The Miami Heat may not have the most complete roster in the league in conventional terms, but thus far they’ve indisputably boasted the league’s most effective one. Miami is sitting awfully pretty with an 8-1 record, the NBA’s fifth-ranked offense, and its second best defense.
But even those on top of the world have their problems from time to time, and on Saturday, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel took note of a potential — though strictly hypothetical — issue in South Beach:
As Mario Chalmers was dealing first with a bum shoulder and then foul trouble Saturday in New Jersey, the oddest of realities for such a loaded roster surfaced: What if Chalmers were forced to miss a game or was forced out of a game?
The reaction is to point to Norris Cole and say just go from there. But as a starter, with his one-speed, high-octane-only approach? There is a reason either Chalmers or none of the Heat two point guards have been closing close games.
Compared to the ails of the league-worst Washington Wizards, the injury woes of the Memphis Grizzlies, or the lingering troubles of the Dallas Mavericks, such a concern seems rather minor. But what Miami’s flaws lack in magnitude, they certainly make up for in consequence; as the most talented team in the league and the favorite to win the NBA title, even the most minor rotational issue in Miami could have startling ripple effects on the outcome of the season on a league-wide scale.
Yet even with that in mind, the potential for a serious injury to either Chalmers or Cole should only register as a blip on Miami’s radar. Such season-altering breaks or tweaks often come without warning, but Erik Spoelstra likely sleeps well at night — err, would sleep well at night if he weren’t still spending the deepest hours of the night in the film room — knowing that his point guard rotation is as secure as any in the NBA.
On paper, the Heat do, in fact, have just two nominal point guards. Spoelstra has even made it a point of emphasis this season to have one of them on the floor at all times; according to BasketballValue.com, the Heat have played just seven of their 699 minutes thus far without either Chalmers or Cole in the lineup, a testament to Spo’s steadfast commitment to both spacing the floor and putting as many shot creators on the court as possible. Both of those things are incredibly important for Miami’s half-court offense, but not so much that those two ideals justify filling minutes with subpar talent.
The Heat are in the envious position of having more capable contributors than rotation spots with considerable playing time. Although a hypothetical injury to either Chalmers or Cole would remove one such player from that logjam, Miami would still have the non-injured point, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Mike Miller, Shane Battier, James Jones, and even rookie rebounding stud Terrel Harris to plug in between the 1 and the wings. It’s tempting and understandable to think that the Heat could benefit from adding a free agent point guard in order to bolster that rotation, doing so would overestimate the importance of conventional lineup configurations and undervalue the sheer talent Miami has on its roster.
I’ll spare you all the apositional preaching; we know that James and Wade are more capable of initiating Miami’s offense than the Marcus Bankses and Antonio Danielses of the world, and more importantly, they would theoretically allow Spoelstra to put more competent NBA players on the floor. Fit is required, as is a meshing of skill sets. But the objective is still to field a winning team regardless of structure, and the talents of James, Wade, and Miller — even in a physically demanding shortened season, even as Spoelstra is trying to play his best players off the ball more, and even in knowing just how much Miller struggled last season — give Miami a far better basis for quality lineups than a stopgap point guard ever could.