It wasn’t two weeks after the Miami Heat had won the 2012 NBA title did Team President Pat Riley lay out the offseason plans.
Riley made it known that he was going to be chasing free agents that summer. Although that may sound like the obvious thing to do, the Heat had made the mistake of keeping nearly the same roster that won the title back in 2006.
That team struggled greatly, winning only 44 games and getting swept in the first round. After a series of trades the following summer, the Heat wound up winning 15 games two years after winning their first NBA championship.
The Heat weren’t about to make the same mistake. There wasn’t going to be an extended championship hangover, nor was there going to be a letdown of a championship defense.
Improvements had to be made. Miami may have achieved their initial goal of winning a title, but there were glaring flaws and holes throughout the roster. Fortunately for the Heat, LeBron James was there to compensate for his teams’ shortcomings.
The Heat were led by LeBron’s absurdly historic NBA Finals averages (28.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg 7.4 apg, and 1.6 spg), but he also overshadowed the performance of a supporting cast that played a pivotal role when Oklahoma City loaded up on James.
Mario Chalmers shot 35 percent from beyond the arc, and had a huge Game 4, and everyone will remember Mike Miller’s heartwarming Game 5 performance. But those two mostly have individual performances that will live on.
Once again, Shane Battier is overshadowed by his lack of a dynamic game. Without Battier, the Heat may not be NBA champions and would continue to have the pressure that was only going to pile up with a lack of a Larry O’Brien trophy in two years.
On 26 three-point attempts, Battier converted on 58 percent of them. And while we celebrate Mike Miller’s 7-of-8 shooting from behind the arc in a Game 5 blowout, you don’t see too much attention being paid on Battier’s 5-of-7 in a four-point Game 2 victory.
Riley saw the success the Heat had with Battier running power forward. The Heat’s ball movement was more fluid, LeBron was padding his stats in the post, and the small lineup forced Thunder’ bigs Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka to have less of an influence.
So when it came down to whether the Heat wanted to use their mid-level exception on either sharpshooter Ray Allen or defensive stalwart Marcus Camby, it took one look down at the finger that would be wearing one more ring a few months from then to make a decision.
Is it safe to say the Heat made the right decision, yet? Miami’s offensive efficiency is at the top of the league, garnering 110.6 points per 100 possessions, and is the best of the “Big Three” era.
Their field-goal efficiency of 54.8 percent is a full percentage point ahead of second-place San Antonio. Their 58.6 true-shooting percentage is also tops in the league.
For comparisons sake, their field-goal efficiency was 50.5 percent last year and 52.4 percent in 2011. Their previous high for true-shooting percentage was 57.3 percent, which occurred in 2011.
Naturally a lot of success is going to have to do with LeBron James, who is going to end up winning his second consecutive, and fourth overall, MVP award. The most incredible characteristic about this MVP season is how effortless James is making it look.
The 7.4 assists he’s averaging are the highest since he joined the Heat. They’re also a dramatic improvement over last year’s 6.2 assists per, where he didn’t have the opportunity to find the likes of Allen in the corner.
The starting lineup that features Chalmers, Wade, James, Udonis Haslem, and Chris Bosh is getting 1.13 points per possession in over 662 minutes worth of playing time together. They’re also a team-best plus-163 compared to their opponent’s starting lineup.
Not bad. But the offensive efficiency hardly rivals that of the lineups which feature Battier and/or Allen.
When Haslem is replaced with Battier, the offensive efficiency skyrockets to 1.20 ppp. Put Allen and Battier in at the same time and you only have a ppp of 1.17, but that lineup is also giving up a mere 0.95 points per possession.
That’s the lowest ppp for a Heat lineup that’s played at least 100 minutes together. Despite that lineup having two three-point shooters, they’re getting 39 percent of their shots from close-range.
That’s what tends to happen when you have two veterans who are both shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc this season. Opponents are left with the decision on whether or not they want to pack the paint and force LeBron or Dwyane into a kick-out to an open shooter, or do they let Wade and James pick their interior apart.
Try this lineup on for size: Chalmers, Wade, Allen, James, and Bosh are getting 1.32 points per possession, while only allowing 1.01. That lineup has the highest win percentage, with the exception of a lineup that is at 100 percent and has played only 41 minutes, of any other Heat lineup at 80.7 percent.
Only when Chris Andersen is on the floor do the Heat have an interior presence. Bosh has been used primarily as a spot-up shooter this season, having 33 percent of his time on offense devoted to being open and making shots.
Allen and Battier are also obviously thriving off of being spot-up shooters.
Ray ranks 14th in the league in points per possession on spot-ups, garnering 1.29 ppp and having 34 percent of his offense come from that method of scoring. Battier has nearly 73 percent of his offense coming from spot-up opportunities and ranks 15th with 1.27 points per possession, per SynergySports
You may not have noticed, but the Heat shooters have been putting on a show throughout this streak. In Miami’s recent win against Orlando where LeBron James had 11 assists, eight of those went to three-point shooters.
Allen, who had been struggling, has regained his touch shooting 8-of-11 from beyond the arc in the past games. He also played a key role in the Heat’s 27-point comeback with three from behind the perimeter, as well as four against Toronto in a game that wasn’t decided until the fourth.
Ray has gone five games during the winning-streak without a three-pointer. However, he is scoring better than he ever had with the Heat early on in the season. In the past 27 games, Allen has gone over 20 points twice and has recorded double-digits in the scoring column on 17 occasions.
Battier isn’t scoring as much as Allen, since he can’t create offense as well, but has had some of the greatest sustained success from beyond the arc in recent memory.
There has been only one game during this streak where Battier hasn’t made at least one three-pointer. That came in a win against Indiana, and Battier didn’t attempt a single shot from beyond the perimeter.
He has hit at least two three-pointers 18 times. He has hit at least three three-pointers ten times. He also had a three-game stretch where he hit four three-pointers in each game.
With a recent 1-of-5 shooting performance against Orlando, Battier snapped a streak of eight consecutive games with at least two three-pointers.
Winning suddenly comes a whole lot easier when the shooters are making their shots, the ball is being moved, and the defense is being kept honest. With so much attention being paid on LeBron when he’s constantly fighting double and triple teams, it leaves plenty of opportunities for guys like Battier and Allen to get open.
Both players know how to use screens extremely well, and the Heat’s improved offense has shown an obvious change in how open shooters get.
The shooters aren’t simply relying on kick-outs every time they get an open shot. They’re also getting free from screens set from someone who isn’t the ball-handler and are using the Heat’s constantly-moving offense to get free for open shots.
Allen’s diversity as an offensive threat outside of being a shooter has also added another dimension to Miami’s offense.
He also ranks 41st in points per possession off screens, used 18 percent when he’s the target, and is also getting 0.97 ppp in transition, which he is featured in 15 percent of the time.
It’ll be an interesting tonight for the Heat, who take on a Chicago Bulls defense that has done a solid job at denying Miami open shots from beyond the arc, especially from the corner where the Heat are most effective.
Miami won the previous meeting 86-67 and shot 3-of-13 from beyond the arc. In the first meeting, a 96-89 win for Chicago, Miami shot 5-of-20 from the perimeter.
Chicago’s activity has long been a staple for its defense and Miami can’t afford to coast for the stretches they have had against inferior teams like Cleveland and Detroit.
LeBron James, and the motions of the Heat offense, can get Allen and Battier open. It’s up to them to finish.