Despite his success, there was a feeling among the non-NBA intelligentsia that Erik Spoelstra wasn’t that great of a coach. He found himself in the right place at the right time, blessed with three of the best players in the NBA. How much does a coach really need to do when you have that much talent?
This, of course, was an incredible disservice to Spoelstra’s intellect. Getting three superstars to play in harmony, reinventing the best player in the world and harnessing his gifts as never before, designing a defense that gives even the best offensive coaches nightmares — these are the hallmarks of a great coach. After the second ring, and a fourth-straight trip to the Finals, the public perception of Spoelstra is finally starting to align with the reality. It appears that the general and correct consensus is that Spoelstra is a pretty damn good coach.
Now, let’s talk about Mario Chalmers.
It can’t be easy being Mario. A good game from Chalmers produces little comment. Maybe a nice pat on the head or a “‘Rio was big for us tonight” nod from one of the James-Bosh-Wade triumvirate.
When he plays poorly, though, it’s as if he’s responsible not just for every one of Miami’s mishaps, but poverty, war and famine as well. It’s not, “Mario Chalmers needs to show up,” but “Mario Chalmers needs to stay off the floor.” The criticism LeBron or Bosh face after a poor performance is one birthed from not living up to expectations. It’s different for Chalmers. It’s as if every good Chalmers game is a product of pure luck, while every bad one confirms the fact that he has no business sharing the court with the likes of LeBron, Bosh and Wade.
There’s a vast chasm between Chalmers’ perception of himself and others’ perception of him. In fact, the former influences the latter. When Chalmers declared himself a top-5 point guard, it ranked just below Brandon Jennings’ now-immortal “Bucks In Six” comment in terms of unintended comedy. Spoelstra’s shift benefited from the fact that we don’t know how Spoelstra perceives himself, while we know far too well what Mario Chalmers thinks of Mario Chalmers.
This has not been a good series for Chalmers. It has, in fact, been a Very Bad series. Against the Spurs, Chalmers is averaging a measly 3 points per game on 25% shooting. He’s looked completely out of sorts, forcing the issue too often in hopes of getting himself going. Worst of all, he’s turning the ball over three times per game, which is simply inexcusable against a San Antonio team that thrives off turnovers. But Chalmers hasn’t been bad because he’s a bad player. It’s an unfortunate slump, one the Heat can ill-afford at this time.
The perception of Chalmers parallels the previous perception of Spoelstra — that he’s just along for the ride while the Big Three do all of the work. Yet if that were true, it seems unlikely Wade would say “ Mario is a big piece of what we do and we’re missing that piece right now…He’s our guy. He’s our point guard,” or that James and Bosh would echo those sentiments. Chalmers isn’t a top five point guard, despite his claims, and the Heat don’t need him to be. What they need is the Mario Chalmers who believes he’s a top five point guard.
Chalmers’ success is no happy accident. Fortune may have found him a spot on the Heat at just the right time, but it was Chalmers himself that secured it. He’s not the starting point guard by default — if Miami truly wanted a different starter, do you really think Pat Riley would have difficulty finding one? There’s a reason Spoelstra’s stuck with Chalmers despite his struggles in both the regular season and playoffs. He may draw the repeated ire of James, Wade and Bosh. He may make Spoelstra shake his head in bemused frustration. But the fact remains that Chalmers is integral to Miami’s designs.