Thursday, May 15, 2014

Miami's Wild Card

The Miami Heat are now 8-1 in this year's playoffs, but they really haven't played all that impressively. They are in the junior circuit (aka the Eastern Conference) and they have been scraping by some fairly mediocre teams. The real concern is their supporting cast, or what's left of it in Year 4 of the great experiment on South Beach.

Let's take a look at some of the guys who round out the back of their rotation:

Shane Battier - This is going to be his last season in the NBA, which is a good thing because he is pretty much done. He's still an average three point shooter, but he doesn't move well without the ball and he can't attack a close-out. He no longer has much lateral quickness and he's an average at best defender. Anything you get out of him at this point is found money. He has a 6.6 PER in the playoffs.

Rashard Lewis - Age has pretty much reduced him to being a one-trick pony and that's spotting up from the 3-point line and hitting 3's at a pretty average rate (32% in the playoffs). He can't really defend a position anymore - at best, he can stay in front of slower wings and stay behind big men who can't really score. He doesn't have much of an impact when he's in the game, as his 6.8 playoff PER suggests.

James Jones - The definition of a one-trick pony. He can shoot 3's, but he gives you nothing else. The big problem is on defense where he has to be hidden on non-threats. When he was matched up with Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson at points in Game 5, Miami might as well have just conceded the 2 points and went about their business.

Ray Allen (38) and Birdman (35) are still functional players but they are clearly in decline, even from what they gave last year. The cumulative effect is of a very old team that despite its reputation can't actually blow teams off the floor athletically. The only players in their supporting cast on the right side of 30 are Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole.

They have gotten away with in the first two rounds but the level of competition is going to ratchet up pretty quickly. Indiana has always matched up pretty well with them, but even if they implode and Miami has a cakewalk to the NBA Finals, they will eventually have to play a Western Conference team that will be both battle-tested and deep.

The one wild card Erik Spoelstra has in his back pocket is Micheal Beasley. We might not see him early in a series, but if the Heat have to come back to a deficit, Spo has shown no hesitation to go deep into his bench and try unorthodox things as a series progresses. Miami needs athleticism, scoring punch and shooting to complement the Big Three and those are three things Beasley can bring to the floor.

It's not like he played badly in his time in the rotation early in the season. Beasley averaged 8 points and 3 rebounds a game on 50% shooting in 15 minutes a game and had a 16.7 PER. He fell out of favor because of his defensive lapses and overall inconsistency, but it's not like Miami is getting much from the combination of Jones, Lewis and Battier on that side of the ball.

Beasley is a head case but he is still a very talented basketball player. At 6'8 240, he can put the ball on the floor, shoot the 3 and play above the rim. He's 25 years old and he's at the peak of his athletic ability - if you put him on a frontcourt with Bosh and LeBron, you suddenly have a very athletic group that can stretch the floor, attack you from every position in the frontcourt and put up points in a hurry.

The Heat clearly don't want to use him, but they may not have a choice. Charlotte had no chance of competing once Al Jefferson went down and Brooklyn gave them a much tougher series than the final (4-1) would indicate. Indiana, San Antonio, OKC and the Clippers can all test the Heat in ways their first two opponents haven't. I doubt they'll be able to count on Battier, Lewis or Jones when the chips are down.

This is not the team from 2-3 years ago - they are an old team that relies on LeBron James to do just about everything. I think playing with LeBron can make Beasley an effective player on both sides of the floor, which is good, because they might end up needing him if they are going to three-peat.

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