What's the best Heat lineup?

HeatGarrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images

The Heat have a long line of candidates to complement LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the lineup.

The Big Three reunited on Sunday in Oklahoma City. Injuries had separated the trio since the team’s Jan. 12 loss against the Los Angeles Clippers, which means they hadn’t played together for nearly three weeks.

Since then, the Heat rotation has undergone a bit of a makeover. The emergence of Mike Miller, the demotion of Carlos Arroyo, and the revival of Eddie House have given the Heat some things to think about out as the season approaches the February trade deadline.

The calendar now reads “February” and the Heat still have not settled on an answer to this essential question:

Who are the best complementary pieces for the Big Three?

Let’s take a look at the strongest candidates (sincere apologies to House, James Jones, and Erick Dampier) and how each unit has performed thus far this season alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Keep in mind, this could all change if and when Udonis Haslem returns from his foot injury.

(Note: the data come from BasketballValue.com and reflect the performance as a 5-man unit.)


Carlos Arroyo and Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Minutes: 428 | Scoreboard: Heat 925 – Opponents 822

Offensive efficiency: 114.1 | Defensive efficiency: 102.6 | Differential: +11.4

This is the Heat’s longest tenured starting lineup this season. While it has enjoyed considerable success thus far -- outscoring opponents by over 100 points -- Erik Spoelstra has recently ditched it by replacing Arroyo with Mario Chalmers as the starter at the point guard slot.

If Spoelstra wants the dependability of a veteran lineup, this should be his choice. Arroyo and Ilgauskas are both on the north side of age-30 and have logged over a combined 1,000 games in the NBA so they provide a steady hand to supplement the star power of the Big Three. Because of its track record together, Spoelstra knows what he’s getting with this group and may be sliding this five to the backburner as he experiments with more athletic lineups.

We haven’t seen this lineup since the 3:46 mark in the third quarter of the Clippers game. How long before we see it again?

Carlos Arroyo and Joel Anthony

Minutes: 175 | Scoreboard: Heat 379 – Opponents 314

Offensive efficiency: 114.1 | Defensive efficiency: 95.4 | Differential: +18.7

When the Big Three made their 2010-11 debut, they did it with these two tagging alongside them. The starting lineup of Arroyo, Wade, James, Bosh and Anthony lasted all of nine games before Spoelstra promoted Big Z following two consecutive early season losses to Utah and Boston.

But looking at the data, this has easily been their most effective lineup this season, trampling opponents by nearly 19 points every 100 possessions. Theoretically, a lineup with Ilgauskas should exhibit more scoring firepower than one with the offensively-challenged Anthony, but interestingly enough, that hasn’t been the case. This lineup with Arroyo and Anthony has the exact same offensive efficiency as the one with Arroyo and Ilgauskas (104.1 points per 100 possessions). We see an enormous difference, however, on the defensive end of the floor. The defense has been 7.2 points per 100 possessions stingier with Anthony anchoring the paint instead of Ilgauskas (102.6 vs. 95.4).

With Arroyo and Anthony completely depending on others for offense, the Big Three shoulder almost the entirety of the scoring load but that doesn’t seem to hinder the lineup’s effectiveness. Even though this five is the Heat’s second-most used lineup of the season, nine games have passed since it has taken the floor.

Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony

Minutes: 109 | Scoreboard: Heat 247 – Opponents 219

Offensive efficiency: 116.0 | Defensive efficiency: 103.3 | Differential: +12.7

We saw this unit as recently as Monday night against the Cavaliers and it’s the most frequently used lineup with Mario Chalmers and the Big Three. Infused with a boost of athleticism at the point guard position and energy on the defensive end, this unit has performed nicely so far this season with a point differential of +12.7 points every 100 possessions in 109 minutes of playing time.

This lineup brings hyperactivity on the defensive end but it comes with veritable risk as well. Anthony and Chalmers are long and quick, so Spoelstra will show this lineup when he wants to cause chaos on the defensive end. Offensively, it appears that Chalmers’ playmaking abilities augment the three-pronged attack of the Big Three as the Heat score 116 points every 100 possessions, their most efficient offensive lineup with more than 50 minutes of action.

Though this lineup hasn’t been as quite as deadly as the previous Arroyo combination, expect to see it more as the season moves along. Chalmers has supplanted Arroyo on the depth chart even though Arroyo didn’t do anything egregious to lose the job.

Mario Chalmers and Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Minutes: 67 | Scoreboard: Heat 98 – Opponents 94

Offensive efficiency: 114.6 | Defensive efficiency: 100.7 | Differential: +13.2

Behold the Heat’s starting lineup. For now.

It outscored the Cavaliers by 10 points while it was on the floor for about 15 minutes on Monday night but, then again, so could your local YMCA All-Star team. Keep in mind that of the 67 minutes this unit has played together, about 30 of those minutes have come against Cleveland.

One would expect a lineup of Chalmers and Ilgauskas to outscore the Arroyo and Ilgauskas combo, but the difference has been negligible so far. What this lineup does have is conventional appeal. The combination of a playmaking point guard and a tall center next to the powers of the Big Three pleases the traditional senses of the basketball mind. With that said, sticking to convention has never been high on the Heat’s priority list.

Look for Spoelstra to continue trotting out this starting lineup for the foreseeable future but keep an eye on how it performs defensively. The Thunder picked it apart on Sunday and the unit’s numbers look far worse against teams outside of Cleveland.

Mike Miller and Joel Anthony

Minutes: 15 | Scoreboard: Heat 10 – Opponents 17

Don’t read into the results so far; this lineup has a chance to be this team’s finest.

The Heat have waited all season to showcase the team’s virtually limitless versatility and they pulled the curtain on Sunday against the Thunder. The wings can share ball handling duties without missing a step as Miller, Wade and James have each assumed the role of point guard several times over their careers. Anthony’s void on the offensive end is easily shored up by the shot-creating exploits of his counterparts.

As a defender, Wade has the ability to pick up the opposing point guard, while the safety net of James, Bosh, and Anthony underneath should wash away concerns about penetration. Spoelstra has been vocal about playing this lineup more and it’s easy to see why. With the Heat offense anchored around James and Bosh, don’t expect them to miss a traditional point guard “running” the offense.

Mike Miller and Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Minutes 2 | Scoreboard: Heat 11 – Opponents 8

When Miller subbed in for Chalmers midway through the first quarter of Sunday’s game, that was the end of the Heat as we know it. Now that Miller is healthy and the Big Three are in tact, don't be shocked if Miller enters the starting lineup down the stretch.

We didn’t see this lineup against the Cavs but that probably has more to do with Bosh’s early foul trouble as anything. On Thursday against the Magic, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Heat employ this lineup for long stretches to combat the Magic’s unconventional line.

As is always the case with Ilgauskas, the Heat pick up some rebounding and floor space with him on the floor, but lose defensive mobility and running speed. This is the Heat’s stretchiest lineup they can put together, which clears out the paint for Wade and James to penetrate and flourish. Ilgauskas can pull opposing centers away from the basket with his mid-range shot and that could be pivotal come Thursday with Dwight Howard. With an average height of 6-foot-9, this lineup should be a nightmare to guard for smaller opponents.


Who's your pick to complement the Big Three?