Miami Heat Early Season Outlook: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Miami Heat Early Season Outlook: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Justise Winslow Miami Heat

Two weeks have passed since the 2016-17 NBA season tipped off and fans are beginning to catch a glimpse of what they can expect from this new-look Miami Heat team heading into the future. So far, things have been up and down for coach Erik Spoelstra‘s ball club. While there have been flashes of playoff potential, the Heat have also displayed certain areas of weakness and inadequacy.

Here’s a brief breakdown of how the Heat have fared thus far in this young NBA season:

The Good

Goran Dragic and Wayne Ellington

  • This Heat Team Can Defend

Spoelstra has always preached a “defense-first” mentality. When the Big 3 were on top of the NBA world, they only managed to get to where they were by maintaining a consistent effort on the defensive end. Not much has changed on that front with this new team.

With Hassan Whiteside anchoring the defense, the Heat are currently eighth in the NBA in points allowed per game. They’re sixth in the league in defensive efficiency throughout their first six games. In today’s high-scoring, three-point shooting league, the team’s defensive efforts up to this point are commendable.

  • Whiteside and Dragic Are Meeting Expectations

After the departure of Dwyane Wade and the subsequent Chris Bosh fiasco that resulted in his exile from team’s activities, the Heat knew they needed to find leaders they could depend on offensively. Currently, Goran Dragic is averaging 18.0 points, 6.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. It should also be noted that the Slovenian guard is averaging 51.9 percent from beyond the arc, good for fifth in the NBA.

Meanwhile, Whiteside is continuing his dominant ways at center to the tune of 17.5 points, 13.8 and 2.5 blocks per game. His numbers in the latter two categories are good enough for top five in the league. Expect Miami to ride these two all season long.

  • Great Guard Play

It’s no secret that the Heat have a surplus of guards on the team right now, especially with the recent return of Josh Richardson to the lineup. The guards have been a bright spot for Miami this season. While Dragic may be leading the team in scoring, the $50 million man, Tyler Johnson, is not far behind in terms of production. Johnson has spent time at both guard positions this season and is averaging 14.3 points per game. Perhaps more impressively — he’s shooting 51.5 percent from the field, 47.1 percent from three and 93.8 percent from the free-throw line.

Before Richardson returned, offseason signee Dion Waiters was averaging more than 10 points per game as well.

Spoelstra is doing a solid job of finding ways to get all of his quick-cutting guards involved, and it’s paying off in terms of backcourt efficiency. It will be interesting to see how things shape up once Richardson gets into a flow where he starts playing quality minutes.

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The Bad

Dion Waiters Miami Heat

  • Offensive Struggles

Despite the fact that Miami had averaged 104.5 points in the preseason, the team has struggled to carry their high-scoring ways over to the regular season. Through six regular season games, the Heat are averaging a mere 96.3 points per contest, which is 28th in the NBA. 95+ points is evidently not very much in today’s game. Scoring consistently has been a problem in the past for the Heat, and it looks like it remains an issue thus far in 2016-17.

Granted, there is still time to shore things up. The return of Richardson along with the eventual return of sharpshooter Wayne Ellington should help the team hit the 100-point mark more often moving forward.

  • Identity Issues

Aside from their overall defensive mentality, the Heat are still struggling to establish a true identity this year. Spoelstra is still tinkering with lineup changes and the team is not showing much consistency in any one particular area.

“You really don’t know from day-to-day who’s going to be the scorer, the facilitator, the player of the game,” Whiteside recently told the media.

However, the early lack of identity was to be expected for this young Heat team. It can’t be very easy to establish an effective identity after years and years of relying on the likes of Wade, Bosh or even LeBron James to run the floor. It will take Miami time to assess their strong suits and establish the most viable identity.

Initially, it had sounded like the team’s goal was to establish a style of play in which Whiteside would handle everything down low, while Spoelstra surrounded him with shooters to help out on the wing. Technically, that is what the team has been doing, but Miami is struggling to knock down those three balls consistently. The team is shooting a mediocre 35.4 percent from beyond the arc. That 35.4 percent mark is good for 16th in the league, which makes it tough for the Heat to commit to the long ball as an integral piece of their offensive identity.

  • Power Forward Problems

It’s hard to replace a perennial All-Star like Bosh, but the Heat have been trying desperately to do just that by using a combination of versatile options at the four spot. Interestingly enough, Spoelstra has used Luke Babbitt in the starting four spot over preseason favorites Derrick Williams and James Johnson. So far, it hasn’t been a winning strategy.

Babbitt is averaging below 35 percent from the floor and has only made 11 of his 33 three-point attempts. Things can still turn around there, though. Babbitt can get hot at a moment’s notice, but as it stands, the production is not there. James Johnson is getting time at the four spot; about 20 minutes per game, and is holding up decently, but he’s still only scoring 7.3 points to go along with 4.3 rebounds per game.

The Ugly

Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow vs. Raptors

  • Trouble With Top-Tier Opponents

The Heat are currently 2-4 on the season. It’s still early, but it’s obviously not a great start for this young Miami squad. However, it should be noted that the teams Miami have lost to are a combined 20-6. The Heat are going to improve as they gel and become more comfortable with their new system. As of now, though, they must find a way to compete with the upper echelon teams.

Miami has a rough first-half schedule this season that still includes another matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, a game against the Oklahoma Thunder, two games versus the West-leading Los Angeles Clippers and a meeting in Cleveland with the world-champion Cavaliers. It’s clear things are only going to get tougher for Miami, so Spoelstra and company need to find a way to start pulling together some wins while they can.

  • An Increasingly Competitive Eastern Conference

The fact that the Heat are 2-4 and still have some very strong opponents to face in the coming weeks does not bode well for their playoff chances, as early as it may be. The Heat are currently 13th in the East, only two games ahead of the winless Philadelphia 76ers. Miami was initially projected by Las Vegas to win about 35 games this season. Even if they exceed that expectation by five or six games, they may still be on the outside of the playoff race looking in towards the season’s end.

All of the Eastern Conference teams currently in playoff position are .500 or above. There are some good teams in the East this year, and with the way things are shaping up, the days of sub .500 teams finishing with the seventh or eighth seed may be over.

Again, this Heat team still has plenty of time to turn things around. Nobody expects utter domination from such a young, largely inexperienced ball club that has spent very little time playing together. As the NBA season moves forward, the picture in Miami will ultimately become clearer, but the building blocks for success seem to be in place already.
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