The Whiteboard: Is it time to worry about the Miami Heat?

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Something is very wrong with the Miami Heat.

There are a myriad of reasons to consider when attempting to come to terms with the Heat’s surprising 7-14 start, and not a single one covers the entire picture.

For starters, Miami has rarely had its full complement of players available; Jimmy Butler has only played in nine of the team’s 21 games, Avery Bradley has only suited up for 10, Tyler Herro has played in 14, Goran Dragic is only at 16 and even Bam Adebayo and Andre Iguodala have missed two games apiece. It may not sound like much, but considering we’re only dealing with a 21-game sample size, even two games is still 10 percent of the season to this point.

Still, the Heat aren’t the only team that’s missed players to start the season, and their 4-5 record with Butler available isn’t exactly comforting. No one in that locker room is going to try and blame it on injury- or COVID-related absences.

There’s also the extremely limited time between the end of the NBA Finals and the start of the new season, something that only the Los Angeles Lakers seemed to get any credit for heading into the 2020-21 campaign. But while the Lakers have gotten off to a rip-roaring 16-6 start, the Heat find themselves 13th in a weaker conference after dropping seven of their last 10 contests.

Fatigue and a Finals hangover could be very real for a team that overachieved just by getting to the championship round as the 5-seed, but again, no one is buying that as the full reason for this team’s inexplicable start.

A pair of key offseason departures hasn’t helped matters either. The power forward spot has been sorely lacking ever since Jae Crowder signed with the Phoenix Suns, and Derrick Jones Jr. taking a deal with the Portland Trail Blazers has further deprived Miami of some of its underrated two-way depth, particularly on the wing.

Even so, as great as Crowder’s burly defense and 3-point shooting was last year, and as much as DJJ blossomed in South Beach, the Heat’s minus-5.4 point differential — second-worst in the East and fourth-worst in the NBA — can’t be explained away by their offseason exits either.

So what’s wrong with the Miami Heat?

The truth is, it’s a perfect storm built on all these different clouds looming overhead. Despite Bam Adebayo’s best statistical year yet, which includes his emergence as a jump shooter with an effective mid-range shot, the Heat are floundering right now.

After ranking seventh in offensive rating and 12th in defensive rating last season, the Heat have shriveled up to 26th (105.7) and 20th (111.2) in those categories, respectively. The result is a negative-5.5 Net Rating that’s better than only three other teams with a combined 22-41 record.

The Heat are losing the 3-point battle on a night-to-night basis. Despite attempting the ninth-most 3s per game, they’re only making 35 percent of those looks, which ranks 24th in the league. Their defense, which emphasizes defending the interior, gives up the second-most 3s per game (41.0). Even with Miami holding opponents to the fewest points in the paint (39.1 per game), the math just doesn’t work in Erik Spoelstra’s favor when those opponents are making 38.4 percent of their many, many triples.

Miami’s problems at the 4-spot extend beyond offensive production, since this team is getting killed on the boards. The Heat are dead-last in rebounds per game, dead-last in offensive rebounds and 29th in second-chance points. That’s a problem for a team that’s taking and missing so many 3s, since the lack of second opportunities and interior scoring threats is robbing the offense of any sort of fluidity or credible danger to opposing defenses.

Perhaps the offense would flow a little better if the Heat weren’t turning the ball over so much. Only Adebayo and Dragic are averaging three turnovers a game, but a balanced effort across the board has Spoelstra’s squad committing the second-most turnovers per game in the NBA (17.1). Even worse, those errors are turning into 21.7 opponent points off turnovers per game, which is the highest mark in the association.

Throw in the Heat’s low steal (6.6 per game) and block (3.8 per game) tallies, and it’s honestly shocking this team has won seven games thus far.

In terms of how this ugly situation fixes itself, there are no easy answers. Hopefully it’ll be as simple as getting (and keeping) guys like Butler, Bradley, Herro and Dragic healthy and COVID-free. Shaking off a Finals hangover can take some time, and even something as seemingly insignificant as Meyers Leonard’s season-ending injury can have ripple effects on a roster searching for answers.

Whatever the case, the potential James Harden bailout option is no longer on the table. Perhaps a similar move for someone like Bradley Beal makes sense, though the front office will have to question if such an upgrade would really bump them back into Finals contention — especially at the likely cost of Tyler Herro.

But as much as it feels like the Miami Heat have plenty of time to figure things out, the season is almost 30 percent over already. If simply getting healthy and on the same page isn’t the catalyst for turning around some of these ugly numbers early on, we could be looking at an extremely disappointing follow-up to one of the most unexpected Finals runs in NBA history.

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