The Miami Heat have appeared in three straight NBA Finals, walking away winners on two occasions and are one of the favorites to do it all again this season. Their grasp of “small-ball” played a huge role in their success because teams simply couldn’t match their speed on defense, or the range on offense.
Nonetheless, coach Erik Spoelstra is flirting with the idea of tinkering with the lineups and take a step away from the small rotation, with Heat big man Greg Oden stepping into the starting lineup. But is it a good idea? After all, Miami have certainly found the winning formula and as the saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
With a starting lineup of Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers in the backcourt and a frontcourt combo of LeBron James, Shane Battier and Chris Bosh, all of the Heat’s five players on the court can shoot from range. That forces defenses to stretch all the way to the perimeter, especially the big men matched up with Battier and Bosh, thus creating space in the middle for James and Wade to work with inside.
Defensively, it also works out pretty well too because Spoelstra has figured out a way to utilize the speed at his disposal. When locked in, it’s almost as if the Heat have an extra man on the court because they rotate so quickly. That leads to turnovers and great opportunities going the other way. Plus, with LeBron and Wade leading the break, you’re almost guaranteed two points in the open court.
In addition to creating mismatches, small ball also reduces chances of injury to the team’s limited big man reserve. Simply put, despite the impressive progress Oden has made during his rehabilitation in South Beach, he is still fragile. Going small allows the Heat to deploy the big fella as, and when, necessary – in the Playoffs against teams with size.
And last but not least, it works.
Spo was subject to quite a bit of criticism for not utilizing the small(er) lineup throughout most of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. He made the switch on a permanent basis and voilà, two straight championships.
OK, maybe it wasn’t that simple, but you get the gist of it.
Then again, his reasoning for thinking about making the switch back to a more “traditional” look does make sense.
“Last year’s blueprint was for last year,” said Spoelstra. The more we tried to pigeonhole ourselves into that blueprint, we might not be opening ourselves up to a more successful or necessary blueprint for this year, as the competition has changed. It’s gotten better, our team, our personnel has gotten better. It always changes.” (Per Sun Sentinel)
Inserting Oden into the starting five offers the Miami Heat a new look, which may be necessary considering how much of a roller coaster ride the 2013-14 season has been. A shake up may offer some refreshment to a fatigued team that is but also so used to winning that they have coasted through certain games and paid for it with a loss.
Furthermore, it’ll take care of the height deficiency without really sacrificing much range because Chris Bosh is now as big a threat from beyond the arc as any other Heat player. And defensively, it adds a behemoth of a man to protect the rim, either by blocking or altering shots in the paint.
With all due respect to Bosh, who has developed into a pretty darn good shot blocker in his own right and become a great last line of defense, he isn’t quite the imposing figure Oden is. In fact, he should be pushing Spoelstra to have G.O. in the game as much as possible because it enables him to play his more natural power forward spot. That will in turn give him a break from dealing with the bigger, stronger centers of the NBA.
Finally, Oden isn’t quite the rebounder he once was, but he is still able to gobble up misses with the best of them. So theoretically speaking, the move should also help the team in that department as they are currently dead last with 36.6 boards per game.
At the end of the day, the NBA is a constantly evolving beast and in order to remain at the top of the summit, then the Miami Heat should be prepared to make alterations – even if it means ditching a formula that has proved successful in previous times.
If it doesn’t work they can always call upon the “pace and space crew.”