SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
There is so much to appreciate with this Heat team: the individual excellence of the stars, the sacrifices many of the players have made, the crisp ball movement.
Here’s another that is sometimes easier to overlook: How the players have worked tirelessly to expand their skill set during the Big Three era, adding or improving elements to their repertoire that were deficient, non-existent, or in Ray Allen’s case, kept in storage in recent years.
“It’s a credit to [Erik Spoelstra],” said David Fizdale, one of the credit-worthy assistant coaches. “Instead of being random skill development, it’s focused development based on how they fit into our system. Spo is always forcing these guys, no matter what age they are, to grow. Don’t be happy where you are. We try not to put a limit on any of these guys at any age. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But I beg to differ.
“I mean, Juwan Howard has developed to where he can make a three-point shot. He’s 40 years old!”
Howard’s long-range shooting assuredly won’t be needed, but here’s a look at where key Heat players have added pieces to their game:
### Dwyane Wade: “He’s probably modified or evolved his game more than any of them, beginning with his post up game,” Fizdale said. “He’s as efficient as it gets. When I got here, he was a go-to-the-rim, hit bodies with everybody, go-to-the-floor guy. That was his reputation. They made commercials about it.
“I said, ‘Look: At some point, you’re going to get tired of it. You’ve got to develop something where you’re not getting beat up every play to score a basket or get a free throw.’ So we went to work on his floater, touch shots, using the glass, using different hands around the basket.”
Not only did Wade shoot a career-high 52.1 percent this season, but look how his game has diversified, despite having the ball a lot less: In the season before the Big Three, Wade had 48 field goals on cuts to the basket. This year? He had 100 (in eight fewer games), on 73 percent shooting.
His post-up baskets jumped from 44 that season to 57 this one, his runners from 13 to 52. He had two nifty runners/floaters to help close out the Bulls in Game 5.
### LeBron James: “When we first got LeBron, we tried to plug him into a system that we had in place already instead of evolving the system around him,” Fizdale said. That has changed.
The most obvious: the growth of his post game. Consider: He had 79 baskets on post-ups this season, compared with 53 his last season in Cleveland. “And we’re giving him a lot of space down there to work,” Fizdale said.
And there's this: He shot 40.6 percent on threes this season, well above his 33.7 career average. “He went back to the lab this summer, developed his three-point shot, which now makes people come out a little further on him, and that opens up his attack game more,” Fizdale said. When LeBron missed three-point shots alone in the gym last summer, he punished himself by running laps.
And “we’ve made him a roller instead of always that guy that’s handling on the pick and roll. That’s an evolution of his game.”
### Chris Bosh: “Two things really took his game up a notch,” Fizdale said. “[Developing] the corner three, which forces a [center] to make a tougher decision. Most [centers] want to stay in the paint. We don’t beat Boston in the playoffs last year if Chris Bosh can’t make corner threes.
“The other thing we’ve tried to develop: When the ball swings to him, he catches it and goes right away, instead of catching and holding. When he was in Toronto, he got the ball so many times, it was always catch/hold, let me see what’s going on and then go. His advantage is always going to be speed over the power [centers].”
### Mario Chalmers: His on-the-ball defense has improved "quite a bit," Spoelstra said -- a byproduct of diligent film study and better footwork. Chalmers said losing six pounds this season also helped.
“We’ve always known he’s a playmaker defensively with long arms and instincts," Spoelstra said. "Now he’s reining it in with more discipline.”
### Norris Cole: Developing his three-point shot has been huge; he has made 29 of his past 50. And his decision-making has developed. “What [assistant Dan Craig] is doing with him now,” Fizdale said, “is taking his ability to make plays for himself into drawing the defense and making plays for others.”
### Ray Allen: Allen said “one of the things I enjoyed most about coming here” was doing more offensively than he did in Boston.
“His piece chart is awesome – he’s not just a stand still shooter,” Fizdale said. “What you’re seeing now is if he has a matchup [advantage] we’ll post him. We’re letting him run pick and rolls in transition. If guys are closing at him hard, he can put it on the floor quickly and we’ve given him the space to do that. We’ve really opened up his game. He’s not just pigeon-holed into one thing.
“We’re putting him in more playmaking situations. Not a knock on [Boston’s] system. We’re just doing different things. It’s getting him back to his Seattle days where, ‘I can do anything.’”
### Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier: “U.D. can put the ball down now and take it to the rim," Fizdale said. "He’s now understanding how to make plays instead of being a robot that catches it and always tries to score and gets his shot blocked or whatever.
“Now he’s got it to where he can score or make someone better. Same with Shane. If a guy closes out on Shane in the corner, he can do his little move and get by people.”
Though neither is accused of wrongdoing in the Notice of Allegations, Al Golden and Jim Larranaga --- eager to defend and represent their programs – will join UM’s contingent at the June 13-15 Indianapolis hearings before the NCAA's infractions committee. UM’s response to the NCAA’s allegations are due Monday. So are the responses of the implicated former Hurricanes coaches.
### At a Board of Trustees meeting Friday, UM president Donna Shalala expressed optimism that UM would not receive significant additional penalties. But modest scholarship reductions would not be surprising.
### One former UM coach accused of wrongdoings complained privately that what the ex-UM coaches allegedly did paled in comparison to unreported violations committed in the SEC.
### Nevin Shapiro, serving a 20-year sentence for a Ponzi scheme, is being transferred from Louisiana and expects to end up in a Butner, N.C. prison where the nation's most famous Ponzi schemer, Bernie Madoff, is serving time.
### Dolphins tight end Michael Egnew has been training in mixed martial arts three days a week: “Doing that, You learn how to compete. “I expect to play this year. I’ve gotten stronger. I’m absolutely ready.” But Dion Sims is the better blocker to complement starter Dustin Keller. Egnew has more stretch-the-field skills than Sims but has a long way to go.
### A few undrafted rookies who have impressed, according to a Dolphins official: Arizona State running back Cameron Marshall, Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs and Mount Union receiver Jasper Collins.
### The Dolphins are optimistic Brent Grimes will be an upgrade over cornerback Sean Smith, who signed with Kansas City.
Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons used the same word to describe Grimes: “explosive.” Tackle Tyson Clabo, his Dolphins and former Falcons teammate, said: “He’s the most athletic person I’ve ever seen in my life. He can do amazing things – leaping ability, bouncing off one leg.”
### Incidentally, Jones, a 2014 unrestricted free agent, said he’s hoping for a contract extension but Miami hasn’t discussed it.
### The Marlins would not even listen to names of players that teams might be willing to offer for Giancarlo Stanton before his injury. And though he would have considerable trade value when healthy, “he wasn’t helping himself with his lackadaisical play before his injury,” one National League scout said. “He looked like he wants to play there like I want to be at a dentist having a root canal.”
Even before his injury, Stanton did not intend to ask for a trade during the season. The Marlins still haven't put a timetable on his return from his hamstring problem; it could be sometime in June.