the best together. Adding Allen to the team obviously creates a huge leg-up for the second-unit crew, a lineup led by LeBron James that featured little playmaking ability from the other four players on the floor.
As we’ve seen in the Heat’s scrimmage and first two preseason games, Allen absolutely is a player who can create his own shot, outside of his more traditional method of playing off the ball and getting open through screens. He is capable of leading an offense–he had five assists in the Heat’s first preseason game–and has no problem in handling the ball and playing as a point guard.
That’s a tremendous help for LeBron, who was forced to deal with lineups featuring Norris Cole, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and a hobbled Mike Miller in the lineup to end the first quarter and start the second.
Allen has been promised a spot as the Heat’s sixth man and should be featured in the lineup once Mario Chalmers hits the bench, meaning we may just have a lineup that will include Allen, Wade, James, Battier or Haslem, and Bosh prior to seeing Wade an Bosh take their usual breaks at the end of the first frame.
As for Lewis? The Heat need to slowly work him into rotational minutes. They are aware of how significant a role he can play as a 6’10” forward who can shoot, but they need to monitor how much lift he gets on his shots, as well as how effective he can be on boards and on the defensive end.
Lewis was merely a bonus this offseason. He’s only receiving the veteran’s minimum from Miami after being bought out by New Orleans, which came after Lewis spent two injury-plagued seasons as a member of the Washington Wizards. It’s a low-risk, high-reward situation for the Heat and they have plenty of time to work with Lewis so that he may end up becoming a valuable part of the team.
Here’s hoping that he doesn’t take the role of Eddy Curry.
Obviously one of the larger questions being posed towards this team is what lineup should they end a close game with? Now that Ray Allen is on the roster and Udonis Haslem is healthy, this poses a problem as to where Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier play. Could the Heat use Chalmers more for his defense? Does the team risk not having Haslem in the lineup and possibly giving up an offensive rebound?
These are matters that will be addressed on a game-by-game basis. Whichever players are feeling better that night, they’ll play. If the team needs more defense than offense, we may see Chalmers in ahead of Allen. If they’re playing a large lineup, then perhaps Haslem would be the way to go over Battier.
There’s no need for a set lineup in those situations. You go with whoever is feeling the best that night or whoever fits better against the opponent. If we’ve learned anything from this Heat team over the past two seasons, it’s that they are more than willing to experiment with new lineups.
The Heat have utilized the regular season as a way to build up their championship foundation. They’ll go through numerous lineups throughout the season before eventually deciding on the most effective lineups going into the postseason. So it is more than likely that we will see times where Chalmers is in ahead of Allen at the end of games and vice versa.
Either way, the Heat still have LeBron James and that makes things a lot easier for the team, especially Erik Spoelstra. The team has only gotten better since winning their title, including receiving healthier versions of Wade, Bosh, Haslem and Miller outside of obtaining the best three-point shooter to ever play the game of basketball.