Season Preview: Do The Heat Have Another NBA Finals Run Within Them?

Commentarylast year9 min readJohn Jablonka

I don’t think many people would’ve predicted that the Miami Heat were almost one shot away from making the finals for the second time in three years — per 538 projections, they had a four percent chance of making the NBA Finals before the regular season.

But somehow, they were this close:

And they were this close despite all of the circumstances — Kyle Lowry getting hurt, Tyler Herro not playing half of the series, the team forgetting how to shoot, and pretty much the entire team dealing with a multitude of injuries.

Although they weren’t able to push through and make the Finals (and even if they did, I’m confident in saying they’d lose to the Golden State Warriors), this past season was a success.

Remember when this team was predicted to be around the fifth seed, but would turn it up in the playoffs? I do. Because that’s also exactly what I thought would happen.

The Heat, however, had other ideas and ended up being the number one seed!

This was genuinely one of the best Heat seasons I’ve watched. The way they adapted to any situation and thrived was elite. But this is all in the past now.

Being arguably one shot away from the NBA Finals holds little to no weight heading into next season. A team can just as easily fall out of contention as they did to get there.

And the Heat’s offseason makes this situation interesting. The only actual addition (I say “actual” because Victor Oladipo is technically going to be an addition, too) was Nikola Jovic. They lost P.J. Tucker and made no moves to address the frontcourt.

When you look at it this way, it’s easy to argue that the Heat got worse. They lost one of their best defenders, didn’t address any issues they had in the playoffs, and now their starting power forward is going to be, what? Jimmy Butler? Caleb Martin? Bam Adebayo?!

Hold on for a minute! This does sound bad on paper, but let’s relax and go through exactly what’s in store for the Heat this season.

What’s In Store This Season?

Butler is coming off one of the best playoff runs in recent years and one of the best in Heat’s history. You can’t name many players who were better than him in the playoffs last year.

If you’ve forgotten, here are his stats:

28.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.7 assists on 60.4% true shooting and on 55.0/33.8/84.1 (2PT, 3PT, FT) splits.

The way he stepped up his game to carry the Heat at times was elite. Kind of like a top-5 caliber player, but he was still somehow ranked 17th by ESPN — but that’s a whole other conversation.

We know what we’re going to get from Butler at this point. In each of his seasons with Miami, it seems like he gets better. And even when looking at team stats over the past three seasons, per PBP, the Heat are plus 5.6 in 5635 minutes with him on the court.

I don’t expect a regression or drop down in either production or efficiency. He will, once again, be an All-NBA caliber player for this team. If there’s one thing to bet on, it’s Butler being Butler again.

Adebayo has firmly established himself as a world-class defender, arguably the best defender in the league.

In the past three seasons, he’s made an All-Defensive team and ranked top-5 in Defensive Player of the Year voting all three times. But perhaps, it’s time to be the league’s DPOY — and it may be his year.

Whatever the Heat want to do on defense works because Adebayo is on the court. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Heat had a 105.7 defense (93rd percentile) with him on the court.

He’s one of the most versatile defenders, can lock up any position, and be effective in different schemes. In these playoffs, we’ve seen him go one-on-one against players like Trae Young, Jaylen Brown, James Harden, and Joel Embiid.

What even is this play?!

As great as he’s been on defense, though, the main questions surrounding him are on the offensive end. I’m not saying we should expect him to be a 23-25 point scorer, handle the ball often, and consistently create for himself. To do that and have this elite defense has only been accomplished by a handful of players in NBA history.

There is, however, a need for him to improve as a shooter — not necessarily from deep, though. He had a down year as a shooter from the mid-range:

42.4 on 2.7 → 35.3 on 2.1

42.5 on 2.7 pull-ups → 36.5 on 2.4 pull-ups

Hopefully, there’s a bounce back, and this down year may have been more to do with his hand injury.

But arguably, the biggest question for this season is what leap can Herro make again? He had a very disappointing playoff run after being the Sixth Man of the Year. I don’t even mean his awful shooting — 22.9% on 4.7 3s — as the whole team couldn’t shoot, and sometimes you have runs where you miss shots.

There were two main issues in his game in the playoffs that will be key going forward:

  • Will he be able to provide rim pressure and improve his ability to get to the line?
  • Will his passing and decision-making, primarily off a pick-and-roll, improve?

Even in the regular season, Herro wasn’t a guy that was getting to the rim consistently. Per BBall-Index (BBI), amongst 32 rotation ball handlers, he ranked in the:

  • 64th percentile in drives per 75
  • 45th in total shots at rim per 75
  • 32nd in rim shot creation

Now, this isn’t exactly WOW! But this only got worse in the playoffs. His drives and shots from drives decreased by almost half. And his shots at the rim and in the paint decreased significantly — he did shoot a better percentage, though.

To be an impactful offensive player, there needs to be some rim pressure. You can’t only rely on making tough mid-range shots. Without sounding like a calculator nerd, that’s just not an efficient offense.

Another aspect that will have to improve if his role on the ball will increase is his decision-making and passing. Even in the regular season, the stats didn’t love him. Per BBI, amongst 136 on-ball guards and wings:

  • 38th percentile in passing efficiency
  • 76th in passing versatility
  • 38th in passing creation volume
  • 49th in passing creation quality
  • 41st in high-value assists per 75

And we’ve seen Herro in the playoffs get kind of flustered when having to deal with blitzes and traps. He made poor decisions, was slow to react, picked up his dribble too early, or simply threw the pass away.

So, these two improvements will be key for him and the team.

And to round up the top players, Lowry is an intriguing discussion. He also had a disappointing playoff run and it feels like that has entirely overshadowed the regular season he had.

Did you know in the last 31 games (since January 1st), he averaged around 12/4/7 on 64% true shooting?!

We’ve seen the off-season training he’s gone through to be in the best shape of his career. That will matter a lot. I don’t think Lowry’s washed. I don’t think he suddenly fell of the cliff. And he doesn’t have to meet some wild expectations to be elite for the team.

Although I said Herro’s leap is arguably the biggest question, Oladipo is the team’s biggest x-factor. His time with the Heat has been anywhere close to good. It’s been very, very underwhelming — having only played 12 total games in the past two regular seasons.

What makes him the x-factor is what he’s shown in the playoffs and what he could add once fully healthy. He was great as a point-of-attack defender and he can be the guy that provides consistent rim pressure.

He doesn’t have to be the Oladipo he was in Indiana. He doesn’t have to be an All-NBA caliber. He won’t be the team’s best, second, or third-best player. But if he can give the team something resembling what he did four years ago, this offense becomes much better.

Another glaring question this season is who’s going to play the four consistently?

Right now, Martin will begin the season in the starting lineup. And I don’t think this is as big of an issue, especially if it’s a short-term solution. The Heat can ride this out until the deadline, but if that doesn’t get answered after February and into the playoffs, then it’s going to be concerning.

It’s also going to be exciting to see Max Strus and Gabe Vincent potentially taking another leap. They established themselves as quality role players, who are also capable of stepping up when needed. Maybe there’s more this season.

And finally, what’s going to happen with Duncan Robinson? He was unplayable in the playoffs after having a really down year compared to his standard. But his shooting was still elite and that is needed over 82 games.

Robinson hasn’t been a playoff player, but that doesn’t mean what he does isn’t valuable or needed in the regular season, especially for this team. With all that said, though, I don’t think he should be on this team post the trade deadline.

So, on paper, it appears Miami didn’t improve while the rest of the league made moves. The Heat’s success is banking on internal improvements, particularly in Herro. But thinking about it, it’s not as bad as it seems. The Heat went as far as they did with almost everything going wrong for them.

I’d still be optimistic about their season, especially if they were able to make some moves happen to improve their front court. But as currently stands, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are a second-round exit team, with another chance of making the conference finals.