As all 3 of my devoted readers know, I have blogged frequently about how LeBron’s teammates in Cleveland were good enough to win a title with, and a bit less frequently about the flaws with the current Miami Heat roster (give me time, we’re only 25% through the season). After all that blogging, I knew, as I watched the Heat put a beating on the Cavs last week, that I had some ‘splanin’ to do. So, let me ‘splain…
In this posting, I talked about the importance of having players in the appropriate “slot” on their rosters, and said that the fortunes of a few teams in today’s NBA make more sense when seen through that prism. (Apologies to those who were eagerly awaiting this follow-up; I said I’d elaborate on the point in my “next posting,” and then my next posting wound up being about Jim Boeheim. Sorry.)
The Heat and the Cavs are two clear illustrations of what I’m trying to say. I’ll start with the Cavs, who looked dreadful — not because they don’t have good players on the team, but because each player is playing one or two “slots” ahead of where he belongs.
To quickly go down the roster: Mo Williams is not capable of being the best player on a good NBA team. But he’s perfectly adequate to be the second best player on a contender. (Some people scoff at this, I know. But they’re wrong. Mo Williams is comparable to Jason Richardson, Vince Carter, and Roy Hibbert, each of whom is the second-best player on a playoff contending team.) If Antawn Jamison is your second-best player, you’re in bad shape, but you could scrape by with him as your third-best. Anderson Varejao was one of the best fourth-best-players in the league, and J.J. Hickson is a capable fifth-best player. But, as the third and fourth best guys on a team, they are average at best. Guys on the Cavs’ bench, like Daniel Gibson and Ramon Sessions, can play quality minutes on a good team, but can’t be expected to get an otherwise-deficient team over the hump.
Basically, the Cavs are one superstar away from having the pieces in place to be a competitor. In other words, they were good enough to win with LeBron. To be fair, I think they needed an upgrade in the third-best player slot, bumping Jamison to fourth and Varejao to fifth, in order to be dominant. But, as far as holes on a roster go, a team that only needs an upgrade in the 3rd slot to be dominant is right in the mix of things. So… just because they got pounded by the Heat, and looked hapless in the process, doesn’t prove that LeBron’s supporting cast in Cleveland wasn’t good enough to win with.
Then there’s the Heat, one of the most interesting experiments with an NBA roster that I can remember. It’s not clear who the #1 guy is, because they have two #1 guys. Having LeBron and Wade in the top two “slots” on your roster has a chance to work simply because of the combined talent; they might just be talented enough to overcome the fact that neither of them is really suited to be a “second” guy on any team. And Bosh might one day become a capable “third” guy, but he has no track record of doing that. All he’s ever been is the best guy on a terrible team.
After that, it gets ugly, especially with their current injuries. Mario Chalmers is not good enough to be the fourth best guy on a championship team. Joel Anthony, well, he’s not even a rotation player on a championship team!
The key here is Mike Miller. In terms of talent, he’s clearly good enough to be the “fourth” guy on a championship team. And, because he’s such a good spot-up shooter — capable of making a big impact while having the ball in his hands for only one or two seconds per possession if his teammates are creating good looks for him — his game is suited to be the fourth best guy on a very good team.
But there’s no guarantee that Miller will make this team much better. For starters, he can’t do anything to change the fact that only one of the “top 3” guys on the team is in the “slot” where he belongs. And, getting back to the earlier point about having guys on the floor who fill traditional roles on a basketball team (which I blogged about here), it’s not clear to me that a lineup of James, Wade, Bosh, and Miller is capable of greatness. Sure, they’re talented enough to consistently beat about 85% of the teams in the league. But what about teams with an excellent point guard and big man? I just don’t see how that lineup stops Parker and Duncan, CP3 and West, Rose and Boozer, or Rondo and KG with any regularity.
More on that over the next few weeks, I’m sure.