Assessing Miami Heat Coaching Staff's Early-Season Performance

Sam RichmondCorrespondent IDecember 27, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06:  Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat coaches in the first half against the New York Knicks in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 6, 2012 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The Miami Heat are off to a blazing 20-6 start to the 2012-13 NBA season, and the team's coaching staff, mostly head coach Erik Spoelstra, deserves plenty of credit for the team's early-season successes.

Spoelstra has completely embraced the small-ball strategy by starting Chris Bosh at the five and loading the court with shooters, which has resulted in an almost unstoppable offensive attack.

By using the versatility of its players to his advantage, Spoelstra has created an offense that spreads the floor as well as anybody in the league and is absolutely devastating from long-range

Spoelstra is regularly using units such as one that consists of Mario Chalmers (38.5% 3PT), Ray Allen (45.8% 3PT), Shane Battier (43.6% 3PT), LeBron James (42.9% 3PT) and Chris Bosh (26.1% 3PT) that have the Heat leading the league in three-point field goal percentage at 41 percent after shooting 35.9 percent in 2011-12 when the team trotted out more traditional lineups.

Granted, Spoelstra has great fortune in that he has a roster filled with dynamic players; however, he deserves credit for playing the right guys and having them in the right roles.

According to Basketball Reference, the Heat are currently ranked second in offensive rating with 111.6 points per 100 possessions, which is a considerable step up from last season when Joel Anthony (now a role payer) started 51 games and they finished eighth in the measurement.

Spoelstra also should receive praise for his willingness to alter his rotation when he needs to.

Rashard Lewis was a key member in the Heat's rotation to start the season and did a nice job offensively by knocking down three-pointers.

But Lewis is notoriously a bad defender, and he was part of the reason that at one point in the early goings of the season the Heat spent much of November as statistically one of the worst defenses in the league.

So Spoelstra made a key adjustment: He removed Lewis from his rotation. Lewis' replacement was and still is Joel Anthony, a great defender; however, his role isn't as Bosh's frontcourt partner as it was last season, but rather as Bosh's replacement at the five (which allows the Heat to still spread the floor with three-point shooters and play small ball).

In the Heat's past seven games, Anthony, who averaged 4.5 minutes per game in November, has played more than 10 minutes in a game six times while Lewis has played 10 minutes total. The Heat didn't allow 100 points in any of the seven games (they won six of them, and now the team ranks 17th in points allowed per game and 13th in defensive rating.  

While Spoelstra's rotation has improved its defensive presence lately, his units still aren't heavy on the rebounders. However, that has little to do with Spoelstra and his staff and more to do with the creation of this team involving not adding a true center.

And at the same time, Spoelstra has turned that weakness into an advantage. That is how Miami is able to play a game on December 18 against Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves in which they get outrebounded by a whopping 29 and still win the game. What other team is capable of that other than Spoelstra's small-ball Heat?

This isn't to say Spoelstra and his staff have been perfect this year. One common complaint is that given the team's style of play, it's a bit confusing as to why three-point shooting big man Josh Harrellson has only played 10 minutes all season. 

Still, it's impossible to argue with the results. The Heat recently overtook the New York Knicks atop the Eastern Conference standings and on Christmas Day defeated the Western Conference's top team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The small-ball experiment has looked risky at times, and getting dominated down low like they did against the Timberwolves can be seen as "playing with fire." But the fact of that matter is that the Heat are still on pace to win the Eastern Conference and face the team in the Finals they did last season, whom they defeated in five games.

In a short period of time, Coach Spoelstra and his staff have meshed a style very well with their personnel, which has led to an incredibly dynamic offense and a defense that is returning to elite form. That's pretty darn good.

Note: Statistics are accurate as of December 27