MIAMI – Pssst…want to know the biggest problem with the Heat’s halfcourt offense right now? It’s forwards Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and Mike Miller.
Haslem, Battier and Miller – the Heat’s second most-important trio behind the Big Three — are the reason
coach Erik Spoelstra is still frantically searching for a rotation entering the final week of the regular season. If they’re all playing well, the Heat has an embarrassment of offensive riches on any given night. If two of the three are playing well, the Heat probably win the championship.
The problem is none of the three is playing well offensively.
This is the cold hard truth about three of the nicest, most media-friendly guys on the team. Quite honestly, that might cut them some slack since so little is written about how much they’re hurting the Heat’s offense. But here are the numbers:
–Haslem, a career .494 shooter, is shooting a career-low .423 from the field;
–Battier, a career .441 shooter, is shooting a career-low .386 from the field. He’s shooting .339 from 3-point range, the second-worst total of his career;
–Miller’s issue is he can’t stay on the court. He’s missed 28 of the Heat’s 60 games (47 percent) with injuries this season. Last season he missed 41 games (50 percent).
This isn’t Heat hater stuff. It’s fact.
Haslem, Battier and Miller, despite their offensive struggles, remain quality players. And they deserve their playing time. They’re contributing to the winning. Haslem and Battier are among the Heat’s top defenders. Miller is a quality rebounder and he can handle the ball. He’d lead the NBA in 3-point percentage (.463) if he had enough playing time to qualify for the statistics. All three guys belong on the court. That’s not what this is about. This is about the truth.
Look, the Heat might win the title with Haslem, Battier and Miller playing the way they’re playing. But the Heat could win the title much easier if Haslem, Battier and Miller were playing consistently and up to expectations.
Let’s go back to last season when the Super Friends – you’ll recall the Big Three recruited each other, and then they recruited Haslem and Miller — were originally constructed.
The dream was to put Haslem and Miller on the floor alongside the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Bosh. You’d have the versatility and skill to close out any team in the NBA in the last five or six minutes of a game. You’d have halfcourt offense, aggressive defense, rebounding, ball-handling, 3-point shooting, veteran savvy, and five guys who could all defend more than one position. You’d have it all.
That lineup never materialized because of injuries to Haslem and Miller.
This year the Heat added Battier and there was a new dream. Spoelstra could choose among Haslem, Battier and Miller to play alongside the Big Three. His top six players – the Big Three, Haslem, Battier and Miller – would be even better than last year. That was the dream.
Here’s the reality: Miami will get uneven offensive performances as long as Haslem, Battier and Miller give uneven performances. Spolestra knows that to be true. He’s trying to force the chemistry. He changed his starting lineup, inserting Haslem at center, so he can get to his Super Friends (the Big Three plus Haslem and Miller) more quickly. He’s now one move away – substituting Miller for starting guard Mario Chalmers, which happens in the late in the first quarter.
Ideally, that lineup of Bosh at center, Haslem at power forward, James at small forward, Miller at shooting guard and Wade at point guard also closes out games. And, also ideally, you could substitute Battier for either Haslem or Miller without missing a beat.
But those lineups have to show they can play together effectively and efficiently.
Now take a step back to look at the bigger picture, Spolestra is in a tough spot finding a complement to the Big Three. Few Heat players are playing well offensively, and a couple of guys are playing worse since the All-Star break.
–Guard Mario Chalmers is worse. Before the All-Star break he averaged 11.1 points per game and shot .512 from the field. Since the All-Star break he’s averaging 7.8 points and shooting .383.
–Guard Norris Cole is worse. He averaged 8.7 points and shot .483 from the field before the break. Since the break he’s averaging 3.5 points and shooting .298.
Now you see Spoelstra’s problem. Five key guys (Haslem, Battier, Miller, Chalmers and Cole) are in a bad way offensively.
In other words, practically everyone Spoelstra puts beside the Big Three is just short of an offensive liability. The lone exception might be sharp-shooting forward James Jones, last season’s 3-point champion at All-Star Weekend. Jones averaged 3.3 points per game before the break and shot .420 from 3-point range. Since the break he’s averaging 3.3 points per game and shooting .419 from 3-point range.
The Heat remains my favorite to win the title. But road to the title would be much smoother if Haslem, Battier and Miller were meeting expectations offensively.
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.