LeBron James averaged 28.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game for the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, and shot scintillating marks of 57.1 percent from the field and 51.9 percent from three-point range. More impressive? The King did it all against Gregg Popovich, one of the greatest coaches of all-time, who helmed an elite defense forged by Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, and a seamless, team-wide commitment to scheme. James’ matters certainly weren’t made easier by the performance of his supporting cast, either: Dwyane Wade was two steps slow, Chris Bosh hardly rose to the occasion, and the Heat’s banged-up, depleted peripheral pieces struggled to make a positive impact on either end of the floor.
Despite LeBron’s herculean performance, the series’ end result was hardly surprising given the underwhelming performance of his teammates. Such consistently breathtaking play by the San Antonio Spurs was obviously influential, too.
But according to point guard Mario Chalmers – who was benched for Ray Allen to open the Finals’ decisive Game 5 – the Heat’s struggles against the Spurs could have been easily mitigated. In an interview with Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick, the much-derided Chalmers said that Miami relied too much on James in the Finals and the play of he and his teammates suffered as a result.
“Everybody in my ear, talking about ‘We need you, we need you to do this, we need you to do that.’ And then when it comes to the game, I didn’t feel involved. Like, you all talk about how y’all need me, but y’all didn’t put me in position to do anything. In previous years, if I was in that position, I would make sure I would go get the ball, I would put myself in position to score. I felt like this year, we all just took too much of a back seat in the Finals.”
Chalmers was indeed a disaster versus San Antonio. The 28 year-old averaged just 4.4 points per game on 33.3 percent shooting and managed just 15 assists compared to 13 turnovers. The inconsistent but productive and confident two-way player who was subject to so much scrutiny and ensuing internet memes during his time with the Big Three was nowhere to be found in the Finals, replaced by a hesitant, uneasy youngster for whom the stakes appeared too big. That last aspect no doubt surprised even Chalmers biggest detractors – he’s been notably comfortable when the lights are brightest since he led Kansas to a NCAA title in 2008.
How to curb those wholesale struggles, Chalmers thinks? Put the ball in his hands! Take it away from the greatest player in the world! Get him going!
The overarching theme of Chalmers’ sentiment makes sense. The best teams always perform at their highest level when each player on the floor is making an impact, and the ball needs to move for that to happen. It’s an old and accurate adage in basketball, too, that shooters are should shoot through slumps. So we actually agree with Chalmers despite our mostly dismissive and sarcastic tone – to an extent.
No elite scorer in history is a better and more willing passer than James, and coach Erik Spoelstra’s offense maximized the talents of his roster by surrounding LeBron with shooters and players who can attack open space. Chalmers does both well when playing at his capabilities, and he was afforded ample opportunity to get going in the Finals simply due to the continuity of Miami’s system; for reasons he amounts to confidence issues gleaned from feeling uninvolved, Chalmers just never did.
But what did Chalmers expect the Heat to do? Run high pick-and-roll with he and Bosh while James stands idly in the corner? Isolate him against Tony Parker? To that end, there’s also this to consider: LeBron’s Finals PER of 32.2 more than doubled that of any other player on the Heat.
Role players are role players for a reason, and Chalmers seems to have forgotten his humbling reality while trying to conjure a defense for his terrible Finals performance. He’ll have new responsibilities for Miami with LeBron gone going forward, surely taking a larger chunk of the offensive pie. After such big talk, let’s hope Chalmers backs it up with a career season – the internet vitriol he’ll receive otherwise could be devastating.
What do you think?
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