Preview: Miami Heat

2017-18 Miami Heat


Projected Record: 42-40 (6th in East)

Over/Under: 43.5

2016: 41-41 (9th in East)


Key Additions:

  • F/C Bam Adebayo
  • F/C Kelly Olynyk
  • F Jordan Mickey
  • C A.J. Hammons

Key Subtractions:

  • F/C Willie Reed
  • F Josh McRoberts
  • F Luke Babbitt

Summary

Strengths:

  • Deep rotation
  • Youth
  • Coaching

Weaknesses:

  • Limited short-term upside as constructed
  • Lack a true #1 player

To be frank, I feel the Heat have been overrated a bit based on their performance last season. They went on a bizarre, incredible, fun second-half run that nearly dragged them into the playoffs despite a roster that didn’t feel like it should be there. They were a .500 basketball team, and I think they’ve only improved incrementally this season. In the East, that very well might be enough to be a playoff team that time around, but I don’t think the Heat are on the verge of a remarkable breakthrough.

Pat Riley invested a lot of money this season in players that I feel have low ceilings – $60 million for James Johnson, $52 million for Dion Waiters, $50 million for Kelly Olynyk, and $42 million for Josh Richardson, with Tyler Johnson’s $50 million extension having been signed last year. You could argue those deals on an individual basis, maybe, as those guys could be solid rotation contributors, but that’s over $250 million in total potentially going to five guys whose ceilings are merely “starter.” Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside are good, but they’re not quite stars (though All-Star appearances are not out of the question in the depleted East), and the Heat are going to be painfully limited in ways to improve while these deals are all in effect.

Last year’s run just felt unsustainable, and if it really was, the Heat have essentially committed themselves to playing .500 basketball for the next three years at a minimum. Intriguing young players like Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo likely won’t be fully realized during that time period, while Dragic and Whiteside start to slip out of their primes. Pat Riley was smart to avoid handing out a massive contract to Dwyane Wade, but everything he’s been doing since that point has really made me skeptical.

Of course, Erik Spoelstra is one of the best coaches in basketball at making something out of nothing, so there’s a very real possibility he gets this team to play way over what we think their bar might be.


Most Valuable Player: Hassan Whiteside

Goran Dragic is a wonderful player who I like quite a bit, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and three years older than Hassan Whiteside. For better or worse, Whiteside is the franchise in Miami right now. He’s an old-school kind of center; over 80% of his shots last season came from within 10 feet of the basket, and he offers very little in the form of offensive versatility. His efficiency dropped quite a bit with an increased number of shots last year, and I don’t buy him as a primary scoring option with how the NBA plays today. He cleans up the glass extremely well and blocks some shots, though he may be a touch overrated as a defender.

The Heat are locked in to Whiteside for the next three seasons, and with the money they’ve spent elsewhere on the roster, their options for improvement are incredibly limited. They’re gonna have to make this thing work. We’ll see how Whiteside responds.

X Factor: Justise Winslow

Winslow was a highly touted prospect in the 2015 Draft – the Celtics were famously reported to have offered Charlotte four first round picks to jump ahead of the Heat to get him. After a reasonably productive rookie season, he lost most of last year to injuries, but he also did not look good in his limited time on the court. Winslow took a lot of shots when he did play, but didn’t show improvement on his limited offensive skills to justify it.

I still like Winslow and I believe he could be a productive rotation player, but I feel the Heat need to treat him more like a taller Marcus Smart – a pitbull of a defensive specialist with some ability to spread the basketball around, who shouldn’t be shooting in almost any circumstance. He’s only 21 years old, though, and he’s one of the few players on this roster who isn’t quite a known quantity at this stage, so the Heat have to be hoping this could be his breakout season.


Conclusion

I had the Heat sitting at seventh in the East prior to the season-ending injury to Nicolas Batum, which I felt moved the needle enough between the Heat and the Hornets to reverse their positions. This is going to be one of those seasons, though, where finishing sixth in the East isn’t actually that much of an accomplishment. I think the Heat are a clear step behind teams like Milwaukee and Washington right now, and unless they do some wheeling and dealing at the trade deadline, I’m not sure what their path to get on that level might be.

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