LAS VEGAS —
The last time Miami Heat team President Pat Riley had oatmeal for breakfast was probably when was leading a team in Los Angeles that went by the nickname “Showtime.”
His preferred breakfast choice, just like the NBA, has changed since the 1980s. With the Heat adopting a “position-less” approach to their roster, the days of players specializing in one area are nearing an end. The new NBA is about versatility, and Riley has the Heat ahead of the game with their collection of multi-talented players.
“The game today is different than it was five years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago,” Riley said. “…It’s sort of a position-less game. We don’t talk about point guards anymore, two guards or shooting guards or power forwards. As a matter of fact, when the word power forward comes out, I want to eat some oatmeal.”
Riley was referring to oatmeal being a thing of the past. Nowadays, the league is about fruit smoothies to help keep up with a quicker pace. The Heat in the offseason added guard Ray Allen and forward Rashard Lewis more for their versatility than 3-point shooting.
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Allen can play shooting guard or small forward while Lewis is capable of playing both forward spots. They join the likes of Mike Miller, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier and Chris Bosh, who have all proven they can play multiple positions.
James played everywhere but center during his MVP season, and Battier and Bosh both were effective despite playing from their natural spots.
“It’s just recently got like that,” Bosh said earlier this week. “I think this past series [the NBA Finals] that was played is going to change basketball. I think a lot of kids out there are seeing how fast the game is. We had some success doing it so I think a lot of other teams will have that position, or attempt to have that position, where everybody is quick enough to guard everybody and everybody can put the ball on the floor and make plays.”
The Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Finals in a showcase of two of the league’s most versatile teams. The Thunder’s core of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden were used offensive and defensively in multiple ways throughout the series.
The league has slowly shifted from teams featuring the “defensive-stopper” and “3-pointer shooter” to a collection of players who have no designated role.
“I think all the good teams are getting away from having just specialists,” Boston Celtics assistant coach Tyronn Lue said. “I’d rather have a guy who can do four out of five things than just do one thing. Give me a guy that can do a little bit of everything and I think that makes your team better.”
Riley said the disappearance of centers and power forwards has sped the transition. With dominant 7-footers a rarity — Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum — it has allowed smaller players to handle positions usually reserved for bigger guys. Versatility has replaced size in terms of wants for coaches and general managers.
“There’s no more Alonzos or Patricks,” said Riley, referring to Alonzo Mourning and Patrick Ewing. “There’s two or three centers in the league that you can actually throw in to and create a power offense.”
Several teams, including the New York Knicks, have begun to follow the Heat’s lead. Assistant coach Herb Williams said it especially benefited Miami because it enabled coach Erik Spoelstra to play James for longer stretches. James averaged a league-high 42.8 minutes during the playoffs.
“You want that as much as you can,” Williams said. “Now, you’ve got a guy who’s going to play two, three positions. That makes it a lot easier on the coach … When you’ve got one of the top forwards in the league, that means he’s on the floor for a longer period of time. You don’t have to take him out. You can match him up with other people.”