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Around the East, Part III: Miami Heat

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Down, but not out.
Down, but not out.
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Four straight Southeastern Division titles. Four straight Eastern Conference titles. Two NBA Championships. Around this time last year, the Miami Heat were the favorites to win their third straight NBA Championship. One year later, their circumstances are dramatically different.

Last year

2013-2014 Season

Miami

Record

54-28

Pace

93.26

Offensive Efficiency

109

Defensive Efficiency

102.9

Turnover Rate

15.8

Assist Rate

18.2

Offensive Rebounding Rate

20.6

Rebounding Rate

47.8

Free Throw Rate

30

Effective Field Goal Percentage

55.4

Opponent's Effective Field Goal Percentage

51.1

For the Heat, the regular season was mostly irrelevant as their main objective was making it through the year healthy so they could make a deep run in the playoffs. With the Indiana Pacers placing so much emphasis on obtaining the number one seed, the Heat quietly went about their business, won the Southeast Division with ease and ceded the top seed to Indiana. When the playoffs began, they swept the Charlotte Bobcats in four and took apart the Brooklyn Nets in five games. When they did meet Indiana in the Conference Finals, they beat the Pacers in six, closing the series out with a 25 point demolition at home. The run ended in the NBA Finals as the Spurs were able to counter every Heat move and win the series in five games.

What were the major offseason moves?

After an amazing four year run with the Heat, LeBron James decided to return to Cleveland on a two year contract. If you remember back to the summer, on the day LeBron announced his decision (little d) to return to Cleveland, all signs pointed to Chris Bosh leaving and joining the Houston Rockets. However, he stunned the basketball community by re-signing with the Heat on a five year, $118 million contract.

After the smoke cleared, Pat Riley and friends went about retooling the roster. They signed free agent forward Luol Deng to a two year contract, drafted University of Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napiersigned Danny Granger, picked up Josh McRoberts from Charlotte, retained Mario Chalmers, and most recently acquired Shannon Brown.

What are the team's strengths?

You'd never be able to tell based on how he is discussed, but Chris Bosh has been one of the best big men in the league for a while now. For much of his career, Bosh has been his team's leading option on offense. In his seven years with Toronto, Bosh averaged 20 points and nine rebounds a night while shooting a shade under 50 percent from the field. The move down south lessened Bosh's role, but all of the attributes that made him so good up north stayed with him. One big change for Bosh was where he took his shots. In his last season with Toronto, 75 percent of his field goal attempts came from sixteen feet and closer. Last season, there was an almost 50-50 split between shots from close and far. Bosh has shot over 40 percent from the midrange area throughout his career and has developed into a decent three point shooter. This change has been so crucial because Bosh has been able to drag opposing centers out of the paint and create better opportunities for his teammates. More on that in a minute.

Another positive aspect of Bosh's game is his defense. The Heat employ an aggressive, trapping defense that looks to force a lot of turnovers and turn those turnovers into easy baskets. That strategy had a lot of success, as the Heat led the league in opponent's turnover rate and were second in points off of turnovers. Bosh at the Center position played a big part in the Heat's strategy. At his position, he has more lateral quickness than his peers and he is able to use that to disrupt the opponent's pick-and-rolls. Although he is undersized for his position (he's listed at 6-10 and 228 pounds), he has managed to do a pretty solid defending the low post. His length and instincts on the defensive end help make up for any lack of size. Almost forgot, he's Big Shot Bosh. Act like you know.

The team has lost the best player in the league, but the offense he left behind still has the potential to excel. Here's Erik Spoelstra explaining what makes the Miami engine go:

One of the things that was clear was that it would be essential for us to utilize more movement, especially off the ball, and in general to move the ball more. Less self-will plays, less isolation, less dribbling, less holding. We coined it ‘pace and space

With Bosh in the high post and the emphasis on cutting, this should open things up for Deng. For most of his career, Deng hasn't played with players that are as capable on offense as Bosh and Dwyane Wade are (He did play three full seasons with Derrick Rose in Chicago and 35 games with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland). With Bosh and Wade, Deng can settle into being the third option on offense. He's obviously not LeBron, but he figures to be a solid contributor. He's averaged a bit over three assists and six rebounds playing in some of the league's slowest paced offenses. His defense took a slip in Cleveland, but in his defense, he was dealing with an injury and it's tough to get motivated defensively when you have no interest being in a dysfunctional organization and their was no interest in continuing the relationship.

Here, he'll be tasked with defending the opponent's best two guards & small forwards. When he's healthy, he's one of the best wing defenders in the league and his length is a big impediment to players trying to score on him.

What are the team's weaknesses?

Even with LeBron, the team had begun to slip on the defensive end. The team's defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) has risen each of the last two seasons and everything came to a head in the Finals when they couldn't get a stop against the San Antonio Spurs. We know how valuable LeBron was on offense, but he was incredibly valuable on defense as well. He could legitimately cover all five positions on the court and cover them well. Now that James is gone, the Heat will have to readjust. Luckily for them, Erik Spoelstra has grown into one of the better head coaches in the league.

The health of the roster is something the team might have to worry about as well. In addition to all of the injuries Deng had dealt with prior to last season, he ended up dealing with a balky Achilles throughout the season. He ended up missing 19 games. Granger came into the season recovering from the knee surgery that ended his 2013 season in Indiana. After landing with the Clippers, he ended up missing the final two weeks of the regular season as he tended to an injured left hamstring. We'll get to the biggest injury concern in the final section.

With so many new players and old players taking on new roles, it's going to take some time for the team to gel. The team had been mostly consistent in how the roles and roster was defined over the last four years. Now that everything has been flipped around, it'll take a while for everybody to adjust to the team and role. I would give the team at least the first three months of the season to see how they work together.

What are the goals for this team?

This is where things get interesting. Prior to Paul George getting injured, the general consensus was that the Heat would be a team that would be at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. With George out of the picture for the next year and change, things are looking better for the Heat. They're no longer a lock to win the Division with Charlotte and Washington improving over the offseason.

The first ten games will be a good test for the new look Heat. They host the Wizards on Opening Night and after a game in Philadelphia, they play seven straight teams that made it to the playoffs last season. Miami makes their first trip to the New York area on November 17 when they visit Brooklyn on the second night of a back-to-back. They're not a title contender as of this date, but depending on seeding and how things shake out in the East, they might be able to make a nice run in the playoffs.

Twilight of the Elite

It's been an amazing run for Dwyane Wade. He's won three Championships, has been named to ten consecutive All Star Games, eight All-NBA teams, and is one of the five best shooting guards in league history and is guaranteed entry into the Hall of Fame once he decides to retire. For his career, Wade is averaging 24.3 points, five rebounds and six assists a game while shooting 49 percent from the field.

Last year was another good season for Wade, but with a twist. With Wade's injury history and the Heat not placing that much emphasis on getting the number one seed, Miami implemented a "rest plan" for Wade. The plan was to sit him out for select games and some back-to-backs with the hope that he would be 100 percent for the playoffs. Did it work? For the most part yeah. Although he averaged under 20 points a game for the second time in his career, Wade did set a career high in field goal percentage, making 54.5 percent of his attempts from the field. Most of his shots came from 16 feet and in, but because he didn't get as many possessions run for him as in the past, he only averaged five free throw attempts a game.

He was having a great playoff run until everything fell apart in the Finals. During that series vs. the Spurs, he only shot 43 percent from the field and at times looked outmatched and even lazy on defense. Nothing he did worked and he looked to be old and finished to observers watching the games. What makes it even more shocking was how good Wade looked against what was the league's best defense in Indiana. He got to the rim at ease, made key shots late, and combined with LeBron to fluster Paul George and Lance Stephenson.

Wade has struggled to close out the last three postseasons. He's missed games due to lingering injuries, rest plans, and when Noam Schiller over at Hardwood Paroxysm took a look at Wade and wrote:

Accepting diminished status relative to LeBron may be hurtful to a proud Hall of Famer’s ego, but it’s also an understandable move. Now, though, with talk of Bosh as the Heat’s new primary offensive option and the Heat’s playoff fortunes in flux, the reality of age cascades upon Wade like troves of discarded "White Hot" t-shirts. How Wade – and perhaps more importantly, his knees – reacts to his new place in the game could be the difference between a graceful and romantic sunset and a bittersweet slamming door.

What can Wade do to adjust his game? I've seen mentions of Wade adding a three point shot to his repertoire, but that's incredibly unlikely. Wade has shot under 30 percent from distance in his career and hasn't taken a shade more than three per game in a single season. Teams play off of Wade in the hopes that he takes jumpers, but Wade has improved as a shooter compared to his rookie season in 2003. That year, he only shot 27.5 percent on his jump shots, but has consistently shot in the mid 30s (2009-2010 excluded) throughout his career and a career best 36.5 percent last year. He's always been great finishing in the paint and is one of the league's most intelligent cutters.

The team could afford to rest Wade with LeBron terrorizing other teams, but what can Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra and Heat management do to maintain his health now that Bron isn't here? They could lower the amount of minutes he plays each night. Last year he averaged 33 minutes a game, but if the team instituted a 28 minutes a night limit (he can play more against the elite teams) in the regular season, that might protect his knees and joints for the playoff run. It's incredibly unlikely that Wade plays all 82 games, but that's what he's aiming for.

It's always a shock to the system when you see one of the league's greatest players start to decline. Watching Wade struggle on defense and fail to contribute on offense is a far cry from the player he was back in the 2008-2009 season and prior. However, it isn't all doom and gloom. Even with his knees getting worse, he had a solid 2013-2014 season and figures to be at least league average for the length of his current two year contract. That may not be enough to get Miami to their fifth straight NBA Finals appearance, but the twilight of Wade's career won't be spent out of playoff competition.

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