The Miami Heat are not really struggling in an absolute sense. They have a winning record at 12-8, and by pythagorean calculation their record should be closer to 15-5. But in a relative sense the team has not yet lived up to the hype surrounding it when it was formed. The hype was reasonable, after all the team features a combination of two superstar win producers, each in his prime, and an above average win producer in his prime. This summer I calculated the team would win 63 games, and many were emailing me saying that result was well low of the mark.
So why hasn’t the team been more successful? I cannot answer that, but using Marginal Win Score I can purport to show each player’s win production so far, and through those numbers we can identify the players who are producing below their established norms.
Here is the Heat Win Chart to date:
If you go back and compare the numbers above to the numbers produced by each of the Big 3 last season (which you can do here, here, and here) looking especially at each player’s MWS, Win Contribution, and Player Winning Percentage, you will notice each of the three is underproducing, with Dwayne Wade off by more than the others (Bosh is actually close to his normal numbers).
A couple of summers ago, while writing for the defunct MVN network, I produced what I called at the time “Win Resumes” for many of the stars of the NBA, among those were the Win Resumes of the Big 3. (You can see LeBron’s here, DWade’s here, and Chris Bosh’s here).
The presentations aren’t exactly the same as the Win Chart above, but when looking at each Resume focus on the Win Contribution numbers and the Player Winning Percentages. If you look at those numbers you will see that each of the Big 3 is actually playing at or near his career average. But remember, those averages include initial seasons. While Bosh’s career has been spotty, it seemed that LeBron and Wade had established themselves at much higher production numbers than those represented by their career averages. Thus we expected more.
The fact that we haven’t yet gotten “more” doesn’t mean that the three cannot function at high levels on the same court. IN FACT, THEY’VE ALREADY PROVEN THEY CAN! That’s what’s so crazy. If the three can just remember back to the 2008 Olympics, when the three were the leading producers on one of the greatest teams of all time, they will find the solution to the riddle.
I profiled that 2008 team this summer. Of course Olympic competition is not NBA competition, but I’m more concerned with productive styles, not the specific win numbers.
If you look at the statistics from the 2008 team, it appears that LeBron changed his role to something more like Magic Johnson (playmaker, rebounder, shotmaker, but not as much of a possession user), while Bosh functioned at a high level by playing sort of like Lamar Odom (crashing the boards, getting easy baskets). Wade remained Wade (high usage scorer).
Now LeBron is playing the same game as Wade. Thus, the two are kind of taking turns playing the same role rather than meshing their roles and adding value to each other (indeed they admitted as much in a recent press conference).
Why? Why can’t they remember back to the Olympics? Okay, now I’m going to veer into complete speculation. My thought is, they probably can remember that style, and eventually will, but at the moment these are not the Olympics. This is the National Basketball Association. And as Professor Berri always points out, in the NBA scoring is the overvalued coin of the realm.
While there are so many other equally important productive ingredients that go in to the recipe for winning basketball games, players and the media refuse to recognize them. Crudely put, players, fueled by the ESPN nonsense machine, measure their own importance and the importance of each of their colleagues by the number of points next to each player’s number up on the scoreboard. Like it or not, in their minds everything that doesn’t involve “ball-going-through-net” falls under the dreaded category defined as the “role player”. And God forbid, neither LeBron nor Dwyane Wade wants to ever be referred to as a role player or a “second fiddle”. As a result they have chose to essentially perform the same role, and when they are on the court together, as “+/-” suggests, it doesn’t work that well.
That’s all an oversimplification obviously. But the point is, I really think the problem (to the extent there is “a problem”) is ego driven. Wade feels the Heat were his team to begin with, so why should he change his style? LeBron, on the other hand, feels his basketball skills are on loan from is God. What a treat he must be at cocktail parties (he would probably show up in shades). LeBron is easily the biggest ego maniac in sports, and not in a pleasant, self-aware, charismatic way like Muhammad Ali. LeBron is an insufferable asshole, basically. I’m sorry but he is.
To illustrate the point, and to show what a tin ear he has for public relations, this week before the Cleveland game LeBron was asked if he had any fond feelings about his time with the Cavalier organization. Oh yes, he assured them “I’m grateful for the opportunity they gave me to showcase my talents, and they gave me a place where I could grow from a boy to a man.” The second part of that statement is debatable, but the first part is vintage LeBron. He tried to say something nice about Cleveland, and he actually doesn’t say anything nice about Cleveland at all. He just explained how they temporarily benefited his LeBroness. I wonder if he even understood that? It would be like someone asking me if I had any gratitude toward this or that ex-girlfriend and me answering “Oh of course I do. She was someone I had a lot of sex with.” My point being, he could have showcased his… oh, never mind I’m way off topic right now, let me bottom line this post.
The Heat are having a hard time defining each other’s role in the most optimal manner, and I think its driven by ego (read this great post by Brian Burke for more on the topic). I think eventually, when the whole “who’s team is it?” notion becomes passe, LeBron and DWade will find their way back to their Olympic success formula. I’m not sure when, but I think its inevitable that they will. But LeBron is the one who will have to change, mainly because he can produce in ways they are not necessarily focused on using possessions, while I don’t think DWade can.