After failing to qualify for the playoffs two seasons ago, the Miami HEAT returned to the postseason last year. The HEAT finished as the Eastern Conference’s third seed and would eventually advance to the second round.
However, as we set to begin the 2016-17 campaign, a lot has changed in Miami. Gone are Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson. The team added several players through free agency in an attempt to replace the outgoing veterans and move on to life without Wade. But what can we expect from the HEAT this season?
Basketball Insiders previews the Miami HEAT’s 2016-17 campaign.
FIVE GUYS THINK
Back in 2010 when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decided to join forces, who would’ve thought that Bosh would end up being the final piece remaining from the trio? Yes, things appear to have fallen apart quite quickly in Miami. And even if Bosh is able to play, he will likely make the difference between the HEAT battling for a late playoff spot or tanking their spring away. Of course, that’s just my opinion. Each season, there are surprises and if Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow can find some sort of synergy with Goran Dragic, Miami might be in business. While I like Hassan Whiteside’s story, I am not sure that he is ready to lead a team the way that the HEAT would likely require in the wake of Wade’s departure. The conference is getting tougher around them, so I’m not too keen on the HEAT. It could be a long season in South Beach.
4th Place – Southeast Division
– Moke Hamilton
Heading into the 2016-17 campaign, the HEAT are one of the toughest teams to peg. On one hand, the team’s identity is built on being mentally tough and defensively focused year in and year out – regardless of the constructed roster. On the other hand, the team has plenty of wildcard questions that almost makes it impossible to predict where Miami will finish in the standings. How will the squad adjust to life without future Hall of Fame guard Dwyane Wade? How will center Hassan Whiteside, who has never made over $1 million in a season up until this point, respond to making nearly $25 million annually? Can second-year forward Justise Winslow make a significant jump after the team lost veteran wings Luol Deng and Joe Johnson in free agency? Will All-Star Chris Bosh be able to return to action after a series of medical setbacks? Buckle up HEAT fans, the ride along this route could be filled with plenty of turbulence.
2nd Place – Southeast Division
– Lang Greene
Well, that got ugly really quickly, didn’t it? Miami lost two of their most important veterans in Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng for nothing, and there may come a time in the not-too-distant future when Chris Bosh also exits stage left – perhaps calling it a career because of his blood clot issues. Hassan Whiteside and all of his questionable advanced metrics now serve as the franchise cornerstone, which doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence in this team as a title contender. Even in a summer of big contracts, Tyler Johnson’s $50 million feels exorbitant, but he, Josh Richardson (minus the knee injury) and Justise Winslow are where hope in the future lie. For the sake of Pat Riley’s coronary health, let’s hope they (and Whiteside) live up to expectations.
5th Place – Southeast Division
– Joel Brigham
Get ready for the Hassan Whiteside show. Last year, there were plenty of times when the big man put up monster numbers even when his minutes and role were relatively limited. Miami typically didn’t run plays for Whiteside, so he had to produce based on hustling and making the most of his limited opportunities. Now, with so many changes in Miami, head coach Erik Spoelstra will need the 27-year-old to play his best basketball on both ends of the floor and show that he’s capable of being a franchise cornerstone. But even if Whiteside produces, who knows if Chris Bosh will play this season? Will Goran Dragic continue to show signs of decline? Are Miami’s young players like Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson ready to take on increased roles too? Will the fact that Miami has so many players in contract years become a distraction since each player – especially those who haven’t gotten a significant pay day yet – may be looking out for themselves first and foremost? It feels strange to do this, but I have the HEAT ranked last in the division simply because there are a lot of questions that need to be resolved before I buy in on this squad.
5th Place – Southeast Division
– Alex Kennedy
It’s tough to get a good read on the Miami HEAT. Losing Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng leaves them awfully thin on the wing and now Miami will need more production from young players like Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and, most importantly, Hassan Whiteside. Between Whiteside, Gordan Gragic and Chris Bosh, this team does have notable talent to work off of. However, Bosh’s status is uncertain and if he can’t suit up for a majority of Miami’s games this season, the HEAT could take a big dip in the standings. While there are obvious concerns with this team, I believe Erik Spoelstra is an adaptive coach who can rework his systems based on the talent available to him.
3rd Place – Southeast Division
– Jesse Blancarte
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Chris Bosh
While it looks like Bosh is the top offensive player on the HEAT, it could ultimately be Goran Dragic who has to take over go-to scorer duties if Bosh isn’t quite ready to return to action. When healthy, Bosh has proven to be a great scorer and leader for this HEAT team. Last season, Bosh averaged 19.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 53 games. His 19.1 points per game led all players on the HEAT last season, just edging out Dwyane Wade’s 19 points per game. Lately, Bosh resumed basketball activities and posted videos of his offseason workouts, which is a good sign. He said recently that he’s ready to play and that he’s done everything he needs to do to return. It’s unclear at this time when a return could happen, but his recent comments are a step in the right direction for Bosh and the team.
Top Defensive Player: Hassan Whiteside
After leading the league in blocks last season, it should be no surprise to see Whiteside as the team’s best defensive player. He averaged a career-high 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game last season. He was recognized for his defensive efforts by finishing third in Defensive Player of the Year voting and being named to the All-Defensive Second Team. With his ability to block and alter attempts, he has demonstrated that he will be a force in the paint for a long time. He held opponents to 54 percent shooting less than five feet from the rim, which places him among the best centers in the league. Whiteside led the league in contested two-point shots (13.5 per game) last year, while also ranking first in defensive rating (94.5), first in block percentage (9.7) and fifth in defensive win shares (5.3). Whiteside recorded three point-rebound-block triple-doubles last season, including his 19-point, 17-rebound, 11-block performance against the Denver Nuggets in January. With Whiteside and backup center Willie Reed, post defense shouldn’t be an issue for Miami.
Top Playmaker: Goran Dragic
Even with Wade on the roster last season, an argument could’ve been made that Dragic was the team’s top playmaker. As the point guard on the floor, it’s Dragic’s job to run the offense and set up his teammates. Last season, he averaged 14.1 points, 5.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds. He isn’t going to be a guy who averages double-digit assists every night, but he’s still great at initiating the offense and getting others involved. He ranked inside the top 15 in the league with 9.4 drives per game and second with 4.6 passes off of those drives. When Dragic didn’t play at a high level last season, the team generally didn’t perform well, which was evident while watching the HEAT in the playoffs. It’s obvious that the HEAT will need Dragic to continue to produce in order to be successful. Dragic will have the ball in his hands more this season, so we’ll see what he does with the increased responsibilities.
Top Clutch Player: Goran Dragic
With Wade now on the Chicago Bulls, Miami will be searching for a new go-to player. Wade established himself as one of the best clutch players in the league and there was never any doubt about who would get the ball in past late-game situations for Miami. Now, it appears Dragic could be next in line to take over clutch duties. Miami’s top scorers in the last five minutes of five-point games were Wade, Deng (who is now a Laker), Whiteside, Bosh and Dragic. Dragic scored 38 points in those situations and shot 42.9 percent from three-point range. It’ll be interesting to see if Dragic will be able to capitalize more in those situations now that Wade is gone. He’s a guy who can create his own shot and get to the rim. He’s also one of the better shooters on the team and can be counted on to hit big shots. Head coach Erik Spoelstra could also opt to go with a committee approach that utilizes Dragic, Bosh, Whiteside and others based on who has the hot hand and best match-up.
The Unheralded Player: Josh Richardson
Richardson is another example of a HEAT player who put in work and became a meaningful role player. He is a former second-round draft pick out of Tennessee who made the most of his opportunity when given increased minutes. He essentially stepped into Tyler Johnson’s role when he went down with a shoulder injury. Even Richardson was surprised when his number was called; he told Basketball Insiders over Summer League that he was expecting to be in a developmental role for most of the season. In 23 games before the All-Star break, Richardson averaged 1.9 points in 11.5 minutes per game. In 29 games after the All-Star break, he bumped up his production to 10.2 points in 29.1 minutes per game. Richardson has proven to be the team’s best three-point shooter, knocking down 46 percent of his attempts from long distance last year. Richardson showed that he can be a meaningful contributor on this team and he should continue to take on a bigger role moving forward.
Top New Addition: Dion Waiters
Throughout Miami’s busy office, Pat Riley and his staff added six new players to the roster. The biggest story of the summer was obviously the departure of Wade, but the HEAT were able to add some quality players through free agency too. The team signed Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Willie Reed, Beno Udrih, Dion Waiters and Derrick Williams. Considering they’ll pay Waiters just $2,898,000 this season (with a player option for next year), it looks as though he’s the best new addition of that group. Not only was he a bargain, he has been productive at times throughout his young career. He averaged 9.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and two assists per game last season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Adding Waiters seems like a great move because the team won’t need him to play a huge role in their offense. Waiters has shown that he can thrive as a supporting piece whose job is to just check in and play his style of basketball. It’s also worth noting that Waiters has every reason to be on his best behavior and deliver a breakout campaign, since he can hit unrestricted free agent again next summer if all goes well. It remains to be seen if he’ll be starting, but he should give Spoelstra an added scoring punch either as a starter or as a reserve.
– Cody Taylor
WHO WE LIKE
- Erik Spoelstra
Spoelstra has already solidified himself as one of the best head coaches in the league. The HEAT have seemingly always been in contention under Spoelstra’s watch. Even when Miami has battled through some unfortunate injuries and Bosh’s health scare over the past two years, the team has still managed to compete at a high level. It seems as though the team keeps finding these diamond-in-the-rough players like Whiteside, Johnson and Richardson among others. While Riley deserves credit adding these individuals, Spoelstra is one who has developed them into significant contributors, gotten them to buy in and put them in positions to succeed. The fact that the team was able to stick around in the playoff race and advance to the second round without Bosh last season was very impressive. While Bosh’s health comes first, it really makes you wonder how good the team could have been had he stayed healthy and this group had been at full strength.
- Justise Winslow
Winslow falling to the HEAT at No. 10 in last year’s draft was, at the time, viewed as a steal. Fast forward one season later, and it still seems as though the HEAT lucked out in that draft. Winslow’s numbers from his rookie season don’t necessarily jump off of the page, but he proved that he can impact games in a number of different ways. He’s a good rebounder at his position and his defense has been pretty solid thus far. It seems reasonable to think that he’ll have more opportunities to produce this season with Bosh’s status still in question and Wade leaving. One of the biggest differences with Winslow this season is that he looks noticeably bigger compared to last year. He played in three games during Summer League and did well, averaging 16 points per game. Don’t be surprised if Winslow makes the most of his larger role and delivers a strong sophomore campaign.
- Tyler Johnson
Whether you agree with Miami’s decision to give Johnson a four-year, $50 million contract, the work ethic that he has displayed to get to this point can’t be ignored. Johnson went undrafted out of Fresno State two years ago and grinded his way through the HEAT organization to earn a significant role in the offense. Johnson was having a career-year last season prior to undergoing shoulder surgery in February. He averaged 8.7 points, three rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Spoelstra experimented with him running the point at times, which gave the team some additional versatility. Johnson comes into this season completely healthy and ready to go. He figures to compete with Richardson and Waiters for the starting shooting guard spot. Regardless of where and when he plays, he’s shown that he can be effective.
- Willie Reed
The HEAT have liked Reed for a while now and nearly signed him last offseason after he played for their Summer League team. After his first full season in the NBA with the Brooklyn Nets, Reed joins a Miami team that figures to give him a great chance to showcase what he can do. His playing time with the Nets last season was sporadic, but he did play really well when he was on the court. His per-48 stats were incredible: 20.5 points, 13.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocks. Reed can be counted on to do the dirty work whenever he’s on the floor. He’s going to be one of the most active players on the court and is a bit similar to Whiteside when it comes to his ability to defend the paint and score at the rim. Reed has been waiting patiently for a chance to prove that he can be a difference maker in the NBA, and this season could be a breakout year for him.
– Cody Taylor
SALARY CAP 101
The HEAT had an interesting summer, rushing through a number of free agent signings before deciding to match Tyler Johnson’s $50 million, poison-pill offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets. With Dwyane Wade off to the Chicago Bulls, Miami went under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap to acquire players like Wayne Ellington, Derrick Williams, James Johnson and Luke Babbitt. The team also used their cap space to re-sign Hassan Whiteside to a four-year, $98.4 million contract. Their $2.9 million Room Exception was used to ink Dion Waiters.
Now over the cap, Miami has 15 guaranteed players, which doesn’t bode well for players like Briante Weber, Rodney McGruder, Stefan Jankovic and Okaro White. Assuming the team picks up the rookie-scale option on Justise Winslow before November, Miami could have roughly $22 million in cap space next summer, under a $102 million projection. Should Chris Bosh prove unable to return due to his health issues, his $75.9 million salary would come off of Miami’s books on Feb. 9. That presumes Bosh does not play in 10 games this season, and that the NBA signs off on a forced medical retirement. Currently, Bosh is preparing for the season like he’s completely healthy, but this situation remains up in the air.
– Eric Pincus
The HEAT seemingly always have talent waiting in the wings within the organization. As previously mentioned above, they have found rotation players like Whiteside, Johnson, Richardson and now even Briante Weber. The team’s D-League affiliate won a record number of games last season, which just shows how strong of an organization they really have. Despite the loss of Wade, the backcourt is deep heading into this season. They have Dragic and Udrih at point guard and Waiters, Richardson, Johnson and Ellington at shooting guard. Of course, the coaching staff is a strength as well. Spoelstra is very good, and his staff is expected get a big addition back as Dan Craig will return as an assistant after coaching the Sioux Falls Skyforce last season. Spoelstra also has Juwan Howard and Keith Smart on his staff as well.
– Cody Taylor
One of the biggest areas of concern for the HEAT has been their three-point shooting. Miami finished 27th in the league in both three-point percentage and three-pointers made per game last year. Richardson led the team in three-point shooting last year, converting 46 percent of his shots, but the next-best HEAT player was Tyler Johnson at 38 percent. In today’s NBA, with three-point shooting and spacing being so important, the HEAT desperately need to improve in this area.
– Cody Taylor
THE BURNING QUESTION
How will the HEAT fare without Dwyane Wade?
One of the most surprising storylines of the summer was Wade opting to sign with the Bulls. Wade had spent all 13 seasons of his NBA career with the HEAT and is one of the best players to ever play for the organization. Things reportedly went south between Wade and the front office, causing him to sign back home. Much was made about Wade’s health and how many games he would play last season, but he proved everyone wrong by suiting up in 74 contests and averaging 19 points a night. With Wade now gone, how will the HEAT do without him? They must replace his production and leadership, which is much easier said than done. Don’t be surprised if the HEAT fail to improve on last season’s 48-win mark.
– Cody Taylor
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