Speaking softly, humble, but with the confidence and cadence of a veteran who has seen and done everything the game has asked of him, Mario Chalmers off the court doesn’t deviate too far from the player we see on the court.
He most certainly is not the whipping boy you have been led to believe. He is an essential piece to this Miami Heat roster that has won the past two NBA titles. It’s even arguable the Heat could have overcome LeBron James‘s struggles in the 2011 Finals had Mario replaced Mike Bibby in the starting lineup sooner than Game 6.
In fact, the result of the past two Finals may have been different if not for Mario scoring 25 in a critical Game 4 win against Oklahoma City and 20 points–while shooting 4-for-5 from three–that were swept under the rug in the Heat’s comeback victory against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6.
He receives a bad rap as a result of questionable turnovers, but he hardly receives the due credit for being one of the league’s most prolific pick-and-roll players, on both sides of the floor; an elite three-point threat; and one of the most consistent players on the Heat roster this season.
No, to most outside of the organization he’s the B.J. Armstrong or John Paxson of this possible dynasty: there just to stay out of the way until his number is called upon to make a three-pointer when needed.
But to say Mario is nothing more than a spot-up threat who occasionally makes some big plays would be an insult to him and the entire organization. Although he is not always the primary scorer or facilitator, Mario does recognize that he is also a necessary cog in this high-octane machine.
“I’m a combo guard that can do everything,” he said after the Heat’s 112-98 victory over the Orlando Magic, a game in which he took only three shots, scored seven points and hit his only three-point attempt of the game. His field goal attempts can fluctuate to as low as the three he had against Orlando to as much as the 10 he shot against Chicago earlier in the week.
But he understands his role completely, which makes Mario a rare breed in this league: a player who is content with their constantly changing role.
“Guys like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James handle the ball a lot so you got to be ready to shoot,” Chalmers said. “When your number’s called to run a play, you have to be able to run it. My coaches and teammates got confidence in me to do that.”
That confidence wasn’t always there, though. After starting every Heat game his rookie year, the coaching staff’s confidence in Mario waned as he shot 32 percent from beyond the arc and saw his steals average drop from 2.2 steals per 36 minutes to only 1.8.
Over the next two years, Mario would go from starter to reserve to starter as the Heat experimented with Bibby and Carlos Arroyo as the starting point guard. It wasn’t until Game 6 against the Dallas Mavericks, however, when he recorded 18 points, seven assists and four steals in a futile effort, that coach Erik Spoelstra realized Mario was going to be an essential part of the future.
Sure enough, Mario was back to starting every game at point guard again, this time with confidence re-instilled in him. He responded that year, the 2011-12 season, with a career-high 39 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
That three-point shooting has been on a consistent uptick since the 2011-12 season. After three consecutive seasons of shooting 37 percent or less, Mario has yet to shoot below 38 percent, and is currently flirting with last year’s career mark of 41 percent at a shade under 40 percent shooting this year.
The improved three-point stroke culminated in one special night against the Sacramento Kings, where Mario unconsciously hit ten of 13 three-point attempts, tying Brian Shaw‘s decade-long franchise record for three-pointers in a game.
Mario attributes a greater focus, as well as the addition of a few All-Star teammates, to the improvement in his shot.
“I get a lot of threes off of catch-and-shoot more than I do off the dribble,” he said.
Chalmers is averaging 2.5 field goal attempts per game in catch-and-shoot situations, where he’s shooting an impressive 44 percent from beyond the arc. Among those having played in at least 25 games and attempting at least 2.4 catch-and-shoot threes per game, Mario ranks 18th in the league.
Per 36, he’s actually taking fewer three-pointers than he ever has, but he was taking over five three-point attempts per 36 the previous three seasons. The decline in field goal attempts overall has played a part, as the team becomes more and more efficient, but the percentage improvement stems from finding his shots more in the rhythm of the offense.
He also attributes the adjustment to the NBA three-point line as a key to his recent success, saying, “When you first enter the league, it takes a few years to adjust. You just keep shooting.”
And just keep shooting he did, even when his second and third-year percentages were well below what he shot his rookie season. When you’re a shooter, you just keep shooting, no matter how long it takes, until something finally clicks.
Now he’s leading all Heat rotation players, including the likes of Ray Allen, Shane Battier and LeBron James, in three-point shooting. Not only that, but he’s also shooting a career-high 47 percent from the field, which can also be attributed to a greater focus in finding the best available shot.