The Launching Pad: A Season in Review

Commentary2 months ago14 min readJohn Jablonka

It’s over! The 2022-23 regular season is finished and the Miami Heat have finished with a 44-38 record, good for the seventh seed in the East, and would be tied 12th for the best record in the league.

Now, that’s quite a step back from being the number-one seed last year. Going from a top-three record to the play-in is certainly something. It’s just unnecessary stress as a fan to even make the playoffs. But the Heat have no one to blame but themselves for it — they had way too many chances to lock up a top-six seed.

Well, that’s where the Heat are now and with the season over, it’s a good time to reflect on the season as a whole, see where things went wrong, and highlight important moments(both good and bad).

One sentence to Describe the Season

Consistently inconsistent and disappointing(in a way).

Although the Heat have over-achieved with what their record is compared to how they actually played, I’d still say this was quite a disappointing season because they could have been better without needing miracles.

Their record is misleading. They weren’t an above .500 team for the entire season. They didn’t play like one. Per Cleaning the Glass, they were 20th in net rating with minus -0.1. The only teams worse were all the lottery and tanking teams that you can think of, plus the Los Angeles Clippers.

Based on their net rating, they would be expected to win just under 41 wins, which seems about right. The reason they won more games is a lot of their games were in the clutch.

  • 54 games that were considered clutch(ahead or behind by 5 in the last 5 minutes)
  • 22 games +/- by 1 in the last 30 seconds
  • 30 games +/- 2 in the last 30 seconds
  • 38 games +/- 3 in the last 30 seconds
  • 24 games won by 5 or fewer points
  • 14 games won by 3 or fewer points
  • 14 games lost by 5 or fewer points
  • 8 games lost by 3 or fewer points

That’s 22 games decided by a single possession — let’s also not forget there were many game-winners being made too. Good teams don’t have this many close games decided in the last 30 seconds. Because it’s so hit or miss for a lot of those shots, they easily could have lost up to 10 games if the ball bounces the wrong way.

But the fact that they still found themselves in these games is rather surprising. The Heat weren’t meant to be this good. There is little to no evidence to suggest that a team this bad on offense should be this good.

You rarely see a team struggle as much as they did when it comes to shooting and with their offense in general and still be in the mix for a top-six seed.

A lot of the things that could’ve gone wrong for the Heat went wrong — shooting falling off at an absurd level, Kyle Lowry being injured, Victor Oladipo declining, the bench being non-existent, and players playing out of position.

And all of these things compound. Each issue is linked to another and another, which makes everything else worse. With so many limitations and struggles, they needed to adapt and somehow they managed to make it work as best as they could.

However, even though I didn’t expect them to be some elite team even as the season has been going on, they still underachieved what I expected from them. Despite all of those relevant factors mentioned earlier, they still blew so many chances that were all within reach.

Per CTG, they were 19-10 with a plus 3.4 net rating against the bottom 10 teams in net rating. There were many games where they played down to the competition that any average team should still easily beat.

Oh, and this isn’t even mentioning what happened during the trade deadline. They were obviously not going to make a splash or acquire anyone that’s an All-Star caliber player. But it was still disappointing to see them making zero moves. I would’ve loved even someone like Kelly Olynyk!

The only thing this team has shown is they are the most consistently inconsistent team in the league. There are nights that they come out and you think, wow they can compete with any of the top teams. Or they can come out and you’re considering that they should tank the season. It’s hard to predict what team will show up.

Shooting Bricks

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve talked about their poor shooting throughout the season. It’s such a simple thing but it’s pretty significant in 2023.

Shooting is one of the most important things for a team to win. Teams are:

  • 758-414(64%) when shooting above league average(36.1%)
  • 472-816(36%) when shooting league average or worse
  • 380-703(35%) when shooting at the 5th worst percentage or worse(34.4%)
  • 669-326(67%) when shooting at the 5th best percentage or better(37.8%)

Whether a whole season can flip whether the team is good at shooting from 3. Now, some people may argue that this should have been expected, as they’re banking on undrafted players being consistently good. That’s a fair argument, it was likely that they weren’t going to sustain that level of shooting. But I don’t think anyone was able to predict this level of drop-off.

It may not seem like a big deal but as you can see above, the difference of just over 3.4% over the entire season is a significant difference in the team’s winning percentage.

This is also not saying that they would have been some elite team or it would have fixed every other issue but it would’ve given them a larger room for error. There is zero room for error when you’re consistently missing good looks.

Because that last bit is the most annoying. The Heat were 25th in wide open 3pt percentage with 36.8% and 18th in open 3pt percentage with 34.3%. There are plenty of other issues with the team on offense and having them miss the only good looks that they can generate only makes things 100 times worse.

If there was only one thing that could’ve turned the team around is this.

What’s with the Defense?

For a team that was meant to lean offense, it’s strange to see them being 25th on offense and 7th on defense, per Cleaning the Glass.

With the departure of PJ Tucker and replacing him with Caleb Martin, it was a fair assumption that they would be a dip in the defense to have more of an offensive push.

Although they still managed to rank 7th for the entire season and were 2.3 points better than average(down from 3.1 last season), this wasn’t the same defense. It’s not to say this was a bad defense, but the general numbers are again misleading.

The Heat struggled in many areas on defense but picked up the slack in other areas. Though that should be a good thing! They’re adaptable and can make anything work with a bunch of different things.

Couper Moorhead has written about this many times that the Heat haven’t been great in the half-court man-to-man. At the beginning of the month, the Heat were 17th in that category and would be 27th post-All-Star break.

Another point was they relied a lot on forcing turnovers and zone(especially with Adebayo on). This was a big reason why they were able to stay afloat. And now, since the All-Star break, I don’t know how to feel about their defense.

They aren’t doing what they usually have done well. For the season, they are now 13th in opponent rim frequency(they’ve always been elite at limiting that) and the worst part is their defense at the rim is one of the worst. They allow opponents to shoot 69% at the rim.

Here are some of their defensive stats compared to pre vs post-All-Star:

  • 111.8 → 117.8 defensive rating
  • 55.8% → 57.4% opponent eFG
  • 16.8% → 14.9% opponent TOV
  • 24.9% → 26.1% opponent ORB
  • 68.2% → 71.7% opponent rim FG%
  • 44.9 → 49.3 opponent points in the paint
  • 11.9 → 12.3 opponent 2nd chance points
  • 12.7% → 13.5% opponent corner frequency

A lot of this has to do with the Heat changing up their offense. There’s been a lot more showing in the pick-and-rolls with Zeller and Adebayo. Their perimeter defense has been looking worse lately and teams have been smart with putting Adebayo on the perimeter.

But even going beyond that and the numbers, the team has been off with everything:

Poor closeouts, blow-bys, miscommunication, poor transition defense, no box-outs, and no effort. Everyone looked tired to be sharp on defense and it was the case with everyone.

Hopefully, that is more about fatigue and effort because there have been games where they have been elite on that end when locked in. They have shown that they can be a top 10 defense one way or another. It honestly doesn’t matter what you give them, they will find a way.

It’s honestly been impressive seeing them be this good on that end.

Lowry’s Injury

This was one of the most disappointing things to happen this year and one that had a significant effect. As much as slander he received throughout the year, he was still an important player for this, especially when he was healthy.

Before he started to miss some time, from the start of the season to December 14th, he averaged 12.1 points and 6.2 assists per 75 possessions on 52.5% eFG and 56.1% true shooting. He was a big reason why the Heat were in games when everyone else was getting injured.

Unfortunately, playing a guy that was 36 years old the fifth most minutes across that span wasn’t a good idea. Having an aging, small guard play over a thousand minutes in 28 games has some consequences. Because since then, he didn’t look right — his shot was off, couldn’t get by anyone, and struggled to finish at the rim.

That led him to miss 15 straight games. Since coming back, though, things have been looking better. It’s not how it was previously — and I don’t think he’ll go back to that either — but it’s still a significant improvement.

The Heat are plus 13.4 in 254 minutes with Lowry on where he’s averaging 13.1 points on 61.2% eFG and 66.9% true shooting. His shooting has come back and looks much better than he was before he got injured.

Despite him looking better and shooting better, I don’t see him having the same impact as he did before all of this but that’s what can happen to bet on an aging guard. Sometimes you hit well and they don’t get injured but often times you miss.

Butler is “the” Guy

One of the best things about this season has been seeing Butler play at an insane level. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say he’s had an All-NBA first level season — that’s how good he’s been.

When he tries, because that is an important qualifier here, he plays like a top 7 talent. Though I would say that this slight inconsistency and plenty of games with him playing as if he didn’t like basketball is what hurts him in any serious conversations for awards.

But, man, when he’s locked in, he is that guy.

Post ASB, he’s averaging 29.4 points and 6.7 assists per 75 possessions on a ridiculous 64.0% eFG and 71.4% true shooting. That scoring would rank him 10th in that span, but the efficiency would be first and the second-highest player isn’t close — Joel Embiid with 66.7%.

But what’s been even more surprising is he played 64 games! That’s the most since 2019. He was yet to crack 60 in Miami. This is a good sign.

He’s confidently shutting down any conversation that you can’t win with him as your top guy or that he might be declining. Each and every season in Miami, he’s got better.

He just had the most efficient scoring season of his career at age 33. There are slight dips in some areas, but as with any other elite player, he makes it up by being better elsewhere.

Adebayo’s & Herro’s Development

Lastly, despite a bit of an underachieving season, one of the only positives to look forward to regardless of the result was watching both Adebayo and Herro develop. Both have taken steps from last year.

This was the best season of Adebayo’s career. The jump on the offensive end was so significant. All of the criticisms before the season needing him to be more aggressive went out the window.

  • 5 → 11 30+pt games
  • 19 → 41 games with at least 15 shots

And the biggest change has been in the way he gets his points:

  • 3.5 → 2.8 post-up possessions
  • 20.4% → 15.3 post up frequency
  • 3.3 → 4.2 roller poss
  • 19.4% → 22.9% roller freq
  • 1.3 → 3.2 isolation poss
  • 7.5% → 17.2% isolation freq

Bam “no bag” Adebayo has got himself a pretty nice bag. His self-creation ability is night and day compared to last year. This led to the Heat running more of the offense through him.

Toward the end, the Heat made an emphasis to get him more involved:

And with him being used more, he’s seen way more help than he has so far in his career. Teams are sending early help on his rolls, having guys pre-rotate, and even doubles. Although the results haven’t always been exactly what you may have wanted, it’s still good to see him face these types of defenses.

Then there’s Herro, who became a full-on starter in his fourth season. He’s comfortably been the team’s third-best player throughout the seasons.

There have been improvements in his passing ability.

Throughout the season, you can notice he is making high-level reads and is making them quicker. That has honestly been one of the best things about watching him. He’s starting to see when the defenses come off to help to whip a pass to the corner.

Or his quicker reaction and processing speed to see when slight windows open:

There are still many other things that should be worked on, particularly when it comes to creating his own offense. However, this was still a pretty good development year when it comes to him as a player.

Looking Ahead

Finally, the Heat are currently in the play-in and will play the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday. I’m hoping that there won’t be any funny business, no clutch games, no blown leads, and especially no trolling.

If they do manage to get through the play-in, they will face the Boston Celtics and honestly, I like that matchup.

I don’t think this team is a contender. I don’t exactly have a lot of faith in this team making a deep run. But the one thing I do have is blind faith in Butler.

After witnessing two playoff runs from him, particularly last year, I have no reason to doubt him.

And hopefully, this time there will be some help on the offensive end. That’s what gives me hope for the playoff run. It honestly was just Butler on offense.

In games they all played, the Heat with:

  • Butler on: plus 7.4 in 629 minutes with a 114.5 offense
  • Butler off: minus 6.5 in 187 min with a 103.8 off
  • Adebayo and Herro on, Butler off: minus 14.9 in 75 min with a 93.5 off

These are ridiculously bad numbers when Butler sat and they still managed to get to the conference finals to force game seven. Now, hopefully, with a better Adebayo, better Herro, and some shooting luck, they can make a push again.