Changing of the Guard: Life After Dwyane
I’m not sure anyone could’ve ever predicted Dwyane Wade, mayor of Wade County, would leave the city he made his own after 13 years. I don’t even know if Wade considered it seriously before the end of last season. However, life works in crazy ways, and sometimes feelings get hurt as an expense of doing business — where even the strongest relationships come to an abrupt end.
The master plan this offseason quickly got turned on its head, as the Durant “whale” chase didn’t prove to be as fruitful like the Miami HEAT had hoped. Days after Durant chose to sign with the Golden State Warriors, the departure of the greatest player in franchise history happened. It then made the direction in which to take this team pretty clear: sign as many 3-and/or-D players as possible on short-term deals to surround Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, exploring this core’s potential.
Riley went out and did exactly that with the signings of Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Derrick Williams, trading for Luke Babbitt and the eventual acquisition of Dion Waiters.
But after losing Wade, there’s been a drastic drop-off in who’ll succeed his team-high pick-and-roll usage with a reinvented, fast-paced HEAT offense. Here’s a first glance at how the new-look HEAT might fill Wade’s vacancy with a prognosis on Miami’s pick-and-roll ball handlers, comparing both incoming and outgoing players.
The HEAT lost a lot of players capable of excelling in the pick-and-roll, and will hope that the young players like Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson can improve in this area. Tyler Johnson showed serious potential as a pick-and-roll player last season, which he can hopefully continue as his usage this season inevitably rises. This also goes without saying, but the HEAT are confident that they will see a more productive Winslow, who struggled mightily executing the pick-and-roll last season in his limited attempts. Depending on how the non-Dragic handlers fare will determine what kind of workload the Dragon will experience this season. Luckily, he should find his life a little easier on offense thanks to Riley’s offseason moves.
In the history of the NBA, 106 players have shot at least 37.8 percent from 3 in their first two seasons while taking at least 100 attempts. The 2016-17 HEAT currently has SIX of those players on its roster, although not all of them are guaranteed to make the final roster. Those players are Josh Richardson (46.1 percent), Luke Babbitt (39.7 percent), Wayne Ellington (39.6 percent), Goran Dragic (38.8 percent), Beno Udrih (38.7 percent) and Tyler Johnson (37.8 percent). Pat Riley knew what this roster’s flaw was last season and made sure it wouldn’t be the problem again.
Since the Waiters signing, it’s become increasingly complicated to figure out how Spoelstra is going to fit all these new guard/wing pieces together. The good thing for Coach Spo is that he already had two young talented guards on the roster in Richardson and Johnson to compliment the veteran Dragic.
The real issue surfaces when you see that Richardson, Johnson, and Waiters all should be playing the 2, seeing as none of them have much experience directing an offense and their combined shooting prowess is better utilized when being set up through good passing.
The first part of the mystery is who will be starting next to Dragic come opening night. The choice needs to be considered in the context that it’s very likely Spoelstra will use the other two as the backup guards in some fashion. Since Richardson and Johnson were on the team last season, we have some data to look at to see how they fared in situations they are likely to face this season. One of the first thing that should be noted is how they fared together on the court without the help of Dragic or Wade, to see how they would fare in a Dion Starters universe.
Using the lineup searching tools at nbawowy.com, the HEAT played 139 minutes with Richardson and Johnson on the court and Dragic and Wade off the court. Those lineups had an 88.4 offensive rating and a 110 defensive rating, or a -21.6 net rating. For some perspective, when searching all two-man lineups that played at least 100 minutes together last season, the worst pairing in the league was Kobe Bryant and Roy “trash can” Hibbert with a -21.2 net rating. So yeah, it’s not a pretty look for a Johnson and Richardson ball-handling duo. In reality, the HEAT should want to stagger their two best shooters anyway to always have an elite threat on the court to create space on offense.
In order to try to get the clearest picture of what the HEAT’s main lineups will look like in a post-MV3 world, we should take a look back at how the younger HEAT players performed last season with the franchise’s two cornerstones at the moment: Dragic and Whiteside. Seeing as we just determined that Johnson and Richardson would be better off on the court at separate times, let’s see how Johnson or Richardson versions of the starting lineup looked last year.
Using nbawowy.com, I focused on lineups that had Dragic and Whiteside on the court and Wade off the court. The findings were surprisingly positive (it should be noted these numbers include both regular season and playoffs).
As you can see, the HEAT were clearly a better team with either one of Johnson or Richardson on the court. The Tyler numbers especially look impressive, though it’s also a bit of a small sample so I doubt that would be sustainable. Especially now that Richardson has torn his MCL, it seems increasingly likely that Johnson will be the starting 2 on opening night. The move makes sense from a public relations perspective as well, as those minutes will give him the best chance to produce enough to help validate the $50 million deal the organization chose to match in order to keep him out of Brooklyn.
That would leave a Richardson-Waiters backup backcourt once he is healthy again. The good news for Miami fans it that there were some glimmers of hope when looking at some of Waiters’ passing metrics. While Waiters isn’t the most willing passer (and that’s being nice), when he does distribute the ball he seems to make it count. 14.7 percent of Waiters’ passes last season led to an assist, a free throw assist, or a secondary assist, which was ranked 17th among 59 players who played greater than 2,000 minutes last season.
He also only averaged two turnovers per 36 minutes, which was the 16th lowest out of 48 guards that played at least 2,000 minutes. Waiters as a distributor will also allow Richardson to showcase his elite shooting more often. If Spoelstra can get Waiters to do a little less “Iso chucking” and play more within the offense, he might be a pleasant surprise this season.
This season will be an interesting one for Miami, as it’s hard to get a consensus agreement on what this team is capable of. There’s so much youth that is unproven that it will be in Miami’s best interest to see what they have in guys like Johnson, Richardson, Winslow, Waiters, Weber and McGruder (if he makes the final 15). It will be interesting to see what Spoelstra’s vision is for this roster.