For much of the team’s history, the Miami Heat has been an organization that prides itself on defense—from the days of Alonzo Mourning up to LeBron James claiming he should win a defensive player of the year award.
However, it was no secret that a tired Heat team let up on that side of the ball last season, ranking outside of the NBA’s top 10 defenses for the first time since the 2008-09 season, per basketball-reference.com.
Losing James this offseason didn’t help, though the Heat did sign Luol Deng to help replace his defense on the wing. But even with James Miami struggled to defend the perimeter, giving up the second-most corner three’s in the league last season, according to NBA.com/stats.
Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote that perimeter defense will be a major issue facing this Heat roster.
The irony is that Luol Deng brings that dimension, but, of course, at the cost of losing LeBron. What the Heat could have used last season during the NBA Finals, when LeBron was occupied with Tony Parker, was Deng to help out defensively on the wing. The question becomes who is the second-best wing defender on this roster? At one point, a case could have been made for Dwyane Wade. I’m not sure that case can be made any longer. The Heat need to find that second wing stopper either from within, or else still are one addition short.
Wade used to be one of the most active perimeter defenders in the league, but nagging injuries has forced him to conserve his energy for when he needs it most. Without James, Wade will be leaned upon to score in the post and on cuts to the basket. Defense will likely be a bonus on nights when he is feeling young again.
As for free agents, many of the best defenders have already been plucked. However, Francisco Garcia, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Ronnie Brewer and Toure Murry are some names who offer relatively strong defense.
During the regular season, this shouldn’t be as much of an issue. With Deng, Chris Bosh, Chalmers, Cole, Wade, Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem and Josh McRoberts, and a traditional focus on defense, the Heat figure to jump back into the top 10 defensively.
However, as Winderman points out, it’s the one-on-one matchups in the playoffs that are an issue. For example: In a playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Deng would pick up James and Bosh could defend Kevin Love, but who defends Kyrie Irving?
The Heat will surely face many adjustments in life after LeBron, and this will be one of them.