This isn’t the same Miami Heat team that we saw win an NBA championship last season. At the rate they’re playing at right now, they won’t be hoisting that Larry O’Brien in June this season.
The Miami Heat are at the weakest point we’ve seen them at in a long time. They’re now a different team with a much different dynamic than last season’s. They’ve almost flipped identities.
Last season they were a team that prided themselves on what they did on the defensive end. They suffocated the opposition and forced turnovers–they forced 16.8 turnovers per game and were 4th in the league in defensive rating.
They were always a dangerous team on offense and that’s expected with two studs on the perimeter like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. They’re obviously two of the best players in the league offensively. When you pair them with a top three power forward in the game in Chris Bosh, you’re going to be a top offensive team in the league.
That’s obviously a special combination whatever way you put it, but defensively things have changed here. Last season, they were a top five defense. Through 10 games this season they’re in the bottom 3 teams when it comes to defensive rating allowing 108.6 points per 100 possessions.
If you didn’t know, that’s awful. There are plenty of reasons for this.
The first, and probably most important, is that Dwyane Wade hasn’t been 100% all season long. Together, Wade and James were the most devastating perimeter defenders in the league. They had defensive ratings of 99 and 97, respectively.
This season Wade is sitting at a 109 rating and he’s only played in eight of the 10 possible games. He’s got a 19.1 PER which is way below average and he’s playing pretty bad on both ends of the floor. Its obvious that his foot is bothering him more than we’d like to think.
LeBron James’ defensive impact has also lessened. He’s got a 106 defensive rating right now and is clearly suffering without Wade. When in tandem, the two are great together. They tend to overplay and gamble on some defensive plays.
When on the floor together, and completely healthy, they’re able to cover for each other by making perfect and crisp rotations more often than not. Now, with Wade being slightly slower things are being thrown off a bit.
Another thing that goes into that is the position that James is playing. He’s primarily played at the power forward position this season–54% of the minutes available at power forward have been his, per 82games.com.
This brings LeBron off of the perimeter where he defends his best and brings him into the paint. When being defended by James, opposing power forwards have posted a 20.4 PER thus far. It seems that playing the power forward position has posed a problem for the Heat on the defensive end.
This also presents a problem for Chris Bosh, who isn’t the greatest rim protector in the world. He’s played 65% of the available minutes at center according to 82 games and opposing centers have been able to post a 28.3 PER. That’s awful, to say the least.
To fix these defensive woes, the Heat first need to get healthy on the perimeter. They have three guys in Chalmers, Wade, and Battier that are able to hold their own defensively and stop the ball. They’re normally crisp on rotations and don’t allow easy paint penetration. That’s huge for James and Bosh.
Bosh needs to have the burden on him softened as much as possible and the same goes for James when he’s down low. They’re both defending positions that they aren’t really used to playing against. This whole “positionless” thing is new and its going to take some time to get used to.
It may help if they Heat go back to a traditional look and put James at his natural position on the perimeter. That’ll bring Joel Anthony or Udonis Haslem in and they’re both better defenders in the low post than Bosh and James.
Saving the small line-up may be good for the playoffs–you don’t want teams to get used to the look that you’re presenting. Of course, its early. All of this could change by the end of the month, week, or even tonight as the Heat are set to take on the Phoenix Suns.
But playing the way that they are now, the Heat aren’t as far ahead of the competition as we’d all like to think.