Are the Miami Heat Good for the NBA Now?

When LeBron James and Chris Bosh agreed to join forces with Dwyane Wade in Miami one of the big questions, aside from how many games over 72 they would win, was whether or not having LeBron and Wade on the same team with a third all-star in tow was good for the NBA.

It certainly spurred record amounts of interest in the league during the offseason and gave everyone from hardcore NBA fanatics to grandmothers who did not realize Michael Jordan had retired pegged the Heat and LeBron in particular as public enemy numero uno.

A month into the season the Heat are an uninspiring 10-8.  LeBron and Wade are struggling with how to work together and at this point are not the unstoppable duo nearly everyone envisioned them to be.  Erik Spoelstra is on the hot seat.  Chris Bosh is looking like an overpaid role player.

With Miami failing to meet even the most pessimistic projections heading into the season I think we need to ask the big question once again.  Are the Heat good for the NBA?

Even the most hyped stories become quickly forgotten in the fast paced media frenzy we trudge through every day.  The quickest way for a story to disappear is for the subject to not live up to the hype or otherwise fail to provide excitement, tragic or otherwise.  So far the Heat are not living up to the hype.  The vitriol that was showered on the Heat and the star triumvirate can only go so far.  It is especially difficult to hate something that is mediocre.

We saw a similar situation arise in sports earlier this year when previous public pariah Tiger Woods returned to golf.  People could not wait to see how he would perform after his personal life disintegrated in front of the world.  Tiger was big news for a while, at least until we realized he was just another good player.  Winning may cure a multitude of sins, but loosing will result in some form of sports purgatory.  Everyone remembers what a bid deal you were, but in the moment you are only a

The Heat still have plenty of time to recover and maybe as they build their roster and chemistry in future seasons and maybe they can become the juggernaut they were expected by most to be.  However, if they remain a mere sideshow exceptional only by their lack of dominance they, and the NBA along with them, will fail to build on the positive momentum that was created in the summer of 2010.

The Heat continue to earn very good television ratings when they play and obviously the upcoming conflagration in Cleveland on Thursday night will be must watch TV and a major national news story.  Even so without the Heat becoming a force to be reckoned with, the NBA will lose their biggest drawing force from the casual fan and the non fans.  A Heat team that does not run rampant over the rest of the league is no longer a hot commodity and that is not good for the NBA.

By the way, in case you were wondering, the Heat have only defeated one team that is currently over .500, the Magic, and eight of their ten wins have come against teams with a winning percentage below .353.

So now the regular season matters?

How do you explain a team who has never been overly concerned with how well they do in the regular season getting off to a 15-2 start?  The San Antonio Spurs, who typically treat the regular season like a protracted nuisance that ends at the playoffs are winning games left and right.  The number one determinant with how good the Spurs are is health.  No matter how powerful they look in the regular season how far they go in the playoffs will be determined by the health of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

Tim Duncan is playing a career low 29.4 minutes a game, but it is still less than two minutes less than he played per game last season.  More importantly, his numbers have dropped to career lows in nearly every category, and I am not just talking about his per game averages, but his advanced stats like PER, rebound rate and True Shooting percentage.  Apparently less is not more with Duncan.

As good as Duncan still is, the players driving this train are Tony Parker and Many Ginobili.  Parker is playing very well, much better than he did last season, but the real key is Ginobili.  Manu is playing possibly the best ball of his career so far this season.  His percentages are off the charts as he is a couple of percentage points on his field goal percentage from posting a 50-40-90.

Manu has been inserted into the starting lineup this season, which appears to be a nod to the depth the Spurs have at the guard positions.  However, little has changed so far this season from last with the bulk of the minutes at the two guard spots going to Parker, Manu and George Hill.  The difference is Manu is starting and both he and Parker are playing career high minutes.

The Spurs start has been very impressive, but knowing that health is the key to their postseason success and seeing how they are being careful with Duncan, one has to wonder why they are being so caviler with Manu and Parker at this point in the season.  It beans mentioning that both players stayed away from the World Championships this summer and that certainly appears to be the right move.  They are both healthy now and if they can remain healthy throughout the season, there is no reason why they cannot challenge the Lakers for the top spot in the west.

The flip side of that coin is should one or both of the Spurs star guard tandem fall prey to injury, it will sure be confounding why they are playing so many minutes at this point in the season.

Nuggets outrun the Suns

It makes me sad that I was not able to write a recap of the thrilling win over the Suns.  Despite Denver playing without Carmelo Anthony for 46 minutes they posted what was by far their best single game offensive efficiency rating of the season.  The best offensive night of the season prior to the Suns rolling into Denver was game five versus the Clippers where Denver scored 117.0 points per 100 possessions.  Versus the Suns they posted a whopping 133.7 points per 100 possessions.

Denver was unstoppable everywhere but at the free throw line, but they made up for the lack of quality with some significant quantity earning 52 free throw attempts.  The Nuggets splashed 16 or their 30 three point attempts and 52% of their shots from the floor.  The offensive star of the game was J.R. Smith who finally had a break out game.  Smith has shown some serious restraint in his shot selection so far this season.  Even against the Suns when he was hot, he never launched any ridiculous step back hand in his face 25 footers.  He did attempt a couple of long threes I could have done without.  He has shown some growth with his shot selection this season, even before he lost his spot in the rotation a few games ago.

Smith is a slow starter and if game 16 was a sign of things to come, Smith can help make the Nuggets move up from a top ten offensive team to a top five offensive team.

It was also good to see Chauncey break out of his slump, but it bears noting his solid shooting performance was after he was forced to sit out a couple of games providing him some much needed rest.  Only time will tell if Billups is ready to consistently raise his game as well.

The other significant aspect of the Nuggets offensive explosion was only six of their 138 points were credited as fast break points.  That is a lot of scoring in the half court.

The Suns did not do so bad on offense themselves.  While Denver certainly could have done a few things better, like defend the pick and roll, they did rotate reasonably well.  The Suns played with patience and were always willing to make the extra pass that extended Denver a bit too far.  Even without Amare Stoudemire the Suns are still the second best offensive team in the league.  It would have been nice to see Denver shut them down, but the way Jason Richardson was hitting threes, Denver was lucky to win the game at all.

How funny was it to see Melo, knowing he was going to come out of the game at the next stoppage after asking out, launch a long jumper just so he could try to record some points in the box score.  Well, at least I got a kick out of it.

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  • rice1383

    I disagree. The Heat being mediocre is a great story. First of all, it shows the quality the rest of the league has. It also proves that you win a championship playing solid team basketball which is what people like, not just signing a few superstars and letting them take turns with the ball. The fact is, the media isn’t paying much attention to this because its wrapped up in football (college and pro), the start of the NCAA basketball season and the rest of the NBA as well. The league is the deepest its been since the early 90s so there is plenty to pay attention to even if the Heat suck. All that really matters here is that they keep providing soap opera quality drama, winning or losing doesn’t really matter. If they keep losing, eventually things will get ugly with a fired coach, locker room fights and on the court defiance. We’ve haven’t heard the end of the Heat saga, just the media hasn’t had time to put it center stage 18 games into a long season.

    As for the Spurs, I agree that a lot of it is health, but Pop gets the most out of his players with the best of coaches. As long as the trio is healthy in May it won’t matter much. They’re going to have a nice cushion for error coming up and they haven’t exactly got the craziest division. New Orleans is inexperienced and no deeper than San Antonio. Dallas has a history of choking in big games and Houston sucks. The Grizzlies, although good, just don’t have the power to run with a well organized Spurs team.

    As for your Nuggets, it was nice to see the rest of them show up for once, particularly JR Smith, but it’s doubtful they’re going to be able to do it consistently. Also, victory over the Suns isn’t exactly what you might call massive. While they may be the second most potent offense in the league, they’re the second weakest defense too. If JR Smith can’t take it to the hole against those guys he should retire. Billups had a good game, but look at who is defending him. Nash is as defensively solid as a jello mold of Kirk Heinrick. Admittedly, 10-6 is a good record for this team, but I still can’t see Denver in the playoffs. Not in the west. Honestly, I hope I’m wrong though, just wouldn’t seem right without Melo in it.

  • KW

    @Rice, Nugz are 10-6 without Kmart. I believe this makes them a playoff team.

  • ParkHillNative

    I also think the mediocre Heat is a good story — there’s something in it about hubris. LeBron thought he was making the move that would guarantee him a championship, the hearts of Cleveland sports fans be damned. And now look. He seems pathetic.

    Maybe that will stop being interesting at some point, but to me, for now, it’s pretty fascinating and entertaining.

  • Jeremy

    I agree that the story of the Heat struggling is a good story from a basketball standpoint. However, from the standpoint of adding new fans to the NBA from the casual fans or non-NBA fans who were caught up in the hype this summer, a struggling Heat team will fail to capture their interest during the regular season. I was looking at things from a popularity and exposure standpoint for the fans who cared about the NBA for the first time ever this summer after The Decision.

    • ParkHillNative

      I see your point. I guess I think the NBA relies too much on marketing star players and doesn’t do enough to cultivate appreciation for the game of basketball.

  • Eric

    As a fan of “basketball” I am quite happy about the Heat struggling out of the gate, for many reasons:

    1) Putting together a team of “super friends” might appeal to those vaguely aware of the NBA, but it would send a negative message to other players/real fans that understand it takes time, work, and a full team to win a championship. Much more fulfilling in a life-lessons way.

    2) I’d rather watch five good players share the ball, pass, play D, and respect the game than have three bloated egos on the court feeling hurt and confused because people aren’t bowing down to them. Not to mention all the off the court drama . . . not for me.

    3) As a Nuggets fan, I think it’s a positive because it was clear that Melo was very appealed to the idea of forming his own “super friends” team this summer after the LBJ, Wade, Bosh deal went down. The worse the Heat perform, the more bickering there is, the more likely I think it is that Melo realizes that set-up isn’t all peaches ‘n cream. Imagine Melo, Amare, and CP3 in New York together Not performing up to expectations? The would get nasty fast.

    4) Lastly, I like competition and balance.

    @Rice: What makes you say that you don’t think the Nuggets can perform consistently enough to make the playoffs. They’re 10-6 in a month where they were without two of their top three big men (until Bird came back the last couple games); they had a brutal schedule to start the season, and they’re in 7th with no real threats behind them. Who’s going to keep them out of the playoffs? Of course, if Melo’s traded then all bets are off.

  • Jenifer Mercer

    @Rice, Nugz are 10-6 without Kmart. I believe this makes them a playoff team.