Without a true, shot-blocking center around, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers developed into some of the best defenders in the league at planting their feet, drawing contact and getting referees to blow their whistles and point in the other direction when an opposing player came charging through the paint with the ball.
With Hassan Whiteside around these days, coach Erik Spoelstra said that's just not who the Heat has to be anymore. In fact, Miami ranks next-to-last in charges drawn with only six this season through its first 28 games, only one more charge drawn than the Utah Jazz, who have the league's leading shot blocker in Rudy Gobert.
“It's been a slow change in that really started the last couple years with Hassan,” Spoelstra explained before Sunday’s game against the Celtics as to why the Heat is drawing less charges defensively than it did in the past. “Our bigs before were active bigs. Our defense was a little bit different whether it was more rotations and more helpside rotations. We were moving bodies in front of drivers. It's a little different when you play a big-time shot blocker.”
Willie Reed and Goran Dragic lead this year’s Heat team with two charges drawn. Derrick Williams and Tyler Johnson each have one.
In the old days, when he was playing more frequently than he is now, Haslem, 36, probably would have had six charges drawn already.
The Heat’s captain – and the only player left from Miami’s championship glory days – has led the Heat in charges drawn six times in the 11 years since the stat has been charted. He led the NBA in charges drawn with 27 according to NBAMiner.com in 2012-13 – the Heat's last championship season.
The season after that, when Miami made its fourth consecutive Finals appearance and lost to the San Antonio Spurs, Battier ranked third in the league with 28 charges drawn. Two seasons ago, after Whiteside joined the Heat in January 2014, Haslem and Chalmers finished 13th and 14th in the league in charges drawn with 13 and 12 respectively.
Despite having a respected rim protector in the paint in Whiteside, Miami has progressively slipped down the league rankings when it has come to allowing points in the paint. The Heat ranked second in fewest points in the paint allowed in 2011-12 (36.6), seventh in 2012-13 (39.9) and 10th (41.1) in 2013-14.
The Heat was ranked fourth in the league in defending the paint (37.3 points per game) through the first two weeks of this season, but now ranks 17th having allowed 43.4 points in the paint per game through its first 28 games. Miami ranked 13th in points in the paint allowed last season (42.0) when Whiteside led the league in blocks.
JOHNSON AND JOHNSON
Even though Spoelstra has already shuffled his way through nine different starting lineups and had 10 different players start in all, he's remained steadfast in having Tyler Johnson or James Johnson come off the bench because he likes the dynamic they bring when they’re on the court together.
“I just think we have real good chemistry,” said Tyler Johnson, who leads the NBA in fourth quarter minutes (10.9) and is averaging 12.7 points per game this season.
“We work together all the time. He’s my neighbor, so any time he comes in, I’m with him and vice-versa. We’re just always together.”
Entering Tuesday's game against the Magic, the Johnsons have spent the third-most minutes on the floor together this season (455) of any of the Heat's two-man combinations.
Only Tyler Johnson-Whiteside (462) and Dragic-Whiteside (653) have played more minutes together on the floor.