Spotlighting and Breaking Down Miami Heat's Small Forward Position

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2013

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 20:  Shane Battier #31 of the Miami Heat reacts after making a three-pointer in the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Seven of the 2013 NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena on June 20, 2013 in Miami, Florida. 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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

There are positions of strength, and then there's the Miami Heat's collection of small forwards. 

Hard as it was to imagine the organization parting ways with Mike Miller after his sporadic but invaluable contributions during back-to-back titles, two things made it possible to waive the 33-year-old via amnesty.

First, signing Ray Allen last summer gave Miami a plenty capable shooter off the bench.

While you can never have too many of those shooters, there's only so much room for those of a one-dimensional variety. Without other marketable skills to offer, Miller became expendable, if not prohibitively expensive on account of the $17 million he would have otherwise cost Miami in luxury taxes this season alone.

Second, Miami is all set on the wing. 

Even when LeBron James winds up seeing minutes at power forward, head coach Erik Spoelstra has a range of options to deploy in the post-Miller era.


LeBron James

Calling James a "small forward" seems antiquated after all the minutes he's spent guarding 4s and running the offense like a born-and-bred point guard. But until the powers that be create a new position for guys who do everything, he's more of a 3 than anything else.

And given Miami's penchant for going small, the line between small forwards and their bigger brethren is blurry as ever. That's also true for Battier and Lewis thanks to their abilities to draw defenders out to the three-point line.

The only thing harder than trying to define James' position is pinning down his role. He initiates offense like a point guard, slashes with exceptional footwork, posts up, spots up and guards anything that moves. And he excels at all of the above—thus the four MVPs.

With someone like James around, having real depth at the position is just unfair. Such is life.


Shane Battier

Between Battier's immense value in the postseason and the fact he's 34, it's unlikely he'll claim all of Miller's leftover minutes. Regardless of playing time, though, Battier could very well find himself Miami's shooter of choice a little more often this season. He immediately becomes the best catch-and-shoot option not named Ray Allen.

Especially in those corners. 

Besides spacing the floor for a club that makes the most of it, Battier's primary role will remain on defense. It's there that his length and superior IQ yield the most dividends, enabling LeBron to check power forwards or otherwise avoid the opposition's best scorer long enough to stay fresh on the other end of the floor.

Important as Battier is to everything Miami does, there's a reason he's just a role player. You don't want him putting the ball on the floor, and you don't want him trying to get too creative.

Fortunately, you don't have to remind him about any of that.

Last season, over 96 percent of Battier's field goals were assisted, proving that sometimes the best players are simply the ones who know what they can't do.


Rashard Lewis

In theory, Lewis stands to benefit the most from Miller's absence. He'll almost certainly cobble together more than the 14.4 minutes per game he posted last season. At 34, he's old...but he's not that old. 

Like Battier, Lewis' most important job when Miami has the ball is standing in the corners and knocking down three-pointers.

Unlike Battier, however, Lewis doesn't contribute nearly enough on the defensive end to command much more than those 14 or 15 minutes a game. Except in the event of an emergency, Lewis is a specialist to the core these days.

At least he still gets to practice his specialty with the defending champs.


James Jones

Jones only played in 38 games last season, and only 5.8 minutes a game at that. He should see a few more this time around, maybe a lot more should the rest of the roster go down in an untimely series of catastrophic injuries.

Much like the rest of Miami's wing players, Jones is all about spotting up from range, where 2.9 of his 4.7 field goal attempts per game have come over the course of his career. If you're starting to notice a common denominator here, there's a reason for that. The Heat understand the endless value of driving and kicking, and they have the assets to get it done.

While guys like Jones are typically little more than role players, they're every bit as essential to the final product. You won't find them bemoaning their relatively narrow skill sets or lack of star power. They know their jobs.

Even if they only get to do them a few minutes at a time.