Early Predictions for Miami Heat's Starting Lineup

Wes Goldberg@@wcgoldbergContributor IIJuly 25, 2014

Early Predictions for Miami Heat's Starting Lineup

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    Judging by point differential per 100 possessions, the Miami Heat had the third-best starting unit in the league last regular season, according to NBA.com statistics.

    In the playoffs, however, the starters went from outscoring opponents at a rate of 7.8 points per game to being outscored by 0.2 points. That can be attributed to tired legs and an offense centered around passing LeBron James the ball and getting out of the way.

    With the departure of James, the Heat will probably ditch the whole give-LeBron-the-ball-and-watch-him-score thing in favor of the let's-try-to-be-a-complete-team thing. That means the starting unit setting the tone of the game will be even more important for Miami this season.

    Miami replaced James with Luol Deng and added a stretch 4 in Josh McRoberts, giving the Eastern Conference champs two new starters.

    Chris Bosh told ESPN's Tom Haberstroh he believes the team can still contend for a championship. 

    "I think right now we have the correct infrastructure to compete for a championship," Bosh said. "We have to get much better at certain positions, and there's a bunch of things that have to continue to happen. But you know a team like the Spurs, they had a lot of guys that people underestimate, but as a team, they were outstanding.

    Predicting how the Heat starters will play largely depends on the system coach Erik Spoelstra will run. Who facilitates the offense, how the rotations play out and how Bosh performs as the new No. 1 option are all questions that need to be answered. 

    Until then, however, we can assume a few things.

    • Miami will still play a small-ball starting lineup.
    • They will still try to get open threes.
    • They will still favor getting into transition over crashing the boards.
    • Mario Chalmers will still get yelled at.

    How each player reacts to James' departure will set the tone for his season. These are predictions of that and how each starting player will perform this upcoming season.

Point Guard: Mario Chalmers

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    Last season: 9.8 PPG, 4.9 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.6 STL, 29.8 MPG

    Chalmers was benched the final game of the season, and since then his future on the team was in question. 

    However, after missing out on Kyle Lowry and not having the cap room to make a run at Eric Bledsoe, the Heat re-signed Chalmers, who was the best available option.

    With all the flack he received last season, Chalmers actually scored as many points per game as he ever had in the Big Three Era. It was his postseason play that frustrated fans, putting up career lows of 6.4 points on 5.6 attempts (2.2 from three) in the playoffs.

    Chalmers has competition if he struggles, though. Spoelstra could yank him in favor of youngsters Shabazz Napier or Norris Cole. 

    As the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Ira Winderman writes, Chalmers can be a significant contributor with more consistency.

    He is an excellent spot-up shooter, creates turnovers with his length and activity, and appreciates in a star-driven league when it's time to get out of the way. And he can be efficient and explosive when attacking the rim, which I think you'll see more of with LeBron James gone.

    After six NBA seasons, it is possible Chalmers has plateaued as an inconsistent facilitator who can help stretch the floor and score in flashes. 

    Even with James, Chalmers was the X-factor who could raise the ceiling for the Heat. He'll have more of a chance to do some scoring now, so I expect his points per game to improve. I also expect him to be more involved in facilitating the offense, which should improve his assist numbers.

    Projected stats: 10.2 PPG, 5.0 APG, 2.3 RPG, 1.6 STL, 28.0 MPG

Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade

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    Last season: 19.0 PPG, 4.7 APG, 4.5 RPG, 32.9 MPG

    Like last season, the big question regarding Dwyane Wade is how many games he will play on those knees.

    Wade was limited to 53 games in 2013-14 while on a rehab plan that would save him for the playoffs. It worked, too, until the NBA Finals.

    In the games he missed, James was able to carry the offense. Without James, Wade will likely have to play more than 53 games if Miami hopes to compete in the Eastern Conference.

    Instead, Spoelstra's best option to keep Wade's legs fresh is to learn a lesson from Gregg Popovich and play him fewer than 30 minutes per game.

    Before LeBron's talents swept South Beach, Wade was primarily an isolation player. Now, he is a master cutter to the basket and has added some post-up and Eurostep moves to his interior game. 

    Bosh is expected to be the No. 1 scoring option, but Wade will have to carry the backcourt. No James means more touches for Wade, so I expect his shots, points and assists to go up.

    Projected stats: 22.0 PPG, 6.5 APG, 4.5 RPG, 29.0 MPG

Small Forward: Luol Deng

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    Last season: 16.0 PPG, 2.9 APG, 5.7 RPG, 35.1 MPG

    Luol Deng has the unenviable job of filling LeBron James' shoes (and the very enviable job of being paid $10 million a year to play basketball). 

    He won't duplicate what the best player in the known universe was able to do, but he will make sure the small forward spot isn't a weakness in Miami. Deng won't stretch the floor, but he will play top-notch defense on the wing. 

    As Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes wrote, Deng should fit right in with the Heat.

    Working alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—both of whom will be expected to up their production in the wake of James' exit—should suit Deng just fine. He's a "do the little things" guy, and we saw him fill in the gaps with timely shooting and staunch defense in his nine-plus years with the Chicago Bulls.

    Deng has twice been an All-Star, and in at least one sense, he'll actually give Miami more than James did last year. For all his hoops supremacy, LeBron largely took a hiatus from defense in 2013-14. For every area of the game that Deng falls short of the four-time MVP he's replacing (and there are many), consistent effort on D isn't one of them.

    During his time playing for Tom Thibodeau, Deng was playing roughly 38 minutes per game every season since 2009. Thibs hardly rested Deng, but Miami has more depth with Danny Granger and James Ennis able to play the 3. His minutes should decline and common sense says his numbers will, too. 

    Projected stats: 14.0 PPG, 2.5 APG, 5.8 RPG, 32 MPG

Power Forward: Josh McRoberts

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    Last season: 8.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.3 APG, 30.3 MPG

    Josh McRoberts projects as the starting power forward in Miami's lineup, giving the Heat two very versatile bigs in the frontcourt.

    The 27-year-old journeyman will be playing for his sixth NBA team, but Charlotte coach Steve Clifford figured out how to take advantage of his skill set and intelligence last season.

    As the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell wrote, "McRoberts was Steve Clifford's security blanket. Whenever coach had to go with inexperienced unit, Josh would be out there to organize."

    Under Clifford, McRoberts had career highs in points and assists while showing off his range by hitting 105 threes, 47 more than he made over the previous six seasons combined.

    McRoberts is a shot creator on a team short of shot creators and a versatile scorer.

    Miami could use him in the James-type role, facilitating from the high post to the three-point shooters on the wing or a cutting Dwyane Wade.

    Or, the team can use him the way it used Shane Battier, a cog in the machine stretching the floor and making decisions quickly and efficiently.

    McRoberts isn't a guy who is going to blow up the box score, but he will fill it out.

    Projected stats: 9.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.8 APG, 30.0 MPG

Center: Chris Bosh

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    Last season:16.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.0 BLK, 32.0 MPG

    What can $118 million buy you?

    Well, it could get you a 15,500 square-foot penthouse in downtown New York City with sweeping views of the Statue of Liberty.

    Or it can get you Chris Bosh.

    Hopefully for Micky Arison and the Heat, that money just bought him a new No. 1 scoring option capable of leading his organization to competing in the Eastern Conference.

    Bosh told ESPN's Tom Haberstroh he won't be the player he was in Toronto who put up 24 and 10.8 in his last season, but a different, more complete player.

    I feel I'm a much better leader and a much better player, and I'm much more prepared for the role, the all-around role, that they need me to fill. That's exciting for me to really challenge myself and step up to the plate next year and make sure we get it done, no matter what happens.

    Unlike CB4, CB1 has added three-point range and top-notch defense to his skill set. With James gone and Wade aging, Bosh is the best two-way player on the Heat now. His shooting range will help open up the court for his teammates the way Dirk Nowitzki spreads the floor in Dallas. His activity on defense should make the jobs of everyone else easier, too.

    Bosh's promotion to the No. 1 scoring option will be visible in the box score, but his overall impact, as it was the previous four seasons, won't completely be reflected.

    Projected stats: 24.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.0 BLK, 34.0 MPG