Rotation Repairs Igniting Heat After Frigid Start


The Miami Heat reached a crisis on February 3rd with its seventh loss in eight games. Worse, it was a setback to lowly Washington without Russell Westbrook.

Two nights earlier, the Heat blew a late lead and lost in overtime against a young Charlotte Hornets team.

This is the team that was two games away from hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy a year ago.

Unfortunately, Miami opened the season playing brutal basketball. No rebounding, a lack of cohesiveness, turnover-prone ball handlers, and a blatant lack of effort on the defensive end put the Heat in No. 13 in the East at 7-14. And while COVID-19 and injuries fueled Miami’s early struggles, even a healthy Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro performed abhorrently.

Until February 5th.

On that proud day, Miami rolled Washington. Then they beat the Knicks in a pair of games before defeating Houston to begin their seven-game West Coast road trip. The team doesn’t look perfect by any means, but this four-game win streak moved the team in the right direction.

What sparked the sudden change? Erik Spoelstra’s rotational moves played the most substantial part. The rotations are a last attempt to recreate the 2020 Miami magic, which will turn the team around if they remain consistent.

Sixth-Man Herro

A shock to Heat fans arrived when Tyler Herro came off the bench in place of Goran Dragic on February 5th. While the move puzzled some, it was a genius play by Spoelstra. Herro is a born-scorer and scores at a high rate. Where he struggled in the opening part of the season was in transition to becoming the starting point guard.

Tyler was often turnover-prone, passing up open shots to try to be a facilitator. Miami needs Herro to be ultra-confident and ultra-aggressive, just as he was in the 2020 postseason. This simple rotation move will put Herro right back into a comfortable position to score at will.

And he did. Immediately.

In his first game off the bench, Herro burst to 10 quick first-quarter points, hitting a pull-up three in his first touch of the game. Then he pulled up a no-hesitation three off a beautiful find from Jimmy. Tyler looked comfortable and aggressive, something only seen in spurts this season. We can attribute that comfort to him finding a familiar role– one that suits all his strengths as a scorer.

Herro has been actively seeking his shot, and while it hasn’t always been falling, his confidence is slowly coming back. Despite playing a reserve role, Herro remains a closer. His clutch shots became second nature to Heat fans in the New York games, with a dagger in February 9th’s win.


Herro averages 16.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game this year. He’s the driving force of the bench unit until heard otherwise.

Giving KNunn Minutes

One of Spoelstra’s shortcomings in Miami’s struggles was leaving second-year man Kendrick Nunn on the pine, just after he found a rhythm.

This shortcoming changed on Feb. 5th with Nunn’s monster night. He tallied 25 points and eight rebounds off the bench, shooting 11/17 from the floor.

Nunn was versatile, seeking points from all three levels on the floor. His jump shot looks improved, and his floater is automatic at this point. Why Spoelstra hadn’t turned towards Nunn since January 28th remains unknown, but now he’s too productive to ignore. Avery Bradley’s absence reopened a role for Nunn to become a crucial rotation player again.

Nunn moved into a starting role after a late-game ankle injury to Dragic in the win against Washington. Kendrick scored 16, 11, 16 and 23 in the four games marking his return to the starting lineup. Nunn started in all of his 67 regular-season appearances last season, playing a critical role in Miami’s success. The ex-Santa Cruz Warrior averages 13.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game this season.

PG Jimmy Buckets

The switch to move Herro to the bench also affected Jimmy Butler. Butler acted as a primary ball-handler in the starting group, creating for others as he did at the highest level in the NBA Finals. With an array of scorers and shooters around him, Jimmy penetrated and kicked to a group finding its shooting form. With Dragic out, Miami needs Jimmy to be the roster’s primary playmaker until he returns.

Butler returned to an (arguably) top-10 NBA player form since recovering from COVID-19, a battle that caused him to lose 12 pounds. With plenty of near triple-double performances, Butler finally messed around and got one in yesterday’s win at Houston. Butler scored 27 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished out 10 assists in the win.

Riding the Hot Hand

In each of Miami’s four wins, someone unexpectedly got hot from three. Spoelstra noticed this and continues to ride the hot hand in the rotation, even if it means fewer minutes for guys who traditionally play more.

Kelly Olynyk has sizzled. The veteran stretch five scored 20 in a win against the Knicks on 7-of-10 shooting in 31 minutes. He also had 17 in just 21 ticks on 6/8 shooting in the win against Washington. Olynyk’s play has been inconsistent, but he’s a significant part of the rotation and the offense when he’s on fire.

Last Thursday, the hot hand was Max Strus. The DePaul product scored 21 off the bench on 5/8 from distance in 25 minutes. Strus has been a sharpshooter lately and arguably Miami’s most reliable shooter. Spoelstra is getting value from this two-way player, as Strus also scored 19 against Charlotte on February 1st.

Strus shows he isn’t just a shooter, though, as he delivered a significant dunk on John Wall in the 3rd quarter on Thursday. The undrafted shooter coming to Miami on a two-way deal trope is becoming standard for Miami (see Duncan Robinson).

Moving Forward

With simple rotation moves, Miami is back in the playoff hunt. With Herro as an elite bench scorer, Nunn as a critical point guard piece, Jimmy Butler having the floor spread to create for others, and a hot hand shooter of the night, the Heat is back. Issues remain for the struggling franchise, but this is a step in the right direction. Miami sits 9th in the East, a half-game out of 8th. The 11-14 Heat travel to Utah on Saturday with a chance to extend their streak to five against the best team in basketball.

Follow us on Twitter @HeatLead for the latest Heat news and insight. 

About Conor Fagan

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