Miami Heat Mid-Season Check In: Where are They Now & Where can They Be

Commentary3 weeks ago7 min readJohn Jablonka

With the Miami Heat being literally halfway through the season, I thought it’d be a good idea to have a discussion about their season so far, look ahead to the next half of the season, and how they stack up for the playoffs.

This season has been a roller-coaster of different feelings toward this team from a fan perspective. There has been plenty of good wrapped around a bunch of bad too.

It’s been fun seeing Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro take the next step in a more expanded role. We’re finally seeing Victor Oladipo play great basketball. And it’s always fun seeing Jimmy Butler play on both ends of the floor.

On the other hand, health has been an issue with Butler, Herro, Adebayo, and Kyle Lowry combining to miss 32 games. Even when the team was healthy, they still found ways to lose to teams they clearly should have beaten. And this is all without mentioning how painful their offense has been to watch.

So, currently, the Heat are 21-20 with a minus 0.1 net rating — quite exactly as average as you can get. Let’s see how that compares against the three previous years in the Jimmy Butler era:

  • 2021-22: 26-15 with a plus 4.8 net rating
  • 2020-21: 18-18 with a minus 1.2 net rating
  • 2019-20: 27-10 with a plus 4.2 net rating

Hmm. It looks like there is a pattern. It’s no secret that the Heat aren’t as dominant in the regular season as they were in the two seasons they made a deep playoff run.

A lot of it was because of their lack of moves in the off-season and running it back, but that’s a different conversation. They made it clear that this was going to be their team, at least until the trade deadline.

Although this team hasn’t been anywhere near elite or great, they also haven’t been as bad as their record or net rating say.

For one, when they have their guys on the floor, they not only have been good, but they also have been as good as anyone other teams.

Per Cleaning the Glass, their usual starting five have a plus 9.4 net rating(70th percentile) with a 114.6 offense and a 105.1 defense. If you filter down to include only Herro, Butler, and Adebayo, that net rating goes up to plus 10.7, which would be in the 95th percentile. Even if you look with only Adebayo and Butler, it’s plus 7.8, which is in the 91st percentile.

There’s also a trend here — if their starting five, their top-3 players, or top-2 players are on the court, they are elite. What’s encouraging is they’ve been better than last year when they had two or three of those players on. Last year, that same trio was only plus 4.3. Butler and Adebayo together were plus 6.6.

That hasn’t been an issue so far in the season. There are still questions surrounding them when it comes to their ceiling in the playoffs, but they haven’t been the reason for this year’s struggles.

The struggle comes when one of Butler or Adebayo sits. The Heat can’t survive any minutes without having both on the court:

  • Adebayo without Butler: -1.0 net rating, 110.2 offensive rating, 111.2 defensive rating
  • Butler without Adebayo: -11.2 net, 111.2 Off, 122.4 Def

No team will win if it’s that big of a drop when one of their top-2 guys isn’t on the floor. A big reason — might arguably be the only reason — for that is playing Dewayne Dedmon. I wouldn’t say the numbers are because of the short sample size or any flukey noise from some outliers. It’s tough to make something of the bench when the player’s minutes with everyone are one of the worst in the league.

As much blame as you can put on the poor bench, there has been another glaring issue — the offense sucks. A part of that has been because of the lack of shooting and role players underperforming compared to last year.

The Heat were dealing with more injuries last year, yet they were able to stay afloat because there wasn’t any significant drop-off in either the offense or the defense. You can thank the historic shooting for that.

I’ve touched on the Heat’s poor offense, especially without Butler. This isn’t anything new for the Heat this year, but the only reason their offensive struggles weren’t as dire last year is that it was masked by league-best shooting. So, when every one of your shooters regresses, that makes those issues flare up.

But when thinking about the offense and shooting, especially in the regular season, the shooting helps with the floor. I’d say this was one of the main reasons why they are in the play-in currently. An average 3pt shooting would put them way ahead of bottom-five offense and that would add up to a couple of wins here and there.

That’s where I think the record is much worse than it is. It doesn’t solve their issues magically. It doesn’t change the view I had on them before the season and it wouldn’t change my mind on them for the playoffs, but those couple of wins would have them comfortably in the top 6.

Their defense, however, has been top 10 for most of the entire year. If there’s anything you’re going to bet on, bet on the Heat having a top-10 defense each year. It’s quite remarkable that Erik Spoelstra finds a way to make things work with any player on the court.

Look at what they’re doing when it comes to their rim protection:

All of this makes me think back about how the Heat were seen in the previous off-season. The same issues that are apparent now were meant to be the issues then — lack of depth, Butler missing time, and other vets not playing significant minutes either. They were also seen as a bigger threat in the playoffs than in the regular season.

I feel this is the team that everyone thought last year was. When thinking about it, it does make sense. During last year’s regular season, a lot of things went well with the hot shooting and players exceeding expectations.

But this team going forward can still be a contender with a move here and there. Even if you account for Dedmon’s absurd decline, injuries, and the decline in shooting, this team would probably be just above average still on the outside looking in when it comes to contending with the best.

That’s where the trade deadline comes in. The top core on this team is good enough to compete — it’s the slight improvements around the edges that need to happen. They don’t require a trade for an All-Star caliber player.

Their biggest need is a starting four and another wing off the bench that can be Adebayo’s backup. That’s it. Any two combinations would significantly improve the team:

  • Jarred Vanderbilt
  • Bojan Bogdanovic
  • Kelly Olynyk
  • Mo Bamba
  • Kyle Kuzma
  • Dorian Finney-Smith
  • Nicholas Batum
  • Robert Covington

Now, the chance of making such a trade package is a different conversation. It will be interesting to see how Pat Riley will try to finesse his way around, but given his track record with these kinds of trades, it’s possible.

The actual transactional talk is a different conversation compared to the on-court stuff. When it comes to that, they’re not far off. They were one shot away from the finals with many, many things going wrong — Lowry was injured, Herro was injured later on, and historically bad shooting. And somehow, they were still in every series competing.

This year, the core is better. Adebayo and Herro have taken huge steps forward and have both grown individually. Oladipo has been looking more confident each game and might just be the main x-factor this year. There are still some questions going forward even with the main core, particularly about Lowry and some offensive issues, but they are fixable. And as long as Butler is healthy for the playoffs, it’s difficult to bet against him anymore.