Erik Spoelstra likes to play mind games with his "positionless" philosophy for the Miami HEAT but don't be brainwashed by it because the HEAT were at their best last season when they had players filling traditional roles at the two key positions: point guard and center.
The Miami HEAT's 2013 season kicks off today with media day. Fans will hear a lot of talk about Erik Spoelstra's "positionless" philosophy from many different media outlets today and the days to come. In fact, it started already at HEAT.com with the article, "HEAT Starting Outside the Box."
There's only one problem with the positionless talk - it's bullshit. The image at the top of the article shows the best player combinations for the NBA last season in terms of plus/minus (that's points scored minus points allowed while the player combination was in and out of the game). The HEAT had the top combinations in the league across the board. Did you notice a trend?
All of the HEAT's top combinations feature Chris Bosh, the best big man on the team. There was nothing "positionless" about Bosh's role on the team last season - he played center unless he was on the floor with Joel Anthony, Ronny Turiaf or Dexter Pittman.
The other thing that jumps out from the player combinations is that the top 4-player combination features Mario Chalmers instead of one of the many wing players on the HEAT roster. Point guard and center are the most defined positions on the court (and most important for success, according to Arturo Galletti). The roles of shooting guard and small forward tend to blend together while power forwards tend to blend into the small forward role if they're a "stretch 4" or the center role if they're traditional bangers.
The poster child for Spo's "positionless" movement is Shane Battier aka Shaved Monkey Nuts, but he's nowhere to be found in the image above. Of course, if you're familiar with the stats on the HEAT Produced Page, then you're not surprised by that and know that Chalmers was much more productive than Battier last season.
NBA.com tracked the plus/minus stats for the HEAT's top 50 lineups in the 2012 regular season. The top 50 lineups for the HEAT played 1,745.4 minutes and outscored opponents by 787 points last season. Coach Spo, the "positionless" philosopher, played a center and a point guard together in 91% of those minutes and they outscored opponents by 19.3 points per 48 minutes.
The "positionless" lineups without a point guard or center in the top 50 outscored opponents by 45.7 points per 48 minutes but only spent 156.5 minutes on the floor together. It doesn't seem sustainable to me.
Did Spo find religion in the offseason after reviewing these numbers? Maybe, but I'll be shocked if he makes any drastic changes to what he relied on 91% of the time for the HEAT's best lineups last season.
The spreadsheet below lists the stats for the HEAT's top 50 lineups from nba.com.