What to make of Miami's top-heavy roster heading into next season? John Hollinger shared his 2011-12 Heat player profiles; now it's our 5-on-5 crew's turn to weigh in.
1. For which Heat player is the 2011-12 season most important?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: For LeBron James' image, there isn't a marketing campaign, press conference or charitable cause in the world that will have the rehabilitative effect of an NBA title. He might still be vilified, but he won't be as widely ridiculed. Watching him during some of his prouder moments away from Miami last season, you get the sense that's an important distinction for LeBron.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: LeBron, LeBron, LeBron. I could make an argument for Erik Spoelstra, who's on an expiring contract, but alas, he's not a player. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are certainly champing at the bit for 2011-12, but LeBron still has a King Kong-sized monkey on his back after a dismal Finals. This is his season.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: LeBron James is the easy and likely correct choice. But you could make a contrarian case for Mike Miller because Miller could be the target of an amnesty buyout, trade or some other maneuver that ships him from South Beach. However, a return to 2006 form might make Miller a fixture on multiple championship teams in Miami.
Michael Wallace, Heat Index: The no-brainer answer here has to be LeBron James. Barring a catastrophic injury, there simply are no more excuses. It's officially championship or bust from this point forward for the two-time MVP. He's got the talent around him. He's had the time to get comfortable. Now, it's all about fourth-quarter tenacity and a title.
Brian Windhorst, Heat Index: Skipping the LeBron legacy boiler plate, this is a pivotal season for Chris Bosh. Because of expected rule changes in the new CBA, there's some doubt whether the Heat can keep the Big Three together and be consistent contenders. Bosh is very important to what the Heat do because of his size. But he didn't have a great season last year because of a significant role change. If he can't adjust and then excel at or near the level he did in Toronto, the Heat may have to explore options after the season.
2. Who is the most intriguing player on the Heat's roster?
Arnovitz: If by "intriguing" you mean "full of intrigue," then the answer is pretty obvious. For better, worse or in between, nobody moves the needle like LeBron James.
Haberstroh: Norris Cole. Intrigue is the right word here. Stat geeks have been trying to translate his mind-boggling numbers to the NBA-level (he logged 40 points and 20 boards in a game last season!), but good luck getting a read on Horizon League competition. He could be the team's starting point guard by season's end. Or not.
Mason: I'm very curious to see if Udonis Haslem can actually help the Heat take a step forward in terms of emotional consistency. He'll help space the floor and provide some defense and rebounding, but he may be most valuable as a reliable emotional constant on the court.
Wallace: Chris Bosh. When he finally got fed up with his role, himself and some of his critics, he went on a mission late last season to prove he can be a difference-maker in Miami. He supposedly committed to bulking up this offseason to improve his stamina and power game. I'm intrigued to see if he can be the triple-double threat (points, rebounds, free throw attempts) Miami need in order to close the show.
Windhorst: Mario Chalmers is an interesting case study. He's outrageously overconfident and often makes what seem like mindless mistakes because of it. But he's a remarkable player in the clutch and had been since college because he's so sure of himself. This combo isn't valuable in February but Chalmers proved to be a strong role player in the playoffs. Because of that, he's got legit value to the Heat despite the array of drawbacks.
3. What's the most surprising take in Hollinger's Heat profiles?
Arnovitz: That Jamaal Magloire can't outjump a Pop-Tart. Really? Even a frosted one?
Haberstroh: LeBron's assist breakdown. I knew that LeBron had a fetish for feeding Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Chris Bosh on pick-and-pops, but I was taken aback just how often his assists lead to long 2s, the worst shot in the game. It's subtle, but it's a key to explaining the Heat's disappointing offensive firepower.
Mason: I wasn't surprised to read that LeBron James often passes for 2-point jump shots, but I certainly didn't expect his "assist value" to be nearly the worst in the league. While it could be seen as a critique of James, I think it really points to how much defenses packed the paint, and how few reliable 3-point options consistently share the floor with James.
Wallace: That Dwyane Wade was as charitable on the court last season as he has been off it. Wade has always had a rather high volume of turnovers, but the reward has always overshadowed the risk factor. Hollinger's breakdown of how much of a spike there was in that department last season was stunning -- even to a guy who covered almost every Heat game.
Windhorst: Probably the net negative impact Hollinger feels Joel Anthony has. Hollinger points out that Anthony had the lowest usage rate in 20 years, which takes the whole 4-on-5 offensive reality to new heights. When you watch him, you see how Anthony can impact a game defensively with his length and activity. But he makes the Heat so much easier to defend. Right now, though, he's the Heat's only option at center.
4. Based on Hollinger's profiles, what do the Heat need most?
Arnovitz: The Heat need someone, anyone at the center position who doesn't consider a basketball a foreign object. And a healthy Mike Miller would provide more than just a marginal contribution for Miami.
Haberstroh: Continuity. Reading all the profiles drove home the point that the Heat had a rotating door outside of the Big Three last season. The instability and unfamiliarity probably led to the baffling number of turnovers. And with no depth at center or point guard right now, more roster turnover is on the horizon.
Mason: A knockdown 3-point shooter that can play heavy minutes would be great. Mike Miller can't shoot, James Jones can't dribble and Eddie House can't dribble, defend or rebound. As much as Miami could use a true center, the real challenge is keeping the ball moving and preserving good offensive spacing in the half court.
Wallace: A 2011-12 NBA season. Even with all of the tangible tweaks that could be made to boost the weak point guard and center spots, the Heat were still only two wins short of a title last season. Passion is as vital as personnel for these guys. They need to build on that momentum and carry last season's bad taste into this season. Otherwise, a super extended layoff will only make it that much tougher to reignite.
Windhorst: Quite clearly even an average starting center would help them. Maybe even below average. Simply, someone that requires being at least guarded on offense and who can catch a pass. Even an average rebounder would take pressure off the Heat's perimeter players to help so much and allow them to run and not crash the boards out of necessity.
5. Would a shortened season help or hurt the Heat?
Arnovitz: On the surface, a compressed schedule would favor athletic teams with endurance, durability, speed, a gift for improvisation and an ability to manufacture points -- even with no prep time and tired legs. With the exception of Oklahoma City, it's hard to find a team more suited to prosper at a breakneck pace than the Heat.
Haberstroh: Help. But it will hurt a little, too. The Heat desperately needed extra time for Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller to recover from going under the knife multiple times, so there is a silver lining to the lockout. However, with as many as eight new players on the roster, another jelling period is in store.
Mason: I'm not sure. Injury is the only thing standing between the Heat and another deep playoff run, and a shortened season would provide fewer opportunities for injury. However, if a key player does go down, there will also be less time to recover. Miami does have the talent to beat teams with fresher legs, so I guess it's a positive.
Wallace: In a continuation of my answer to No. 4, a short season can only help the Heat. The sense of urgency would be immediate on players and coach Erik Spoelstra, whose status beyond this season remains unsettled. The quicker LeBron, Wade and Bosh can get back to the Finals to wash away last season's stain left by Dallas, the better.
Windhorst: I'm not sure it would have any impact. They likely won't have many new faces -- unlike last season, when the entire roster had been turned over. The system is expected to remain largely the same. The Heat's success will be determined by the playoffs, not the regular season.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Kevin Arnovitz writes for ESPN.com. Tom Haberstroh, Michael Wallace and Brian Windhorst write for the Heat Index. Beckley Mason writes for the TrueHoop Network.
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