Young core thriving as Heat enters second half of season
The Heat has reached the midway point of the regular season in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a 21-20 record.
As one would expect from a team that’s hovered around .500, there are some things to like and some things not to like from the Heat’s first 41 games.
Here’s a rundown:
WHAT TO LIKE
This current Heat young core has never looked better. Through the first 41 games, the most encouraging part of Miami’s season has been the play of 21-year-olds Bam Adebayo and Derrick Jones Jr., 22-year-old Justise Winslow and 25-yearold Josh Richardson.
Each one has taken a step forward this season, even with Richardson struggling with his shooting lately. Richardson is still averaging career-highs in points (18), rebounds (3.9) and assists (3.9). Meanwhile, Winslow has been tremendous filling in for the injured Goran Dragic at point guard. The 6-7 Winslow has played the best basketball of his career over the last month, averaging 14.7 points on 47.4 percent shooting from the field and 41.3 percent shooting on threes, to go with 5.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 19 games since the start of December.
The Heat’s defense has been solid as usual. While getting into the top five is the goal, Miami has still been better than most on this end of the court with the league’s eighthbest defensive rating (allowing 106.1 points per 100 possessions). This is nothing new for the Heat — and defensive-minded coach Erik Spoelstra — which has finished in the top eight in this category in each of the past three seasons. Defense, as usual, is a big part of Miami’s winning formula. The Heat is 13-1 this season when holding its opponent under 100 points.
Even in his 16th and final NBA season, Dwyane Wade is really helping the Heat. This isn’t just a farewell tour for Wade, he’s actually filling an important role for Miami. Playing as the Heat’s sixth man, the 36-year-old is averaging 13.9 points on 41.9 percent shooting, 3.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 25.4 minutes. But not even those numbers reflect the impact Wade has had on this team.
Just look at the Heat’s past two games, as Wade responded to a big Celtics run by scoring nine straight to stop Boston’s momentum Thursday and also blocked a potentially tying layup attempt in the final seconds of Saturday’s victory over Memphis to force a jump ball that he won.
The Heat’s rebounding has been an advantage in most games. Miami is averaging the sixth-most rebounds with 47.1 per game and the third-most offensive rebounds with 12.1 per game. This is new for the Heat, which has been ranked in the bottom 10 in offensive rebounds in seven of the past eight seasons. But it’s played a part in Miami’s success this season, with offensive boards helping to create extra opportunities for an inefficient Heat offense. Miami is averaging the second-most second-chance points in the league at 15.2 per game.
Something else about the Heat’s young players that’s been encouraging is they’ve played well together. Miami has outscored teams by 36 points in the 245 minutes the trio of Adebayo, Richardson and Winslow have played together this season. Lineups featuring these three have posted a fairly mediocre offensive rating of 108.2 points scored per 100 possessions but an elitelevel defensive rating of 99.2 points allowed per 100 possessions. With Richardson and Winslow under contract with the Heat for the next three seasons, and Adebayo still on his rookie deal, these are three players the organization can build around.
WHAT NOT TO LIKE
The Heat’s offense has been inefficient in too many games. Miami is ranked 22nd in offensive rating, scoring 107.1 points per 100 possessions. The eight teams with a worse offensive rating than the Heat all have losing records. Miami also has the league’s third-worst team shooting percentage at 44 percent. It is a credit to the Heat’s defense that it’s won more games than it’s lost over the first half of the season despite a below average offense.
Poor free-throw shooting has cost the Heat a few games. For a Heat offense that ranks in the bottom half of the league in efficiency, struggles at the foul line have just exacerbated the issue. The Heat has been the second-worst free-throw shooting team in the league this season at 69.3 percent. That’s a lot of points left on the table, as Miami has missed an average of 7.3 free throws per game. A big part of this problem is connected to center Hassan Whiteside, who has made just 44.7 percent of his free throws this season.
An underwhelming home record has held Miami back from soaring past .500. Although the Heat has posted a 6-3 record during its past nine home games, it still owns a sub-.500 mark at AmericanAirlines for the season at 11-12. Miami is the only team in the league that owns a winning overall record while also having a losing home record. A 10-8 road record helps. The Heat has finished with a losing home record just once during Spoelstra’s first 10 seasons as head coach — in 2014-15 with a 20-21 mark. That was also the only season the Heat ended the regular season with a losing overall record under Spoelstra.
Wayne Ellington is out of the rotation. With 13 rotation-level players on the Heat’s roster, there’s going to be a few left out. That was known entering the season. What wasn’t expected was that Ellington would be one of the players left out. After setting a career-high and team record with 227 made three-pointers last season, Ellington has been a healthy scratch in 12 of the past 16 games. The Heat went into the luxury tax to keep Ellington this past summer, so the organization probably didn’t expect the situation to unfold this way either.
Inconsistent play has led to some bad Heat losses. The positive is Miami already has wins over top teams like the Celtics, Rockets, Trail Blazers and Bucks. The negative is Miami also has losses to a bunch of losing teams like the Hawks (0-3 against Atlanta), the Magic (1-2 against Orlando) and the Hornets (0-2 against Charlotte). The Heat is 14-10 this season against teams currently below .500, and six of those losses have come at home.
Josh Richardson, left, and Justise Winslow are a main part of the Heat’s young core. Both have taken a step up this season and are playing some of their best basketball.