South Beach Case Study: Miami Before the Stretch Run

Despite receiving less media attention this season, the Miami Heat get more and more intriguing from a historical perspective.  

Last year, I wrote a series of posts on the South Beach Case Study (SBCS), aka, the first-of-its-kind experiment that is the Miami Heat, led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.  Never have three stars come together in the middle of their primes in hopes of winning a title.  Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce were grizzled vets with playoff scars.  Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and Wilt Chamberlain were the same way nearly 40 years before Boston's trio connected.

Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.  
What, if any, transformation has Miami undergone since last season?   

Last year, Miami won 58 regular season games and led the league in SRS (6.58), then blasted through the Eastern Conference before falling to Dallas in the NBA Finals.  Their success was mainly tied to James, Wade and Bosh doing incredible amounts of heavy lifting on both ends of the floor.  Considering the team had no depth, no point guard or center, and injuries to their best peripheral players, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, the fact that the three amigos were able to lift Miami to rank third in offensive rating and fifth in defensive rating is a testament to their high-end talent.

Currently, Miami sits at 34-11 (Second in SRS at 8), which would be good for a 62-win pace in a traditional, non-screwed up regular season.  Rookie Norris Cole, an improved Mario Chalmers, veteran Shane Battier, and healthy Miller and Haslem have contributed to the improvement, as has a more open offense that isn't predicated on star monopolization of the ball.  The team ranks second in offensive rating and sixth in defensive rating, although they haven't been defending the 3-point shot quite as well this year (36.5 percent this year vs. 34.5 percent last year).

What's scary for the rest of the NBA is how Dwyane Wade has seen a significant decrease in his minutes and raw box score production.  In 2011, Wade averaged 25.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 4.6 assists in 37.2 minutes per game.  In 2012, he has averaged 22.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in 32.9 minutes per game.  On a per-minute basis, Wade is actually more productive in most categories this season.

That Miami has been able to deliver an even stronger regular season than last year despite Wade doing less heavy lifting indicates the team is now much more than just a talented group of individuals- they are gelling as a team.  Being able to reserve energy stores for the playoffs is good for the 30-year-old Wade, and it should be able to extend his career longer, too.

What happens when Wade starts playing 38-40 minutes per game in the playoffs?  How does it change Miami?  Perhaps they are concealing an even higher gear?  

Miami is still a donut team- no, that's not a nod to Eddy Curry.  But the most dangerous current contenders are led by perimeter-oriented players, and that bodes well for a perimeter corps that shut down Jeremy Lin a few weeks ago and Derrick Rose in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.

The Heat are in the stretch run now.  Come this postseason, we'll be able to observe the full potential of this core, and more SBCS questions should be answered.  

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