5-on-5: Early Season Surprises, HEAT Offense, Hassan Whiteside

Commentary6 years ago13 min readMiami Heat Beat Staff

We are a few weeks into the season. Our expert staff at Miami Heat Beat is here to tell you how to think! Exciting right? We’re borrowing on ESPN’s 5-on-5 idea where we take five of our staff writers (against their will) and ask them all the same questions to hear their differentiating opinions (hot takes) on what’s going on with the HEAT. So without further adieu, let’s get started.

1. What has been the most unexpected part of the season early on?

Giancarlo Navas: How bad Dion Waiters is at layups. HE IS EIGHT FOR FREAKING TWENTY FOUR INSIDE OF FIVE FEET! HOW!? WHY!? That is 33 percent, for those of you counting at home. Dion is shooting better from three (37 percent) than from inside of five feet. Let that sink in.

Harrison Cytryn: The absence of Derrick Williams. Sure, Spo is experimenting and James Johnson has been OK, but why no D-Will? I predicted he would be the HEAT surprise player this season. He is on a 1-year prove-it contract and I like what he did for the Knicks last year. Worst-case scenario he’s a hustle player off the bench. Would it be so bad to see what he’s got when James Johnson goes off script? Possibly, but I’d like for Spo to adjust and see if Williams can help this team with energy off the bench.

Jack Alfonso: The biggest surprise so far for me has been the continued development of Tyler Johnson. Personally, I have always been a fan of TJ and was cautiously optimistic when Miami decided to give him a sizable contract, but I didn’t expect him to develop as quickly as he has. Currently, Tyler Johnson is averaging 15/4/2 and has looked like a contender for Sixth Man of the Year. Tyler Johnson is far from being a star at this point and he still has a lot to work on, but his continued development in multiple facets of the game may force me to adjust my expectations of him.

Nekias: I didn’t expect Derrick Williams to have zero logged minutes through five games. Erik Spoelstra gave him the most consistent minutes at the four during the preseason, but went with Babbitt (a move I actually vouched for). Considering how streaky Williams has been throughout his career, I would hope we get to see him soon so he can establish some sort of rhythm.

Alf: The biggest surprise is that Derrick Williams can’t get any playing time.  I know James Johnson showed up a little bit this last game, but for the most part, he’s been terrible.  It seems like Luke Babbitt has locked down the starting spot with his ability to space the floor, but I would think Williams would get a little run with the second unit.  Williams can finish around the basket, something this team needs badly.  Whatever Williams did to Spo to warrant this treatment demands an immediate apology . . . and probably a Bath and Body Works gift basket.

2. How do you feel about the productivity Miami is getting from it’s shooters?

Giancarlo Navas: Miami is shooting well above league average and I still think it’s not good enough. The bulk of Miami three point attempts come without a defender within four feet of the shooter, making them “open” as per the NBA’s official stat page. 86% of Miami’s three point attempts are considered open and Miami is connecting on only 38% of them. They are not getting enough out of open looks.

Harrison Cytryn: The shooting has been about where I’d expect it to be five games into the season. It’ll get better when J-Rich is fully healthy and back in the fold. Silly Babbitt is what he is, Tyler Johnson has been really good and hopefully Ellington can spread the floor when he recovers from his thigh bruise. Justise’s shot is still off (but it will continue to improve), but he doesn’t have to shoot well to impact the game. Dragic has impressed me with his shooting, but that will likely regress, and hopefully the HEAT continue to take corner threes, which is Spo’s bread-and-butter. I ain’t worried.

Jack Alfonso: Miami certainly has some solid perimeter talent, and will need all the shooting they can get if they want to win a significant number of games this season. Goran Dragic seems to have reworked his shot and has been giving the Heat some solid three point shooting so far. Tyler Johnson has continued to show off the shooting ability that will earn him a consistent role in this league. Starting forward Luke Babbitt hasn’t exactly set the nets on fire with his shooting this season, but as a career 40% shooter from beyond the arc I would expect that to change. If Josh Richardson can come back and continue the lights out shooting that caught the attention of fans around the league last season, Miami should have no issue getting points from behind the three point line.

Nekias: It’s been a mixed bag. Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson have been elite shooters to start the year, ranking in the 95th and 97th percentile on spot-up shots via Synergy. Rodney McGruder has been fine with a limited sample (9 points on 8 spot-up possessions). Outside of those three, it’s been a pretty bleh effort from the perimeter to be honest. We’ll likely see some positive regression from Babbitt while Dragic and Tyler Johnson come down to earth a bit.

Alf: I haven’t check the numbers, because that would take too much work, but it seems that opposing coaches are scoffing at the first half shooting numbers and daring the Heat to duplicate that output in the 2nd half.  So far, to the naked eye, that hasn’t panned out. The Heat are going to have to figure out how to attack a clogged paint through 4 quarters if they are going to have any success. The rest of the NBA doesn’t respect Miami’s shooters, and so far they haven’t been given reason to.

3. The HEAT’s starting lineup has a Net Rating of 26.2 and has played the most minutes on the team. What the hell is going on there?

Giancarlo Navas: I literally cannot explain that. It makes zero sense to me and the numbers have remained despite having played good teams like the Spurs, Raptors and Hornets. I understand more Japanese than I do why a lineup with Luke Babbit is +26 over a decent sample.

Harrison Cytryn: The team revolves around Goran and Whitey, and they’ve been pretty good. Dragic is running early and often, Hassan cleans up everything, Babbitt is spacing the floor, Justise is a Swiss-army knife, and Dion is not a complete mess with the starters. It has been a very solid starting unit, and I could see it continuing for a while. Plugging in J-Rich could make that unit really special, but I think Dion has been playing awesome defense and is a better 1-on-1 defender than Richardson at this point in time. Don’t @ me.

Jack Alfonso: While I don’t think this Miami HEAT team is particularly good, they have great talent in certain areas along with a coach who can put it all together. Miami’s starting lineup has seen success in large part due to the talent of Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, and Justise Winslow. Dragic has come into this season looking like a completely different player than the one we saw at the start of last year. The Dragon is attacking, shooting well and conducting the offense like an elite point guard. Hassan Whiteside has been utterly dominant at times, doing everything for Miami. His impact as both the literal and figurative center of this Heat team has been tremendous, and he is showing why teams were fighting to give him big money this past offseason. As for Justise Winslow, his impact can be difficult to quantify. Entering his second season, Winslow has been asked to do a lot more for this team and for the most part he’s delivered. It isn’t always pretty and the numbers don’t look fantastic, but the energy and versatility Justise brings to the team is valuable. Look for Miami to continue to ride these guys to continued success.

Nekias: It flows together, oddly enough. Miami has three guys capable of getting downhill in pick-and-roll (Dragic/Waiters/Winslow), a dangerous roller in Whiteside, and a spacer in Babbitt — in theory, anyway. The most surprising thing about this lineup is how well it has defended. I’m not sure how long that’ll last, but I’ll take it for now.

Alf: I don’t understand your stupid stat and don’t care about it because we’ve only played 5 games.  Grow up.

4. Miami has a 97.3 offensive rating, do you think the offense is underperforming?

Giancarlo Navas: I want to say they are underperforming, then I see lineups with Justise Winslow, James Johnson and Dion Waiters. I lose the right to be surprised at that point. On the bright side, Miami is getting Josh Richardson and Josh McRoberts back in the lineup, which will help their offensive output. If only because they will take Waiters and James Johnson minutes.

Harrison Cytryn: The starters have been excellent, but the team’s offense in general is definitely underperforming. A lot of it has to do with guys getting familiar with each other as well as finding their roles in Spo’s system. The ball movement is not always there, and I think Hassan needs to be a more focal point of the HEAT’s attack. The issue with Whiteside is that you never know if he will pass the ball back if he doesn’t have a good look. Also, just less Dion. Dude hijacks the offense like another DW that used to play for the HEAT, but with about 1/10th of the talent. Come back to me in 15 games and I’ll update you on whether the offense is playing up to their potential.

Jack Alfonso: It’s hard to argue that Miami’s offense is underperforming when you look at the talent on the roster. Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, and Hassan Whiteside have all been strong offensive threats this season, but beyond that there isn’t much. Justise Winslow has shown very encouraging growth at the offensive end, but at 20 years old he still isn’t quite ready to carry the offensive load for the team. Dion Waiters has been more or less abysmal on offense, struggling to find any success at the rim. If Josh Richardson can come back strong, Miami’s offense should improve but overall I wouldn’t expect much from them this season.

Nekias: The offense is underperforming, but it’s also kinda expected. Three stats for you, all via Synergy. Miami ranks 12th in transition, Miami ranks 27th in the half-court offense. I tweeted this out the other day, but Miami is currently the worst team in the NBA at executing after-timeout plays (ATOs), generating 0.623 PPP. Miami has been fine when they’ve been able to push the ball off misses and quickly flow into their offense. When they’re stuck playing against set defenses, they have trouble generating good looks without working extremely hard for them. These guys are still getting used to playing with each other, so things should get better moving forward. But it is ugly right now.

Alf: The offense is underperforming because Goran isn’t playing 48 mins.  Seriously, the Heat have to figure out what they’re going to do when Goran takes a breather.  This is why I was in favor of keeping Beno Udrih, much to the chagrin of many a Heat fan. Udrih knew how to get an NBA team into it’s offense with minimal mistakes.  He was the kind of steady hand a young team needed to get through predictable lulls.  Instead . . . we have Dion Waiters.

5. Early predictions! Hassan Whiteside, first time all-star?

Giancarlo Navas: Hassan Whiteside is giving you 20 and 14 on 59% shooting, it is going to be hard for coaches to ignore him (because I would be surprised if the fans vote him in). The scary part is, I don’t think we have seen Whiteside at his best yet, he has had some foul trouble early on and I think the addition of Josh Richardson to the lineup will help him in the spread pick-and-roll. I also think his free-throw percentage will go up despite his early struggles.

Harrison Cytryn: I predicted before the season that Dragic and Whiteside would be the best PG/C combo in the league. I will not back down now. So Whiteside will definitely be an All-Star. Hopefully, the fans wise up and select him as a starter. I will admit Whiteside has not been fully engaged the last few games, but I think he may have some personal tragedies weighing on his mind. When your center has 13 points and 10 rebounds in the third quarter and the consensus is that he is having an off game, your center is a stud. Whiteside is going to be an All-Star for years to come. BOOK IT!

Jack Alfonso: If Hassan Whiteside continues to play the way he has been playing this season, I don’t see how he could possibly miss the All-Star Game. Averaging 20 points and 14 rebounds, not only has Hassan continued his dominance at the rim and on the glass, but he’s also improved in some key areas of his game. As Whiteside takes on a more significant offensive load this season, he has improved as a passer (averaging 1 assist per game) and has added some impressive moves to his offensive arsenal, including some nice face up moves. Hassan Whiteside looks quicker, smarter, stronger, and better. He looks determined to make his mark on the league this season, and with his play so far, it looks like he will.

Nekias: Well, I wrote about it, so yes I say Whiteside can make the All-Star team this year. If nothing else, he should get an invite to the dunk contest, amirite? SMH

Alf: If the numbers are around what they are now come February, there is little doubt.  Even if the fan vote doesn’t support Hassan, the coaches will undoubtedly see his impact and vote him in.  This year is shaping up to be a return to relevance for the NBA “big man”, and Whiteside is at the forefront.

Want more Miami Heat Beat commentary and insight? Follow our writers and guest columnists on Twitter:

Nekias Duncan (@NekiasNBA), Giancarlo Navas (@gnavas103), Jack Alfonso (@alfonsohoops), Harrison Cytryn (@HotTakeHarry) & (@Alf954).