- Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Heat signed Mike Bibby only a few weeks ago, but he's already earned the starting gig.
MIAMI -- If you read the signs from Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, Mike Bibby was not far away from taking over the starting point guard role ahead of the playoffs. But now with Mario Chalmers sidelined for up to two weeks, the switch has arrived sooner than expected.
It’s time to introduce the Heat’s newest starting point guard. And Bibby is playing well enough that he may not ever give it up.
"He'll be able to fit in seamlessly," Spoelstra said after Monday's practice. Spoelstra relayed that Eddie House and Mike Miller will play backup when Dwyane Wade and LeBron James weren't helping to share the ball.
It's safe to say the writing was on the wall. When Bibby was signed Mar. 2 after the Washington Wizards cut him loose, the Heat brought in a player with 80 games of playoff experience to his name. For the past three seasons, he started for the Atlanta Hawks in the postseason and helped lead his former club to its most successful seasons since the Dikembe days.
If you’re curious if Spoelstra is about to change his starting lineup, just look at who is in the finishing lineup. In early January, Chalmers came off the bench for then-starter Carlos Arroyo -- who is now backing up for Rajon Rondo in Boston – and Spoelstra tabbed the reserve point guard to finish his games for him in crunch time. Chalmers took over the starting duties Jan. 22 and Arroyo was waived about a month later.
These days, Bibby has earned the title as the Heat’s finisher at point guard, receiving most if not all the crunch time minutes recently. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder last Wednesday , the former Hawk guard played the final 15 minutes of the game as the Heat tried to mount a comeback. He played most of the fourth quarters in the tight games against the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers. Once he was the team’s finisher, it was only a matter of time before the starter label was added to his name.
Spoelstra hasn’t hid his intentions very well. After practice recently, the Heat coach was asked if he liked bringing Bibby off the bench. He candidly responded, “Right now.” That’s coachspeak for “changes are coming.”
And on Wednesday, the change will be made when the Heat take on the Detroit Pistons without Chalmers who has started the Heat’s previous 26 games. Bibby will slide into the starting role and become the third point guard to try his hand at leading the Big Three.
When Bibby joined the Heat, he put pressure on himself to improve what was already one of the best teams in the league.
"The main thing was I was nervous," Bibby said his introduction to the team. "I wanted to come in and I wanted to just be good for the guys and make this team go up a level instead of bringing them down. It's been a long time since I got nervous before a game but I was nervous when I got here."
While Bibby’s promotion coincided with Chalmers’ knee injury, the 12-year veteran may have deserved the gig based on merit alone. The Heat were interested in Bibby’s services as a savvy knock-down shooter alongside the Big Three and he’s done exactly that. Bibby has nailed 46 percent of his 3-point attempts as a member of the Heat and has recorded more than one turnover in a game just once since joining the club.
The Heat now own the most efficient offense in the Eastern Conference and Bibby’s addition deserves a lot of the credit. In fact, the Heat have scored 115 points per 100 possessions with Bibby on the floor, a considerable jump above the team’s 111 offensive efficiency overall according basketballvalue.com. What’s most impressive about that? Many of Bibby’s lineups are with the second unit.
When we look at lineups with Bibby playing with the Big Three, the numbers are astounding. The Heat have scored 126 points per 100 possessions when the Heat have Bibby, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh on the floor. That’s 15 points better than the team’s normal rate, far and away better than with Chalmers.
Why has the Heat offense reached juggernaut status with Bibby on the floor? Because he stretches the floor with his 3-point shooting, opening up lanes for the Big Three to do their work. He provides a safety valve for when LeBron and Wade penetrate into the lane. If they have a shot, they take it. If they don’t, they can kick it out to Bibby who is patiently waiting on the perimeter to rise and fire. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Bibby has converted 49 percent of his catch-and-shoots in a Heat uniform and since most of those attempts yield the added bonus of a three-pointer, he’s effectively shooting 71.4 percent. A spot-up shooter like that is useful for any team, but alongside two of the best drive-and-kick players in the NBA, it’s the stuff of nightmares for opponents.
Bibby’s shooting has been lights out but what’s also key is that he’s kept his turnovers to a minimum. Over his last seven games, Bibby has played 163 minutes and only coughed up the ball four times over that span. Turnovers have been a Heat sore spot this season and the team was hoping Bibby could provide the steady hand that they lack with the often unstable Chalmers manning the floor.
The issue with Bibby, of course, is his defense. The Heat can score all they want with Bibby on the floor but if they hemorrhage points defensively, the tradeoff isn’t worth it. And while the Heat defense does suffer with Bibby on the floor, the offensive firepower more than makes up for it. Bibby lineups with the Big Three have allowed 111 points per 100 possessions which is about nine points worse than the team’s average. But with the offense scoring 126 points per 100 possessions, that’s an exchange Spoelstra is more than happy to make.
“He’s an intelligent player so he’s picking up our defense but he has a ways to go,” Spoelstra said. “He’s been able to take advantage of our help concepts.”
In the short time that Bibby has played with the Heat, the results have been extremely promising. With Chalmers shelved for the foreseeable future, he is ready for the starting role. If the offense continues to flourish, the Heat may have found a key ingredient to their run at the title.
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