2015 NBA Blog Preview (Miami Heat)
Team Name: Miami Heat
Last Year’s Record: 37-45
Key Losses: Michael Beasley, Henry Walker, Shabazz Napier (It’s hard to consider any of these “key” losses)
Key Additions: Justise Winslow, Gerald Green, Josh Richardson, Amar’e Stoudemire
1.What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
The question that most likely pops into everybody’s head when thinking of the Miami Heat’s offseason is, “How in the world did Justise Winslow fall into the laps of Pat Riley and the Miami Heat?” Coming off a national championship at Duke, Justise Winslow was projected to be a top-5 pick in this past year’s NBA Draft, but thanks to some surprise picks (*cough* Sacramento Kings taking Willy Cauley-Stein *cough*), Justise slipped to the number 10 pick, and landed with quite possibly the perfect team. The Miami Heat have needed to inject youth into their rotation for the past few years, and not simply just average youth. Rather, with Dwyane Wade on the backend of his career (and let me clarify – DWade is not broken down; he is simply aging gracefully), it is sadly time that the Heat start looking for the next face of the franchise. Hassan Whiteside was a huge addition in that regard, but two is always better than one. As a multi-position player (Justise will likely split time between the Shooting Guard and Small Forward positions), Justise will get to learn the game from an all-time legend in Dwyane Wade and a saavy veteran in Luol Deng. In addition, we all need to remember that Justise Winslow is a mere 19 years old. He was just a freshman in college last year when he helped lead the Duke Blue Devils to a national championship. What that means is that Justise’s skill set is still raw and developing. Luckily for him, he was drafted by a team that does not need him to be an immediate focal point on either side of the ball. Justise will very much be part of the Miami Heat’s rotation, but it is likely that his usage rate will allow him to utilize his athleticism in order to be successful early in his career as he further learns the NBA game.
With so much talk of Justise Winslow in the NBA Draft, let’s not forget about the Miami Heat’s second round pick, Josh Richardson, who from the looks of his summer league play could and probably has made Mario Chalmers expendable. Josh Richardson played four years at the University of Tennessee, and progressed in his game each year. As a 6’6” point guard/shooting guard, the guy has incredible size at his position. What that size also means is that Josh Richardson is the perfect candidate to play in Erik Spoelstra’s positionless basketball system. If you watched any of Josh Richardson’s time on the court in Summer League, it is pretty easy to see that if his 3-point range continues to improve (which it has in each of his four seasons at Tennessee), Richardson could quickly become a great, young 3-and-D player for the Heat going forward.
In addition to making the Justise Winslow splash and the Josh Richardson steal in the NBA Draft, the Miami Heat again made the most of their limited free agency capital. Somehow, Pat Riley was again able to work his magic, landing Gerald Green and Amar’e Stoudemire for the veteran’s minimum. While neither player is necessarily a star, the veteran’s minimum is definitely well below their respective market values.
2.What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Miami Heat’s biggest strength actually could be its frontcourt. For starters, when I say “frontcourt,” I mean the small forward, power forward, and center positions. So now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at who the Heat have: Luol Deng (starter), Chris Bosh (starter), Hassan Whiteside (starter), Josh McRoberts, Justise Winslow, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris “Birdman” Andersen, Udonis Haslem, Gerald Green, and James Ennis. Admittedly, some of these players will see time at the shooting guard position, but what is extremely evident is that the Miami Heat have an abundance of players capable of playing one or more of the frontcourt positions. With this plethora of frontcourt players, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will have the luxury of being able to interchange players in ways that will allow the Heat to play a “small-ball” rotation or a power rotation.
Even if the term “frontcourt” were to be limited to only the power forward and center positions, the Heat still seem to have plenty of size and skill at those positions. Whiteside, Birdman and Amar’e (at least at this stage in Amar’e’s career) are pretty much exclusively going to play the center position. Bosh, on the other hand, has the capability of playing either of the two positions, which as in years past, makes Bosh one of the more versatile and valuable players in the league. Between these four, the Heat have more than enough size in the middle to accept the challenge against the likes of Deandre Jordan, Marc Gasol, etc. That doesn’t include the fact that the Heat have Josh McRoberts and Udonis Haslem (at the backend of his career) who will almost exclusively play minutes at the power forward position. It also isn’t too farfetched to think that Luol Deng may play minutes at power forward alongside one of the bigs playing in the middle.
It’s been a long time since the Miami Heat have had a great frontcourt, but this could be the year that the Heat’s “power” rotation takes a jump into the upper echelon of the league. At this point, it’s hard to look at the Heat’s roster on paper and not marvel at the versatility and talent levels of the frontcourt players.
3.What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Whereas the depth in the frontcourt could be considered the Heat’s strength, the Heat’s depth in the backcourt is probably its biggest weakness. This is especially true when it comes to the “catch-and-shoot” type player. Erik Spoelstra is known for his pace-and-space brand of basketball, and what comes with this style of play is plenty of drive and kick opportunities. More than likely, the “drive” part of the drive and kick is going to be initiated by either Dwyane Wade or Goran Dragic (and you may see some kick-outs from Whiteside and Bosh too). In terms of whom the “kick” goes to, there are a few options: Goran Dragic (if he’s not the penetrator), Mario Chalmers, Chris Bosh, Justise Winslow, Luol Deng, Gerald Green, Tyler Johnson, Josh McRoberts, and the list keeps going. All of these players are more than capable shooters, but none are TRULY spot-up 3-point shooters; and it’s actually a bit difficult to believe that this roster doesn’t include one given style of play.
Who we may see emerge as that primary catch-and-shoot player is Gerald Green. With that said, no coach in their right mind would waste the type of athleticism that Gerald Green possesses by stashing him away in the corner. BUT, when given more thought, that athleticism may just be what makes him such a dangerous catch-and-shoot option. Because of Green’s ability to put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim, defenders will not be able to overcommit against him on the close-out. If the defender overcommits, Green is above the rim; if the defender plays it safe, Green will have enough space to get his shot from deep. And just because Green is known for his athleticism and not for his shooting by no means means that he is not a good shooter. Let’s not forget that he shot 40% from deep in the 2013-2014 season when Goran Dragic was his point guard. The bigger issue may actually be finding consistent rotation minutes for Gerald Green on this roster filled with players between heights of 6’5” and 6’8”.
4.What are the goals for this team?
This question is actually probably the trickiest of the four. Most teams that didn’t make the playoffs in the previous season probably set the goal of making the playoffs in this season, but the Miami Heat are not “most” teams. It’s hard to say exactly what the Heat could have been last year if they had stayed completely healthy, but one thing that can be said with reasonable certainty is that the Heat would have made the playoffs had Josh McRoberts and Chris Bosh not been lost to season-ending injuries.
If you were to ask this question to a member inside the Heat franchise, they would undoubtedly tell you that the goal is “Championship or Bust.” That goal isn’t necessarily the most realistic goal, but it’s also not completely out of the question. On paper, this team would seem to have the talent to compete with anybody. If the Heat make a strong run in the playoffs, it COULD happen. Having said that, a more realistic goal would be to finish as a Top-4 seed in the Eastern Conference and to make it past the first round of the playoffs.
In my opinion, the Heat should be able to make the Eastern Conference Finals. They have the talent, and if they can stay healthy and hit their stride sometime in February/March, it could be a very entertaining matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals (let’s hope the seeding allows this to happen).