Preseason Postmortem: 4 Key Trends & Questions Heading Into Heat’s Season Opener
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.
In last night’s regular season dress rehearsal, we saw many new, promising trends with Bam’s offense. Same old scoring and playmaking in the roll. BUT we got more iso, more transition, more inverted PnP, and just faster decision-making. (Plus 12 FTA in 25 mins.)— optimistic Heat fan (@kellyoburner) October 13, 2022
A leap is coming pic.twitter.com/kOHminjaBW
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.
While Herro has certainly been a below average defender, I’ve always thought he’s better than the reputation he has among more casual Heat watchers— optimistic Heat fan (@kellyoburner) October 13, 2022
Hoping what we saw last night is indicative of some growth on that end. Active hands and physical defense from him will help a ton. pic.twitter.com/R7RyFD6HnH
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.
Duncan (and Max, though not clipped here) have looked a lot more willing to do more than hoist shots out of DHOs or off screens this pre-season. Again, regardless of the results, them two putting the ball on the deck is a trend that spells good things for our bench offense. pic.twitter.com/1VuVpbof46— optimistic Heat fan (@kellyoburner) October 7, 2022
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.
Exhibit B: Again, attracting a ton of defensive attention. 3 Nets with eyes on him when he reaches the arch. And he exploits that by using his height to read over the defense and find Duncan, who (of course) is doing the right thing and cutting to the basket unguarded. pic.twitter.com/hnMr2fRWC7— optimistic Heat fan (@kellyoburner) October 7, 2022
Nikola Jović has shown a promising combo of skill, versatility, and audacity this preseason. He’s comfortable taking his man off the bounce, pulling up, picking & popping, and making all kinds of passes. He reads the court in a way you can’t teach. Think the Heat found something. pic.twitter.com/EW7mPefvDX— optimistic Heat fan (@kellyoburner) October 8, 2022
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.
No buckets. Just 1 minute and 17 seconds of new Heat signee @jamalcain24 making the right read on defense, snatching offensive boards, and boxing out his man— optimistic Heat fan (@kellyoburner) October 9, 2022
The hard hat stuff stood out to me more than the ppg with him. Great signing for the Heat. pic.twitter.com/lIhh7XVFaH
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.