Miami Heat 2023-24 Season In Review

Commentarylast month14 min readJohn Jablonka

Phew. This was a long, long season, but it’s over now, it’s another season in the books, and it’s time to battle in the play-in for the second year in a row. After a roller-coaster of a season, the Miami Heat, unfortunately, find themselves in the same spot and yet again, trying to make magic work in the end.

Looking back on this season and trying to compare it to last year, and I honestly have no idea how to feel. There are somethings that tell me they’ve been worse, but then that’s countered by something positive, and vice-versa. There’s so much conflicting evidence that makes this meme so accurate when looking at this team:

That’s exactly me when it comes to figuring out how I should feel about this team.

The team again dealt with so, so many injuries. There was zero lineup consistency with mid-season trades affecting that even more. Your best players weren’t playing to their standards most nights. The offense still being in the bottom third of the league. The defense was consistently inconsistent throughout the year until the end. Players declining. Players coasting — it’s like they wanted to give you every single reason to not trust this team.

And yet, I’m still kind of talking myself into this team. There are things that happened in the playoffs last year that allowed them to go on a run being replicable. There is a potential switch that can be flipped. You still have the best coach in the league. You still have the best defender in basketball. You still have a trolling player who has proved time and time again that he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Those three things have shown that it’s enough to at least give them a chance. I don’t think it’s that likely(same as last year), but if things fall the way they should, I can see the path.

With that said, let’s reflect on the season as a whole — looking at both the positives, the negatives, and anything else that stood out this season that’s important for either this year or going forward.

The Bad!

Let’s just get the negatives out of the way because there are plenty of reasons why they found themselves in the play-in again.

For the second straight season, their offense has struggled. Per Cleaning the Glass, they ranked 21st, which is still an improvement from last year somehow(they ranked 25th). But considering they jumped from 34.4%(27th) to 37.0%(12th) in 3pt percentage, that kind of improvement still raises a lot of questions. It does show that the offensive issues go far beyond whether or not they hit their 3s or not.

These numbers get a lot worse when you only look at the offense with Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, and Bam Adebayo on. In 499 minutes, they have a 115.4 ORTG but are shooting 51% from 2pt and 40% from 3pt! Shooting great from 3pt and having a below-average offense is a concern.

A lot of that(if not everything) comes down to Butler’s diminished role this year. In those minutes with all three on, Butler has the lowest usage — 20.2% behind Adebayo(23.7%), and Herro(26.2%).

Everything about Butler has dropped. His usage, his touches, the number of games with high usage, and his games being a passer. Even in previous years, he wasn’t going to be a high-volume scorer regularly, but you could’ve expected the switch to be flipped more often when needed. And even if it wasn’t, his activity as a playmaker was still there. This year, it was way more deferring.

Some argue that his stats are almost identical as previous seasons, but that’s ignoring every other stat and metric that does show a decline or at least a change in what we’ve seen in previous seasons. This wasn’t business as usual with Butler. And it wasn’t asking him to be “Playoff Jimmy” either, it was asking him to play like an All-NBA caliber player when needed. There were far too many games that they lost that they easily could’ve won had he played better.

Staying with the top guys on offense, I don’t think I’ve been that impressed with either Herro or Adebayo on that end. For the most part, it does feel like the jumps they made last season kind of plateaued this year when it comes to their main areas that needed to take a jump. Now, obviously, growth isn’t linear and they were pushed to be in a role that’s clearly above what they’re comfortable with.

Adebayo had one of his worst impactful seasons on that end, according to offensive EPM — -0.5 O-EPM, down from +0.9 last year and the lowest since the 2020 season.

He continued to have an increase in his self-creation usage, but the efficiency has dropped in that area — 59.2% to 57.6% true shooting. His shooting around the paint has been fairly inconsistent, from year to year and in-season, too. Here are some of his shooting splits last year vs this year

  • 0-3ft: 71.4%(29.5% frequency) → 72.7%(24.5%)
  • 3-10ft: 47.9%(37.9%) → 51.5%(36.7%)
  • 10-16ft: 49.7%(26.0%) → 40.6%(27.8%)
  • 16ft-3pt: 28.8%(4.7%) → 38.6%(6.9%0

Going away from the rim, and even going away from the short mid-range to get further away from the basket. This was his highest average 2pt shot distance with 7.7ft.

With Herro, it’s similar. Things felt the same as last year. There have been marginal improvements but nothing that has screamed a difference maker. Looking at any of his stats, shooting splits, metrics, efficiency… everything. They all look just like any other year.

The team leaning into those two without them making the necessary jumps has been again the main reason for this lackluster offense. With those two on, but without Butler, the Heat have a 112.8 ORTG — that would be tied 24th with the Toronto Raptors. Here are their individual stats:

  • Herro: 22 points per 75 possessions on 48.9% eFG and 51.8% TS, shooting 42.5% from 2pt, and 37.9% 3pt
  • Adebayo: 21 points on 52.4% and 57.2%, shooting 53.6% from 3pt

That’s not what you’d hope from your young players on that end.

Finally, with the latest addition to the top guys, Terry Rozier, unfortunately, joins the bad too. There’s more leeway here with how he was getting used to the new team in a completely different role, but it’s still been fairly disappointing. I broke down his play and fit with the Heat here in more depth!

Even when looking at his post-ASB production, they are still underwhelming where he averaged 21 points per 75 on 53.4% eFG and 56.4% TS, shooting 46.8% 2pt, and 42.0% 3pt. He’s been awfully inconsistent, settling for far too many tough shots, and playmaking dipping recently.

But will have to note that all of this, all of the offensive issues have to consider the Butler factor. Every player almost has to do more and play in a role that’s not right for them because your best player wants to play like the third best. Though that still is how it was, regardless of whether there is a valid excuse or reason, it was still disappointing.

Reading back at this, you can see that a lot of the bad for this team has come from the top guys. That’s where the disappointment has come from and has been one of the bigger reasons why they struggled. That also includes Erik Spoelstra. This has definitely not been his best work, mainly focusing on the offensive stuff. Because the team elsewhere and around the margins has shown good stuff, it’s the foundation that starts with your best players wasn’t there.

Moving onto more general team stuff & things that stood out:

  • Lineup inconsistency. The team has only two lineups that played 100+ minutes. Eight played 50 or more but four of them include Kyle Lowry
  • Inconsistent defense. Started the year well(112.3 and 111.7 DRTG), dropped off significantly in December and January(116.0 and 115.5), and finally picked it up again to end the year(104.8, 108.7, and 109.5)
  • Caleb Martin decline. This has been his worst season by far on both ends of the floor. A drop-off in all metrics. His efficiency going down, his shooting regressing a lot, getting to the rim less, finishing at the rim worse, finishing around the mid-range worse, and, his defense dropped off significantly

  • Fourth quarter and clutch issues. They had a -5.5 net in the fourth with a 107.9 ORTG(112.6, 116.9, 115.9 in the previous three quarters). That net would rank 29th and the offense 28th. Their clutch stats are just as bad, ranking 28th in net with -13.5(only the Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons are worse)
  • Not having many(or even two(?)) really good wins against good teams. They were 5-20 against top 10 teams in net. The Heat were -2.8 net with 113.4 ORTG with Butler on vs BOS, OKC, DEN, NYK, and MIN.

The Good!

Let’s finish off with the positives because outside of the main guys, the offensive struggles, and the inconsistency, there’s still been plenty of good things that happened and to watch out for. And it’s mostly all of the little stuff that showed potential for the future.

In Adebayo’s last 17 games, he’s averaging 1.6 3pt and is shooting 50.0% — he’s 14-for-28. That hasn’t been translated yet to being a game-changer or something that the defense has adjusted a lot to, but it’s a significant improvement. When you’re starting from 0, any kind of improvement is significant going forward.

The fact that he and the team have been willing to explore this route has the potential to open up so many things. This is something that has been needed for a while because it can change how this team can be constructed. Right now, it’s just a very small step that probably doesn’t do a lot, but it’s important going forward. The hardest step that was to simply push through that wall of taking shots is finally done.

Speaking of taking and hitting 3s. Haywood Highsmith. He has turned himself into one of the key players on this team. I’ve recently talked about his stretch where he was simply on one. Not long ago, he was practically a negative player that you couldn’t afford to play big minutes, and that mostly was because of the offense. That improved a lot.

He upped his 3pt volume from 5.6 3pt per 100 poss to 7.0, along with improving his efficiency from 33.9% to 39.6%. That’s almost two more 3s and an almost six percent increase. He has looked way more confident on that end. There’s barely any hesitation and he’s doing a lot more. A big reason why in the last 16 games, he’s been averaging over 25 minutes per game. I predicted him to be a starting four, but with his defense and improved offense, he could be the closer.

Moving onto the potential starting four for this team. The player that has arguably improved the most on this team. I wasn’t that high on Nikola Jovic at the start of the year — the defense was stopping him from playing, he wasn’t a willing shooter(or making them either), and he struggled to finish too. There wasn’t much to show he could survive on the court. That has completely flipped.

I’ve broke down his play a couple of times throughout the season — a thread on a stretch as a starter, his defense against the Charlotte Hornets, and his defense against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

As a starter since February 13th, he’s averaging 9.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.1 assists on 59.8% eFG and 61.7% TS in 22.2 minutes per game. The biggest jump has been with the 3pt shot — 39.3% on 10.3 3pt per 100 poss. That is a volume shooter and a perfect four next to Adebayo and Butler.

But that hasn’t been his biggest improvement, it’s been his defense and that has been what allowed him to show his impact by being able to play in the first place. What he’s shown in this last stretch makes me think that he’s going to be a big X-factor heading into next season.

We also had another youngin that has exceeded a lot of expectations. As the 18th overall pick, I don’t think I was expecting this kind of play from Jaime Jaquez Jr. He showed so much potential. He has been playing like a 10-year veteran in so many games. This has the potential to be a huge steal going forward.

Yes, he’s 23 years old already. Yes, he hit a rookie wall. Yes, he struggled with his inconsistent 3-point shot. But he’s also shown so much good elsewhere that has easily translated to high impact. His finishing around the rim(shot 66.8% within 3ft and took almost 30% of his shots there), his footwork, and his post-up game are already more advanced than a lot of players in general. He scored 1.05 points per poss on 0.9 post-ups, good for the 66th percentile.

There’s just been so much good with Jaquez — his insane start to the season, a very efficient 25pts vs the Thunder, showing 2-way impact vs the Magic, or his career night against the 76ers. It’s going to be fun seeing him next year.

Finally, you have Duncan Robinson, who not only reintegrated himself into the rotation but has improved significantly and developed his all-around game. I talked about his improvement at the start of the season because what he’s shown was something else. Outside of his bounce-back season as a shooter, he’s made strides in playmaking, driving, finishing, and ball handling.

Now, onto some other general positives!

  • Adebayo has still played at a DPOY level. Will likely finish top-3 and definitely should have a legit chance at winning it. The Heat have a 111.6 DRTG with him on for the year and that drops to 109.3 since February
  • That’s another thing. The Heat’s defense has kept them afloat. I don’t know how they managed to do that. Since February, they have the best defense in the league
  • Kevin Love’s impact this season has been WILD. He had the second-highest EPM on the team with +2.9(92nd percentile). He had one hell of a bounce back. I’ve gone more in-depth breaking his impact this season here!
  • Better 3-point shooting team! Finally

Overall, this honestly has been a drag of a season and a lot of that had to do with their offense and Butler coasting more than usual. That’s the reason they find themselves in the same position as last year and they have no one to blame but themselves. They missed so many opportunities and didn’t capitalize. Throughout the year, they showed that they’re either not good enough or simply don’t care.

The only positives were all of the little things that haven’t made significant improvements in the grand scheme of things… yet.

Because right now, their whole season hinges on what they do now. Whether they get “playoff Jimmy” and have everyone else step up their game to where they can make another magical run.