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Exploring The Heat’s Surprising Success

Despite a wave of hardships, the Miami Heat boast one of the best records in the East.

So far in 2017-18 NBA season, there have been a number of surprising teams, yet perhaps none more improbable than the Miami Heat. Despite little expectations, the Heat have used their impressive conclusion to the 2016-17 campaign to propel them into the upper echelons of the Eastern Conference.

Despite not having a true superstar to anchor their roster (with all due respect to Hassan Whiteside) the Heat currently sit in fourth place in the East, just one game behind the Eastern-favorite Cleveland Cavaliers.

Most likely the result of strong coaching from Erik Spoelstra, the Heat have become quite adept at “winning dirty” by doing all the little things that contribute to team wins, namely defense. In terms of scoring, the Heat have only managed to average 101.1 points per game this season, good for 27th in the league. But like the San Antonio Spurs, who rank 28th with 101.4 PPG, the Heat’s success is predicated on defense. Thus far, the Heat rank fourth in the league, allowing just 101.8 points per contest. If they had a truly elite scorer capable of carrying their offense, their playoff position could be even better.

Surprisingly, journeyman Wayne Ellington has been providing some of the most meaningful minutes for Miami off the bench. With seven different stops in his nine-year NBA career, Ellington has been a consistent three-point threat this season. Averaging a near career-high 25.0 minutes per game, Ellington is shooting at an effective clip: 41.7% from the field, 40.5% from behind the arc, and he currently ranks eighth in the league in three-pointers made per game (2.9). He is also posting career highs in PER (13.7) and true shooting percentage (60.6%). With Ellington on the court, the Heat own a 110.8 offensive rating, which would be third in the league, compared to a 102.3 ORtg when he’s off the court. For Miami, Ellington appears to be the quintessential bench scorer — streaky, but with the uncanny ability to catch fire from behind the arc.


Another explanation for Ellington’s success (and the reason the Heat can still become better) is the fact that the injury bug has bitten much of Miami’s roster through the first 43 games. Be it time missed by Whiteside, James Johnson, Justise Winslow, or Dion Waiters, the Heat have embodied the mantra of “next man up.” Especially painful has been the loss of Waiters, Miami’s $52 million man, to a season-ending ankle injury. Before the injury, Waiters was the Heat’s second-leading scorer with 14.3 points per game (just following the resurgent Goran Dragic’s 17.3), leaving the hole in the lineup to accommodate Ellington’s near career-high 25.0 minutes per contest. However, the Heat have actually outscored opponents when Ellington is on the floor, compared to their -4.8 with Waiters. A theme of this 2017-18 squad seems to be thriving against all odds. 


Besides Ellington, the Heat have also enjoyed a lift off the bench from Tyler Johnson, who is also averaging double-digit scoring. Like many others, he was recently sidelined with an injury in Miami’s streak-busting 119-111 loss to the Chicago Bulls. Though he has been shooting below the league average from the field with just 42.8%, his 12.1 points off the pine have proven necessary for the team’s anemic offense. However, if the Heat were to add another scoring option at the trade deadline, it would cure a lot of Miami’s ills up to this point.


Another reason for Miami’s impressive record thus far is its amazing execution down the stretch in close games. Perhaps a testament to Spoelstra’s coaching (or an inability to put opponents away), Miami has posted some of the best clutch stats in the league, which tracks a team’s performance during the last five minutes of games within a five-point margin. In such games, the Heat have a record of 18-8, shooting the second best field goal percentage in the NBA (51.7%) and the best from behind the arc (45.8%). Though they “boast” one of the least potent offenses in the league, they seem to have a penchant for scoring when it counts.

The Heat have built off their surprising finish to last season, impressively without making any real overhauls to their roster. Despite many paralyzing injuries that might have derailed other squads, Miami has thrived in the face of adversity thanks to contributions from some unexpected sources, like bench three-baller Wayne Ellington, and good minutes from rookie Bam Adebayo. Without any superstars to lead the way, the team has played “by committee,” and in doing so, have won as a result of their teamwork and cohesion. When one player has been injured or inefficient, another player has stepped up to fill the need, but one has to wonder if the Heat can keep this up. Playing so many close games and asking for big minutes from bench players can take a toll, but if the Heat can keep this momentum going, they will be a tough matchup for any team in the first round of the playoffs. 

Edited by Emily Berman, Coleman Gray.

With what pick was Tyler Johnson selected in the 2014 NBA Draft?
Created 1/17/18
  1. 28th
  2. 45th
  3. 59th
  4. He was undrafted

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