Miami Heat Mid-Season Review – What’s Been Going on With the Heat

Insight4 weeks ago16 min readJohn Jablonka

I must admit, this was not what I was expecting from the Miami Heat this season. I wasn’t expecting them to come out worse than they were a year ago.

Somehow, the Heat find themselves with a 24-22 record with a -2.0 net rating per Cleaning the Glass. MINUS 2.0. That puts them worse than the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, all of whom have worse records than them. That -2.0 puts them around the same range as the Utah Jazz, Atlanta Hawks, and the Toronto Raptors. That is not a good company to surround yourself with. They’re also ranked 23rd on offense and 14th on defense. Again, not a recipe for a contender — though there are many factors in play here.

Yet again, they find themselves in a hole where it’s looking awfully likely that they’ll be fighting for a play-in spot and have to go through all of that to attempt to have a run. And despite them being in that situation last year where they did make a run to the playoffs, it’s still not something to bank on.

It does feel that the Heat’s incredible gift of overachieving has distorted the reality of what is realistic. What they’ve done isn’t normal and that shouldn’t be expected because even when they did that last year, the margin of error was almost 0 — they had a +0.9 net rating in the playoffs. That wasn’t an easy journey and it easily could’ve been a first-round exit.

But how exactly did we get here?

How did we get here where the Heat have a worse offense relative to average than last season where they couldn’t hit anything from deep?

How did we get here where their strong defensive identity hasn’t been that strong?

How did we get here where they’ve finally made a mid-season trade to attempt to address their issues?

How did we get here where Jimmy Butler is playing like he’s the third-best player on this team?

So many things to unpack here. And so many things are to blame here. The season that they’ve been having isn’t a result of a single mistake, player, or change. Some of the issues have been nagging them for the last three years. Some of the issues happen as a result of a sudden change.

This hasn’t been a great season. It’s been another unhealthy season when it comes to the main guys on the team. It’s been another season of decline with certain players. More injuries. Questionable decision-making. Questionable rotations. Regression in their defense. The team becoming stale — honestly, outside of a few positives, this hasn’t been an encouraging season whether it’s to win a championship now or setting themselves up for the upcoming years.

So, let’s have a mid-season-ish season review of what the hell is going on with the Miami Heat.

  • Butler’s regression
  • Adebayo & Herro’s increased offensive load
  • The “bench Herro” conversation
  • Trading for Rozier
  • Serious defensive concerns

Butler isn’t Good Enough

You can’t start this season talking about what’s wrong and why they’ve been underachieving without starting from the top.

When looking at why things have been the way they’ve been is simply looking at the season that Jimmy Butler has had. This hasn’t been the same Butler that we know.

Some of his box-score stats will tell you that it’s basically what he’s been doing the last few seasons but it’s been different.

This is Butler’s estimated plus-minus over the years. Go ahead and see if you can see any difference this year. Or looking at specifically his defensive impact here:

Maybe we’ll have a look at his rolling average this season vs last season. So far in this season, he’s had 20 games of +2.0 EPM or lower — he’s had 16 all year last year.

All of this shows that he hasn’t been the same player as he was last year. He literally was having career-high years in multiple metrics and efficiency last year, whereas now, he’s having a career-low.

Related to this, this has also been his lowest season in Miami when it comes to touches and time of possession. Starting with touches in 2020:

  • 71 → 77 → 69 → 63 → 57

And his time of possession:

  • 5.4 → 6.0 → 5.0 → 4.6 → 4.1

We always joke about Butler coasting and trolling in the regular season but we have, quite frankly, never seen this. This hasn’t felt like his usual coasting. We’ve seen him do that and still be engaged without treating himself like the third-best player on the team. If this was how it usually is, that would show up in all of the impact metrics too.

For the first time in five years, it does look like there’s a decline of some sort. Whether it’s by choice or his body simply not allowing him, there’s a significant difference. He is getting up in age and all of this makes sense to conserve your energy for the playoffs. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s been bad.

This is also not excusing his play. It’s been bad. Period. And all of the Heat’s issues(on offense mostly) start here. They are overly reliant on a player who’s 34 years old with the knees of someone who’s 50. That’s not a good recipe for a team. That’s kind of why the need for the star was HUGE in the off-season. Getting Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, or Donovan Mitchell was a necessity more than anything else. They needed someone who could carry an offense.

As a result, this is where all of the Heat’s issues start because of what it means they have to do because of this.


Forcing Bam & Herro to Bigger Roles

What all of that meant was that someone else had to step up and that landed on both Adebayo and Herro. They are treated as if they’re both number one and number two on offense and that hasn’t worked out well. That’s the biggest reason(as a result of Butler coasting) why the Heat’s offense is even worse than last year.

Erik Spoelstra has jumped headfirst into forcing that higher usage onto them even when everyone is on the court. With Butler, Herro, and Adebayo on the court, here is their usage over the last three seasons(starting at 2022):

  • Herro: 23.7% → 23.7% → 27.1%
  • Adebayo: 21.9% → 22.9% → 25.6%
  • Butler: 28.2% → 23.6% → 20.8%

There’s no denying that is what’s happening and it’s also no coincidence that the offense is suffering because of that. There is no other explanation. Less of Butler will = worse offense, which is one of those issues that’s been nagging every single year. They’ve been overly reliant on Butler in each season to where it’s hurting them now where he can’t carry them through this(though that’s reasonable and I’m willing to take that route over what happened in 2021).

It’s no surprise that the offense without Butler on the court falls off, even with Adebayo and Herro on the court — it’s 105.4 for this season in 330 minutes.

That’s just because both Herro and Adebayo aren’t those players on offense. Take Adebayo without Butler over the years:

As he got more responsibility on offense and more self-creation, both efficiency and rim pressure dropped significantly. That will have a negative impact on the overall offense.

Then you combine that with Herro too:

The Heat are running over 17 possessions a game scoring around 0.95 points per possession. I don’t have to tell you to know that isn’t going to be good in 2024.

At this point, after getting a large enough sample of what’s been happening, I don’t think there’s any other conclusion that the offense struggling isn’t because of this sudden shift. Now, at the same, this isn’t blaming them individually either. It’s not their fault that they aren’t ready or have the relevant skills to be put in that role, but they are forced into it for whatever reasons may be.

On this note, because it’s also related to all of this is what they’ve been going away from — what Butler’s limited usage and an increase in usage for those two mean for the rest of the team.

After being known as the dribble handoff team and a movement offense, they’ve been going more towards a direction of stagnant, isolation/post-up offense.

Here’s their frequency(and ranks)of handoffs(starting in 2024)

  • 5.1%(12th) → 6.5%(4th) → 7.0%(2nd) → 7.8%(1st) → 8.8%(1st)

They’ve ranked lower than fourth for the first time. That is a huge change and it’s replaced with a worse, less efficient offense.

All of this kind of brings me to a conversation that’s been a thing on Heat Twitter.


The “bench Herro” conversation

At first, there was the whole Kyle Lowry conversation. How much he hurt the offense. How he was doing absolutely nothing on both ends. How he needed to be traded or at the least, how he needed to be benched.

Then a different side of Twitter will counter that by having Herro benched and that’s always met with some backlash from certain fans. That suggestion, somehow, always implies that everything is Herro’s fault and he needs to be punished.

Instead, I see this more as a way to make every other piece fit better. But this is also a very difficult question BECAUSE WE DON’T KNOW WHAT BUTLER WE’RE GETTING — that matters and changes everything.

That’s what makes this whole season so weird to talk about and even weirder to predict. We have a weird best player who even in his better years was known for trolling. In an ideal world, where Butler is the guy taking up most of the touches, what needs to be around him changes a lot.

Regardless, the whole conversation around Herro off the bench has to do with the rotations and limiting certain lineups whilst expanding others. It’s all to do with playing Duncan Robinson with the starters. That’s all it is

The trio of Butler, Robinson, and Adebayo has worked perfectly on offense over the years. Their offensive rating & relative offense to league average:

  • 2020: 118.8 ORTG(+7.6 better than average)
  • 2021: 115.6(+2.8)
  • 2022: 114.0(+1.5)
  • 2024: 119.5(+3.2)

Whereas the trio of Butler, Herro, and Adebayo:

  • 2020: 116.1(+4.9)
  • 2021: 110.6(-2.3)
  • 2022: 110.5(-2.0)
  • 2023: 116.8(+1.5)
  • 2024: 115.5(-0.8)

There has to come a time when this can’t be ignored AND going completely away from it. They’ve been slowly going away from it in each season, which I also don’t understand at all. But what makes this even more confusing is when Herro was out, that lineup was playing 17 minutes per game and had a 119 offensive rating. Since Butler came back, that has dropped to less than four minutes. WHY?

That’s another reason I feel like the offense is struggling — it’s forcing players who don’t fit together to play more together and going away from what worked.


The Rozier Trade

Now, this also brings us to one of the biggest things in this season — trading for Terry Rozier. This was a significant trade, in fact, it was the first trade in a long, long while. As of now, three games into it, that hasn’t worked out the way it was envisioned, but it’s still too early to even comment on this.

There are still rotations to play around with, Rozier getting used to new teammates, and seeing how to fit in without hijacking the offense, and the others also getting used to a very different guard.

Rozier is nothing like Lowry. He’s a much different type of guard with a different IQ, different mindset, and different ability. That changes things in how everyone else will play.

Right now, we’re not seeing a lot of Rozier-Adebayo PNRs. We’re not seeing a lot of Rozier dominating the ball and getting to work. We’re also seeing a lot of Rozier with Butler. Because of that, the offense hasn’t looked any better. The offense hasn’t looked any different either. But at the same time, there is potential in all of this. There’s a world where everyone gets acclimated, everyone gets put in the right roles, the right rotations get worked out, and we see all of this fit perfectly because it should!

The offense should work out with all of this, but that all depends on Butler. The ideal offense revolves around Butler having a high usage. It revolves around him being the guy that we know he can be — without also needing to be Jordan, just be better. When you combine that kind of Butler, with everyone else improved skillset, plus new additions, this should work out in the end.


Sigh, But What About the Defense

Finally, going away from offense. This feels like a much bigger issue than the offense. There is stuff to work on there, there are adjustments, there are different rotations, there is the Butler factor, there is Rozier… there is stuff to consider.

With the defense, however, it’s like where is the fix? There’s even less margin of error. They’re small. There’s no size. There are not many players to guard up. Their perimeter defense is as bad as it’s been. There’s less effort. There’s less grit. There’s less grind. There’s less culture.

That’s the issue with the defense. Some of it can easily be improved with more effort because man, some of the plays have been something else and it’s nothing to do with personnel or ability.

In 2024, I’ve seen some of the worst defensive possessions from the Heat in a long while. It’s like sometimes they don’t want to play defense. Everyone always says defense is half-effort. They’ve never been elite defensively when it comes to ability or physicals but they made up for it by fighting. That “fire” feels like it’s been extinguished.

Some of these issues have been here already last year. Their defense was relying a lot on forcing turnovers, which is something that has also been dropping — related to effort, too.

One of the main differences to me, though, is how they’ve been switching less and less. This is something I’ve talked about before and I get the rationale behind that. Switching defense is how they’ve had elite defenses even with similar personnel but that takes a toll on the players and that could bleed into other areas. That shouldn’t be the team’s primary coverage for 82 games.

But without the personnel to run anything else, there will be short-term losses in doing so. Their defense will suffer. But I think that’s a tradeoff their willing to take.

Because we have seen them flip the switch on defense in the playoffs. As long as there’s Adebayo, that raises a lot on defense. When you add Butler(who is also having a career low in his defensive impact metrics) bouncing back, that should again improve.

BUT. It’s getting worrying. I don’t know how much he can save that. The Heat have so many options to hunt and exploit. There are a lot of holes that they need to cover and it just puts them in such a disadvantage because they can cover hole number one, but then need to cover hole number 2, 3, 4 and so on. There’s only so much room for error there.

If there’s anything this season that really worries me is this because outside of a trade, I don’t see them flipping the switch on that end that will fix a lot of the issues.


Overall thoughts & looking ahead

Phew. This has been a long 44 games. It has been an up-and-down season with the slow start, the win streak, losing Adebayo, getting guys back healthy only for Butler to get injured, and finally getting everyone back only to be worse.

And when thinking about this season, everything is so hard to analyze. I always find myself saying when looking at any kind of stat is the Heat are weird and this doesn’t make sense.

The Heat are weird and don’t make sense. That’s my takeaway from this season.

It’s tough to be a normal team when your best player is behind two others in usage and touches.

It’s tough to be a normal team when the 2 players that run the offense end possessions with inefficient shots and aren’t suited for the role.

It’s tough to be a normal team when everyone is playing in different roles and above what they’re good at on both ends of the floor.

There’s no other team that does this. You don’t see Stephen Curry behind Jonathan Kuminga and Klay Thompson in usage. Or you don’t see the Thunder run things through Josh Giddey and Isaiah Joe mostly on offense.

That’s why it’s so hard to get a feel for this team because what they are now may not matter in a few months time and I don’t think that’s unreasonable to think. However successful that is, I don’t think it’s wild to assume Butler will take over in April — whether or not he does a good job is a different conversation.

But until that does happen, we’re left with this weird team. In the short term, there will be these losing streaks because they’re not playing like a good team. That doesn’t mean, however, that it won’t change. And all of that still depends on Butler. As it is in the last two seasons, everything hinges on Butler. It’s that simple.

As for what’s to come next, let’s hope some switches are hit. Changes are NEEDED. The easiest change is Butler stepping up to the top 15 standards. That alone changes everything for this team. But we also know that’s most likely not happening.

There are other ways to change this around. There should be a trade happening to focus on players that fit the offense with Butler and Adebayo, plus more size that can guard up. There should be rotation changes that involve Robinson more. There should be offensive changes that bring Rozier more on the ball to run the offense through him. there should be changes to certain players’ approach to offense and their overall usage. There are ways to fix things or at least make them better.

I’m still leaving out hope. There are routes to go down where things will look better. But at the same time, I kind of have less faith in them doing those things as time goes on. At this moment, it’s just wait and see.