By design, the Miami Heat are a veteran-laden team with not many young players.
But through 25 games, the few young players the Heat possess have shown tremendous growth, earning valuable minutes on a team for which that's not easy to do.
On the flip side of that, though, some of Miami's veteran players have started to show signs of diminishing ability.
Let's take an in-depth look at the Heat players most fitting of these categorizations—those improving and those who are declining—and why their play is better or worse than it used to be.
Most Improved: Michael Beasley
Michael Beasley has shown great improvement to start his second stint in a Heat uniform.
Beasley was an inefficient ball-stopper a year ago for the Phoenix Suns. He shot more times per game (10.2) than he scored per game (10.1) and shot just 40.5 percent from the field.
This year, Beasley is shooting 54.6 percent from the floor and 50.0 percent from three (31.1 percent last season). He takes it to the basket often and is finishing at a high rate. And when the Heat need him to knock down a shot, he's been money.
Beasley is someone the Heat truly rely on for bench scoring, and he's delivering.
But he's been more than just a scorer. Beasley has been a versatile contributor, and that's not an accident.
Per Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald, Beasley said, "With this team, like I said before, and I’ve been screaming all year, I’ve got to find something else to bring to the table. It’s not going to be the same thing every night, but it’s got to be something.”
He's much more of a team player than he's been in years past; he attacks the boards (8.2 rebounds per 36 minutes) and exerts plenty of effort on the defensive end.
Incredibly enough, Beasley is a valuable member on this team, something not many could have forecast given his awful play in Phoenix last season.
Least Improved: Shane Battier
Even though he's never averaged more than seven points per game in a season with Miami, Shane Battier is a very important cog in the Heat's offense.
LeBron James commands an enormous amount of defensive attention. So the Heat's offense places shooters in the corners because when James drives and the defense collapses, those shooters become wide open. It's integral to the success of the Heat's offense that these shooters take advantage of these easy looks. And last year, Battier did that to unbelievable degrees.
He knocked down 48 percent of his shots from the right corner and 44 percent of his shots from the left corner, according to Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland.
This year, the 35-year-old Battier hasn't been nearly as fortunate.
Take a look at his shot chart:
Battier's still been productive on the defensive end; however, there's no getting around that his season has been a disappointment because of his decline in offensive production.
Most Improved: Norris Cole
What area of Norris Cole's game hasn't he improved in?
He's developed into a prolific outside shooter (39.3 3PT%) and a better playmaker (1.3 assists more per 36 minutes than last year), he's finishing at the rim better (56.3 percent within five feet of the hoop, according to NBA.com), and he's grabbing rebounds (four per 36 minutes).
B/R's Ethan Skolnick recently wrote that Cole's improvements have made him equal in ability to Mario Chalmers.
"But Cole has clearly closed the gap, enough to call them equals. His improvement from his first season to his third has been staggering, though it shouldn't be surprising if you consider that so many teammates marvel about how conscientious he is."
For his first year-and-a-half in the NBA, Cole was an offensive liability for the Heat. Today, he's an asset.
Least Improved: Udonis Haslem
The 2013-14 version of Udonis Haslem is a shell of his former self.
Once a rebounding machine, the 33-year-old Haslem is grabbing just six boards per 36 minutes this season. That's a far cry from the team-best 10.3 rebounds per 36 minutes he snagged last season.
He hasn't shot his mid-range jumper, which once made him a valuable member of the Heat's offense, often or well. Take a look at his season-long shot chart and see his lack of mid-range work for yourself.
Haslem is now little more than a benchwarmer. He's played just 17 minutes total in Miami's last five games after averaging 18.9 minutes in the 75 games he appeared in last season.
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