The absences of Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen and Greg Oden over the Miami Heat’s past two games has given the fanbase all it ever wanted: Playing time for James Jones.
Bonus incentive: We get Rashard Lewis, too!
With the Heat’s depth being tested to its fullest limits, and even Justin Hamilton receiving garbage-time minutes, coach Erik Spoelstra was given the opportunity to test the professionalism of Jones and Lewis.
Both chosen to earn playing time over Michael Beasley, Jones and Lewis responded in their unexpected rotation time, James as a starter and Rashard off the bench, with solid performances in their team’s wins over the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks.
In 27 minutes against Detroit, Jones scored ten points, shot 3-for-6 from three, and was a plus-24. Against Milwaukee, also in 27 minutes, he shot 2-for-3 from beyond the arc, scored ten points for a second straight night, and was a plus-15.
Lewis, meanwhile, gave the Heat some questions to answer on whether or not Beasley should assume the role Rashard has been filling for most of the season. Against Detroit, Lewis shot 4-of-6 and scored nine points, before dropping 13 points on 4-for-10 shooting the next night against Milwaukee.
Lewis came a three-pointer away from leading the team in scoring against Milwaukee.
In 29 minutes over the past two games, the lineup of Douglas-Jones-James-Bosh-Haslem had a net-rating of 32.8 and an assist percentage of a staggering 77.3 percent.
The lineup off the bench, featuring Douglas-Cole-Battier-Lewis-Andersen, possessed a net-rating of 8.4 and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.25.
Take those numbers lightly. Jones and Lewis were fortunate enough to be playing against two of the league’s teams that have seemingly given up on winning this year. Detroit just gave up 123 points to a D-League Philadelphia 76ers team, while Milwaukee has 14 wins this year.
The San Antonio Spurs are currently on a winning streak that’s featured more wins than the Bucks have won all season.
Also, we’ll likely never see these lineups in any type of playoff setting, not when Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen will be available. Those three will likely send Douglas, Jones and Lewis back to the bench. Udonis Haslem, however, might be a fixture after three consecutive impressive performances as the team’s starting center.
Haslem’s defensive ferocity and effort has given the Heat a needed boost of adrenaline where they desperately needed it, specifically on the boards and defending 7-2 centers.
But at least the options are there, right? And they’re just not there, they’re ready to contribute; the perks of having two of the league’s greatest shooters riding the pine.
The 32-point win over the Pistons marked the first time the Heat have beaten an opponent by double-digits since a March 3rd win over Charlotte, LeBron James’s 61-point game.
Jones and Lewis also supported the Heat in a 19-point win on the second end of the back-to-back, which concluded a 2-1 road trip that still stings from the loss to Indiana. That loss to Indiana, however, featured Rashard earning legitimate playing time for the first time since a February 11th game against Phoenix, where he played ten minutes.
James’ start against Detroit was the first time he even saw the floor since a January 17th win over Philadelphia. He hadn’t played ten minutes in a game since a December 3rd loss to Detroit.
Jones and Lewis, as well as Udonis Haslem, are the epitome of Spo’s “staying ready” philosophy. He and the front office have worked to sign veterans that are content knowing that they might not earn consistent minutes. It’s the idea that you can go from vaulting from sitting on the bench for two months to becoming a starter that keeps these pro’s pros ready.
Despite fluctuating roles, when have you ever heard any of Miami’s veterans over the past four years complain about playing time? There’s a reason why this team doesn’t sign guys like Andrew Bynum or Kenyon Martin, no matter the talent and intangibles they possibly offer.
As a result of their patience, they could end up earning roles that were previously filled by the likes of Beasley, and possibly even Shane Battier. The team still has plenty of trust in Battier, who hasn’t hit two three-pointers in a game since March 10th and has made two of his past 11 attempts, but the knowledge that a replacement is available is apparent.
Battier, despite the career-low three-point shooting of 33 percent, has a net-rating of plus-9.3, the second-best net-rating on this team among rotation players. His 111.7 points per 100 possessions on offense is third on the team, trailing only LeBron James and Mario Chalmers.
Plus, as Tony Fiorentino says, water reaches its level. Shane Battier continuing to shoot this poorly into the playoffs would be an oddity. Miami will continue to go to him, but won’t continue to start him as he has for most of the season.
If Haslem’s making shots, there’s no point to Battier being on the floor as a starter, not making his shots and giving up a significant size advantage.
But as long as the Heat trust Battier, as a contributor off the bench, the possibility of Jones or Lewis continuing to play is slim. However, if the Heat are deep into the playoffs and not receiving the results they expected out of Battier, or even Norris Cole, Jones and Lewis will be the ones to step in.
Michael Beasley, unfortunately, should be on the depth chart behind Lewis and Jones once the playoffs begin. His ability to score in bunches has been what the Heat hoped for, but he’s been a disaster on defense, allowing 107.1 points per 100 possessions when on the court.
The only other players on the Heat with a worse defensive rating is Udonis, whose defensive rating is dropping, and two players, Roger Mason and DeAndre Liggins, who are no longer with the Heat.
The sample size of Jones’s numbers are too small to compare. Lewis in 51 games, though, has a net-rating of plus-6.1 and is posting a defensive rating of 101.4 points per 100 possessions. He’s done this in 30 more minutes played this season than Michael.
Beasley has a plus-0.7 net-rating.
Depth is going to be crucial to Miami’s postseason success this season. They’re not going to be able to rely on their ‘Big Three’ as they have in previous years, with spot performances along the way supporting the team in times of need. They’re going to require consistent performances from the bench, in order to save up the energy for what would be an incredibly difficult NBA Finals.
With two pure shooters salivating at the chance to play, the Heat know the options are more than willing to earn their keep.