Miami Heat Midseason Report Card
We’re now exactly halfway through the Miami Heat basketball season. I figure this is as good a time as any to reflect on the team’s performance thus far, evaluate the players, suggest some areas for improvement and make some projections for the second half of the season.
PERFORMANCE THUS FAR
The Heat currently stand at 21-20, good enough for sixth place in the Eastern Conference, one game behind last season’s total to this point. Miami has now completed the tougher half of its schedule. Of the 41 games played, 28 were against teams with a .500 record or better.
Miami had no problems beating the teams it should, winning 85% of games against below .500 teams. But, not surprisingly, they had a difficult time beating the class of the NBA, winning just 36% of games against teams at .500 or better. It didn’t seem to matter whether such games were played at home or on the road. Here’s how it all broke down statistically:
Performance Against Below .500 Teams
Total games played: 13
Total games won: 11
Winning Percentage: 85%
Total games played at home: 7
Total games won at home: 6
Winning Percentage: 86%
Total games played on the road: 6
Total games won on the road: 5
Winning Percentage: 83%
Performance Against Teams .500 or Better
Total games played: 28
Total games won: 10
Winning Percentage: 36%
Total games played at home: 15
Total games won at home: 6
Winning Percentage: 40%
Total games played on the road: 13
Total games won on the road: 4
Winning Percentage: 31%
The numbers bear out what we already know. The Heat is playing average NBA basketball. They beat the bad teams; they lose to the good teams. In the East Conference, that is good enough to make the playoffs and get bounced in the first round. To this point, the Heat have done little inspire a belief in anything more, but have convinced us of at least that.
EVALUATING THE PLAYERS
I have attempted to evaluate the performances of each Heat player thus far this season. Bear in mind that these grades only represent player performances vs. expectations, and not absolute performances.
Dwyane Wade: This is a harsh grade, caused by the overwhelming expectations that are placed on him. He is still an all-world shooting guard, but the simple truth is that his stats are down across the board. He is shooting a career worst 45.7% from the floor. Everything from his conditioning to his motivation has been called into question. But… his play has begun to reflect the Wade of old in recent games. If he is able to turn it on against weaker competition in the second half, his grade for the season could jump substantially. Grade: B-
Michael Beasley: For as much as Wade gets hurt by large expectations, Beasley benefits from low expectations. Many of us were hoping he would be a 20/10 PF when the Heat selected him #2 overall in the 2008 draft. At some point, he may be. But that time isn’t now. He’s had moments of absolute brilliance. And he’s had moments where he looks utterly confused. He is a model of inconsistency. The disparity in his home vs. away numbers is just one example. If he adds some toughness and grabs some boards, things could turn around. Remember, he’s still only 21. Grade: B-
Quentin Richardson: The team was left in shambles at SF after our best option was lost to free agency. The four-times traded Richardson has stepped in admirably, adding a deep threat (40%) and solid perimeter defense to a team that so desperately needed both. He doesn’t do a whole lot more though, and he’s struggled mightily in the new year (33% FG). Grade: B+
Jermaine O’Neal: Much was made of his Tim Grover off-season regimen. He’s not getting a whole lot of touches but he’s making the most of them, shooting a career high 54%. I expected more points than his 12, but fewer rebounds than his 7. All in all, he’s had a solid but unspectacular first half. Grade: B
Rafer Alston: Maybe it’s a bit early to judge Alston. He’s played 8 games for the Heat. But he’s shooting 37% from the floor and has a 1.8-1 assist to turnover ratio. That’s not good when the man who he replaced in the starting rotation, Carlos Arroyo, has a 4-1 ratio. Grade: C-
Udonis Haslem: He gets credit for being the ultimate team player in the face of adversity. He is coming off the bench for the first time in six seasons, and has taken it in a professional manner. His numbers are down along with his time on the floor. But his team defense is solid and he leads the team in rebounds. If you believe in Hollinger’s PER calculations, this is the best of his past three seasons. Grade: B+
Mario Chalmers: He has regressed in his second pro season. The man Pat Riley so adamantly deemed point guard of the future clearly isn’t. He played, and behaved, his way out of the starting rotation. The last game notwithstanding, he’s played better in a reserve role. But one could certainly question whether Arroyo deserves the nod. He’s a second round pick in a league of stars. Maybe we’re laying too much ire on him based on Riley’s mistakes. Grade: C-
Carlos Arroyo: We’ve know from the outset that he’s not a great defender, and we weren’t expecting that to change. But he does provide a nice spark for the starting unit when he’s on the floor. He creates some offense at times with his energy, he usually makes the open shot, and he never turns the ball over. Guaranteeing his contract is a sign of how valuable he is. Relegating him to third string is a sign of just how confused management is. Grade: B+
Dorell Wright: He has shown flashes of the athleticism that merited a first round selection. In his first healthy season in quite some time, he’s done a bit of everything, from taking over at point to rebounding to defending the perimeter. He hasn’t missed a free throw all season (17-17). With a bit more consistency, he could see increased minutes and an increased grade – if he sticks around. Grade: B
Joel Anthony: He is a maximum effort guy on a team desperately in need. He’s had a solid season as a shot blocker and post defender. He’s clearly working hard on his offensive game, though he has a mountain to climb. We heard a lot about the improvement in that area during the off-season, but we have yet to really see it. It is nice to see him shooting free throws at a 75% clip though. Grade: B
Daequan Cook: No surprise here. He’s playing at a D-League level yet he’s set to make $2.2 million next season, after Riley inexplicably picked up his option. He is shooting 29% from the field, and 29% from beyond the arc. Need I say more? The hope is that he turns things around, because he will be on the Heat roster in 2010/11. Grade: F
Jamaal Magloire: He never players, but always plays well. He is a force in the middle. He’ll knock you down and spit in your face. This team needs some of that. On a per minute basis, he is 6th in the league in rebounding. One has to wonder why he doesn’t see the floor more often on a team that struggles so mightily in that department. Grade: A-
James Jones: He was once projected as the team’s staring SF. It is now clear that the contract he was given, which will eat up $2 million of cap space this summer, was the worst Riley still has left on this team.The only pictures you’ll find of him are in a suit and tie, at the end of the bench. The lack of a lower grade acknowledges that he is still shooting 40% from deep, as he was brought in to do. He’s simply not getting the playing time. Tough to knock him too hard for it. Grade: C-
Yakhouba Diawara: It’s impossible to put a grade on the performance of a man who’s played 35 minutes all season long. But he does get the distinguished honor of carrying a negative Hollinger PER. Grade: Incomplete
FIVE AREAS FOR SECOND HALF IMPROVEMENT
1. Defend on a consistent basis. Miami has held its opponents to 44.9% shooting, good for eighth best in the league. Surprised? It’s clearly all about the consistency of the team’s defensive intensity. There are nights that it appears the Heat confuse the term “effort” with the term “disease”, avoiding it at all costs. Yesterday’s game against the Bobcats, in which the Heat surrendered a Bobcat franchise-record 82% shooting in the first quarter, is a prime example. The effort needs to be there night-in and night-out.
2. Get more from the role players. Dwyane Wade is a great player. But the Heat can’t win playing 1-on-5 basketball. Beasley has provided a spark of late, but Miami needs much more. It’s all about floor spacing. Good floor spacing allows for distribution of the basketball to the open man. Distribution gets the defense on its heels, leading to open driving lanes for penetration and open jump shots on kick outs. Life will become incrementally easier for everyone from Jermaine on the post to Quentin on the perimeter with sufficient room to operate.
3. Execute in late game situations. The Heat has lost five games this season in which they’ve held leads deep into the fourth quarter. Some have been of the excruciating variety (Kobe’s last second miracle; Rondo’s buzzer beating lay-up). At times in the fourth, the Heat can go stagnant offensively. Ball movement goes south, jumpers fall short and the team has to rely completely on Wade to pull it out. That formula doesn’t work, neither now or in the playoffs ahead.
4. Rebound. As a team statistically, the Heat is twenty-third in the league at 40.5 a game with a minus 0.3 differential, which is 23rd in the league. It doesn’t sound that bad overall. But the frontcourt needs to do better. There are times the Heat gets absolutely abused on the glass and opponents pile up second chance points.
5. Beat playoff teams in the East. Miami can make the playoffs by simply winning the games it is expected to. But it would be great for the team to get some confidence that it is something more than a pretender. In a first round playoff match-up, the Heat will very likely play Cleveland, Boston, Orlando or Atlanta. Surprisingly, the Heat has played those teams to a 3-4 record thus far. But as it stands right now, the Heat is a team searching for answers. Some quality wins could change the attitude.
PROJECTIONS FOR THE SECOND HALF
The fact that the Heat has 22 road games left (vs. 19 at home) does not, in my humble opinion, accurately depict the difficulty of the schedule. The current winning percentage, on a 41 game basis, of the teams the Heat faced in the first half of the season is 52.2%. The winning percentage of the teams remaining on the schedule is just 44.7%. Twenty-five of the remaining 41 games are against teams with a below .500 record. And while the majority of those are on the road, that hasn’t seemed like too much of a bother.
Applying the Heat’s winning percentages to date to the rest of the season produces a total of between 26 and 27 second half wins. I am not quite that optimistic. I project the Heat will win 23 games in the second half of the seasonâ€¦ finishing with a 44-38 record, besting last season’s mark by one game, and good enough for 6th place in the Eastern Conference.