The Heat were one of the more divisive teams entering the NBA season, with many choosing to analyse their 16-17 campaigns differently. Many thought that their end of season run (in which they went 31-10) was the start of the next Pat Riley monster, while others thought they had simply caught lightning in a bottle. In a way, both sides were proven wrong, and the Heat enter the playoffs as a six seed after a relatively mixed campaign.
At their best, the Heat are a stifling team who play a tenacious style of defense, and rely on a couple of offensive plays (notably the dribble hand-off and off-screens) to compensate for a lack of individual shot creation. This style of play meant they did take a few scalps throughout the season, but they also lost to the Brooklyn Nets twice, in embarrassing fashion, and were run close by the Atlanta Hawks.
For the most part though the Heat were steady throughout the season, never looking in danger of missing the playoffs and never looking as if they were going to finish as a top four side. The inconsistency is likely a result of them being a young team, but in fairness, they have been one of the better teams in the NBA since the All-Star break, as they rank fifth in defensive rating and sixth in net rating.
The biggest strength of this team is no doubt the tough style of defense they play, as pretty much every man on the roster is a solid defender. I have long called Josh Richardson a top five defender in the NBA, and he is an All-NBA level defender who will hopefully get a chance to impress on the national stage in the Playoffs. In addition to Richardson, the likes of Bam Adebayo, James Johnson and Justise Winslow are brilliant defenders, who deny penetration to guards and force teams into low-percentage jump shots. The team also have a great rim protector in Hassan Whiteside, and the ability of the roster to guard multiple positions makes them a tough opponent on any given night.
The Heat’s biggest weakness is a complicated one to unravel, but it does come on the offensive side of the ball. The Heat offense is really well designed as it uses a variety of misdirection on the perimeter to create driving angles for ‘drive and kick’ options, which is their core philosophy. The problem with this philosophy however, is that it doesn’t really fit with Hassan Whiteside. And when he is on the court, the team really struggle to generate quality shots. Whiteside is not necessarily the weak link on the Heat roster, but he is a terrible fit on a team that lacks players who can generate their own offense. The Heat’s scheme really needs a stretch five and a stretch four on the floor to maximise driving angles, but unfortunately, Erik Spoelstra cannot just leave a $27 million a year center on the bench. Essentially, because of the Heat’s jumbled personnel, they can go through long spells where they struggle to generate quality look
The Heat are not as desperate for a playoff series win as other teams are, but if they were to win a series, it would just further show that Erik Spoelstra is a top-three coach in the NBA. However playoff success is hugely significant for Hassan Whiteside, who needs to step up and show that he isn’t an overpaid moody teenager, although I doubt he proves that based on what I’ve watched this season. On the whole, a team this young winning a playoff series would be huge, and it would also be a nice way for Dwyane Wade to bow out, if he does indeed retire this summer.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER?
The key player is one that may surprise some of you, but I believe it is Kelly Olynyk. As I mentioned previously, the Heat are reliant on drive and kick actions to get the majority of their buckets, and this cannot really get going if Bam Adebayo or Hassan Whiteside is clogging the paint. The Heat are 11 points per 100 possessions better off when Olynyk is on the court, and he has become a pivotal partner for the variety of young guards the Miami Heat have.
THE ONE TO WATCH?
The one to watch is Josh Richardson, who is comfortably the most snubbed player in basketball right now. He defends at an elite level, and he has become one of the best offensive players on the Miami Heat roster. He will happily take on the best players in the NBA, and I think he’s going to surprise people with how good he is.
Written by Joe Hulbert – Copyright © 2018 Double Clutch. Double Clutch is not affiliated with the NBA and does not claim ownership over any NBA audio or images used. All rights are those of the NBA/NBA UK and respected parties e.g. Getty images.