Progress Report: Heat's Midseason Grades

February, 29, 2012
2/29/12
9:16
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive
Miami Heat
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
The Heat are off to their best start in franchise history. But who has passed the test so far?

MIAMI – Just before the All-Star break, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra asked his team two pertinent questions that will define their destiny.

“What kind of team do we want to be?” Spoelstra probed. “What's our motivation?”

The Heat will resume their search for those answers on Thursday, when they open the second half of the season with a game in Portland. But to this point, what we've seen from the Heat is a team that appears determined to return to the NBA Finals and finish the job this time after falling to Dallas in six games last season.

Miami is far from perfect, but it very well could be in the midst of the best basketball we've seen since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces in the summer of 2010 to alter the league's landscape. They've yet to define their destiny, but the Heat have developed this season into a team that tied with Oklahoma City for the NBA's best record entering the break at 27-7, and one that resumes play riding an eight-game streak of victories by a double-digit margin.

Overall, the Heat deserve an “A” for a midterm grade after getting off to the best start in franchise history. But I'll go a step further and break down the marks for each player on the roster, along with evaluations of Spoelstra and team president Pat Riley based on the progress they've made amid Miami's lofty championship-or-bust expectations.

JOEL ANTHONY, Starting C
(3.0 PPG; 4.3 RPG; 1.2 BPG)
Upshot: There have been stretches this season when Anthony has simply dominated the paint defensively with his shot-blocking. His offense has improved enough to the point where he's developed a decent jump hook, and there's a pretty good chance he'll actually catch and finish once in a while.
Downside: Being undersized and mainly a non-factor overall offensively puts the Heat in a tough spot. His rebounding numbers could also be better.
Midterm Grade: C

SHANE BATTIER, Reserve SG/SF
(4.5 PPG; 2.1 RPG; 1.1 APG)
Upshot: The cold front finally ended about two weeks ago. Maybe it coincided with his guy, Jimmy Buffett, coming to town for that concert. It finally appears his offense is catching up with his defense. Battier also ranks among the NBA's leaders in drawing charges, and will be key down the stretch.
Downside: His first half was such a struggle offensively, he shot just 38.9 percent and sometimes looked like a washed-up player on both ends of the court. Consistency is a significant concern.
Midterm Grade: D+

CHRIS BOSH, Starting PF
(18.4 PPG; 8.30 RPG; 2 APG)
Upshot: It finally seems to be sinking in for Bosh that he might never be as productive, statistically, as he was as a featured man in Toronto. He's had a great attitude and is trying to make the most of his adjusted role. Recently, his rebounding has picked up and his mid-range jumper continues to drop.
Downside: Bosh just doesn't spend enough time attacking the lane. He should easily be a 20-10 player, but too often falls short. His play will ultimately determine how tough Miami will be in the postseason.
Midterm Grade: B-

MARIO CHALMERS, Starting PG
(11.1 PPG; 2.5 RPG; 3.6 APG)
Upshot: Chalmers is justifying that new $4 million-a-year salary by having a career season. He's developed into one of the top 3-point shooters in the league. He's always been confident about his game, but we're now seeing a dependable and consistent presence from a far more mature Chalmers.
Downside: If he faced Jeremy Lin every night, Chalmers would be just fine defensively. But that's one area of his game that leaves a bit to be desired at times. He should be that motivated every game.
Midterm Grade: B

NORRIS COLE, Reserve PG
(8.7 PPG; 1.7 RPG; 2.5 APG)
Upshot: Two words you'll never use to describe the Heat's rookie point guard: Bashful and slow. The kid is flat-out fearless on the court and has proved to be a late first-round steal. Cole has been the change-of-pace guard Miami needed to push the pace for it's much-improved second unit this season.
Downside: For a guy who gets to the rim with relative ease, Cole should be a much better finisher in the lane. He also needs to make more plays as a facilitator and learn when to shift gears to mix things up.
Midterm Grade: B

EDDY CURRY, Reserve C
(1.1 PPG; .7 TOT; .1 APG)
Upshot: Even though he's privately frustrated with the lack of playing time, Curry has publicly maintained a professional and positive demeanor about his role in Miami. He lost a ton of weight to prove to Pat Riley that he was serious about this comeback after nearly three years of inactivity.
Downside: Spoelstra is more comfortable with second-year center Dexter Pittman than Curry. That doesn't bode well moving forward for Curry's chances on a team that already prefers to play smaller.
Midterm Grade: I (Incomplete)

MICKELL GLADNESS, Reserve PF/C
(.3 PPG; 1.4 RPG; .3 APG)
Upshot: The second-year development player was brought back for a second 10-day contract on Tuesday, and could be one step closer to remaining for the rest of the season. Gladness, a slender shot-blocker, showed enough talent to make the team out of camp but opportunities have since been slim.
Downside: Gladness needs to spend more time in the weight room to bulk up. He's also learning the hard way that life trying to get his shot off in the NBA is a lot more difficult than in the D-League.
Midterm Grade: C- (Incomplete)

TERREL HARRIS, Reserve SG
(3.3 PPG; 2.6 RPG; .9 APG)
Upshot: Harris has the size, strength, scoring ability and defense to contribute on any roster that doesn't include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Norris Cole in the perimeter rotation. But when he got the opportunities, Harris showed in games that he's a legit NBA prospect.
Downside: Unfortunately for Harris, the Heat have contract commitments for their perimeter players that extend beyond this season. He'll be the next Anthony Morrow to get away amid a numbers crunch.
Midterm Grade: B-

UDONIS HASLEM, Reserve PF
(6.3 PPG; 8.1 RPG; .7 APG)
Upshot: He's healthy. That couldn't be said about Haslem much of last season when he missed most of it, including the first two rounds of the playoffs, to recover from foot surgery. The Heat certainly missed his interior toughness and rebounding, which have been exceptional so far this season off the bench.
Downside: Those baseline and straight-away jumpers that have been automatic for Haslem the past few years are flat broke right now. He's struggled to find an offensive rhythm and is shooting a career-worst 41.8 percent.
Midterm Grade: B-

JUWAN HOWARD, Reserve PF
(.8 PPG; .7 TOT; .3 APG)
Upshot: Howard is a proud vet who resents being reduced to this tag, but he's been a consummate professional and solid locker room presence. At 38, he is clearly along for the potential ride to a title. His best work comes in pushing Bosh, Curry and Dexter Pittman in workouts. He also still does a mean Cabbage Patch.
Downside: But nobody does the Cabbage Patch anymore. And it hasn't been easy having a locker next to LeBron for home games and being smothered by media lining up for those postgame interviews.
Midterm Grade: C

LEBRON JAMES, Starting SF
(27.4 PPG; 8.10 RPG; 6.8 APG)
Upshot: So far, no one in the history of the game has done it better or more efficiently on the court that LeBron, who was named conference player of the month for December/January and has positioned himself well to win his third MVP award. He's added a post-up game, as promised, and has been on a tear lately.
Downside: LeBron still can't get out of his own way sometimes. The flirting with Cleveland and the fallout from the way his All-Star performance ended created serious questions that just weren't necessary.
Midterm Grade: A+

JAMES JONES, Reserve SF
(3.3 PPG; .9 RPG; .2 APG)
Upshot: There's no doubt in anyone's mind that Jones is capable of knocking down big shots when needed. He's shooting 42 percent from 3-point range and also continues to grade well defensively by draw charges. The fact that he re-signed shows how badly he wants to stick with his hometown team.
Downside: Having Jones and not playing him is a luxury. In hindsight, though, would the Heat have been better off using Jones' or Howard's spot to get younger and more athletic at power forward/center?
Midterm Grade: C+

MIKE MILLER, Reserve SF
(6.3 PPG; 3.4 RPG; .7 APG)
Upshot: Just like Haslem, Miller is enjoying an extended stretch of good health after missing a major chunk of last season with injuries. He's second in the league in 3-point shooting at 51.7 percent, has thrived defensively and has found a comfort zone on the second unit with Battier, Haslem and Cole.
Downside: He remains the Heat's most realistic trade asset beyond the Big Three should Riley seriously pursue adding more size. Miller is on pace to average career lows in minutes, points and assists.
Midterm Grade: B-

DEXTER PITTMAN, Reserve C
(1.5 PPG; 1.5 RPG; .1 APG)
Upshot: Big body, big hands and solid footwork are all major assets for Pittman, a second-year center still trying to prove he can be a long-term fit. He's also dropped plenty of weight to show he's serious about maintain a roster spot in Miami. Pittman can at least say he's beating out a veteran in Curry.
Downside: Pittman has had enough time to crack the rotation. Still, Spoelstra would rather play Bosh, Haslem and Anthony at center. That tells you all you need to know about Miami's project centers.
Midterm Grade: D+

DWYANE WADE, Starting SG
(22.4 PPG; 4.40 RPG; 4.8 APG)
Upshot: LeBron's efficiency is obviously rubbing off on Wade, who is ranked second behind his teammate in PER. Wade has been a different player since he came back from the foot injury that cost him six games. His boost helped propel the Heat to their current eight-game streak of blowout victories.
Downside: Wade is praised for his ability to help out in the lane and block shots, but he also deserves a bit of the blame for blown assignments that have led to the Heat giving up a ton of open 3-point looks.
Midterm Grade: A-

ERIK SPOELSTRA, Head Coach
(27-7, First place in the East)
Upshot: Miami lost eight games by the time it played 17 last season. This year, the Heat have yet to reach eight setbacks through 34 games. Credit Spoelstra for finding the right buttons to push. He's altered the playing style, managed egos, settled on a rotation and has Miami rolling through a tough schedule.
Downside: No other coach works under the assumption that anything less than winning a championship could be considered a failure. That leaves Spoelstra in a tough spot regardless of that new contract extension.
Midterm Grade: A

PAT RILEY, President of Basketball Operations
(27-7, First place in the East)
Upshot: Riley was absolutely right about one thing: The Heat didn't need major roster tweaks after finishing two games short of an NBA championship in the first season of the Big Three era. Instead, they only needed to get healthy and focus a bit more on the game itself and less on distractions.
Downside: It's too early to know if offseason investments in Battier and Chalmers will pay off in the playoffs. But the lack of depth in the post has yet to be addressed as the March 15 trade deadline looms.
Midterm Grade: B

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?