A few weeks ago, I created a poll on Twitter asking which team would finish last in the Southeast Division. Out of the five teams in the division – the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Miami HEAT, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards – the HEAT, Magic and Wizards were possible options to choose from.
The results seemed a bit surprising at the time, as the HEAT received 56 percent of the vote. The poll was inspired by some news that was released that day since it was reported that Chris Bosh’s stint with the organization is over. Bosh said he didn’t receive a call or a text about the news.
It’s no secret by now that the HEAT didn’t have the best of offseasons. The team lost several key free agents, including Luol Deng, Joe Johnson and Amar’e Stoudemire among others. The biggest surprise came when Dwyane Wade opted to leave the HEAT organization after 13 years to sign with the Chicago Bulls, believing he was mistreated by the front office.
Since the team lost so many players in free agency, they were forced to add a number of different players. The team signed players like Wayne Ellington, Derrick Williams, James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Luke Babbitt, Willie Reed and Beno Udrih. With so much turnover on the roster and questions being pointed at the front office, it’s easy to see how the team has been pretty much written off before the season has even started.
With so many teams in the Eastern Conference improving over the summer, the HEAT were seemingly the odd team out in a lot of playoff predictions from various media outlets. Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham ran his annual 50 predictions for the season and opened up some of the predictions to other writers on the site. My prediction: The Miami HEAT will finish above .500 and will make the playoffs.
While some may not be as optimistic as others when it comes to the team’s postseason chances, I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that the HEAT will miss the playoffs. If the HEAT can replicate their preseason results thus far during the regular season, it would indicate that they may surprise some people this season.
Through six games so far, the HEAT are 4-2 with two games still left to play. The team is posting improvements in several key areas and getting contributions from all over the court. Perhaps the most impressive feat during the preseason was holding the San Antonio Spurs (including Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker) to 39 percent shooting through the first three quarters last Friday.
So far, the HEAT have the fourth-best offensive rating in the league, scoring 105.7 points per 100 possessions. On the other side of the ball, they have earned the eighth-best defensive rating, giving up just 95.7 points per 100 possessions. To put that into perspective, only five teams finished last season inside the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency – and each of those teams made the playoffs.
It’s hard to talk about the HEAT’s preseason and not talk about how dominant Hassan Whiteside has been. In four games, he’s averaging 17.5 points, 12 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. His points rank 10th among all players this preseason, while he’s second in rebounds and first in blocks. He’ll be a crucial piece for the team on defense and if he can keep up that pace during the regular season, the HEAT could be in great shape.
Of course, even head coach Erik Spoelstra will tell you not to read too much into preseason results. However, it must be encouraging that his team has been able to perform well on both sides of the ball given all of the tinkering with lineups that goes on during the preseason. Teams are trying to figure out which lineups work well and which ones don’t. The HEAT have used a different starting lineup in each game so far.
One of the biggest improvements for the HEAT has come in shooting. The team has been among the worst teams in three-point percentage for quite some time now but has improved drastically this preseason. They ranked 27th in percentage last season and were 28th in total three-pointers made at 498. They’ve improved to third in the league in percentage and are fifth in three-pointers made per game. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the improved shooting is they’re doing it without arguably their best shooter in Josh Richardson. Players like Tyler Johnson, Ellington, Babbitt and Waiters are all shooting above 40 percent and figure to play a large role in the offense this season.
It also seems as though there is legitimate competition for the team’s 15th and final roster spot. There are currently 15 guaranteed contracts for next season so the team could decide between Udrih, Rodney McGruder and Briante Weber for the final spot.
The team is stacked in the backcourt, with each of those three players vying for the last roster spot all capable of playing both guard positions if necessary. With Goran Dragic, Johnson, Richardson, Ellington and Waiters all seemingly locked in for plenty of minutes this season, which of those bubble players will the team want to keep? Surely having such competition is a good thing for the team.
Another area that points to the HEAT potentially having success this season is the coaching staff. Spoelstra is among the best coaches in the league and has proven to keep his teams competitive despite having key players missing. When Bosh went down with his blood clotting issue for the first time two years ago, the team just narrowly missed the playoffs by one game. Last season, they advanced to the second round without Bosh.
Spoelstra has always proven to be great at mixing and matching his lineups based on which players he has available. In this year’s NBA general manager’s survey, Spoelstra received votes for the head coach that makes the best in-game adjustments. He’s also been able to get the most out of his players while having to rely on several individuals plucked out of the D-League.
Just as Spoelstra has told reporters already, it’s hard to take what happens in preseason seriously. Teams often experiment with different lineups and some star players play sparingly throughout the exhibition games. While it’s hard to take everything the HEAT have done and apply it to the regular season, they have shown improvements as a team and that can be something they build on.
It’s clear that the HEAT have several players on the roster that are still looking to prove themselves in the league and that should be something they can benefit from. With Spoelstra running the show, they’ll be as prepared as they can be, but it’ll be on the players to perform on the court. As they look to prove themselves in the Eastern Conference, don’t overlook this group this season.
A Breakout Season for Joe Harris
Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.
The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.
Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.
During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.
After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”
Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.
In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.
“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”
Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.
“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”
When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.
However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”
NBA Daily: 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 3/20/18
With most of the major NBA draft prospects eliminated from March Madness, things in the mock draft world are starting to get interesting.
A Lot of Mock Movement
With the race to the bottom in full swing in the NBA and the field of 64 in college basketball whittled down to a very sweet sixteen, there has been considerable talk in NBA circles about the impending 2018 NBA Draft class. There seems to be a more consistent view of the top 15 to 20 prospects, but there still seems to be a lack of a firm pecking order. Arizona’s Deandre Ayton seems like to the prohibitive favorite to go number one overall, but its far from a lock.
It’s important to note that these weekly Mock Draft will start to take on more of a “team driven” shape as we get closer to the mid-May NBA Combine in Chicago and more importantly once the draft order gets set. Until then, we’ll continue to drop our views of the draft class each Tuesday, until we reach May when we’ll drop the weekly Consensus Mock drafts, giving you four different views of the draft all the way to the final decisions in late June.
Here is this week’s Mock Draft:
Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:
The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.
The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections and based on the standings today would convey to Philadelphia.
The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade. The pick is top four protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would convey.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick is top-five protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.
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NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future
Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.
On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.
Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.
Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with the season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.
Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.
“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”
Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.
“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”
Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.
“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.
While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.
“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.
Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.
There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.
“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”
Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.
“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”
Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.
“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.
Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.
“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.
When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.