MIAMI – We don’t know much more about the Miami Heat right now than we knew back in June. That’s a bit unsettling, only because this is a team that’s supposed to be on a path to greatness. And they still have some key questions.
Chicago and Oklahoma City can have questions. They’re young.
Boston and San Antonio can have questions. They’re old.
But Miami shouldn’t have questions right now, unless it’s about how many titles they’ll win.
To quote a certain someone: “Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven.”
But before they get to “one,” those questions persist.
By now, you’d have thought the Heat would have a better idea on three things – the closing five (yes closing five, and not the starting five), a secondary offensive game beyond Wade and James assaulting the rim, and a backup center. But there aren’t any solid answers on any of those three fronts, and the last two could conspire to ruin the Heat’s plans for multiple titles.
It’s tough to know what to make of the situation.
Now, before we go too far into this thing, let’s point out it’s still relatively early in this season, and it’s still relatively early in the Big Three’s get-together.
Greatness is still within reach. We’re just approaching the halfway point of the second year of the Big Three of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. And they did win 58 games last season and advance to the NBA Finals. Give credit where it’s due. But also ask questions when it’s appropriate.
Before the Heat lovers get too worked up, start with this thought: The Big Three was put together to be great, not good. That means multiple NBA championships. And that prospect remains possible, but murky. Heat haters rejoice in hearing that. They know with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement set to wreak havoc on Miami’s payroll in the 2013-14 season, the pressure is on to start collecting titles now to justify keeping the Big Three together beyond next season.
That puts a lot of urgency on this team to start its title run now, this season.
The Big Three is a historic union, for all sports. Players did this, not management. Three of the game’s best and brightest decided on their own to pursue greatness, and right now it’s an epic struggle. Injuries, zone defenses, late-game execution; they’re all problems. But those are on the backburner when it comes to the Heat and a spot in NBA history.
So the step-by-step journey continues, step by painstakingly slow step, which is what’s so troubling.
Coach Erik Spoelstra is seemingly settling on a closing five. It’s the lineup that was fantasized during the Summer of 2010 – Wade, James, Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller.
This crew is supposed to provide everything – ball-handling, rebounding, mid-range shooting, three-point shooting, versatility, athleticism, veteran savvy, everything. They’re flashing those qualities, but not consistently. That’s OK. In light of last season’s injuries to Haslem and Miller, and this season’s injuries to Wade, that lineup needs more time to gel.
As for developing a game aside from Wade and James attacking, that’s a hot-and-cold proposition. Miami has players that can hit the open 3-pointer. Miller is shooting a career-best .536 on threes. Guard Mario Chalmers is scoring a career-best 11.3 points per game, shooting a career-best .505 from the field, and hitting threes at a career-best .466. Little-used forward James Jones, who won the 3-point contest at last year’s All-Star Weekend, is shooting .429 on threes. Forward Shane Battier is shooting a career-worst .310 on threes, but overall the Heat really doesn’t have to worry about the 3-point shooting aspect of its offense when Wade and James aren’t attacking.
However, if the 3-pointers aren’t dropping, and Wade and James aren’t attacking, it’d be good to have a low-post presence. And that’s where the problem of a secondary offensive game and the lack of a trustworthy backup center coincide.
It’s OK for James and Wade to go to the low-post, and it’s OK for Bosh to do some work down there. But Miami needs a low-post presence, and that’s not going to come from 6-foot-9 starting center Joel Anthony. It’s not his game.
If Dexter Pittman or Eddy Curry were ready, the Heat could be on their way to solving two problems. But that hasn’t happened. Miami didn’t sign aggressive forward Kenyon Martin (he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers), and free agent center Joel Przybilla would only be a slight upgrade over the current crew of centers, and he might not be an upgrade at all. That means the questions persist.
Give the closing five time to develop. They’re showing good signs right now as a unit. They’ll probably be OK in a month or so. But developing a secondary offense and having a backup center are areas in which you thought Miami would have shown more improvement by now.
None of these shortcomings prevents the Heat from being the favorite to win the title. Miami (18-6) has the third-best record in the NBA and, let’s face it, the Heat has more than enough skill to beat any team in a best-of-seven series. Miami remains my favorite to win the championship over Oklahoma City.
But, again, we’re talking about achieving greatness here.
That was the standard James set at that admittedly overdone Welcome Celebration when he infamously ticked off the number of titles the newly-assembled Big Three could win.
Right now, that first title still faces some legitimate questions.
Chris Perkins is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com, covering the NBA and the Miami Heat. His columns regularly appear every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter.