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Miami HEAT 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

Few teams in the NBA have done more with less than the Miami HEAT. The question for the HEAT is, can they stay healthy enough to be anything more than a first-round playoff team? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Miami HEAT in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

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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

STRENGTHS

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

WEAKNESSES

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

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