After a four-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA is preparing for its restart, beginning on July 30th. As of today, all 22 teams are practicing and scrimmaging in the Orlando, Fla. bubble, preparing for the restart. With no fans, employees in a bubble, and COVID-19 concerns, there’s no doubt that this will be a season to remember. Taking the unique NBA landscape into consideration, the Last Word on Pro Basketball staff continues the contender or pretender series with the Miami Heat.
Can the Miami Heat’s young talent shine in the bubble and compete among various contenders?
NBA Bubble Contenders or Pretenders: Miami Heat
A Mix of Veterans and Rookies
There is no doubt that Heat fans were sad after future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade‘s retirement last season. The good news is that the Heat have a solid mix of veterans and younger players on the roster.
Half of Miami’s roster has less than three seasons under their belts. However, they have shown efficiency and leadership despite being a young team. Kendrick Nunn is a solid Rookie of the Year candidate, who ranks third in scoring among all rookies with 15.6 points per game. Duncan Robinson is not showing signs of a sophomore slump in his second season. Bam Adebayo is an All-Star and a prominent big man, especially defensively, in only his third season. Tyler Herro‘s rookie campaign is averaging 12.9 points, 4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game.
The young players are not alone here. Miami sports solid veterans, integrated throughout Head Coach Erik Spoelstra’s rotations. After a unique year with the Philadelphia 76ers, Jimmy Butler rediscovered his Chicago Bulls’ self, averaging 20.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game in his first season with Miami. Goran Dragić continues to show his scoring and passing efficiency, along with guidance in the locker room as a veteran point guard. In addition, the acquisition of Andre Iguodala has been a difference-maker due to his playoffs experience, hustle, and raw defense.
The Miami Heat will enter the NBA restart with a 41-24 record, fourth in the Eastern Conference. A key part of the Heat’s success falls under their offensive game. They have a 112.2 offensive ranking, which is ranked seventh in the league.
A good chunk of their success is from behind the arc, as Miami leads the NBA in three-point percentage at 38.3 percent. Robinson plays a huge part, being tied for fourth in three-pointers made per game (3.7). The three-point specialist is shooting 44.8% behind the arc this season. However, they do not solely rely on scoring behind the arc. Miami ranks ninth in the NBA in field goal percentage (47 percent) and fifth in assists (26).
However, as with any team, the Heat have an Achilles heel: scoring in the paint. For instance, Miami only averages 44.3 points in the paint per game, 27th in the league. With the size of Adebayo and Meyers Leonard, Dragić’s basketball IQ, and Butler’s intensity on both sides, the Heat should attack the basket or be more efficient inside. While they certainly excel overall, attacking and scoring more in the paint will only make them a more dangerous team.
Consistent and Cohesive Defense
It is common to hear that offense wins games, defense wins championships. The Heat are living by this, as they rank in the top ten in the major defensive categories.
In basketball, a team shows its success if they can score in transition. When sharing the court with Miami, teams struggle in this category. The Heat only allow 11.5 fast break points per game, which is second in the NBA behind the Oklahoma City Thunder (10.5). This means that Miami is disciplined enough to get back on defense after a turnover or offensive rebound.
Another point is how Miami locks down teams in the paint, only allowing 44.4 points per game (fifth in NBA). Adebayo is a projected All-Defense team member down low. Butler is a four-time All-Defensive team member due to his ability to pressure ball-handlers. Iguodala’s perimeter defense and ability to read passing lanes helped the Golden State Warriors‘ NBA Finals runs while earning the 2014-15 Finals MVP.
An area that Miami needs to improve on is limiting opponents’ scoring opportunities off turnovers. While the Heat take care of the ball and transition well to defense, they tend to take their feet off the pedal. Miami gives up 18 points off turnovers per game, which ties Golden State for 26th in the league. However, this is a young team that will only continue to grow.
Miami Heat Verdict: Contenders
The Miami Heat is not one of the favorites to win the NBA Finals but were projected to finish in the top three. Some experts even projected Miami to win the Eastern Conference. They have a solid and mature mix of young and veteran players, which is an organization’s dream. Miami has the team to compete with the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, along with Philadelphia.
To note, behind every consistent roster is a solid coach. Spoelstra has shown success since taking over for Pat Riley in 2008 as the winningest coach in Miami Heat history. He demonstrated success with and without LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Wade. His experience may even give Miami that extra push against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Miami will likely not win the Finals due to its young roster but are certainly NBA contenders. Also, anything can happen in the NBA postseason.
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