2017-18 Preview: Miami Heat

By Josh Eberley #41

In a tale of two seasons, the Miami Heat gave us surprising highs and depressing lows last season. It was a roller-coaster year, an unbelievable range of performances that make projecting the upcoming season incredibly difficult. Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside anchored an unbelievable turnaround after starting the season 11-30 but finish 30-11 over the latter 41 contests. Waiters became a folk hero and the Heat’s +6.4 net rating trailed only the Golden State Warriors (+12.1) over that final 41 games. Unfortunately for the Miami faithful, the strong finish didn’t outweigh the abysmal start and the Heat missed the playoffs by the slimmest of margins—a heart puncturing tiebreaker. The bygone days of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (who was on the payroll last season but medically unable to perform) are all officially gone entering this season and Miami can in earnest, finally begin the next chapter of Heat basketball.

Heat 2017-18 Ballhandlers Wings Bigs
Returners Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder Dion Waiters, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson,Wayne Ellington Hassan Whiteside, Udonis Haslem, James Johnson
Newcomers Larry Drew II Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo, Okaro White, Jordan Mickey
Gone Luke Babbit Chris Bosh, Josh McRoberts, Willie Reed
Oscar Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Offense: The Heat had the 17th ranked offense last year and if it’s going to improve dramatically, it’ll require an All-NBA level effort from Dragic. Let’s start with what we know about Dragic and his busy offseason. Dragic had an amazing summer. He was the EuroBasket MVP and his home nation of Slovenia won the whole tournament. It’s not hard to envision him riding that momentum into the season. Whiteside got the big deal last offseason and rewarded Miami with a career-highs in PPG (17) and RPG (14.1). Ideally, Spoelstra will play Johnson at the 4, giving Miami an athletic and versatile hybrid forward to run the floor. Add in Waiters for spacing, Winslow or Josh Richardson as a secondary playmaker or floor spacer and hope everybody takes a step forward.

Head coach Erik Spoelstra has a perplexing roster in front of him. On one hand, he has a 10-deep team of above average NBA players. On the other hand, he appears to be lacking the star talent to forge a real contender. Spoelstra has no shortage of options this season offensively. Dragic, Whiteside and team standout James Johnson logged a net rating of +8.6 over 400 minutes the second half last season. Wayne Ellington was in all the top six three man combos over the turnaround last season and yet he’s going to have to battle with Waiters, Winslow and Richardson for minutes.

The Heat have an abundance of players making eight figures. Whiteside, Dragic, Waiters, Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson, with both Richardson and Tyler Johnson are set to join the seven-zero club in the coming years. How do you find time for all of them and which lineups offer the most offensively? Don’t forget Winslow who missed most of last season and rookie big man Bam Adebayo, who the Heat took 14th in the draft this year. You can see how this gets tricky when projecting how exactly everybody fits in.

Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Defense: Whiteside is a block specialist, Winslow has been raved about defensively since his rookie year, but the most important player to this Heat defense might be James Johnson. Johnson is the perfect complement to Whiteside, an incredibly mobile player capable of switching up and down the lineup. His versatility should really let this team get the most out of Whiteside as a rim protector. The defense suffered when Johnson sat last year. The Heat’s defensive rating (DRTG) rose just over four points when he sat vs. when he played.

The Heat had the fifth-ranked defense last season and it makes you wonder how important Winslow really is. Especially when Richardson and T. Johnson score positively in DRPM. In the second half of last season the DRTG was nearly seven points lower when Ellington was on the floor vs. off it. Again, Spoelstra has the unenviable job of sorting through a talented group to maximize the team’s ceiling.

Upside: The Heat are a puzzle. The corner pieces are obvious but there’s so much to figure out in the middle. Lucky for Miami, they have a virtuoso running things from the bench. You couldn’t name five coaches in the League today better than Spoelstra and you can bet on him feeling out this unit early. How he manages last year’s unit while working in Winslow, Olynyk, and Adebayo will be fascinating all season long.

Durability: All teams claim to have a next-man-up philosophy and faith in teammates, but Miami really demonstrated this, especially last year. Decimated by injuries last year, the Heat showed amazing resiliency in plugging holes and still finding a way to win. Short of a serious injury to Dragic, this team could cope with almost any player missing time. Winslow obviously missed a chunk of time last year (64 games), but this is a young team. The Heat have very few players struck with the dreaded injury prone tag. It’s a long season, no one goes through a whole campaign unmarred but the Heat’s ability to adjust regardless should bode well for their playoff pursuit.

Synergy: This will be year four together for the Heat’s pillars of Whiteside and Dragic. Olynyk and Adebayo are the only key new faces sure to see time and Miami is one of only a handful of teams you can confidently give a boost to for team culture (the others being Golden State, San Antonio and Dallas). There will be speed bumps and missteps, but ultimately this team avoided a major shift in both personnel and philosophy. The chemistry should be visible early in Miami.

Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Experience: Team president Pat Riley and Spoelstra have both seen victory and defeat at the highest levels but the roster is relatively inexperienced. Leadership trickles from the top down and much of it will have to come from management. Dragic has just seen the playoffs twice, Waiters once, Whiteside once, etc. As mentioned, the only evidence that remains from the two recent championships in South Beach are in form of banners. Should the Heat find themselves in the postseason this year they’ll look to veteran and team mainstay Udonis Haslem for guidance. He might not play much minutes at 37 but Haslem is the the last reminder of championship teams in 2006, 2012, and 2013.

Win frame: 39-44 wins

2017-18 HOOP Season Preview

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