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2015-16 Miami HEAT Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Miami HEAT’s 2015-16 season.

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Last year, the Miami HEAT never quite reached their full potential due to injuries and roster changes. The team ultimately finished the season at 37-45, which put them outside of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. This year, the team is looking to not only return to the postseason but be one of the East’s top squads. Their team looks great with Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Gerald Green and Amar’e Stoudemire among others. But can they stay healthy and play to their full potential?

Basketball Insiders previews the Miami HEAT’s 2015-16 season.

Five Thoughts

The Miami HEAT could make one of the largest jumps in the standings of any team in the East. Last season they were hampered by injuries, most significantly losing Chris Bosh mid-season due to blood clots. A healthy Bosh and Dwyane Wade give them an automatic boost in production. Then, throw in a full season with Goran Dragic and add the selection of Justise Winslow in the draft and the HEAT should have no problem surpassing their 37-win total from last season. Keep an eye on Hassan Whiteside, who is coming off of a breakout season and will try to continue to improve after establishing himself as an NBA player. The HEAT missed out on the playoffs after falling out of contention late in the season, but this time around they should be able to stay in the race the entire time if healthy.

2nd Place – Southeast Division

– Jessica Camerato

Miami quietly had a fantastic summer. They were able to keep all of their veterans (Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Luol Deng, etc.), steal Justise Winslow on draft night and then sign Gerald Green and Amar’e Stoudemire to bargain minimum contracts. This is a team that has a ton of talent on paper and could be elite if they stay healthy. I expect Chris Bosh to return at 100 percent after he was limited by a blood clot last season, I think Dragic will be better in his first full season with Miami and I believe Hassan Whiteside will prove that his success last season wasn’t a fluke. I’m excited to see what this HEAT team can do this season, since we didn’t get to see them at full strength at any point last year. Not only do I have Miami returning to the postseason this year, I think it’s possible they could go on a deep playoff run if they play as well as they’re capable of and everything goes their way.

3rd Place – Southeast Division

– Alex Kennedy

It certainly didn’t take long for the world to fall out of love with the Miami HEAT. Apparently all it took was for King James to leave his throne for everything to fall apart in South Beach, but 2015-16 is a new year full of promise for Miami, especially with Chris Bosh coming back healthy following his blood clot scare last season. We assume that Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng are going to be healthy as well, but what’s really exciting is finally getting the opportunity to see how Goran Dragic and Bosh will play together now that they finally have a shot to jell properly. Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow bring some exciting youth to the squad, and Gerald Green and Amar’e Stoudemire were nice budget buys in free agency. This is a team back on pace to contend in the Eastern Conference. Maybe we’ll all fall back in love with the HEAT this year.

2nd Place – Southeast Division

– Joel Brigham

Miami will head into training camp in much better shape than last year, which was their first season without LeBron James. The HEAT stayed in the playoff mix most of last season before injuries derailed the team’s progress. All-Stars Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade missed a combined 58 regular season games. Veterans Luol Deng and Chris Andersen missed 32 games. Meanwhile in-season acquisitions Goran Dragic (26 games played) and Hassan Whiteside (48 games played) didn’t appear in many contests with the franchise either. The addition of rookie Justise Winslow should provide the team with lineup flexibility and newcomers Amar’e Stoudemire and Gerald Green add much needed scoring and depth. There’s no reason why Miami shouldn’t be among the top eight in the Eastern Conference at season’s end.

2nd Place – Southeast Division

– Lang Greene

I think, along with the Indiana Pacers, it is incredibily difficult to figure out what the Miami HEAT are going to be this coming season. There is no arguing that Hassan Whiteside has incredible upside, that Goran Dragic can be a difference maker and that Justise Winslow was widely regarded as being the steal of the first round in this year’s draft. With LeBron James gone and Chris Bosh injured last year, Dwyane Wade proved to me that he still has a lot left in his tank and Erik Spoelstra, in my opinion, is one of the best coaches in the league. If things break right and if they are fortunate with regard to the health of both Wade and Bosh, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the HEAT end the regular season as high as the second seed. If, however, either Bosh or Wade struggle with the day-to-day rigors of the season, then I could just as easily see them facing the second seed in the first round (of course, as the seventh seed). I’m looking forward to seeing Amar’e Stoudemire posertize a few guys off of some pick-and-roll action with Dragic and let’s not forget that Luol Deng is still kicking as well. I see big things for the HEAT this year, even if they finish as low as third in their division. But I’ll put them in at second.

2nd Place — Southeast Division

— Moke Hamilton

Top of the List

Top Offensive Player: Dwyane Wade

There’s no question that when healthy, Wade remains the team’s top offensive weapon. Aside from LeBron James for a brief stretch, Wade has led the HEAT in scoring since his second season in the league in 2004-05. During that time, Wade has averaged 24.8 points per game. As he is set to enter his 13th season in the league, health concerns will continue to linger until he hangs it up. He has nearly two extra seasons on his legs from postseason time alone and has suffered numerous injuries over the years.

Despite the concerns, Wade turned in a great 2014-15 campaign. He averaged 21.5 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game in 62 contests. His 21.5 points per game was good for third-best in the Eastern Conference and his PER of 21.44 was 10th-best in the East. It’ll be interesting to see how head coach Erik Spoelstra handles his minutes this season as he’s coming off of a career-low 31.8 minutes per game last season. Given the uncertainty with how Chris Bosh will return from his health scare last season, Wade should be a top contender to lead the HEAT in scoring once again.

Top Defensive Player: Hassan Whiteside

We’re all familiar with the impressive season Whiteside had last year. He blew up with the HEAT and completely dominated at times after bouncing around between overseas and the D-League. Had Whiteside started his dominance at the beginning of the season (instead of when he joined the team around January), then we very well could be talking about Whiteside as the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. But since Whiteside only played in 48 games, we’re left to wonder what could have been.

During the time in which he did play, he averaged 11.8 points, 10 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. His 2.6 blocks per game was second-best in the league, behind only Anthony Davis. It’s become clear that Whiteside has established himself as an elite shot blocker for the HEAT. He held opponents to 55.7 percent shooting less than five feet of the rim and 38.5 percent shooting between five and nine feet of the rim. His numbers less than five feet of the rim are in the same range as Draymond Green (54.8 percent), Tim Duncan (54.9 percent) and Joakim Noah (55.7 percent). Because Whiteside was able to alter shots and control the paint, the HEAT were a much-improved team defensively when Whiteside was on the court. The team posted a 105.6 defensive rating when he was on the court, compared to a 113 defensive rating when he was off of the court. If Whiteside can stay healthy this season, the HEAT should be one of the better defensive teams in the league.

Top Playmaker: Goran Dragic

Wade received consideration here, but Dragic earned this label instead. Retaining Dragic this offseason was perhaps one of the most important things for the HEAT. Now with Dragic re-signed for at least four more years, they’ll have a go-to playmaker on any given possession. Dragic has shown a great ability to be able to run an offense and create opportunities for his teammates. Since becoming a full-time starter three seasons ago, he’s averaged 17.1 points, 5.9 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game.

He only played in 26 games for the HEAT after joining the team at the trade deadline, but left many excited about the impact he can have going forward. While he put up good numbers in a limited sample, the argument can be made that he will be even better now that he’s in his first full season with Miami. He had little time to learn the playbook and adjust to playing with new teammates when he joined Miami midseason last year, so a full summer learning plays and getting to know his squad should put Dragic in a great situation to be successful this season.

Top Clutch Player: Dwyane Wade

It’s clear that Wade is the go-to player during crunch time. Given his long history in the league, he’s established himself as one of the best players when it comes down to hitting big-time shots. Wade finished inside of the top 20 last season in total points scored within the last five minutes games when the HEAT were either ahead or trailing by five points. Over the years, Wade has shown that he can be clutch in a number of different ways – the most obvious of which is hitting jumpers and layups. He’s also gotten the job done of the defensive end in late-game situations as he’s had a number of had game-saving steals and blocks.

The Unheralded Player: Luol Deng

Deng arrived in Miami last season as one of the most-established players at his position. He signed a two-year deal with a player option for the second year, which he utilized earlier this summer. Last season, much of the hype was put on Whiteside after his incredible start. Players like Wade and Bosh also stole the headlines as well, leaving Deng completely out of the picture. But Deng turned in a quiet season and was the team’s fourth-leading scorer with an average of 14 points per game.

As he prepares to enter his 12th season in the league, Deng is still a proven defender and a player that can spark the team when needed. His experience will prove to be beneficial for rookie Justise Winslow. Now that Deng opted in for this season, Winslow will be able to learn from Deng and he won’t face the pressure that comes with starting in the NBA. Deng has had long-term success in the NBA and his knowledge of the game will surely help some of the younger players on the team. While he may not go out and drop 20 points every night, he still deserves a ton of praise for what he adds to this team.

Best New Addition: Gerald Green

Winslow is the best addition for the team’s long-term plans, but Gerald Green gets the nod here because of the impact he’ll have right away. Green was one of just a couple players that the HEAT opted to bring in over the summer. The team mainly worked on retaining Wade and Dragic, but did add Amar’e Stoudemire and Green through free agency (and draft picks Winslow and Josh Richardson). While Winslow seems like he’ll receive plenty of playing time during his rookie campaign, adding Green will help the HEAT solve an immediate need: three-point shooting.

The HEAT finished 24th in the league last season in three-point shooting and didn’t have one player average more than two three-point baskets per game. Green is a career 37 percent shooter from long distance, and is just two years removed from knocking down a career-high 40 percent from three-point range. He figures to be Wade’s primary backup at shooting guard, and could even start on select nights in place of Wade. During a time in the league in which three-point shooting is extremely valuable, Green will be counted on to help the team improve its shooting.

– Cody Taylor

Who We Like

1. Chris Bosh

Everyone in the NBA community collectively breathed a sigh of relief once it became known that Bosh’s health scare last season wasn’t too serious. He’s now said to be healthy and very eager to return to the court. He’s been putting in some work in the weight room as well, as he’s added a lot of muscle to his 6’11 frame. He’s been one of the most productive big men in the league throughout his career and seems poised to continue at that level. While he was viewed mainly as the third option when LeBron James was on the team, he’s now become one of the top scoring options behind Wade. In fact, last season without James on the team, Bosh’s scoring went from 16.2 points per game in 2013-14 to 21.1 points per game. Having a healthy Bosh back next season is going to be a huge boost for the team’s expected playoff run.

2. Justise Winslow

Somehow Pat Riley and the HEAT managed to get lucky again. Miami got perhaps one of the biggest steals of the draft when Winslow fell to No. 10. His addition to the team already seems like a great fit. And as mentioned above, Winslow will be able to come in and learn from a proven veteran in Deng. He’ll be Deng’s primary backup and won’t face the pressure that comes with starting in the NBA. He’ll have the benefit of just coming into the game and playing his style. He was viewed as one of the most complete players in the draft and will be able to step onto the court this season and help contribute immediately (but without the lofty expectations that would’ve come with being a higher pick). During his time at Duke, he showed that he can drive to the basket and initiate contact in order to get a foul. He’s also excelled on the defensive end with his ability to lock up players and he figures to benefit with Whiteside patrolling the paint behind him. He may not ultimately get enough playing time to be a legitimate contender for Rookie of the Year, but he could prove to be one of the more productive members of this draft class.

3. Erik Spoelstra

HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra has become one of the best coaches in the league. He has one of the best minds in the game when it comes to drawing up plays and getting the most out of his players. It’s obviously helped that he’s coached players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but last year’s HEAT squad represents arguably one of Spoelstra’s best performances. When you look at the up-and-down year that the HEAT had, it’s amazing to think that they narrowly missed the playoffs by just one game. Bosh played in just 44 games, Whiteside played in just 48, Dragic joined the team at the trade deadline, newly-signed power forward Josh McRoberts missed all but 17 games with a knee injury and Luol Deng and Chris Andersen combined to miss 32 games. This left the team relying on three different players from the D-League: Whiteside, Tyler Johnson and Henry Walker. It should be noted that all three players were significant contributors in one way or another. With so much uncertainty that surrounded the team throughout the year, it’s an accomplishment that the team was still alive in the playoff hunt until the final day of the regular season. It’s shocking that Spoelstra didn’t place inside the top 15 in Coach of the Year voting.

4. Pat Riley

The HEAT re-signed Wade and Dragic, added Stoudemire and Green and drafted Winslow and Richardson. That was pretty much the team’s offseason summed up in one sentence, and even still the HEAT have been mentioned by some as winners of the summer. Other teams in the league earned that label by signing top-tier free agents to max deals, but Riley didn’t make any splashy moves. Instead, he recognized that retaining their players was the best possible move. They recognized that their projected starting five of Dragic, Wade, Deng, Bosh and Whiteside could be among the Eastern Conference’s best and opted to keep it intact. Who knew just one year after losing LeBron James that the HEAT could once again become a serious contender in the East?

– Cody Taylor

Strengths

Looking at this HEAT team on paper, it’s obvious that the biggest strength is their experience. They have plenty of veterans such as Wade, Bosh, Deng, Stoudemire, McRoberts, Green, Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen and Mario Chalmers, all of whom have been in the league for at least seven years. Many of those players were key contributors on those HEAT Finals runs in recent years. In fact, the HEAT are tied with the Los Angeles Clippers and the San Antonio Spurs for the second-highest average team age in the league. For that reason, the team’s window to compete is getting smaller and smaller. But, given the amount of veterans on the team with championship experience, the HEAT should among the favorites in the East this season.

– Cody Taylor

Weaknesses

Given that the HEAT have one of the oldest teams in the league, it shouldn’t be a surprise that one potential weakness is going to be the team’s overall health. Wade represents one of the biggest question marks on the team, as he’s missed time over the last several seasons with various injuries. Bosh is said to be completely healthy and ready to go this season, but we’re still not quite sure how he’ll return once he steps back out onto the court. McRoberts is coming off of a season in which he missed all but 17 games with a knee injury. Stoudemire has played in just 278 games out of a possible 394 games since 2010. Additionally, Andersen has missed time as well. If healthy, the HEAT could be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, but that will hinge largely on how healthy they can ultimately be. In terms of on-court weaknesses, as previously mentioned, Miami was 24th in the league in three-point shooting last season and that needs to improve.

– Cody Taylor

The Burning Question

Can the HEAT seriously challenge for one of the top seeds in the East?

There’s no question that Pat Riley and the HEAT are preparing for a long season. They feel their team, as currently constructed, can compete with the best teams in the East and make a deep run in the playoffs. You’d be hard-pressed to disagree with them given the amount of established players on this team, but health concerns will ultimately be there all season long. How many games will Wade play? Can Bosh return to the level of play that we saw out of him last season? Can Whiteside pick up where he left off last year? How will young players like Winslow and Tyler Johnson fit in? There seems to be a lot of questions surrounding this team, but there’s no doubting that the HEAT can be among the best in the conference if they can stay healthy. Don’t sleep on Miami this year.

– Cody Taylor

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