The date Dec. 29 could only mean one thing.
Yes, it's four days after Christmas and three days before the New Year. But
it's also been exactly two months (and one day) since the Heat opened its
season with that Oct. 28 victory against the New York Knicks. In other words, I
should have filed this yesterday. But the methodical drive from New York to
Miami hit an extra overnight snag right around Gainesville and required a pit
Still, this officially (or otherwise) brings us to the first trimester of
the season. Two months down in the regular season. Four to go. So as the Heat wrapped up
practice today in advance of its two-game road trip to New Orleans and San
Antonio, Prof. M-Dub couldn't find a better time than now to hand out first
trimester grades for the Heat.
In many ways, at 16-12, the Heat is right where it should be, under the
circumstances. There isn't quite enough depth and talent on the roster to
consistently trade blows with the Big Four in the East (Orlando, Boston,
Cleveland, Atlanta). On the other hand, with a healthy Dwyane Wade, there's
still enough here to avoid falling too deep into the conference wastelands that
exist in the bottom half of the East.
In an effort to provide a truly fair evaluation, these grades are based on
how each Heat player has done through the first two months in terms of reaching general expectations and potential. That means Carlos Arroyo's grade might be higher than, say, Jermaine
But that doesn't mean Arroyo has outperformed O'Neal from an overall
team perspective. It simply means, Arroyo has come closer to meeting, or
surpassing, what was generally expected of him in this evaluator's humble
So feel free to evaluate the evaluator - or simply chime in with your own
studious observations and grades.
Joel Anthony (B+): There have already been a handful of times when Joel - or
ZO-el, as we call him on press row, dominated a game on the defensive end. His
blocks-per-minutes-played stat makes him one of the most productive
shot-blockers in the league. He's even sprinkled in a hook shot, pick-and-roll
finish and dunks on lob passes. But the operative word is
"sprinkled." Anthony's hands of stone still prevent him from
providing heapings of anything on offense. But defensively, he's gone from
project to impact player.
Carlos Arroyo (C+): There was a reason Arroyo was available as a free agent well into training
camp. He's no longer the flashy, streaky, take-over-a-game point guard. But
he's been a productive, steady, veteran option for this team. He doesn't make
mistakes and gets the team smoothly into offense. Arroyo still has a great feel
for the game and his teammates. Considering he's now starting just two months
after the Heat signed him off the Miami playgrounds to a non-guaranteed
contract, he's already done more than expected.
Michael Beasley (B): There are some out there who will give Beas an "A" no matter
what he does. But the truth his, the kid is coming around nicely this season
after showing flashes last season. Beas still has a few more levels to go
before he reaches the peak of his game. That's not a knock on him. That speaks
to how much of a star he could be in this league if he continues to develop
(and be allowed to develop). But he is on course to be that "20-10
guy even on a bad night" D. Wade believes he soon will become.
Mario Chalmers (C-): Really, about the only thing Chalmers has shown that's
different from his rookie campaign is the ability to lose his starting job. You
have to wonder at times why Pat Riley made such a firm public commitment to the
kid instead of upgrading the position last summer. Money was a factor. But
still. The good news is that Mario can still be a long-term starter. But he's seeing you can't walk into the league and pick up point
guard skills on the fly.
Daequan Cook (D-): The shoulder problems have lingered, the shot isn't falling and he's
dropped out of the primary rotation again. Hopefully, he'll come around in the
next few weeks to justify defending that Three-Point Shootout championship at
All-Star Weekend. This could become another second-guess situation from a
previous draft, when Miami took Dorell Wright while Jameer Nelson was on the
board. Cook was acquired three drafts ago when a fella by the name of Aaron
Brooks was still there to be had.
Diawara (C-): You won't find a nicer, more intelligent, funnier guy in the Heat
locker room than Frenchie. But he's not making almost $1 million to be those
things. He was brought in to be a three-point shooting, defensive stopper. For
whatever reason, he hasn't had done either of those things consistently.
Udonis Haslem (B-): You know what you're going to get from UD year in and year out. Somewhere
around 10 points and close to 10 rebounds. That’s both good and bad. You would
like to see Haslem follow through on his wish to expand his game, since he
always talks about how much he’s had to sacrifice to accept his role with the
Heat. He watched Michael Beasley take over the starting power forward role in a
move that seems to be paying off for both, even though the staff hasn’t
consistently found a way to keep both in the mix at the end of games.
James Jones (D): He was brought in to be the stretch-the-floor, three-point specialist at near mid-level money to complement Dwyane Wade. So either James Jones hasn't truly gotten his chance or the Heat is getting an absurdly low return on its $4.2 million a year investment. Jones hasn't been a factor with this team, despite all of the high praise from coach Erik Spoelstra coming into the season.
Jamaal Magloire (C): When Big Cat plays, he punishes people. He pounds in the paint, and he's a productive rebounder. But the minutes have been sparse for the Heat's resident enforcer. Magloire's biggest accomplishment this season was getting suspended for those two regular-season games for his role in that preseason skirmish with the Pistons.Jermaine O'Neal (C+): When the offense runs through J.O., good things tend to happen. But the question lingers. Were those 22-point, 12-rebound performances in the first two games just a tease, or a true testament of what should be expected from O'Neal game in and game out? Nagging injuries have rendered his production sporadic. But just when you count him down or out, he bounces back with a big game.
Chris Quinn - I (incomplete): He hasn't played and might not get a chance to do so this season if the Heat decides to keep Arroyo on board beyond the Jan. 6 guarantee date for contracts. Still, a permanent spot on the inactive list is not a bad way to earn a cool million bucks for Quinn.
Quentin Richardson (A): If I've said it once, I've blogged it a dozen times. What essentially was a throw-away trade for the Heat in dumping Mark Blount turned out to be a treasured situation for Q-Rich. He has gone from being buried on the Knicks bench to being traded four times last summer to becoming the Heat's X-factor this season. Q-Rich's shooting, defense and swagger have been huge in support of Wade. Now, all he has to do is stay healthy.
Dwyane Wade (B-): Because greatness is graded on a steep curve, D. Wade's low B would be a high A for 90 percent of the league. But his shooting woes, conditioning flap and turnovers have left the door open for a bit of criticism. The expectation is that Wade will shut that door during the second Trimester and get back to being one of the top-3 dominant players in the league. It's not like he's slipped far off that mark - even with his relative dip in production so far.
Dorell Wright (C+): The re-emergence of Dorell Wright has been a bit overstated in recent weeks. But the reality is that Dorell is still young enough at age 24, athletic enough, long enough and skilled enough to make a fool of a front office if it gives up on him too soon. The key to Wright's recent improved play has been the stability in his surgically repaired knee. If he sustains this, his grade will certainly rise.Coach Erik Spoelstra (C): Although he has been a huge target of criticism among a section of fans, Spoelstra still hasn't really done anything to distinguish himself as a game-day coach. We know he prepares like heck. He knows how to run a practice. He can relate to his players. But the fact is Dwyane helps to hide what may be a few blemishes. The rotation is still his issue. But it's too soon to say he's a perfect fit or not a fit at all for this team.
President Pat Riley (B-): The natural instinct was to offer a lower grade. But I do give Riley credit for avoiding the sort of desperate moves he's made the past couple of seasons. You know the ones. Smush. Penny. Ricky D. Instead, Riley announced what he was going to do and stuck with it. The plan is 2010. Fate sort of forced his hand on the point guard situation, and he brought in Arroyo. And his biggest accomplishment this season has been his ability to convince the league that he's got a better-than-good chance at bringing LeBron down to Miami to pair with D. Wade. There's hype. And the Heat is winning.
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