By The Numbers: Miami HEAT Preseason Paying Early Dividends For Youth Movement
The Miami HEAT have had quite the turnaround from a tumultuous offseason that left team president Pat Riley to act swiftly and decisively to remake the HEAT roster. From communication breakdowns to medical setbacks, the departures of some familiar faces has created a new window of opportunity.
The franchise’s signature player, Dwyane Wade, left the Sunshine State after 13 years to return home to Chicago. The franchise’s best player (when healthy), Chris Bosh, experienced another setback in his battle with blood clots, receiving his third diagnosis of clotting (this time, while still on blood thinners).
The fallout between the team—which cannot ignore the obvious medical risks associated with someone who has developed blood clots in three straight years—and Bosh, who still believes that he can play, has been ugly at best. The HEAT are not planning for a return of their only Big 3 remnant and must move forward.
That creates two massive holes in the starting lineup (three or four if you include Luol Deng and Joe Johnson, who also departed as free agents) for a team filled with mostly young talent and a veteran point guard to lead the way.
It was clear from the signings what Miami was trying to accomplish. A team without bonafide stars would need to have a strong identity in order to compete in a star-driven league.
Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra, always keen to how the league is evolving, made it clear they wanted to address their three-point shooting deficiencies (Ex. guard Wayne Ellington and forward Luke Babbitt), and they wanted more athleticism to play faster on both ends of the court (Ex. guard Dion Waiters, forward Derrick Williams and forward James Johnson).
On the surface, those signings are largely underwhelming, as all of the players mentioned above were readily available. That means most NBA teams didn’t see a real need for their services. But what you can’t account for is the transformation that consistently happens when journeyman players find their way into Miami.
The high demand that the HEAT put on its players to be in peak physical condition, developing raw aspects of their game and to always place an emphasis on defense, has shown over time to be a positive catalyst for many of these underappreciated players.
Through four preseason games, we’re already seeing the early returns of the HEAT’s redesigned identity. Here are three quick notes that have stood out so far.
1. Whiteside has come into his own this preseason focused & determined to become a leader
It is difficult to understate the dramatic transformation we’ve seen from Hassan Whiteside in the last nine months—both from a basketball standpoint and a maturity standpoint. Many people questioned whether Whiteside would maintain his focus from the second half of last season after getting his big payday.
His usage has also jumped, as he currently leads the HEAT in the preseason with a 26.4 percent usage rate, up from 20.5 percent last year when he had the fourth-highest usage on the team.
With Whiteside on floor, the Heat have outscored opponents 243-197 this preseason. Without Whiteside on floor, Heat being outscored 207-192.
— Anthony Chiang (@Anthony_Chiang) October 15, 2016
Teams will no doubt strategize more heavily around Whiteside come regular season. But it’s hard not to be excited about this kind of play.
2. Justise Winslow embracing his larger role on offense
There’s no sugar coating that Winslow’s game was rough during his rookie season. Most of it had to do with his terribly flawed shot, and the fact he was never counted on to be a playmaker in an offense featuring Goran Dragic, Wade, Deng and Bosh. This preseason, he has shown sparks as a creator, a finisher and a spot-up shooter.
While it’s a bit premature to get excited about his 3-point shooting, Winslow has clearly redeveloped his shot to remove that awkward hitch at the end of it, and there’s reason to believe his shooting should stabilize compared to last year.
3. Pace & Space
The team’s core lineups are flourishing together:
What’s evident: Williams, James, Tyler and Waiters have all excelled playing alongside the team’s core trio.
The obvious caveats apply considering it’s just the preseason, and teams do not typically strategize for specific opponents—hence why Whiteside’s numbers most likely are not sustainable. But a lot of what Miami is doing should translate directly to the regular season.
The focus on pushing the ball in transition with this team’s newfound athleticism, and the additional spacing guys like Dragic, Winslow and Waiters will have to work, which should translate into more open shots with higher-caliber shooters taking them.
There is a definite reason for optimism with this squad, and whether it leads to regular season success or not, it should be a fun ride.