A Tale of Two Teams: How Chalmers’ Void Is Regressing Miami For Better Or Worse

Insight7 years ago8 min readChristian Hernandez

Writer’s Note: Credit to Chris Posada, @CPoTweetsStuff on Twitter, for steering me to focus on this crucial point in the season. Time of writing was Dec. 3, 2015.


In a season full of surprises, twists, and disappointments, the Miami Heat have amassed a pleasant turnaround through their first 16 games.

The Golden State Warriors sit at a very pedestrian 20-0. The Philadelphia 76ers, after 18 attempts, finally got Jahlil Okafor his first NBA win at the hands of the Kobe Bryant-led (led?) Los Angeles Lakers. Meanwhile, the Western Conference semifinalists have fired their head coach and are looking much more like a lottery team.

For now, Miami has started out just as good as anyone could’ve expected thanks to a home-friendly schedule. The Heat currently hold the sixth-best record and eighth-best point differential in an NBA season that — at least temporarily — has made the Eastern Conference look like the superior conference for the first time in….well, I honestly can’t remember.

As of writing, the Eastern Conference has 10 teams boasting winning records, while the Western Conference has only six teams playing above .500. Needless to say, it’s been very weird…


Before Chalmers (B.C.) & After Denying-His-Talents (A.D.)

chalmers grizzlies

Catapulting off the general strangeness around the league, let’s turn our attention to Biscayne Boulevard. Miami has started out 10-6 through 16 games, and this is the perfect time to split the season into two stretches of games.

Why is it the perfect time? On November 11th, the Miami Heat traded the most polarizing player in team history to the Memphis Grizzlies, a day after their eighth game of the season.

Chalmers has somehow managed more Super Mario moments than his Mr. Hyde-ish Wario persona, which after last season was almost unthinkable.

Almario Vernard Chalmers has been the personification of this incredibly strange season. The former Heat point guard, most famously known for getting berated by teammates during games, was the subject of many trade rumors as Miami tried to find suitors who would take on his salary to help lower their luxury tax and minimize the dreaded repeater tax penalty.

A series of events — which I’ve highlighted in-depth here — led to his inevitable departure much earlier than many had anticipated.

Triggered by his inspired play, Chalmers has somehow managed more Super Mario moments than his Mr. Hyde-ish Wario persona, which after last season was almost unthinkable. Whenever he was on the court, Miami played their best basketball. Clearly, this only happens in ‘Bizarro World.’

In his 20 minutes, the Heat weren’t just good, they were running teams out of the arena, outscoring opponents by 26.1 points per 100 possessions. Chalmers found himself in 5 of the 7 best four-man lineups that played at least 20 minutes together.

Miami had been one of the best teams in the league through their first eight games, despite Erik Spoelstra still trying to figure out how he would deploy all his new pieces.

The adjusted net rating rankings from above are from the day Mr. Chalmers was shipped off to Memphis less than one month ago. The Heat had the second-best point differential when adjusted for strength of schedule, seeing as Miami had already faced the likes of Cleveland, Atlanta, Indiana, and Toronto — all the elite teams out in the East, excluding Chicago.

They were doing it with a suffocating defense spearheaded by unexpected guard/wing play from Chalmers, Tyler Johnson, and Justise Winslow, alongside the dominant presence of Hassan Whiteside. Obviously, eight games is a small sample size and making grand assumptions from such a small window is a dangerous thing, but that’s what makes the timing of the Chalmers trade that much harder to swallow right now.

Looking at the Heat’s rotation numbers before and after the Chalmers trade, there are a lot of strange trends that are hard to explain.

Pat Riley‘s logic was sound at the time. They knew what they had in Chalmers and he was playing some of the best basketball of his life, despite being a miserable shooter still. But given the luxury tax situation, trading him while his value was at its highest was an easy business decision. It meant more playing time for the likes of Johnson, Gerald Green, and Josh McRoberts, along with a shorter rotation, which is what essentially happened.

Looking at the Heat’s rotation numbers before and after the Chalmers trade, there are a lot of strange trends that are hard to explain.

Green has been a pleasant surprise, as his increased playing time (partly due to Luol Deng‘s injured hamstring) has resulted in a +10.3 net rating over the past eight games — the best out of all of Miami’s rotation players. The totally unexpected thing is that it’s mostly due to his defense.

Miami has a 91.2 defensive rating when he’s been on the court since Chalmer’s departure, which is huge considering almost all other rotation players have taken a big step back in defensive rating. Strange, no?

The Heat’s record Before Chalmers (B.C.) is the same as After Denying-His-Talents (A.D.) at 5-3.

Most notably of those who have taken a step back are the two youngsters who were expected to pick up Chalmer’s void: Winslow and Johnson.

In reality, it was crazy to expect a 19-year old Winslow to keep up his insanely hot start on the defensive end, mostly because his numbers weren’t sustainable. Offensively, Winslow has been asked to handle the ball more, which has caused a noticeable increase in turnovers.

Johnson’s plummet defensively can be attributed to taking on a more important defensive role. In his first eight games, Johnson spent 48 percent of his minutes on the court with Chalmers. Chalmers, being the more experienced defender, would take on the bigger defensive assignments.

Additonally, many of those minutes they shared also came when Miami played smaller, which is when they play their best defensively due to the ability to switch on pick and rolls while adding the athleticism to cover the entire floor. It was creating chaos for opposing offenses.

It should be noted that Chalmers had an 18.1 percent usage rate before the trade, the exact same amount as Dragic.

Nevertheless, the Heat’s record Before Chalmers (B.C.) is the same as After Denying-His-Talents (A.D.) at 5-3. However, they’ve gone from a point differential of +7.0 B.C. to a differential of +0.5 A.C. — which is quite a substantial difference.

The decline has been a combination of both the offense and defense regressing. While I’ve mostly harped on the defensive difference, it should be noted that Chalmers had an 18.1 percent usage rate before the trade, the exact same amount as Goran Dragic.

He was heavily involved with the offense, and in fact, had the highest assist rate on the team. He was making things happen on both ends. And even though Miami has the same record B.C. as A.C., the quality of play has taken a tangible step backward.

Almario Vernard Chalmers has been the personification of this incredibly strange season.

I’m sure what many expected following Chalmer’s departure was for his play to fall back down to Earth like it always has. His consistency in being inconsistent was one of Chalmers’ unique trademarks.

But the Grizzlies, since Super Mario’s arrival, are 8-2 with a +4.4 point differential while Chalmers sports a 95.3 defensive rating, good for second among all Grizzlies’ rotation players.

But I bet you’ll never guess who’s leading the team in net rating since Nov. 11th?

Mario. Mother-F**king. Chalmers.

So much strange. So much that couldn’t have been predicted. This NBA season is turning satire into reality and I can’t wait to see what happens next.