Just two years ago, the HEAT were on top of the world, winning their first NBA title with Shaquille O’Neal and superstar Dwyane Wade. Last season, the team was absolutely horrid, and most of the time was made up of D-Leaguers leading the squad. Dwyane Wade had another injury riddled season, playing in just 51 games for the second consecutive season. The elderly Shaq was traded for Shawn Marion at the halfway point, but by that time, the HEAT were locked in the basement back East. This offseason, though, should give Miami fans very high hopes for the immediate future of this team. The HEAT ended up drafting super talented Michael Beasley to complement Dwyane Wade in the post, as well as on the perimeter. As for Wade, he looked magnificent playing for Team USA and looks to be at full health for the 09 season, which I’m sure scares many teams. The trio of Wade, Beasley, and Marion should be a sight to see early on, and assuming they stick together, they could be back in the Playoffs in no time while contending for the title.
Offense: The offense was pretty terrible last year, but any offense would suffer if basically your entire lineup fell to injury. This season, the HEAT should be toward the top in team scoring, with the focus of the offense obviously being on Dwyane Wade. Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley will get their fair share of touches and will see plenty of open shots due to the penetration and passing techniques of Wade as well as Shaun Livingston. Dwyane Wade’s drive and dish plays were so effective that players like Jason Kapono and Damon Jones became extremely reliable role players and ultimately helped take Miami to the title in 2006. Last season, however, the team was completely devoid of three-point shooters, which left the paint cluttered and gave Wade no opportunities to get to the basket. Miami feels as if they have answered that question by bringing in James Jones, a one-dimensional three-point shooter from the Jason Kapono mold of players. He might not be effective in other areas of the game, but his three-point shooting will open up the floor for Wade, Beasley, and Marion to create on offense. Also, having four young point guards battling it out for playing time should lead to some effective production in the backcourt.
Defense: Last year’s horrible defensive play and constant blowouts should be disregarded when talking about this season. The HEAT are a completely revamped team both offensively and defensively, and will look much better this year. Shawn Marion and Dwyane Wade are effective defenders on the perimeter, and at times can shut down their man. Michael Beasley looks to have the potential to be a solid defensive player, but until he sees time in an actual regular season game, we won’t know just how raw he is on defense. Udonis Haslem and Jamaal Magloire are solid post defenders, but nothing exceptional. Alonzo Mourning is still a terrific defender, but when, or if he comes back is a big question, and his effect will be very minimal either way. Miami will not be a great defensive team, but they will be above average, and that is light years better than the atrocities of last season’s defense.
Strengths: The versatility of the three big names in Miami is certainly a strength for the team. All three players can play multiple positions and are anything but one-dimensional in type. The excitement they will bring to American Airlines Arena will bring the fans back to the games, and create confidence for the rest of the team. Also, the last time Dwyane Wade was truly healthy, the Miami HEAT were NBA Champions, so keep that in mind.
Weaknesses: Despite having Shawn Marion, this team will have troubles rebounding the ball. Udonis Haslem is a solid rebounder, and Jamaal Magloire is okay, but the HEAT will likely be outrebounded almost every night. This is a small team and they will get beat up in the post, which will take a toll on their numbers.
Five Players to Watch:
Dwyane Wade - Flash tore it up in Beijing and is looking to refesh his image of superiority over the rest of the guards in the NBA. Dwyane Wade, in fact, is still a Hall of Fame talent and it looks like this year he will right the tracks and continue his stellar career. With his mentor Shaq now in Phoenix, Wade is the outright leader of this team. With a much better supporting cast around him this season, things will come easier to Wade, and creating his shot will be much less of a hassle than it was last year. The lack of that dominant big man in the post will definitely make life much more difficult for Wade than it was back in 2006, but if he can mesh his game with the styles of Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley, living in Miami will be a pleasure once again.
Shawn Marion - Make no mistake, Shawn Marion could be traded at any point before the All-Star break, but for the moment he looks to be a valuable component to the HEAT roster. Marion does just about everything on the floor, including the dirty work that gets very little recognition. Put him next to Dwyane Wade and they will be nightly participants in the Sportscenter Top 10 Countdown. If Marion begins to work well with Beasley, the HEAT could have a spectacular one-two punch for years to come, and with Dwyane Wade, both would get many open shots and open lanes to the basket. Marion might not be in Miami for the long haul, however, and that is a damn shame.
Michael Beasley - Michael Beasley has had a very eventful summer. From being drafted with the second overall pick, to allegedly “hiding” in a marijuana scented hotel room, Beasley has been through it all. Beasley needs to shake off the problems of the summer, and stray away from the path of trouble, otherwise he will be just another talented star gone awry, examples being Josh Howard, Ron Artest. Beasley, however, looked great in his preseason debut, and is the early favorite for Rookie of the Year. Beasley has all the potential to be the best player on this team, even with Dwyane Wade, but if he can’t keep his head on straight, his career may be the saddest one yet. The chances of falling from grace, though, are very rare, and Beasley will likely have a very fascinating and dominating career in the NBA.
Dorell Wright - Dorell Wright hasn’t quite lived up to expectations in Miami thus far, but this could be the year he makes an impact for this team. Wright has all the abilities to become the defensive stopper for the Miami HEAT. When Wright is healthy and at his best, he can defend just about anyone on the perimeter without being embarrassed. Given a chance to see minutes off the bench could do wonders for his game and development into a valuable role player for the team. Wright, however, needs to prove he can stay injury-free long enough to have an effect for the team, and at this point, the odds are probably against him.
Shaun Livingston - Shaun Livingston missed all of last year after suffering a horrifying leg injury in early 2007. Another injury-prone player on the HEAT….seems to be a pattern here….. Anyway, this former lottery pick once garnered comparisons to Magic Johnson at the point guard position, but this season is all about staying on the court. Livingston will likely see the most minutes at the one over rookie Mario Chalmers, Chris Quinn, and Marcus Banks, which could be a benefit to Miami, and the young guards mentioned. Livingston doesn’t need to live up to his former expectations to be able to have a successful season. All he needs is to prove his durability and be a solid contributor alongside the rest of the lineup. Livingston is getting a second chance that many would not see after suffering his type of injury, and I expect him to capitalize on it.
Playoff Hopes: The Miami HEAT look like a completely new team as opposed to last season. Young Erik Spoelstra will be leading the troops from the bench and shouldn’t have too tough a time adjusting to the game with all the talented players at his disposal. Despite a healthy Dwyane Wade, Shawn Marion, and talented rookie Michael Beasley, a Playoff spot won’t be a given for Miami. If Wade truly is “back,” Michael Beasley really is as good as he looks, and Shawn Marion stays, the HEAT will be in the Playoffs without a doubt. Everything probably won’t click that way, though, and the Miami HEAT will find themselves scrambling for one of the final Playoff spots, and perhaps end the season on the outside looking in. The deficiencies of this team are still evident and problems will occur, so the Playoffs might pass them by. The HEAT, however, are the most unpredictable team in the league, and could be much better than anyone expects. One thing that is predictable, though, is the Miami HEAT will be the most improved team in the league this season.
Prediction: 4th Place, Southeast Division
NOTE: With the continuing injuries and overall uncertainty surrounding Washington's roster, the Miami HEAT could easily climb up in the Southest rankings.