If you had to pick one player on the Miami Heat to be labeled the team’s X-Factor, who would it be? By instinct, most would yell “LeBron” without a second thought. But let’s take the time to analyze how the Heat play and whether or not the team’s success is directly related to LeBron’s personal stats.
Before we begin, let’s get one thing straight. LeBron James is currently the best overall player in the NBA and would win an MVP race if the voting were to take place tomorrow. Even Bill Simmons agrees. No ifs, ands, or buts, folks. He’s averaging 27, 8, and 7 and he would win the Defensive Player of the Year if it wasn’t for Dwight Howard and his “I can see them from space” shoulders. He can guard any player (including Howard) at any position, he can play virtually the entire game with little-to-no effect on his energy level, and he’s a smart player on both ends of the court. He has the second highest assist-to-turnover ratio on the team with a near 2:1 and he pretty much never gets into foul trouble (he has committed 4 fouls only three times this entire season).
But do the Heat lose when he’s doing poorly? The short answer: not really. In the Heat’s 11 losses to date, LBJ is averaging 28-9-6.5. The increase in rebounds is due to the fact that in a few of those losses, the team was without Chris Bosh so LeBron stepped up his presence on the boards. In fact, LBJ scored more than 30 points in 4 of those 11 losses. So the Heat lose despite LeBron’s numbers.
Then, if it’s not LeBron, the Heat’s X-Factor has to be either Bosh or Wade, right?
In the Heat’s 11 losses, LBJ and Wade attempt more field goal attempts than their average without a significant change in their PPG. Every additional shot they take is another missed opportunity for the Heat’s bench/supporting cast. Well-timed three pointers by Mario Chalmers and the occasional jumpers from Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier allow the Heat to spread the floor and split the defense more effectively. It also gives Wade an LeBron better access to the rim, allowing them to take higher percentage shots.
Last year, the most-beloved Heat statistic was the team’s winning percentage when the Big 3 score at least 75 points in a game. This season, especially rolling into the playoffs, it will come down to the Heat’s ability to handle bench depth from teams like Chicago and San Antonio. And defense from your bench players, particularly Battier and Haslem will be key in stopping these deep teams.
So who is the Heat’s X-Factor? The answer is everyone but LeBron and Wade (and Eddy Curry). More specifically, I would say Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem are at the core of that group. The Heat showed last year that even with some offensive inconsistencies, they used their defense to get them to the championships. The offense is significantly better this year and, as long as the bench can support the starters on the defensive end and on the boards, the Big 3 can do what they do best: score in transition.
One last note: Norris Cole has to put his recent string of so-so games and stupid mistakes behind him quickly. He provides a great burst of energy when he comes in for Mario Chalmers at the tail end of both halves, but he needs to be able to learn how to control the tempo of the game and, more importantly, how to set up the Heat’s semi-unorganized half court offense when transition buckets are not available. If he can bring his passing and his court vision up to the level it was at earlier this season, there’s no reason to even consider bringing Derek Fisher to South Beach.
Well, I guess it would be cool to have the Big 3, Pat Riley, and the President of the Players Union on one team.