It’s quite incredible how lucky Norris Cole has been since entering the league in 2011. All he has ever been exposed to is success. Think about it, the Miami Heat have appeared in three consecutive NBA Finals and won the championship on two occasions since his arrival. Plus, he was a key figure right off the bat, featuring in nearly 20 minutes per game during his rookie year. That isn’t something that happens often.
In fact, it’s astonishing considering how difficult it is to get into Coach Erik Spoelstra’s lineup, let alone get consistent minutes. Yet he did it. However, his honeymoon period looks set to come to an end. After all, no one truly expects Miami to be quite the contender they have been over the last four years following the loss of one LeBron James (I swear we will eventually stop mentioning this at some point).
Then again, maybe it isn’t over. Heat team president Pat Riley doesn’t believe it is.
“I am as excited as I’ve ever been to let you know that we’re a contender,” Riley said in a video to the fans. “You can’t ever look at the Miami Heat and not think of us as being a contender. We’ve always been somebody who believed in the big picture.
“We have an owner who thinks big,” he says. “We’re not going to be satisfied with anything that doesn’t come close to winning the championship. That’s what we’re about.”
Granted, Riles does sound somewhat delusional considering Miami has just lost their best player (to a team in the same conference no less), but perhaps he does have a point. The Heat still possess the necessary elements to be a contender – especially in the Eastern Conference. Despite his injury history, Dwyane Wade is superstar in his own right; Chris Bosh is an All-Star caliber player who can produce on both ends of the floor; Luol Deng is a very capable replacement for James at the forward spot; Plus, Erik Spoelstra is a great coach – the fact that he’s never missed the playoffs as head coach is a testament to that.
But in order to make the whole thing come to fruition, the Miami Heat will need some more help from the supporting cast – especially the bench players. That means people like Cole, Chris Andersen and so forth will have to make sure the scoreboard keeps on ticking while the starters rest.
In the 2013-14, the pair did a great job in providing the extra punch as both provided energy and lent a hand on offense. Along with his ability to knock down spot-up threes, Cole also utilized his speed to get into the lane at will on his way to 6.4 points per game. “Birdman” Andersen, on the other hand, did all of his damage in the paint, as he consistently converted some pretty tough shots in traffic on his way to 6.6 points per game.
The contribution from those two helped Miami’s bench provide 30 points per game, which was good enough to place them 17th overall (per Hoopsstats.com). Sure, that isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. And next year that figure will certainly have to improve since the team no longer has LeBron to save them every time they’re in a hole. Although it’s hard to envision that happening since the likes of Ray Allen, who provided nearly 10 points per outing, is a free agent and Miami seemingly no longer has interest in re-signing him. And Michael Beasley, who added 7.9 points in only 15 minutes per game, seemingly isn’t coming back either.
As for the new additions like Danny Granger and James Ennis, it’s probably best you don’t expect a whole lot. Granger is nowhere near the scorer he once was having scored just 8.2 points per game last season. That all but made it a certainty the Indiana Pacers were going to trade him at some point during the year. Meanwhile, the doubt with regards to Ennis stems from the fact that he will probably be playing out of position, therefore he will likely struggle during his rookie year.
However, that’s not to say everything hinges on the play of the bench. Far from it. The “other” starters alongside Wade, Bosh and Deng (Mario Chalmers and most likely Josh McRoberts) will also have a huge role to play. Although questions do also loom over the two: Can McBob continue on from a what was essentially a career season in which he averaged 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists in Charlotte, to become a major contributor on an elite team?
And can Chalmers finally find the consistency to reach a new level? All too often, Rio has had a good outings where he is aggressive and causing some problems for the opposition, quickly followed by nights in which you even forget he’s even there because he hardly does anything. That will have to change in 2014-15.