STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
To say the Heat had a productive offseason would be a truly massive understatement. Team president Pat Riley gutted last year’s roster to clear cap space, then managed to re-sign Dwyane Wade and add Chris Bosh and LeBron James for less-than-max salaries. Some thought that would leave him with an impossibly top-heavy roster, but a number of proven veterans jumped at the chance to chase a title with “The Big Three.” Miami’s end-of-the-bench roster spots might not be as strong as, say, the Celtics’ or Lakers’, but the Heat are so talented in the top three that it may not matter. Some NBA voices – most notably ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy – think the Heat will challenge the all-time record of 72 regular season victories, currently held by the 1995-96 Bulls.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Let’s start with the obvious: Wade, James and Bosh will start and get heavy minutes. The remaining two starting spots will be decided in training camp, with Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers competing for the point guard job and Joel Anthony and Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the mix at center. The outcome of those two battles doesn’t matter much. Wade and James are such excellent passers that the “point guard” on this team doesn’t figure to spend much time initiating the offense and, as such, won’t generate traditional point guard fantasy numbers. Center minutes will likely be divided based on matchup, with Anthony giving the Heat a more athletic look while Ilgauskas can help space the floor with his shooting. Mike Miller is the team’s fourth-best player and will get heavy minutes; it wouldn’t be surprising to see Miller on the floor with the Big Three to close out games. Veteran forward Udonis Haslem will be the primary frontcourt sub, and Eddie House will be in the mix to provide instant offense off the bench.
Joel Anthony: Anthony lacks real center size – at 6-9, 245, he’s just a hair bigger than LeBron James – but he’s very athletic and a skilled shot-blocker ; he averaged 1.4 blocks in just 16.5 minutes per game last season. He won’t contribute much on offense, but he'll get a few open looks from in close with defenses scrambling to stop the Big Three. He figures to split the center job more or less evenly with Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas: At 35 years old and with a history of foot problems, Ilgauskas is well past his prime as a fantasy center. But he’s got a big body (7-3, 260) and a reliable jump shot that will help Miami space the floor and give Chris Bosh room to operate down low. Look for Ilgauskas to share the center spot more or less evenly with Anthony.
Dexter Pittman: A second-round pick out of Texas, Pittman has some skill, but has struggled since high school to keep his weight down. He has reportedly responded well to Miami’s conditioning program, dropping another 25 pounds since the summer, but he has to be considered a project at this point.
LeBron James: King James didn’t win many new fans with “The Decision” or his disappearing act in the 2010 playoffs, but let’s concentrate on the positive. This is a baller with Karl Malone size and Magic Johnson skill, and he’ll enter this season with a chip on his shoulder the size of South Beach. Playing alongside Wade and Bosh might cause James’ scoring numbers to take a slight dip, but that will likely be balanced out by an increase in his percentages and, quite possibly, assists. And having another talented distributor – Wade – on the floor could also help James avoid turnovers. Besides, James’ numbers could take a 10 percent hit across the board and he’d still be a top-five value in any fantasy format.
Chris Bosh: Bosh is generally considered to be the ”Big Three” member most likely to lose fantasy value. It’s easy to see why - in Toronto, he was the unquestioned No. 1 option, in Miami he’ll be just one of three. But don’t downgrade Bosh too much – he may shoot less, but Wade and James are such good passers, the attempts he gets may be higher-percentage shots. And scoring doesn’t tell the whole story – Bosh is an elite rebounder and solid shot-blocker; both numbers could see improvement due to Miami’s organizational focus on defense.
Mike Miller: Miller might be the ideal complement to the Big Three – a sweet-shooting forward who should get a steady supply of open looks from the perimeter. Miller has played shooting guard and small forward during his NBA career. In Miami, those spots are taken by Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, but don’t make the mistake of thinking he’ll be a little-used backup. He’ll likely be the first player off Erik Spoelstra’s bench and play alongside the Big Three regularly – either with Bosh and James moving down to the center and power forward spots or Wade shifting over to man the point – particularly when Miami is looking to close out a tough opponent.
Udonis Haslem: A veteran big man, Haslem averaged 10 points and eight boards last season in around 28 minutes per game. He should continue to play a significant role this season, logging time at both power forward and center, though his minutes could take a hit due to the addition of Ilgauskas.
James Jones: Jones is a similar player to Mike Miller – he’s got good size, but his best weapon is the three (just under 40 percent from long range for his career). He’ll have a limited role as a three-point specialist.
Juwan Howard: Some were surprised to hear Howard was still in the league, but as an injury replacement in Portland last season, he showed he still has some game. He’ll be a veteran depth player for Miami, unlikely to get much playing time unless Bosh or Haslem is injured.
Da’Sean Butler: A highly regarded prospect rated as an NBA-quality defender, Butler’s draft stock slipped significantly when he tore his ACL during the Final Four. Drafted in the second round, he’s expected to make the Heat, but won’t be able to play until after the New Year.
Dwyane Wade: Concerned that the additions of James and Bosh might knock Wade out of fantasy’s top five? Don’t be. Wade will be one of this team’s primary ball-handlers; he’ll still have plenty of opportunities to score. But more importantly, Wade’s value in fantasy leagues goes far beyond scoring. He rebounds well, generates as many assists as some point guards, shoots an excellent percentage from the floor, gets steals and even blocks shots; having more talented teammates won’t hurt his production in any of those areas.
Carlos Arroyo: Arroyo split time at the point with Mario Chalmers and Rafer Alston last season, and he’ll be back in a similar role this year. He has the inside track on the starting job, due in part to Chalmers’ ankle injury. But given the amount of time Wade and James will spend handling the ball, don’t expect big numbers from whoever wins the point guard job; he may be hard-pressed to match last season’s production (six points, three dimes in 22 minutes per game).
Mario Chalmers: After starting for most of his rookie season, Chalmers lost the job to Arroyo last year when Erik Spoelstra decided to go with a more traditional point guard. In theory, Chalmers strengths – quick hands on defense (1.2 steals per game) and outside shooting – should complement the Big Three pretty well, but Arroyo may have the edge in the battle for the starting job. A slow-to-heal ankle injury hasn’t helped Chalmers’ case.
Eddie House: House will play the same role in Miami that he’s played for the bulk of his career – a source of instant offense off the bench. Problem is, on a team this talented, “instant offense” doesn’t figure to be a major need.
This team is getting so much attention from the press, it’s hard to call any member of the Miami Heat a sleeper. But one player who might be under-valued at this point is Udonis Haslem, who has shown in the past that he’s able to post a near double-double even when playing under 30 minutes per game.
Neither of Miami’s point guards seem like worthy investments at this point; Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers will be splitting time with each other, and they’ll likely get lifted late in games when Spoelstra wants Mike Miller on the floor with Wade, James and Bosh.