Preseason Postmortem: 4 Key Trends & Questions Heading Into Heat’s Season Opener

Insightlast year6 min readJuan Carlos Pardiño

It’s foolhardy to read too much into the preseason. Coaches are trying out different combinations of players, experimenting with a variety of play styles, and seeing what they have on the back end of their bench for most of it. However, preseason play can contain some glimpses of what’s to come, and it can help us formulate some questions that are yet to be answered. Here are some of the trends that stood out to me and some questions I have heading into the season.

1. Trend: The starting unit looks good, and Bam and Herro seem poised to lead it

Coach Spoelstra treated the preseason finale versus the New Orleans Pelicans as a dress rehearsal for the starters. We saw a lineup of Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler, Caleb Martin, and Bam Adebayo share the floor for long stretches of the first, second, and third quarters of that game. Of significant note: Adebayo and Herro led all starters with 15 and 12 field goal attempts, respectively.

The texture of Bam’s involvement on offense was particularly different. Typically, we’ve seen Adebayo triggering dribble handoffs, rolling hard to the basket or operating out of the short roll, and creating out of the post only as a tertiary option. The clips below showcase a much wider arsenal of offensive weapons. Bam was bringing the ball up and flowing into pick ‘n’ pops with Kyle Lowry; he initiated in transition with more intent; he drew a whopping 12 attempts at the free-throw line in just 25 minutes, most of which came in ISO sets. The team seems aligned in its effort to run more quality offense through Bam.

A few more promising trends included Caleb Martin’s activity as a driver, Kyle Lowry being the glue guy who grabs boards, draws charges, and sets the table for others, and Tyler Herro showcasing refined offensive skills as well as an obvious commitment to working on the defensive end.

Ahead of the season opener, I am not worried about this starting unit.

2. Who will replace Herro’s bench production?

Many answered this question by simply stating: Victor Oladipo. Yet, either Oladipo deliberately kept the intensity low this preseason or we cannot expect him to shoulder the load of bench offense quite like the reigning Sixth Man of the Year did last season. I predict that the bench will be potent, but that succeeding will mean more of an ensemble effort.

Among the bench players, one individual who showcased some of the work he put in this off-season was Duncan Robinson. Clips like these below demonstrate a greater capacity for creating offense off the bounce and a diminished reliance on DHOs. I predict that on some nights, he will carry the bench; on others it will be Max Strus; on others it will be Gabe Vincent; on others it will be Victor Oladipo; and so forth. We should also keep an eye out for how Spoelstra staggers the starters early in the season.

3. Trend: Nikola Jović.

My goodness does the 19-year old rookie look ready to go. Jović blew me away with his preseason play. While we should be careful not to take too much away from these games (and remember that there will be ups and downs with such a young player), I am convinced that the Heat hit a homerun with this pick. On the offensive end of the floor, he can already competently score and playmake in a wide variety of sets and situations.

He not only fits seamlessly into the Heat’s faster-paced drive-and-kick attacks, but also seems comfortable navigating motion sets, working with shooters in dribble hand-offs, and picking and popping. While it’s wiser to advise patience with a rookie, there is a close-possible-world in which Jović forces his way into the nightly rotation.

4. Who will emerge as this season’s backend of the bench surprise?

My answer to this question: Jamal Cain.

A contending team needs as many rangy wings who can guard multiple positions, snatch rebounds, and pop threes from several spots on the floor as it can get. Cain checked all of these boxes in the preseason (and then some). Though I’d like to see him share the floor with some of the Heat’s higher-end rotation players, on paper he is an ideal fit alongside the likes of Butler, Adebayo, and Herro. Heading into the season, I will also be keeping an eye on Haywood Highsmith’s and Omer Yurtseven’s involvement.