Forming a New Identity for the Miami Heat’s Offense


We seem to react differently to everything he does, whether it be making or missing a clutch shot, deciding something or going to lunch, and LeBron James’ departure is no different.

In a blogosphere being taken over by the analytic movement, James’ decision is being talked and written about, largely, from an emotional perspective.

Maybe James set the standard by explaining that his decision was an emotional one, based on his need to return home and satiate a longing heart, but James is too smart, too “big picture” for that.

If Wade’s knees weren’t made of coffee cake, chances are James is still biking around South Beach instead of joining a young roster in Cleveland and working for an owner who still uses comic sans for his away message.

Same goes for what the Heat have done this offseason. Instead of talking about how, specifically, this team will approach next season from an X’s and O’s standpoint, we follow an emotional narrative about Pat Riley’s ability to bounce back from a shock to the system and Wade’s willingness to continue to sacrifice for his team.

When the best player in the known universe surprisingly leaves one team for another, it is understandable that emotions would run high and pervade the internet.

Jun 15, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) handles the ball against San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter (22) and forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the first quarter in game five of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Now that I’ve had time to deflate and reflect, I would like to break down just how this Miami Heat team will play next season. Or, at least, how I expect them to.

The past four years have been a small-ball party in Miami, headlined by LeBron post ups and kick-outs, blitzing defenses and clutch three-point shooting.

Without LeBron, the Heat will have to find a new Sun around which the team gravitates. The obvious answer is Chris Bosh.

LeBron justly received a ton of credit for his ability to guard positions 1 through 5,  however Bosh—probably the only other player in the NBA who can also guard all positions—rarely, if ever, did.

Bosh was Miami’s best defender last season. His ability to jump out and defend the ball handler or sag and position himself in cutting lanes while having the instincts to cut off passing lanes is artistry.

Because Miami also signed Luol Deng, a plus wing defender, and has infused some youth into the perimeter positions, I expect Erik Spoelstra to stick to his blitz-and-help defense.

Check out Bosh go from defending Tony Parker to Tim Duncan and force a turnover.

Not much will change on defense.

What will be difficult for this team is finding a way to rejig the offense that James initiated so much of.

Do the Heat trust Mario Chalmers to be a full-time point guard, rather than just a floor spacer? Can Wade retrograde to his rookie season and facilitate a majority of the offense?

Spoelstra, who favored an inside-out approach centered around James posting up, doesn’t have a dominant post presence anymore. Running the same system now would be like the Orlando Magic still running Stan Van Gundy’s offense without Dwight Howard.

Riley signed Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger thinking James would be getting them the ball.  Since then, he signed Luol Deng to replace James’ defensive presence on the wing. It doesn’t seem that he made re-signing three-point shooters James Jones and Rashard Lewis priorities either.

It’s clear that Riley and Spoelstra realize the offense will need a new identity.

So let’s take a look at the tools Spo has to work with.

Projected starting lineup:

PG: Mario Chalmers (floor spacer, inconsistent facilitator)

SG: Dwyane Wade (supreme cutter, injury issues)

SF: Luol Deng (corner three-point shooter, plus defender)

PF: Josh McRoberts (stretch 4, great passer)

C: Chris Bosh (stretches the floor, top-notch defender)

Projected bench: Norris Cole, Chris Andersen, Danny Granger, James Ennis, Shabazz Napier, Udonis Haslem

The Heat still have plenty of floor spacers with Rio, Deng, McRoberts, Bosh and Granger. What they don’t have is a bonafide facilitator. In fact, the only player on Miami’s roster to average at least five assists per game for a season is Wade, who averaged at least 6.5 assists per game every year between 2004 and 2010 (last season, Wade dished out 4.7 assists per game).

Chalmers has never averaged more than 4.9 assists per game in a season. Of players on the current roster, McRoberts averaged the third most assists per game with 4.3 last season.

Many talk about Bosh reverting to his Toronto days, but he never averaged more than 2.6 assists per game for a season during his time North of the border.

To recap, Miami has plenty of three-point shooters with no one to get them the ball.

Bosh in 2008

Bosh in 2013

When looking at teams whose best offensive player was a shooting big man, the 2010 Dallas Mavericks immediately come to mind. Dallas, though, had Jason Kidd to captain the offense and get Dirk, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry the ball.

The Fun Suns had Steve Nash to get Amar’e Stoudemire the ball.

Bosh’s Raptors teams had Jose Calderon averaging more than eight assists per game.

Strangely, the Heat might have to look at the recent Indiana Pacers for a bit of inspiration. Indiana has a similar consistency issue at point guard and run much of its offense through David West in the high post.

May 30, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers forward David West (21) is defended by Miami Heat players Dwyane Wade (3) and Chris Bosh (1) during the first half in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a harder thing to ask Chalmers/Cole/Napier to run the offense, it’s a far easier thing to ask them to bring the ball up the court without dribbling it off their foot and pass it to Bosh.

Bosh, with his length, basketball IQ and threatening mid-range shot, would be able to hold the ball and find open guys cutting along the baseline or, as soon as the defense reacts to him having the ball in the post, make the quick pass to shooters on the perimeter.

I really like the former scenario. It just so happens that Bosh will be playing with one the best cutters in the game in his pal Dwyane Wade. This presents a pick your poison scenario for defenses. Either play off Bosh and dare him to take the jumper, or get up on him and risk Wade perfectly timing a cut to the basket for easy points. Crowd the paint to defend against both and the defense would be leaving Miami’s three-point shooters open.

Bosh, who signed a five-year, $118 million maximum contract after James announced he would sign a deal in Cleveland, is Miami’s franchise player. Bosh becomes the Heat’s Sun.