With their third straight loss in a row, including a 19-point drubbing by the Indiana Pacers (who now have a better winning percentage), the grand experiment with grouping three of the League's top ten players together on the Miami Heat appears to be reaching depths unforeseen by many in the media.
I expected some bumps in the road, but I figured the team would at least be exciting to watch. In fact, they’re quite boring outside the occasional Wade to Lebron or Lebron to Wade alley-oop. After watching several of their games this year, I’m noticing a couple of things.
First of all, it’s obvious that Wade and Lebron struggle when they aren’t dominating the ball. That’s about as “duh” of a statement as I can get. But, let’s really break it down.
Tonight against the Orlando Magic, at the 10-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Lebron subbed out for Zydrunas Ilgauskus and Wade came in for Jamaal Magloire. Over the course of the next four minutes, Wade dominated. After a Bosh three-point play, Wade had his hand in nearly every positive play—he got to the line and made a pair of freethrows, assisted on a Big Z jumper, assisted on an Eddie House three, burned Reddick baseline for a dunk, hit a running jumper and-one to put the Heat up 88-87. In a four-minute span, he carried the Heat to their first lead since the 4:50 mark of the first quarter.
As soon as the Heat took the lead, up from the bench came Lebron and I had a strong feeling that the Magic were going to win the game despite the Heat holding all the momentum.
Look, I’m not trying to make big sweeping statements. According to plus/minus, the Heat’s three best lineups all involve the big three.
But I’m convinced that Bosh and Lebron don’t know how to do “dirty work.” For the last couple of seasons, Lebron’s compiled wicked stats, flown in for momentum-shifting breakaway blocks, barreled his way to the hoop for monstrous dunks...he's basically been able to have all of the glory, all of the spotlight moments. But he’s always had others to do the dirty work. Anderson Varejao being the foremost, but also guys like Delonte West, Jamario Moon, Ben Wallace, Joe Smith. All of those guys set mean picks, grabbed offensive rebounds, played all-defense caliber defense (well, not Moon), showed on the pick and roll, took charges, etc.
This year's Heat don't really have that guy, especially now that Udonis Haslem is out for several weeks. Jamaal Magloire might have been that guy seven years ago, and he can do some damage in 15-minute spurts, but he’s not close to the same ilk as Varejao, Wallace or even Smith. And he certainly can’t do it for 25 minutes a night.
Instead, Lebron’s got Chris Bosh, another guy who’s never really done the dirty work, but more because he’s just not physically built to do so. Unlike Lebron, however, Bosh has not had a complimentary guy to do it for him (let alone four or five)—hence the inability to advance past the first round.
I had high hopes for Bosh (who has started to come around offensively thanks in part to Wade sitting out with injury) because he was the garbage man during the Beijing Olympics. He did all those little things that helped the team win and shot 70 percent basically because he was the recipient on pick and rolls and put backs.
He works beautifully on the pick and pop with Wade. But with Lebron on the floor, everything seems to grind to a terrible halt. Lots of Isos and standing around watching. While some of that has to be on coach Spoelstra, as the team's best player, Lebron has to take most of the, ahem, heat for this. He’s the only player who hasn’t changed his game at all. Sure, he’s giving the ball up a bit more so that Wade can dominate for a while, but he hasn’t really changed the way he goes about his game.
If he’s not the main focus of a play, he tends to float on the perimeter. With his strength and athleticism, he should be the ultimate version of Trevor Ariza when he’s playing off the ball. Instead, he’s averaging a career low in rebounds. The most damning sign of all is his 0.4 offensive rebounds per game. Lebron’s never been a great offensive rebounder mainly because he’s always been the guy creating offense, but now with Wade and Bosh attracting so much attention, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be getting at the very least one offensive board per contest.
Besides, Wade has done that. He’s always been a great offensive rebounder despite also shouldering the burden of carrying teams (far less talented then Lebron has had). Wade is averaging 1.2 O-boards a game from the guard position and he gives up four inches and 45 pounds to Lebron. Wade is averaging more total boards than Lebron, more blocks (1.1 to LBJ's 0.6) and more fouls. All effort categories. All dirty work.
Not only that, but Wade also looked like he worked on his three-point shooting this offseason. He came out the gates sizzling hot hitting 11-26 before his current shooting slump where he's missed 18 of his last 19 attempts over his past six contests. The point is, he knew he was going to have to play off the ball and worked on his three-point shooting . In fact, the one three he made tonight was the one where he got his feet set and squared up—a spot up shot.
If the Heat want to be the best team in the league, and by all means, they should at least be the best starting five in the league with Carlos Arroyo playing out of his mind and Big Z at supreme efficiency, Lebron is going to have to take a page from Kobe’s playbook and become a firefighter. (Quick side note: Gotta love Arroyo for recognizing the opportunity of his lifetime and not shying from the moment. A career 44 percent shooter and 33 percent from beyond the arc, Arroyo is hitting at 50 and 64 respectively. Yeah, 64 from three).
What I mean by firefighter is Lebron’s going to have to be the guy who does whatever the team needs. Basically, Wade will orchestrate the offense and set everyone up while Bosh plays that ideal, complimentary scoring option. Lebron’s going to have to be the guy who fills in all of the gaps--the ultimate role player.
He’s going to have to drop the I’m-no-longer-Jordan-I’m-Magic schtick.
As I wrote a couple weeks ago, Lebron ain’t no Magic. The sooner he realizes this the faster the Heat will get on track. Lebron’s going to have to get his hands dirty. He’s going to have to start diving to the hoop for offensive rebounds instead of watching from the perimeter as Wade throws up a fadeway jumper. He’s going to have to take it upon himself to shut down the opposing team’s best player whether that’s Kobe or Dwight Howard. He’s going to have to start focusing more on his defense and less on his stats. With his freak athleticism and strength, stats will come. They might not be as pretty as they have been. His PER might not lead the league and he might not get many triple doubles, but dude has all the potential to be a consistent 5x5 threat every single night. On this team, there's no reason why he shouldn't average at least two blocks, two steals and two offensive boards a game.
Do I think that’s going to happen? No. As evidenced by “The Decision” and his butt-hurt talk in its aftermath, Lebron is not lacking in pride and subsequent arrogance. I have no personal insight into his mind or his life or anything like that, but the fact he didn’t work on his game at all this summer shows me that he thinks he can be Lebron, simply add Wade and Bosh, and win it all.
Lebron’s going to have to change the most if he wants this to work. He’s the most talented player on the team, the most versatile and the most dominant. But that just means he’s the most suited to be the ultimate Trevor Ariza—the ultimate Scottie Pippen.
If and when Lebron gets his inner KG on, look out NBA.