It’s pretty evident that the Miami Heat are excelling on the defensive end of the floor.
Through the first nine games of the season, the Heat are ranked No. 1 in defensive rating. They are allowing just 93.5 points per 100 possessions. If they somehow were to keep up this type of defense through the end of the season, it would be the best mark in franchise history.
Furthermore, Miami is holding opponents to just a 40.9 field goal percentage, which is best in the NBA.
Head coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t have an exact answer for why this Heat team has been so stifling on defense:
“I don’t know. It’s what’s required, that’s what I do know. It’s absolutely required. If we want to accomplish what we want to accomplish. There’s a lot of veteran, talented proven teams. You have to be able to defend. It’s still early, but we’re building habits, there’s no question.”
Part of the reason the Heat have seen such a vast improvement in their defensive performance—Miami ranked 21st in defensive rating during the 2014-15 season with a 106.7 mark—is due to the play of rookie Justise Winslow.
Entering the game versus the Jazz, Winslow had played the most fourth quarter minutes of any player on the roster. In fact, Winslow has been holding opponents to field goal percentages nine points lower than their percentage versus other players. Furthermore, the Heat’s plus/minus rating with the rookie on the court is far better than it is with him off the court.
His coach at the University of Duke, Mike Krzyzewski, believes the fit between Winslow and the Heat is “the perfect fit”:
“I thought it was the perfect fit. The Heat organization itself, the Arison family, Pat Riley, Erik as the head coach, they’re as good as anybody, and they’re unbelievably professional. And then Justise would be surrounded on a daily basis with Dwyane, Chris, Luol, ultimate top-notch guys. I don’t think there could be a better environment for him, really.”
The 19-year-old small forward has already been matched up with some of the league’s top scorers in LeBron James, Paul George, James Harden and DeMar DeRozan.
The Heat aren’t just excelling as an overall defensive unit, they are having success in every conceivable defensive department. The team ranks second in three-point field goal percentage against (29.3), while ranking fifth in field goal percentage against within six feet. This is in large part due to the presence of Hassan Whiteside, who is leading the league with four blocks per game.
The team is currently 6-3, and although they may not have the “wow factor” of the Eastern Conference powerhouse Cleveland Cavaliers, the Heat are only going to get better as the season progresses.
Assuming the strength of the team remains on the defensive end, the Heat are going to be a dangerous team come April.