After an underwhelming season that saw the team bounced from the first round of the postseason after posting a 44-38 regular season record, the Miami HEAT return in 2018 with largely the same group of guys they had last season.
However, in an Eastern Conference sans LeBron James, the HEAT are better off than they were last season. But how much better could the team fair in the 2018-19 season? Let’s take a look.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
The Miami HEAT had a rather inactive offseason. Miami did re-sign sharpshooter Wayne Ellington to a one-year $6,270,000 contract, which is a good deal the HEAT. However, the rest of the roster is largely the same as last season, meaning Miami projects to be a middle of the pack playoff contender in the Eastern Conference. Like the Los Angeles Clippers, the HEAT have talent at each position and solid depth, but they don’t have the high-end talent to keep pace with the NBA’s elite teams. There are some players who are returning from injury-plagued seasons who hopefully can make a bigger impact this season, such as Dion Waiters. And there are some promising young players who may show improvement this season, like Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo. But unless Miami manages to land a trade for some more talent, this season is likely to end in an early postseason exit.
2nd Place – Southeast Division
– Jesse Blancarte
The HEAT made most of their significant moves during the summer of 2017 – there wasn’t a whole lot of flexibility left this summer. As such, they’ll enter the 2018-19 campaign with virtually an identical roster to the one that won 44 games and a Southeast Division crown last year. Will it be enough to carry them further than a relatively non-competitive round one loss? Well…maybe? This team has solid depth and mostly capable NBA players, but really lacks the star power to compete with some of the East’s true powers. One wonders whether Pat Riley will consider a sizable shakeup, including dealing guys like Goran Dragic or Hassan Whiteside (if his contract can even be moved realistically), to move this team out of the league’s middle and either toward true contention or the basement where they can rebuild properly.
2nd Place – Southeast Division
– Ben Dowsett
What a difference a season makes. In 2017, many were thankful the streaking HEAT didn’t make the playoffs. In 2018, the HEAT were the biggest disappointment out of all the East’s playoff teams. Because of their salary situation, combined with their seemingly limited ceiling, Miami has been written off. It’s fair to mention that Dion Waiters, Hassan Whiteside, and Rodney McGruder all were out for an extended period with injuries. Their return, combined with both Justise Winslow’s and Bam Adebayo’s potential, could see the HEAT could finish anywhere. The X-Factor is Whiteside. If he gets his act together, Miami could exceed expectations.
2nd Place – Southeast Division
– Matt John
For an NBA offseason that was full of movement, the HEAT stood pat with little turnover on the roster. Last season, they were one of the best defensive teams in the league and gave Philadelphia a nice run for its money in the playoffs. Goran Dragic is still the leader of this group and is easily the primary offensive weapon for Erik Spoelstra. As Bam Adebayo develops further in his second season, it will be intriguing to see where Hassan Whiteside fits into the equation…if at all. Josh Richardson is blossoming into a top defender on the wing and Dion Waiters will be back in action after missing the majority of last year with an injury. It’s going to be a close call in the bottom portion of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
2nd Place – Southeast Division
– Spencer Davies
If there is one franchise in the East that’s going to likely do more with less, it’s going to be the Miami HEAT. This means they will be good enough to tease you into the playoffs, but not bad enough to yield a top draft pick. The HEAT continues to say they won’t blow this team up and that what they have internally is enough to compete, but the question is, will one of their young guys stay healthy enough to really pop? Looking in on Bam Adebayo, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow – one of them could be exactly that “move to the next tier” player the HEAT desperately need. Its unlikely the HEAT are much more than the 7-8 seed in the East, that seems good enough for management, but as history has shown, 7-8 is a no-man’s land that usually costs franchise leaders their jobs.
2nd Place – Southeast Division
– Steve Kyler
TOP OF LIST
Top Offensive Player: Goran Dragic
Once again, Goran Dragic projects to be the best offensive option in Miami next season.
Making his first All-Star appearance, Dragic averaged 17.3 points per game to lead the HEAT last season while shooting 45 percent from the field and 37 percent from three. He also posted 4.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game.
Both his scoring and assist numbers dipped from the previous season, but Dragic, as the number one option on offense, should see benefits from a high usage percentage once again in 2018.
Top Defensive Player: Hassan Whiteside
Hassan Whiteside has gotten a bad rap at times, and for good reason. He often seems not focused or disinterested and, because of that, his play suffers.
However, when Whiteside is engaged he is Defensive Player of the Year material.
When he is putting in the effort, Whiteside has shown the dominant force he can be defensively and on the glass. Back in 2015, his second season with Miami, Whiteside averaged 11.8 rebounds and a ridiculous 3.7 blocks per game. While those numbers have dipped in the past two seasons, the ability is still there. If Spoelstra and Co. can capitalize on that ability, it could go a long way for both Whiteside and the HEAT.
Top Playmaker: Goran Dragic
His assist numbers were down last season, but Dragic still managed to lead the HEAT in the category for the third consecutive year. He is a good bet to do it again next season as well.
More importantly, Dragic is comfortable with the ball in his hands and can make a play when his team needs it; whether he drives to the basket for the layup or kicks the ball out for the open shot, Dragic has a good sense of awareness and can quickly figure out the best play for the team given the situation.
Top Clutch Player: James Johnson
James Johnson probably isn’t who you thought would be here. Dwyane Wade could have easily fit the profile but, while he is still undecided on playing next season, Johnson takes the spot.
The NBA defines clutch time as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. Across 23 games last season, Johnson took 47 shots in the clutch and excelled in the moment. Johnson sported a 53.2 percent field goal percentage in the clutch, hitting 25 of those 47 shots while making seven of 16 three-point attempts, good for a 43.8 percentage, as well.
Johnson also assisted on 17 clutch field goals, highest among HEAT players last season.
The Unheralded Player: Wayne Ellington
Wayne Ellington shot 39.2 percent from three-point range last season, good for 13th among players that took more than 400 attempts (Ellington had 579 attempts on the season).
As a three-point specialist that can post at least moderate scoring numbers – 11.2 points per game last season – Ellington’s skillset is as valuable as it has ever been in the NBA. Ellington, however, found slim pickings on the free agent market and ultimately returned to Miami on a one-year deal.
Despite the surprising lack of interest, Ellington will play a vital role for Miami, opening things up inside for Whiteside and second-year player Bam Adebayo while making things easier on Dragic and Josh Richardson as well.
Best New Addition: No One
While Miami retained some of their own free agents, the front office made no new additions this offseason. The team, for the second time in three seasons, made zero selections on draft night.
– Shane Rhodes
WHO WE LIKE
1. Goran Dragic
Dragic will enter his age-31 season as (probably) Miami’s best player. The guard is almost a lock to lead the team in scoring for the third straight season and he is currently the only All-Star on the roster.
While the HEAT failed to add anyone of note this offseason, projected improvement from the likes of Adebayo and others should provide a slight boost to his numbers as well.
2. Bam Adebayo
Adebayo seemed like a questionable pick by the HEAT in 2017, but after some impressive performances, he seems primed to take the next step in year two.
Adebayo averaged 6.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game last season. However, his athletic ability should allow him to, eventually, surpass those stats and be dominant in the open floor. Adebayo is already a capable defender and with his length (7-foot-1 wingspan), there is certainly room for improvement; he is already able to switch onto and keep smaller players in front of him.
At just 20-years-old, Adebayo has plenty of time to grow his game and Miami will give him all the time in the world to do so.
3. Josh Richardson
You could make the argument that Josh Richardson is Miami’s most complete player.
While he isn’t as good as Dragic on offense, Richardson is still plenty good on that end; he averaged 12.9 points per game last season while shooting 37.8 percent from three. While he isn’t a number one option he is certainly capable.
Defensively, Richardson is the HEAT’s best one-on-one defender and finished the season tied for 11th in total steals with 121. Richardson also posted 3.5 defensive win shares last season, which was tops in Miami and 23rd in the NBA.
4. Erik Spoelstra
Erik Spoelstra, as one of the best coaches in the NBA, is almost a must have on the list of HEAT highlights.
Spoelstra has proved season after season that he is a driving force behind Miami’s sustained success post-James. In two of the past three seasons he has managed a less than ideal roster to the postseason, and there isn’t much to suggest that he won’t do it again next season.
– Shane Rhodes
Every year the NBA moves closer and closer to truly “positionless” basketball, and it appears as if the HEAT have truly embraced the trend.
Miami has a number of players that can play at multiple spots on the flor – Richardson Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk just to name a few. This positional versatility is key in the modern NBA and it allows the HEAT to create and use certain matchups to their advantage.
The ability to play guys at multiple positions also deepens the roster and allows Spoelstra more flexibility when it comes to his game plan.
– Shane Rhodes
As much depth as they have, the HEAT are lacking in terms of elite talent. Dragic, their best player, isn’t the best player on a championship-caliber team. Whiteside, while he can be dominant at times, doesn’t play with enough consistency to be a major factor for a playoff team.
Adebayo, Richardson and others should continue to improve while the return of Dion Waiters should boost the offense. However, it’s hard to see Miami improving to a point where they truly challenge the top teams of the Eastern Conference.
Miami, as constructed, is a playoff team. That is definitely a good thing, but this team isn’t necessarily a true contender.
– Shane Rhodes
THE BURNING QUESTION
How High Can the HEAT Climb in the East?
Assuming health, the HEAT are in prime position to take advantage of a top-heavy Eastern Conference.
Outside of the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers and the Indiana Pacers, the Eastern Conference is an even playing field. While some teams may have slight advantages over one another, no team is truly greater than all the others by a significant margin. Down the stretch, as many as eight teams could be vying for those last four playoff spots.
Miami finished last season as the sixth seed and, as they returned most of the same roster, a similar finish seems likely this season. With the Cavaliers expected to regress following the departure of James for Los Angeles, they HEAT could even find themselves as the fifth seed if things break right for them.
– Shane Rhodes
NBA Daily: Luguentz Dort – A Different Kind of Point Guard
The point guard position is a clearly-defined one – perhaps the most defined – in the modern NBA.
At the one, you are either an elite shooter (both inside and on the perimeter), ala Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, an elite passer, ala Chris Paul, Ben Simmons and Russell Westbrook, or some combination of the two.
Luguentz Dort doesn’t exactly fit that bill.
The 20-year-old combo-guard out of Arizona State University didn’t shoot the competition out of the gym – Dort managed a field goal percentage of just 40.5 and hit on a meager 30.7 percent from downtown. And he wasn’t exactly the flashiest passer, as he averaged just 2.3 assists per game in his lone season with the Sun Devils.
He’s different. But, according to Dort, he has what it takes to run the point at the next level.
“I know that I can become a really good leader on the court and create for my teammates,” Dort said at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine.
Confidence and an “I-will-outwork-you” competitive attitude are at the center of Dort and his game. Those two aspects drive the engine that has made Dort one of the more intriguing prospects in the back end of the first round. He may not be the most talented player in this class, but Dort is hyper-competitive and can out-hustle anyone on any given night.
“When I play,” Dort said, “I’m really going at people to let them know it’s not going to be easy.”
There is a hunger in Dort – a desire to win that is evidenced in his game. An aggressor on both offense and defense, Dort’s motor is always going. His primary selling point is his defensive ability; built like an NFL defensive end, Dort can bring energy and effort to any defense. He has more than enough speed to stick with smaller guards on the perimeter and more than enough strength to bump with bigger forwards in the paint.
Dort has also shown a knack for jumping passing lanes to either deflect passes or outright steal the ball; Dort was fourth in the Pac-12 as he averaged 1.5 steals per game and 1.9 per 40 minutes.
Dort has made it a point to put that defensive ability and intensity on full display for potential suitors. At the Combine, Dort said he wanted to show teams “how tough I play on defense” and “how hard I play and the type of competitor I am.”
Offensively, Dort is an impeccable cutter. At Arizona State, Dort averaged 1.289 points per possession on cuts, according to Synergy Sports. When he goes to the rim, Dort used his size and power to his advantage in order to get to the basket and either drop it in the bucket or draw a foul. He isn’t Irving with the ball in his hands, but Dort can make a move with the ball to create space as well.
Dort isn’t a superb passer, but he has a solid vision and can make, and often made while at Arizona State, the right pass as well.
But can Dort overcome the inconsistencies that plagued him at Arizona State? Dort was, at times, reckless with the ball in his hands. Whether he drove into a crowd just to throw up an ill-fated shot attempt or forced an errant pass, Dort’s decision-making must improve. His shooting is suspect and his touch around the rim – two skills critical to the modern point guard – weren’t exactly up to snuff either.
There were lapses on the defensive end as well. Sometimes Dort would fall asleep off the ball or he would be too aggressive one-on-one. If he is too handsy or unaware, NBA veterans will take advantage of every chance they get against him.
But, according to Dort, he has worked on those issues.
“My decision making got a lot better,” Dort said. “My shot, my free throws, everything. I really worked on all that this season.”
But in order to truly make an impact at the next level, he’ll have to continue to work and refine those skills further.
More work has never been an issue for Dort. However raw he may appear, he has the look of and the work-ethic required of NBA-caliber talent. Dort’s ultimate goal for the Combine, other than draw interest from NBA teams, was simple: “learn about everything, get feedback and go back to Arizona and continue to work on my game.” Whether or not teams view him as a point guard, shooting guard or something else entirely is a matter for debate, but, standing at just over 6-foot-4, 222 pounds with a 6-foot-8 wingspan and high motor, Dort has the versatility and ability to stick at, and is willing to play, a variety of different spots on the floor.
“I want to play any position a team would want me to play,” Dort said.
He may not be the prototypical point guard, but with that kind of willing, team-first attitude, Dort, at some point or another, is almost certain to make it to and have an impact at the next level.
NBA Daily: Brandon Clarke Working From The Ground Up
Because of the unusual path he’s taken to get here, Brandon Clarke has established himself as one of the more unique prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft, writes Matt John.
When the draft time comes along, teams who have the higher picks usually look for guys who have the highest ceiling. Because of this, they usually decide to take players on the younger side because they believe those who have less experience have more room to improve.
This puts Brandon Clarke at a slight disadvantage. Clarke is 22 years old – and will be 23 when training camp rolls around – and only just recently came onto the scene after an excellent performance for Gonzaga in March Madness this season.
Competing for scouts’ attention against those who are younger and/or deemed better prospects than him would be quite the challenge, but because of what he’s been through, said challenge didn’t seem to faze him one bit at the combine.
“It was a different path for me,” Clarke said. “ I’m 22 and there are some guys here that are only 18 years old. With that being said, I’m still here.”
The Canadian native has clearly had to pay his dues to get to where he is. Clarke originally played for San Jose State, a school that had only been to the NCAA Tournament three times in its program’s history – the most recent entry being 1996 – whose last alum to play in the NBA was Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Props to you if you know who that is!
Playing under a program that didn’t exactly boast the best reputation wasn’t exactly ideal for Clarke. In fact, according to him, it was disheartening at times.
“There were definitely times that I felt down,” Clarke said. “When I first went there, I was kind of freaking out because I was going to a team that had only won two or three games prior to me getting there.”
No tournament bids came from Brandon’s efforts, but the Spartans saw a spike in their win total in the two seasons he played there. The team went from two wins to nine in his freshman year, then went from nine wins to fourteen his sophomore year. Clarke’s performance definitely had a fair amount to do with San Jose State’s higher success rate, but the man praised the program for the opportunity it gave him.
“We did some really big things for that college so I’m really grateful for the stuff I could do for them,” Clarke said.
After spending two years at SJS, Clarke then transferred to Gonzaga where he redshirted for a year before getting himself back on the court. When he did, he put himself on the map.
Clarke dominated in his lone year with the Bulldogs, averaging 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds – including 3.1 offensive boards – as well as 3.1 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. The man clearly established himself as a high-energy small-ball center at 6-foot-8 ¼ inches, and it paved the way for Gonzaga to get a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament and go all the way to the Elite Eight.
Brandon loved the experience with the Bulldogs, both for the opportunity they gave him and for what he was able to do for them on the court.
“It was a great year,” Clarke said. “I got to play with some of the best players in the country… It was everything that I ever dreamed of. I’m going to miss it a lot. From a personal standpoint, I was just really blessed that I was able to block shots… I felt that I was really efficient too and I really helped us on the offensive end taking smart shots.”
Both his age and the small sample size, unfortunately, go hand in hand so that it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly Brandon Clarke will be taken in the draft. The latest Consensus Mock Draft from Basketball Insiders has all four contributors disagreeing where he will be selected, ranging from being picked as high ninth overall to as low as 21st.
Where he will get selected will all depend on who trusts what could be his greatest weakness – his shotty jumper.
In a league where spacing is so very crucial to consistent success, Clarke’s inability to space the floor hurts his stock. His free throw shooting at Gonzaga saw a drastic improvement from San Jose State, as he went from 57 percent to almost 70. That’s not as much of a liability but not much of a strength either. His three-point shooting in that time took a dive in that time, going from 33 percent to almost 27, which definitely does not help.
To be a hotter commodity at the draft, Clarke had to prove he could shoot the rock from anywhere, which is what he set to do at the combine.
“That is my biggest question mark,” Clarke said. “I’ve been working really hard on it. So I’m hoping that they can see that I can actually shoot it and that I have made lots of progress on it, and that they can trust me to get better at it.”
The journey that Clarke has been on to get to where he is had made him all the wiser as a player. With him expected to enter the NBA next season, he had a simple yet profound message to aspiring young ballers everywhere.
“Trust yourself. Trust your coaches. Trust everybody around you that you love… Make the best out of the situation that you are in.”
NBA Daily: Nassir Little’s Climb Back up the Draft Boards
Nassir Little’s measurements and personality shined through at the Combine, leading many to believe he may be better suited for the NBA than he was for the NCAA, writes Drew Maresca.
From highly-touted prospect to reserve player and back, Nassir Little’s path to the pros has been an unusual one.
Little was a McDonald’s All-American and five-star prospect. And yet, he didn’t start a single game in his lone season at North Carolina.
He demonstrated the ability to take over a game at times – averaging 19.5 points per game through UNC’s first two games in the NCAA tournament. He also broke the 18-point barrier in six games this past season. But he also scored in single digits in 18 of the Tar Heels’ 36 games, resulting in him being labeled inconsistent by many professional scouts.
Luckily for Little, his skillset is highly sought after by NBA personnel. He is a 6-foot-6, 220 pound forward. He averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as UNC’s sixth man, demonstrating the versatility to switch between both forward positions fairly seamlessly.
And he very well may be one of the few players better suited for the modern NBA game than he was for the NCAA.
Little told reporters at the NBA combine that much of his struggles can be attributed to the hesitancy he developed in his own game through the lack of clarity provided to him by the North Carolina coaching staff.
“The coaching staff didn’t really understand what my role was, especially on offense,” said Little. “So it created a lot of hesitancy, which didn’t allow me to play like myself.”
But Little assured reporters that he’ll look more like the five-star recruit we saw when he was a senior at Orlando Christian Prep.
“Throughout the year I didn’t feel like I played like myself. The guy that people saw in high school is really who I am as a player,” Little said. “And that’s the guy that people will see at the next level.”
Not only does Little expect to be back to his old self, he sees greatness in his future.
“I feel like I am going to come in as, like, a second version of Kawhi Leonard and be that defensive guy,” Little said. “Later on in the years, add [additional] pieces to my game.”
And while a Leonard comparison represents a tall order, Little’s physical tools have fueled discussion about his defensive potential – which has resulted in his climb back up draft boards. Little measured in with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and posted an impressive 38.5-inch vertical jump (second amongst all 2019 participants), a 3.09-second shuttle run (third) and a 3.31-second ¾ court sprint (fourth) – all of which translates perfectly to the NBA.
While his physical prowess will certainly help him gain additional visibility throughout the draft process, Little claims to possess another attribute that everyone else in the draft might not necessarily have, too.
“A lot of guys talk about skill set, everyone’s in the gym working on their skillset. But me being able to bring energy day in and day out is something a lot of guys don’t do.”
To Little’s point, he projects extremely well as an energetic, defensive pest. He is an aggressive and physical defender who has drawn comparisons to guys like Marcus Smart and Gerald Wallace – both of whom are/were known for their high-energy play and dedication on the floor. While his athleticism and potential can open doors, his personality will ensure that teams fall in love with the 19-year old forward. Little came across as extremely likable and candid, which should factor into the overall process, especially when considering that other prospects with less personality project to be more challenging to work with. Moreover, the fact that he was named to the Academic All-ACC team speaks volumes to his discipline and dedication.
Little alluded to the fact that he already sat through interviews with 10 teams as of a week ago, including one with the San Antonio Spurs, which makes the Leonard comparison all the more intriguing.
“Each team has different needs,” Little said. “But they like my [ability] to score the basketball in a variety of ways and my defensive potential to guard multiple positions, they really like that. And my athleticism to be on the court and finish plays.”
If Little is lucky, he’ll be selected by the Spurs with the nineteenth pick. And if that happens, he would be wise to pay close attention to the advice given to him by Coach Gregg Popovich – and not only because he sees similarities between himself and former Popovich-favorite, Leonard. Coach Popovich has a long history of developing lesser known draft picks into borderline stars – Derrick White being the most recent example.
Considering Little’s physical tools, academic achievements and easy-going personality, he has everything one would need to have a long NBA career. Just how successful he ends up being is mostly up to him.