Cross-Talk: Five questions with Kevin of Hot Hot Hoops

Ronald Martinez

In anticipation of tonight's game, J.R. Wilco engaged in an exchange of questions with Kevin Kraczkowski of SBNation's blog on the Miami Heat, Hot Hot Hoops.

You can see the answers I gave to the questions that Kevin asked me here. Please go check them out and let Kevin know about the great job he's doing over there.

J.R. Wilco

Life has to be pretty good for Heat fans right about now, a championship for Mr. James, an end to all the angst as to whether the team would fulfill their potential, no more questions on the national scene about whether "the decision" was a bad idea, etc. Is there anything left to be upset about?

Kevin Kraczkowski

It's hard to be mad at the champs, especially when there doesn't seem to be a discernible dropoff from the successes enjoyed in the recent past. Add to that the Miami Dolphins only just now regaining a little respect, the Florida Panthers (and the rest of the NHL) on (off) ice for the forseeable future, and the running punchline that is the Miami Marlins. The Heat is really the only game in town for many.

The place where the Heat may run into trouble is backing up the King's pledge of "Not three, not four, not five....," etc. Dwyane Wade is already showing significant wear and tear above and beyond what he could possibly have accrued in the still young season. James' pledge of at least seven championships may be hard to back up with DWade continuing to be any sort of relevant force. Ray Allen is fantastic, but he's 37 years old. He can't be expected to play more than four seasons (and that may really be pushing it).

Sports fans being who they are, there is always something to complain about. This season, Heat Nation is talking about how far the defense has fallen. Most casual NBA fans may not notice, with Miami's offense being so out of this world, but the defense has fallen off considerably. Miami allows 107.6 points per 100 possessions this season, good for 25th best in the NBA. Last year, they allowed 100.2, ranked fourth. Still at this point last season, the eventual champs were 8-4, one game behind where the Heat rank this season. As I said, it's hard to nit-pick when you're King of the Mountain.

JRW

With LBJ currently playing at an all-world level, are there any holes left in his game? Or any places where you see that he still has room left to improve?

Kevin

James PER again leads the NBA, with a 28.5 rating. (Incidentally, next on the list is your own Tim Duncan, playing out of his mind with a career best 27.2). James leads the Heat in scoring (25.2), rebounds (8.8), and in assists (6.5). All that dishing out makes it hard to call him selfish. His game is incredibly well rounded, and still improving. He's shooting a career best .531 from the field, also making a career best .439 with his three point shooting. He's also incredibly durable (missing an average of three games per season through his first 10 seasons) and freakishly strong. He's 6'8", 260 pounds of basketball freak.

We routinely run out of adjectives on the game thread when he's out on the floor. If you had asked me last season if there was room to improve, I would have said no. He may just prove me wrong.

JRW

As versatile as your big three is -- Wade can guard one through three, James two through four, and Bosh three through five -- is there any type of player, or style of offense, that is the hardest for the Heat to defend?

Kevin

The Heat is tricky, and their best defense has proved to be a good offense. As to what is the hardest for them to defend, we need to look into the three losses Miami has suffered thus far this season.

In the second game of the season, the New York Knicks (short Amare Stoudamire) defeated the Heat by 20. They did this by coming out strong and outscoring the Heat by 16 in the first quarter, then playing .500 ball the rest of the game. The Knicks managed to stay hot from outside (hitting 19-of-36 from deep), while limiting the Heat to a seven-of-20 performance.

After reeling off a four game winning streak, Miami visited the Grizzlies in FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN. Unlike Miami's first loss, they stayed on pace with the Grizz in the first quarter. Memphis outscored the Heat, 34-20 in the second quarter, then stayed ahead for the rest of the game. Like the first loss, Miami's vaunted long game was stagnant (four-of-15), while Memphis had their best game of the season (14-for-24).

Three days later, against the Clippers in Los Angeles, Miami played pretty evenly. Each team made 35 field goals (Miami on 77 shots, LA on 72), while the Heat was 8-for-21 from distance and LA was 9-of-21. Most other metrics, advanced and simple, were relatively even. In the end, the real difference in this matchup was the simple things. Free throws, usually a strength for Miami, was the only significant difference between the teams. The Heat was 21-for-29, the Clippers went 27-of-32.

What can we take from this? Two of the three Miami losses came at the hands of hot outside shooting, which the Heat is sometimes loathe to defend. As I said in one of my questions - the Heat lead the NBA with 43.2% of their three point attempts paying off. The Achilles heel comes when they face an opponent who can also ball from deep.

JRW

With all of the new faces you guys added over the summer, how much better is this year's Heat versus last? I'll put it to you another way: If last season's team and this year's met in a seven game series, who would win and why?

Kevin

Lost: Ronny Turiaf, Juwan Howard, Dexter Pittman
Gained: Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Josh Harrellson

The three players we lost combined for 712 minutes all last season, or an average of three and a half minutes per player per game. Additionally, none of the three were a significant part of the rotation for any length of time (Turiaf earned a few minutes late in the year, but was largely ignored in the playoffs).

The three we gained have already played 529 minutes, or 13.5 minutes per player per game. Like the departed Heatsters, none of these three are on the starting lineup. Unlike their predecessors, they have already made timely and significant contributions to the bottom line. Allen has already hit two game winning shots, and as ridiculous as it may seem, is shooting at a career best 52.9 percent three point rate (if he keeps it up, this will mark the third season in a row that he has set a new career high in the category).

Wade does look aged at times, and Norris Cole has the lowest PER among regularly rotated point guards in the NBA (3.8). However the addition of Allen and Lewis more than make up for it. I would take the new Heat in seven.

JRW

The Spurs' biggest lightning rod currently is Matt Bonner. The fanbase doesn't want to see him on the court at all, and every time Pop plays him people get upset. Is there anyone who currently occupies this role for Miami?

Kevin

If you don't mind too much, I'm going to farm this one out to fellow Hot Hot Hoops blogger Jay Ramos, who answered this very question this past Sunday:

You know, when you have been around something since it was young, you've nurtured it, raised it and seen it blossom into adulthood, it's painful when the bloom is a bust. Norris Cole is not at that point, but he certainly seems headed there.

The Heat have invested in Cole's development. They traded for the draft rights of the 2011 first round pick and he immediately earned playing time his rookie season. Cole seems to be more well liked than the average rotation player by the fan base. After a hot start, however, he's regressed into a very limited NBA player. He did get a full off-season under his belt and starred for the Heat's summer league team this year, so maybe things were looking up.

But it still seems fair to point out that the Heat have a very inefficient player in the rotation, even if that fact is masked by wins.

Cole's presence on the court alone contributed to draining the team eight points in offensive rating, which is the amount of points a team produces per 100 possessions. In combination with the defensive splits, the Heat were 11.5 points better per 100 possessions when he was sitting. Team splits aren't a conclusive measure for an individual player, but when we take into account his production, we can't help but notice the correlation. It may be a little surprising that the team didn't turn it over more with him on the court, but otherwise the team was average when he played. As the backup point guard, Cole plays with at least one of the Heat's stars the majority of the time.

If Cole continues to be this ineffective, it's very unlikely that the units he is on the floor with produce results more positive than those without him.

He is clearly a weak link in the rotation. Many think the Heat are built to have rebounding issues, which hasn't appeared in the data, or could use a defensive savant inside to deter shots (I think Joel Anthony still exists). But maybe we should consider that perhaps the biggest issue with Miami is the fact that they play one of the least productive players in the league 20 minutes a night.

There's a whole lot more to Jay's post which you can read here.

JRW

Design a team to beat Miami and feel free to use any player on any other team that's currently in the league. Who do you use to build your nine man rotation?

Kevin

I'm not pandering when I say I'd like to start with Tim Duncan as my starting center. The big fundamental (you can't spell it without "fun") is still wicked good, a great role player, and the shot blocker and rebounder who just may have a shot at slowing down some of the weapons in Miami's arsenal.

I'd take Rajon Rondo at starting point guard. He averages 13.6 points and 9.9 assists per game against Miami (both his second best totals against any team, he averages 11.5 assists against the Spurs), and always brings it to the Heat.

Dirk Nowitzki has the Heat's number at starting power forward. He's the ultimate weapon when healthy, able to post up or drive the lane. He's got the size to ball inside, and the range to make the Heat pay three points at a time.

I'd hire Carmelo Anthony to play at small forward. Sometimes the guy plays a little selfish, but he became one of my favorites after the show he put on against the Heat on November 2nd.

Kobe Bryant would be my shooting guard. The guy has a nose for the win, and he's as clutch as they get. The Lakers are .500 right now. Underperforming? Very likely, but they wouldn't even be close to .500 without the Mamba, leading the league in scoring in his 17th season. Can you believe the guy is only 34? That hardly seems fair.

That leaves my bench. I'd take James Harden, and reunite him with Kevin Durant, add the otherworldly quickness of Chris Paul, and finish off with Dwight Howard. I know it looks like an all-star team, but I think that's a team that could give Miami a fit. I pick the superteam in five.

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