After a first-round exit last season, can the Miami Heat return to the postseason?
In 2017-18, the Miami Heat willed themselves to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and faced the Philadelphia 76ers in the postseason. While Miami lost the series, 4-1, their 44-38 record was impressive given their lack of star power in a league increasingly dominated by superstars and superteams. This development is particularly ironic considering the Big Three Heat essentially changed the NBA landscape, and the league is still feeling the reverberations of LeBron James’ “Decision” eight years later. Perhaps the single most important reason for the Heat’s success is the steady leadership of the Miami front office, Pat Riley, and head coach Erik Spoelstra.
True to their steady form, the Heat made very few changes to the squad that was ousted in the first round. LeBron James’ departure from Cleveland strengthens the rest of the East field automatically. But without any significant changes, Miami projects very similarly to last season: a middle-of-the-road playoff contender, hoping to upset a higher seed in the postseason.
BEST SHOT BLOCKING GUARD IN NBA HISTORY! pic.twitter.com/GPwAmOKsXP— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) September 30, 2018
The moves that Miami did make in the offseason consisted entirely of retaining players, namely last season’s breakout sharpshooter Wayne Ellington and franchise legend Dwyane Wade. Ellington was one of the NBA’s surprises in 2017-18, as he posted a career-high 11.2 points per game. He made 227 threes—tied for sixth-most in the league with Damian Lillard—en route to breaking the Heat’s single-season record for made three-point field goals. Given the volume of threes that Ellington attempted, his 39.2% shooting percentage (above league-average 36.2%) is quite remarkable as well. Without many other offensive tools on the team, Ellington should figure prominently again this season.
The other offseason story for Miami was the retention of Dwyane Wade, following his brief stints with the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers. While Wade will certainly see some solid minutes with the squad, his 16th year in the league will largely be seen as a “goodbye tour.”
With last season split between Miami and the Cavs, Wade averaged career-lows in just about every category, as expected between factors of age and reduced role. Although the 36-year-old guard is still capable of a few vintage showings, this seems to be more about the front office doing the right thing: having Wade retire as a member of the Miami Heat.
One of the more interesting players on the Miami roster is the conundrum that is Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside has long been viewed as one of the few Heat players with major potential, though injuries and off-court issues have threatened his development.
Though preseason games are not often representative of what to expect in the regular season, Whiteside put forward an excellent performance in the Heat’s 104-100 loss to the Spurs in their preseason opener on Sept. 30. Whiteside put up a double-double (20 points, 13 rebounds) in just 20 minutes and showed flashes of brilliance on both sides of the ball. If Miami wants to improve on last season, the eighth-year center will be a big part of the reason.
Team-wise, the Heat are built on defense, which you’ve probably heard wins championships. Their defensive rating last year was 106.3, good for seventh in the league, and they allowed the fourth-fewest opponents’ points at 102.9. While anywhere around 100 points allowed is a good number, it also speaks to their snail-like pace of 95.6 possessions per game (27th in the league). If Whiteside is completely healthy this season, however, Miami should do their best to push the ball.
Another note from last night: The Heat played at a fast pace, averaging 109.4 possessions per 48 minutes on Sunday. Miami played at a fast pace in the preseason last year, too, so we’ll see if it continues.— Anthony Chiang (@Anthony_Chiang) October 1, 2018
Offensively, the Heat are actually a better shooting team than one might think. Although many of their team offensive stats are in the cellar in many respects, they attempted the ninth most threes in the league last season, and made the 11th most. It is a modest, middling number, but the three-point offense seemed to be the sole bright spot last season. Luckily, the NBA is quickly becoming a run-and-gun league, so Spoelstra’s offensive schemes (featuring Wayne Ellington) can lead to some success when paired with elite defense.
Though the Miami Heat have some bright spots on their roster and look the part of playoff contender, they are also an overachieving team. As a result of team cohesiveness, the Heat are above .500 despite a rather patchwork roster. True, a player like the rumor-plagued Jimmy Butler could instantly bump Miami’s win projection up a few marks, but one has to wonder if they have a satisfactory package to offer to the Timberwolves in return.
Regardless, the Heat’s quiet offseason would indicate that they are playing it safe (read: soft rebuild) for the immediate future. This season, they will have to cultivate young talent (Bam Adebayo is a good start), while determining just how a player like Hassan Whiteside fits long-term. Despite their numerous flaws, if everything breaks Miami’s way, they could be a top-five seed this year.
Edited by Emily Berman.
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