Tag: Luol Deng

Miami Heat v Detroit Pistons

Erik Spoelstra: Heat’s starting lineup needs time before it’ll succeed


Who has the NBA’s best starting lineup?

The Warriors (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut)?

The Cavaliers (Kyrie Irving, Iman Shumpert, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov)?

The Spurs (Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan)?

The Clippers (Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan)?

Take your pick between those four or other contenders like the Thunder, Rockets or Bulls.

But there’s one team that belongs in the discussion despite two oddities:

  • All five projected starters played for the team last season, but its projected starting lineup didn’t log a single minute together.
  • The team missed the playoffs.

Yup, the Heat with Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside.

Bosh was sidelined for the rest of the season with blood clots just after Miami traded for Dragic. So, the lineup’s debut was postponed to this season.

On paper, the Heat have it all – offense and defense inside and out. They’re balanced, and nobody is playing out of position.

But Miami coach Erik Spoelstra cautions against expecting instant gratification.

Spoelstra, via Zach Lowe of Grantland:

“It’s not the kind of lineup where you can just throw it out there, and you know it will work,” Spoelstra says. “It’s going to take practice.”

The biggest question with the Heat’s top lineup is health, especially Wade. He’s 33 and has a history of knee problems. There are also questions about Whiteside’s ability to perform over a full season, Bosh’s rust and Deng’s longevity.

But those are all individual concerns.

Like I said, there’s a lot to like about this unit as a whole. The one area for caution is probably Dragic and Wade sharing ball-handling duties. Though they play different positions – Dragic point guard and Wade shooting guard – both are used to being the lead guard. That could take more time to sort out.

Mostly, though, I think Spoelstra is just trying to lower expectations. The less people think of a team, the more opportunity the coach has to impress (and the less blame he’ll take if the team falters).

Jimmy Butler: “I’m a point guard”

Jimmy Butler, Giannis Antetokounmpo

Since signing a five-year, $94 million extension with the Bulls in July, Jimmy Butler has made a lot of noise about being the leader of the team. He certainly assumed that mantle last year, when he made his first career All-Star appearance and won Most Improved Player while Derrick Rose battled another round of knee injuries and inconsistent play. But now, with both of the Bulls’ backcourt stars expected to be healthy at the start of training camp, there’s been a lot of attention on their relationship, and how they can play together. There’s been talk of tension, which Butler dismisses, even as he dropped a surprising observation about his own role at Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas: he sees himself as a point guard.

From Bulls.com’s Sam Smith:

But sometimes there’s also internal change, which is what the best ones do in the summer. They add to their game, a shot, a move. Their games become the players you didn’t add. We saw it with Michael Jordan and that baseline jumper, Magic Johnson with his outside shot. They’re the same; until they are not. Rose and Noah reportedly have had healthy summers, and Butler continues to work on his own secret weapon.

“First off, I think I am a point guard,” Butler said without joking. “So I’ve done a heck of a lot of ball screen work, ball handling, getting into the paint and still handling, floaters, all that stuff point guards do. If I get a chance, high pick and roll more. I want some triple doubles. I’ve got to get my handle right so I can pass and get it to guys where they can make shots. I told Fred. You ask what position I play, I say point guard.”

It sounds like a joke for the guy who was supposed to be a small forward replacement for Luol Deng. But having another guard who can handle the ball and allow Rose to play off the ball with Butler’s defensive prowess provides a potentially exceptional and previously unknown element to the Bulls arsenal.

At first glance, that seems like a shot at Rose, who when healthy is the Bulls’ starting point guard. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other. If Butler emerges as a capable primary ballhandler, that’s just another dimension to the Bulls’ offense, which already looks to be more dynamic under new coach Fred Hoiberg than it was under Tom Thibodeau. In the past, Rose has played well with another point guard in the lineup. In 481 minutes together, lineups featuring Rose and Kirk Hinrich outscored opponents by 3.5 points per 100 possessions. In 191 minutes together last season, lineups featuring Rose and Aaron Brooks outscored opponents by 16.8 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. Considering Butler is a significantly better player than both Brooks and Hinrich at both ends of the floor, putting him in a ballhandling role and allowing Rose to play off the ball has the chance to be an effective option for Chicago.

A lot of people want to make the tension between Rose and Butler out to be something that could tear the team apart, but all indications are that the two stars actually play well together, and under a coach as offensively creative as Hoiberg, there’s no reason to believe that will change.

Report: Heat and Pelicans scheduled to play on Christmas

New Orleans Pelicans v Miami Heat

Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside.

Anthony Davis.

One of the NBA’s most-complete starting lineups or one of the league’s best players?

We’re on track to witness the debate this Christmas.

Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald:

The Heat are mainstays on the NBA’s Christmas schedule. They’ve played the last six years and 10 of the last 11.

The Pelicans, on the other hand, have just one Christmas game in franchise history – a 20-point loss to the Magic in 2008. Even if you count their time in Charlotte, which you shouldn’t, that’s the franchise’s only Christmas game.

This would be a cool old-vs.-new matchup, and Davis is perfect representation of new. He excelled last season in his first playoff appearance, and he deserves national attention again.