Full-Strength Heat Can Contend Once Again


After failing to secure the services of seven-time All-Star Damian Lillard, the Miami Heat are once again flying under the radar in the Eastern Conference.

Many are already talking about a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks after both teams bolstered their rosters this offseason.

Boston added the likes of Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis while Milwaukee came out of nowhere in the Lillard sweepstakes to form one of the best duos in the league.

Unlike Boston and Milwaukee, Miami didn’t make any sexy moves this offseason. After losing Max Strus and Gabe Vincent to free agency, Miami signed Josh Richardson and Thomas Bryant — both on minimum deals. Therefore, nobody is really talking about the defending Eastern Conference Champions.

That’s the way the Heat like it, though.

They don’t care about what anybody on the outside thinks and they believe that they will compete as long as they have Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo on the roster with Erik Spoelstra at the helm. The Heat have the most playoff wins and finals appearances of any team in the league since Butler arrived in Miami and they clearly trust their core.

After defeating the Pistons on opening night, the Heat have a chance to make a statement with games against Boston and Milwaukee coming up. Unfortunately, Miami will be without both Josh Richardson and Haywood Highsmith on the road trip— meaning that Kyle Lowry and Kevin Love will continue to start at the point-guard and power-forward spots, at least for the time being.

But that will most likely change when the rotation is at full strength. Let’s see what that looks like.

Point Guard: Josh Richardson

Kyle Lowry took just one field-goal attempt in 32 minutes against the Pistons.

That isn’t going to cut it.

Josh Richardson isn’t the pure point guard that Lowry is but could handle a de-facto point-guard role.

Richardson’s best basketball came during his first stint with Miami and his perimeter defense should be a big asset for this Heat team. He is a better fit with Herro in the backcourt and they will likely try to avoid playing Lowry, Herro and Love together like they did in the season opener. Butler and Adebayo are elite defensively but that’s asking a lot of them to cover up three negative defenders. 

Lowry played his best basketball last season after a move to the bench— running his own unit. Pushing the pace with a bench unit that includes Duncan Robinson, Thomas Bryant and Jaime Jaquez, Jr. would be a much better fit for Lowry.

Richardson won’t be asked to do too much with Butler, Adebayo and Herro initiating much of Miami’s offense. 

“It’s not too difficult,” Richardson said. “It’s quick. Space and pace. It’s not like I’m just walking down calling plays every time.”

Richardson — the better athlete, defender and shooter — should get the starting nod when healthy.

Shooting Guard: Tyler Herro

After surviving another year of trade talks, Tyler Herro enters his fifth season with the Heat, and he seems to be more motivated than ever.

“He wants to prove that he can be a major lever that impacts winning,” Spoelstra said after Herro’s 30-point outing against Memphis.

Herro is seeing his first action since breaking his hand in the first game of the NBA Playoffs against the Bucks. 

“It’s preseason I get it, but our offense looks a lot different when he’s on the court,” Spoelstra said.

Herro averaged 26 points per game in the preseason on 49% shooting from the field and 43% from behind the arc. The 23-year-old seems to be much more intentional in the way he is attacking the basket and trying to get to the free throw line. The Kentucky product seems poised to make another leap this season. 

In the season opener, Herro forced his shot, finishing an inefficient 7-of-24 from the field. But those shots will start to fall. One of the biggest takeaways from Miami’s opener is Herro’s activity on the defense. Herro had three steals in the first half— last season he didn’t register his third steal until the seventh game of the year. His lateral quickness also looks much improved.

It’s just game one, but if it’s a sign of things to come then the Heat will be very pleased with his strides on the defensive side of the ball.

Small Forward: Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler has been a superstar ever since he arrived in Miami and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Butler had the most efficient season of his career last season – shooting 54% from the field – as his game continues to get better with age. Butler is a special postseason performer who takes his game to a different level when the lights shine brightest but make no mistake about it, he’s an outstanding regular-season player as well.

Butler averaged 26 points per game on 72% TS after the All-Star break and led all small forwards in estimated plus minus – dragging the Heat across the finish line before an improbable Finals run.

Power Forward: Kevin Love

When Miami signed Kevin Love off the buyout market last season, nobody could’ve predicted the impact he brought.

Love started 18 of Miami’s 20 playoff games and shot 38% from downtown. He played a big role in Miami’s Finals run – with his ability to space the floor, leadership and of course, his outlet passes. Love can still give Miami a solid 15-to-20 minutes a night and opened the season with a vintage 13-10 outing against Detroit. 

Caleb Martin or Highsmith will likely replace Love in closing lineups for Miami as the season goes on but the Heat like Love’s fit with Bam to open games. 

Center: Bam Adebayo

Beyond seeing a minute increase after becoming the starter in the 2019-20 season, Bam Adebayo has never taken a massive leap in any facet of his game.

He is unique in the fact that he gradually gets better every season. Adebayo eclipsed 20 points per game for the first time in his career last season and is consistently knocking down mid-range jumpers– a shot that he was dared to shoot in the early stages of his career. 

Adebayo — who led the Heat with 22 points against the Pistons — always comes back better. 

Despite not having won a Defensive Player of the Year award, Adebayo is arguably the best defensive player in the league. Adebayo leads the league in isolations defended and points allowed per possession since becoming a starter. Adebayo can switch, drop and play zone.

He does it all for Miami on the defensive end of the ball and winning that elusive DPOY award is something Adebayo will continue to chase. 

About Frankie Richetti

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