A Breakdown of Goran Dragic’s Offensive Impact

Goran Dragic’s second game back from his injury proved his overall importance for this Heat team. He shouldn’t be looked at as a 34 year old veteran, but instead the one piece that makes the entire offense flow.

So, here’s a look into what Dragic did well in their win over the Utah Jazz.

– Controlling the mid-range

Tyler Herro being out and Kendrick Nunn fading slowly away from his mid-range game means Dragic needed to find those spots more often. And that’s exactly what he did.

On this play, he ran the usual pick and roll with Bam Adebayo, while pulling up immediately against the favorable drop coverage. If Miami didn’t have Dragic to find these dead-spots throughout the game, they wouldn’t have sustained their lead, since Miami made it essential to get to the rim early in the game.

Once he began to set the tone on plays like this, easy opportunities from beyond the arc began to open up for the role players.

– Well, his legs are back.

When a veteran player returns from an injury, the jumper is usually a bit of a worry right away since it takes some time to get your legs back under you. But, it didn’t take Dragic much time to get back to normal.

These two plays in the second quarter prove that to be true, and it also shows the importance of his three point shot for a guy like Duncan Robinson. There haven’t been many consistent three point shooters lately, other than Kendrick Nunn, which is why both Dragic and Herro returning is so important for the overall success of Miami’s offense.

Dragic is a three level scorer, who can get to any of the three levels when he really wants to, which will be displayed next.

– Finding his spots on the court

As mentioned previously, being a three level scorer is one thing, but getting to any of the three levels consistently is when that label is truly important.

The way Dragic can control his defender on the drive is truly like no other. On the first play, he cuts off Donovan Mitchell when getting downhill, while Mitchell switches to the roller. Dragic noticing his only defender is Derrick Favors deep in the paint, he fades away for an easy bucket.

The second play is similar, except Dragic utilizes a snake dribble when Mitchell switches, and goes right into a floater over the top of Favors with zero hesitation. Once again, this type of offense is what Miami has been missing majorly.

– Setting up the offense

It’s never an easy offense to dissect when Rudy Gobert is the one you’re facing in the drop coverage, but Bam Adebayo found a way. He found the spots slightly away from the rim to force Gobert to edge away from the rim.

The reason Dragic is being highlighted here is due to the overall situation. Miami has missed a guy to set up offense while Butler is off the floor, and that’s exactly what he did. Nunn has improved majorly as a play-maker, but there’s still a difference between a good passer and setting up offense.

Dragic finding Adebayo and others in their spots during these minutes were essential for Miami sustaining a close score before Butler returned.

– The thing Miami has missed most

And finally, the third level of being a three level scorer. There’s a difference between a guy that can get to the rim and score, like Tyler Herro, and a guy who will take it right at your chest at the basket for an easy layup, like Goran Dragic.

As I’ve mentioned many times, the Heat have missed that on-ball guy who can explode to the basket and get downhill in situations that it’s truly necessary. And in the fourth quarter, it was truly necessary.

On the first play, he took it right up on the best rim protector in the NBA, leading to a not so easy bucket. A few minutes later, he explodes by Joe Ingles and takes it up on the rotating Gobert once again, except this one was a tad bit easier.

Once Miami has a fully healthy roster, the offensive spacing will look better and better, meaning Dragic can get to the rim more and more while Butler gets some rest on the sideline.

5 Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Jazz

The Miami Heat took down the best team in the NBA in a Friday night showdown with the Utah Jazz. An aggressive Bam Adebayo, a consistent Goran Dragic, and an absolutely outstanding all around Jimmy Butler headlined their best win of the season this far. So, take a look at five takeaways from this game…

#1: Miami’s dribble penetration changing the offense.

Goran Dragic being back in Miami’s rotation obviously changes dribble penetration immediately, but it wasn’t just when he was on the floor. They came out with a purpose to get inside the three point line against a jumbled up Jazz defense on the interior with Rudy Gobert, and it actually worked. Bam Adebayo’s one hand push shot inside the paint was dropping early, while back-cuts began to be sprinkled in. That element has changed quite a lot for Miami, since a guy like Duncan Robinson can cut with ease the way that he gets defended. Now, as Miami had their way with two point attempts early in the first quarter, that opened up three point shooting per usual. As the defense began to collapse more and more, drive and kicks became a huge factor for Miami’s altered offense. Once Tyler Herro returns as well, that dribble penetration will increase even more.

#2: Kendrick Nunn adding the patient element to his offensive abilities.

This shouldn’t be a surprise that Kendrick Nunn found himself on another one of these pieces, since the overall consistency in his offensive game has allowed zero shock for his strong performances. In this game, though, his overall offensive patience is what stood out the most from his game. He has made huge strides with his play-making abilities, but what has truly led to this? Well, playing time and confidence is the easy answer for any improvement in his game, but adding the patience element must be noted as well. Small things like running the baseline has shown positive flashes, since he keeps his dribble alive to await the cutter instead of getting stuck in the air. As he gets more and more comfortable running the different actions in Miami’s offense, while sustaining this impressive shooting and scoring ability, the next leap in his game will occur.

#3: Some unexpected changes in the rotation, involving the bench unit.

It was surprising that KZ Okpala had his name called before Precious Achiuwa tonight, but it was even more shocking that he basically took his minutes all together. Achiuwa usually enters for Adebayo, which means his playing time comes next to Kelly Olynyk. But tonight, Coach Spo seemed very comfortable playing Olynyk at the 5 with a smaller 4, which is something we haven’t seen much of. Usually in these stints, they went to a 2-3 zone with Gabe Vincent and Andre Iguodala up top wrecking havoc. I’m not sold that this will be decision moving forward for Coach Spo and company, since Achiuwa’s strong minutes on both ends this season has shown that he deserves the playing time he has thus far received. Achiuwa’s connection with Herro and Dragic has been clear, which is why a fully healthy Heat team should maximize his bench role.

#4: Jimmy Butler can score the basketball whenever he chooses in one specific way.

Jimmy Butler began to takeover scoring wise in the third quarter, which came in one way and one way only: Getting downhill and retreating to the free throw line. It’s almost impossible to cover a driving Butler at full speed, since if you don’t jump with him, it’s a layup. But if you do jump with him, he will jump right into you to get to the charity stripe. He played yet another all around offensive game, filling up the stat sheet in every possible way, but most things that were seen aren’t shown in a stat sheet. Open opportunities for guys like Kelly Olynyk due to a 2 man game possession between Butler and Adebayo occur frequently, and causes a solid defensive team to become out of sorts. As I’ve mentioned before, the phrase playing at their own speed is used freely, but as seen tonight, it fits Butler almost perfectly. His methodical abilities when getting downhill lead to his strengths becoming magnified, which is finding teammates for a pure offensive flow.

#5: Bam Adebayo’s offensive aggression makes an appearance once again.

There’s always one common denominator to Adebayo’s shots falling throughout the game on high attempts: Zero hesitation. Those one-hand push shots that he utilizes on an early bounce pass off the roll were dropping cleanly throughout the night, mostly since he didn’t use many unnecessary gather dribbles or pump-fakes. Adebayo obviously has an immense amount of talent in every part of his game, but it comes down to the moments in which he maximizes those scoring abilities. And tonight was one of those nights. He had as tough of a match-up that there is, in Rudy Gobert, which he went to the best possible spots to attack him. Not right at the rim for Gobert to alter or swat, but a few feet away from the rim to make him edge away from the rim. Whenever Adebayo has one of these nights, many point to him sustaining this overall aggression, which seems necessary but not definite.

A Breakdown of Jimmy Butler’s Scoring Down the Stretch Against Toronto

In the Miami Heat’s win over the Toronto Raptors, Jimmy Butler came up big late in the fourth quarter. This isn’t anything new for him, but it was interesting that he displayed his offensive abilities in every possible way in the last five minutes of the game.

So, here’s a look at the ways he closed this game out for Miami…

– The jumper looked smooth

Butler’s jumper has been an interesting topic for Miami, since it struggles in the regular season, but usually coming through when it truly matters, either the playoffs or late in games.

On this play, Miami had a few mismatches that they were looking to take advantage of. Kelly Olynyk had the smaller Kyle Lowry guarding him, so he faked a dribble hand-off to Duncan Robinson and attacked the basket. All four Toronto defenders collapsed, so Olynyk made the correct pass out to an open Butler for a triple.

Butler would usually pause, let the defender fly by, and put his head down to get to the basket, but it seemed like he was feeling the jumper. It’s never been an issue of form for his down shooting numbers, since free throw shooting always stay high, which always leads to the common denominator, his lift.

But well, the lift was there down the stretch.

– Controlling the break with his eyes

Playing the game to your own speed is a phrase that is used quite freely when discussing NBA players, but it describes Butler perfectly.

On this possession, he gets the steal on one end, leading to a clear fast-break on the other end. In no rush at all, he evaluates the floor, noticing he has a 3 on 1 opportunity with Andre Iguodala trailing. To maximize every option, he cuts immediately to the middle of the floor, which is when he utilizes his eyes to his advantage.

His unique passing abilities make the defense uncomfortable, which is why the slightest glance and body turn towards Robinson, eliminated Fred VanVleet from the attack. He then took it up with ease for a layup with zero contest, which tends to happen frequently when the physical Butler gets downhill.

– One more look at Butler’s lift

As I discussed Butler’s catch and shoot lift in the half-court, the mechanics of his jumper is what we were evaluating. But when pull-up triples are falling, this solidifies the original thought.

By that I mean, his lift being the overall theme of his shooting roller coaster is clearly true. I don’t remember the last time Butler utilized his legs to this extent on a three ball, leading to a high arcing ball going in the hoop. And by the way, high arcing three balls haven’t occurred a lot for Butler lately.

This shot also displays the confident factor that is instilled in any basketball player. The shot that I showed earlier is the reason for him taking this pull-up three, since if that one clanked off the back of the rim, he would have went right at the rim to draw a foul. This isn’t an element that will be relied on for long, but it must be something teammates instill in him, just as he does for others.

– The scoring leads to more foul line opportunities

After Butler’s scoring was rolling in this current stretch, there’s always a moment that he gets back to his strengths, which is drawing fouls.

There was confidence all night for Toronto when Lowry was guarding him in the pick and roll, since he would cut him off low, forcing him to take mid-range pull-ups. On this play, though, VanVleet was not allowing Butler to take him one-on-one, so he dropped down far off of Kendrick Nunn on the perimeter.

Butler noticing this, keeps the ball way up above his head, especially as he slices two much smaller defenders. This abrupt movement leads to the whistle being blown, getting him back to his favorite spot on the court: The charity stripe.

– Reading situations, capitalizing on current flow

Instead of draining the clock a bit with a 9 point lead late in the fourth, Butler was completely riding on his late-game momentum.

After the inbound, Bam Adebayo ran a side pick and roll with Butler, which Lowry switched this time. The one shot Toronto’s defense was allowing off of this set was a Butler mid-range pull-up, as mentioned earlier. And with zero hesitation, he rose over the top of OG Anunoby, hitting the shot to take an 11 point lead.

These late-game reads and moments seem to be rubbing off on his teammates, especially Adebayo. He knows that the ball must be in their hands down the stretch, which is why he took some good looks during this spurt as well. But, Butler’s hot hand led to him playing his usual impactful role, allowing Butler to get to those spots that I displayed.

This type of all-around play that is being seen from Butler should not be understated, since it’s truly impressive that he’s leading this team on a huge regular season turnaround.

5 Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Raptors

The Miami Heat beat the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night to expand their winning streak to 4 games. Jimmy Butler’s late game offensive showing kept Miami afloat down the stretch. Here are five takeaways from this game…

#1: Goran Dragic returns, and hasn’t skipped a beat.

Goran Dragic surprisingly returned on Wednesday night from his injury, and looked as if he missed absolutely no time at all. Dragic’s impact is not through the amount of points that he scores, but actually the moments that he scores. He has always been able to read offensive situations to get into certain sets when most needed, which happened early on by attacking the basket. Miami has missed his dribble penetration lately, since they haven’t had many ball-handlers who can attack with Dragic and Tyler Herro out. The more Dragic got to the rim, the more opportunities opened up for shooters on the perimeter for wide open triples. The Heat have struggled finding any type of offensive rhythm, but the 34 year old veteran can fix that upon arrival.

#2: Miami’s offense and defense clicking on the same night.

Miami had some impressive offensive games early in the season, while showcasing a strong defensive presence lately. But there hasn’t been a night that both have been displayed. Well, until this game. This was going to be a defensive battle no matter what between these two teams, and Coach Erik Spoelstra sprinkled in some defensive things to really boost Miami. Trapping full-court, spurts of 2-3 zone, and more. But Miami’s offense showing an impressive flow throughout against this gritty Toronto team speaks volume. Duncan Robinson hitting some threes early on propelled that, while other role players stepped up in their respective areas. This was the first night the Miami Heat’s true selves were shown.

#3: Bam Adebayo battled on the boards early on, impacting the game in every area per usual.

Bam Adebayo is discussed on a nightly basis in these takeaway pieces, but he must be noted in a different light tonight. In a game that Toronto utilizes a bit of small ball to display all-around quickness, Adebayo had to be felt on the boards. In the first half alone, he grabbed 10 rebounds, while 5 of them being on the offensive end. Creating extra opportunities for others on tip outs and things of that nature truly add up for this team, since extra shot attempts do the job for a struggling offense. Aron Baynes taking a lesser role for the Raptors meant Adebayo had some unique match-ups with physical wings, like OG Anunoby, guarding him on the defensive end. While that could mean trouble at times when he tries to stretch the floor, he read the situation to make his presence felt in the paint.

#4: Andre Iguodala plays his peak offensive role.

Defensive trapping, grabbing rebounds, and facilitating the offense wasn’t enough for Andre Iguodala tonight, since he brought the one element of his game that has been a little iffy at times. The three point shot was falling tonight at a good rate, which is the part of his game that can maximize the overall efficiency of this Miami Heat team. Miami needs Iguodala out there on the floor in a lot of situations, but lineups he plays next to Adebayo and Butler limits offensive spacing. But if the corner triple can be relied on, it changes the entire formation of Miami’s rotation at the moment. A season high on triples for Iguodala may not confirm sustainability, but it is still a great sign that it is in there somewhere.

#5: Gabe Vincent gives a great overall performance, but Miami is one attacker off with bench unit.

Tyler Herro being out tonight once again is a product of less dribble penetration, even though it was majorly boosted with Dragic returning. There were many moments where Miami’s offense began to show flashes of the past, with a lot of ball movement for jumpers, instead of putting the ball on the floor and attacking. Gabe Vincent had a good night battling on the defensive end, as well as hitting those three pointers that he hasn’t lately. But he’s just not the attacker who can run pick and rolls to control the pacing with Dragic. Herro can definitely fix that, which makes Miami’s bench back-court so anticipated. When Adebayo, Butler, and company get to the rim efficiently, it leads to the natural flow of their offense many have been awaiting.

Shawcross and Gregore Sign for Inter Miami

Both Ryan Shawcross and Gregore de Magalhães da Silva are on their way to South Florida ahead of the 2021 MLS Season. Inter Miami CF announced both signings this week (on Feb. 20 and Feb 24, respectively), and the roster under Phil Neville is beginning to take shape.

It has not been reported how long Ryan Shawcross has been signed for, but for Gregore, it’s a 4-year deal with an option in the fifth.

When it comes to money, it seems as though Shawcross’s deal falls under the normal salary budget. Gregore’s contract will join Blaise Matuidi’s and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez’s under the club’s Targeted Allocation Money. Both Shawcross and Gregore will also take up international roster slots.

Is Shawcross the Starter?

It would be tough to argue that a long-time Premier League veteran, long-time Stoke City captain at just 33-years old, could NOT be the starter, but I’m here to do just that.

However, this argument relies on the Phill Neville variable and how he will use players after seeing them for 6 weeks in training camp. He specifically referred to Jorge Figal as a right-back in his introductory press conference a couple of weeks back, and if that does end up being the case, this argument is fully invalid.

If Figal is to be seen as a center-back, though, there’s no reason for Shawcross to be used as anything but cover and depth behind an LGP/Figal center-back partnership.

It’s not to say that I don’t believe Ryan Shawcross is an excellent defender who possesses highly valuable leadership qualities that are hard to come by, but there are other things at play here.

Shawcross has only played 247 minutes of first-team football for Stoke, dating back to March of 2020, and a large part of it has to do with injury.

shawcross injury

Given this injury history and lack of minutes in professional games, saying that 6 weeks of preseason may not be enough is an understatement.

There is absolutely no reason for him to be forced on as the starter especially given his age and unfamiliarity with the league. There is also no pressure for him to perform like a starter right away because this is not what would be considered a “big-money signing.” Remember, not a DP, not using TAM or GAM on him, no special MLS rules. Just a simple signing under the normal salary budget. Oh, and it was a free transfer.

Down the line, Shawcross’s value will come from subbing on late in games to hold the lead, veteran presence, his starts for when LGP and Figal are either injured or suspended, etc.

If he is to come from England and get out of the MLS pre-season in TIP-TOP shape, then sure, maybe he’s the starter. But I don’t see him being fully fit for 90 minutes in an MLS match by the middle of April. I also look forward to being proven wrong.

Neville’s Midfield with Gregore

Until Matuidi came in, Inter Miami’s midfield being run by Victor Ulloa and Wil Trapp was a borderline disaster. The backline seemed to have had no protection, and the pair could not help transition the ball from the defense to their attackers up top. Bringing in Matuidi helped a ton, but unfortunately, Trapp nor Ulloa was good enough or consistent enough to solidify themselves as Blaise’s partner.

With the expectation that Phil Neville will try to run his favored 4-3-3 formation or a variation of it, Matuidi is definitely going to need help in the middle of the pitch. Signing Gregore for a reported $4 million and using TAM on him is worth it.

Gregore is an all-around defensive midfielder who excels at winning the ball in the middle of the pitch. He will provide the backline a ton of protection with his ball-winning skills and ability to read the game well. His tackling is outstanding; No nonsense, get stuck in style, and puts 100% behind winning the ball all the time.

He also will relieve Matuidi of a ton of defensive duties. He’s so good at covering the back that Matuidi will now be able to drive forward (comfortably, with protection) as a playmaker alongside Pizarro out of the midfield.

Gregore short passing ability is also good enough that he will be able to provide service of the ball from the backline to the attackers. He’s not shy to get forward when he needs to, and he possesses the quality to score a banger every once in a while.

I see Gregore starting as many games as he is possibly fit for, and right away. You needed a midfield pairing for Matuidi before, and now even more so in a Neville style 4-3-3. Way to get your man, Chris Henderson.

Overall

Both signings were very, very good for Inter Miami. Shawcross on a relatively small deal for what he could provide and one of, if not the best midfielders in Brazil over on a deal that doesn’t cost you a DP slot but will turn out to produce like one.

Shawcross and Gregore have bolstered the squad tremendously, but I don’t think that the Front Office is quite done making moves. Expect more before pre-season.

Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo Not in All-Star Game, Forcing Best Case Scenario

Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo both attended the All-Star game last season as Adebayo made his first appearance, but this year is much different. Miami currently sits at the 10 seed in the Eastern Conference, which pretty much explains why they didn’t get an All-Star this season.

But Butler and Adebayo not making the All-Star team could be the best case scenario for this Heat team for an abundance of reasons.

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For starters, any rest this team can get after recent injuries, Covid tracing, and a short off-season, they must take it. It allows Goran Dragic to regroup over a short period, since he’s played minutes to begin the season that weren’t really expected coming in.

Butler has had to carry a load over the past few weeks, since the interchanging lineups haven’t allowed Miami to get in any type of flow.

But rest isn’t the main reason for this being a positive for the Heat. It’s actually about the chip that’s back on their shoulders.

Every player on the current roster has had a chip on their shoulder their entire life, since the Miami Heat embody players who battle adversity. But a spark has been needed as of late, even after the latest three game winning streak.

The only way a spark can really be generated is with an addition to the current roster, but well, that was until the All-Star reserves were released on Tuesday night.

This gives Miami’s two stars even more drive to take that next step, while everybody continues to count them out once again. But they’ve been counted out their entire lives.

Now, they can regroup back home in Miami, without taking a chance of being in a crowded environment on All-Star weekend.

No All-Stars, no problem. As Butler has always essentially said, it’s about winning over other accolades, and this snubbed accolade could actually be the biggest spark for their winning.

A Breakdown of Max Strus’ All Around Game

Miami lacked offensively sound bench players on Monday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, which meant Max Strus would have another opportunity to step in and be effective.

He scored 11 points with 3 triples, but that wasn’t even the most impressive part of his performance. Let’s take a dive into Max Strus’ all around game in last night’s win…

– Getting to his strengths

It’s obvious that the primary strength with Strus is his three point shooting, not only on wide open attempts, but finding space to get into his favorite spots.

On this play, Kelly Olynyk screens the defender to allow Strus to drop down to the corner. He slides down as Jimmy Butler attacks, leading to a triple in the corner for his first points of the game. Also, take a look at his high release point as the defender flies out on him. It’s a hard shot to block when he’s in rhythm.

He’s not on any radars at this point in his career, while Duncan Robinson doesn’t have the ability to get free on a simple off-ball screen. So for now, he must take advantage of this ability.

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– Reading situations, making the right read

As Gabe Vincent takes the baseline, he begins to find himself with no where to go. Strus realizes this, as his defender has his back to him, then immediately cuts toward the basket.

This forces a 2 on 1 opportunity at the rim with Bam Adebayo, which leads to an easy dump-off for a dunk.

Most shooters are known to move horizontally on the basketball court at all times, but Strus has been a guy that doesn’t rely on that the entire offensive possession. Miami has turned into a very good cutting team in general, but it also comes down to reading a situation as he did here.

– Showing flashes of play-making and penetration

This definitely isn’t something that many expected when they first saw Strus play, since he seems to be going through practice reps leading to this being showcased.

On this play, his shooting ability forced the defender to fly by him when he got the ball, so he immediately attacked the rim. This forced yet another 2 on 1 opportunity at the rim with Precious Achiuwa, except he displayed something a little differently this time.

He gave a great ball-fake to Achiuwa, which dropped Andre Iguodala’s man down a bit from the corner. He made the pass out to him and he knocked down the three, which is a sign of great growth since his first time getting minutes in this league.

– Defensive physicality

Miami lacks defensive abilities from their offensive players, but Strus continues to show great signs in that area due to his size and physicality.

There are a couple of things to dive into on this play. For one, when discussing Miami’s overall soft switching defense, take a look at what happens when Mike Muscala fakes the hand-off. Achiuwa looks to go for the switch for no apparent reason, but Strus fights through it to eliminate any type of mismatch.

He then immediately looks toward the ball, forcing him to slide down into position to take the charge. A defensive possession like this stands out more than any of his three triples in this game to the coaching staff.

– Constant shooting stance means fast release

One more thing must be noted about Strus’ shooting abilities, other than his high release point and deadly catch and shoot abilities: His constant shooting stance.

At times, players get lazy playing off the ball, which leads to guys not being ready for an immediate pull-up when the ball finds them. But well, that isn’t the case with Strus, since he is in his knee-bent, hands ready stance at every moment of the game.

Take a look at his body language on this play when he sees Achiuwa fighting for the offensive rebound. He was ready, fires it up leading to an And-1 three to spark Miami going into the fourth quarter.

– More defensive flashes

Other than describing Strus’ defensive abilities as physical every single time, his ability to cut off guys with the correct angle and move his feet rather quickly is an underrated part for him on that end of the floor.

On this possession, he slides down to cut off the dribble penetration, leading to his man catching the ball on the kick-out. He recovered quickly, and Lou Dort immediately took it toward the basket to get Strus off balanced. Except, he never was off balanced, and cut him off perfectly, while his great size forced Dort into an unorthodox shot that came flying off the rim for an easy rebound.

– The next step

Late in the game, it was just some extra time to get offensive reps in for a guy like Max Strus, and something stood out.

If Strus can consistently work a pick and roll as he did here, things change for his case to get regular playing time. He showed great patience as he began the PnR, while noticing it was drop coverage, he immediately pulled a three pointer. Although he missed, this shows a part of his game that hasn’t been explored, but very well can be in the near future.

Obviously those looks won’t be handed to him every night, but he can make defenses pay when running drop coverage, and utilize his passing abilities in certain spots, which I highlighted earlier.

Miami has something interesting with Strus, but the only question is where his rotation spot would be with a healthy Heat team.

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Marlins Could Contend in 2021

So another offseason has come and gone for the Marlins. After a magical run into the 2020 playoffs, the Marlins look to do it again. With every single major media outlet predicting that the Marlins will finish 5th place in the NL East, Miami is left asking: Who even are the Marlins? Are they a playoff team or 50-win team? If you asked me on the day the 2020 season ended, I would have said the latter was reasonable. Now, after the late moves made in Miami, I would argue the former. 

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Here’s why the Marlins can make a run:

 

Starting Pitching

 

The starting pitching is young, but they have the potential to explode as a top-5 rotation in this upcoming season. In his piece on MLB.com, Thomas Harrigan explained that the Fish have the potential to be the best rotation in baseball. Although I believe this is a premature prediction (especially for this season), if Sandy, Sixto, and Pablo reach even half of those expectations outlined, the Marlins will be in a contending spot. With depth spots allocated to high potential arms Elieser Hernandez and Trevor Rogers, the Marlins staff is in the best position it has been in, maybe ever.

 

Bullpen

 

Oh boy. This was a sore subject last year for Miami. Past Garcia and Kintzler, they lacked consistency. Our bullpen ranked in the bottom of the majors leading to losses in games before Kintzler or Garcia could seal the deal. But now with Dylan Floro, Anthony Bass, and John Curtiss to fill the gaps, the Marlins bullpen is solid. They are not the best bullpen in the league by any means, but they would 100% be a top-15 bullpen (above average). In combination with top starting pitching, the Marlins could become a force to be reckoned with defensively. 

 

Hitting

 

The Marlins offensive output will not change. The Adam Duvall signing helps, but does not put the Marlins in a significantly better position in the 2021 season. Their bats last year performed much worse than what was *statistically* expected of them, though. In combination with another year of experience and a positive regression to their mean (20th-25 rather than close to dead last), there should be a little more production. Although Brian Anderson, Starling Marte, and Adam Duvall will most likely be the names accredited with any increased success, I expect a slight increase in overall performance.

 

Overall for the Marlins

 

This Marlins team has what it takes to do it again if the starters perform as expected, the backend bullpen overperforms similarly to last season, and the hitting performs as expected. If the Marlins make the playoffs it will be in the Wild Card, but that is nothing to scoff at. They have the perfect balance of confidence from last year and returning grit to beat the odds. Yes, they have to have an outlier performance in all three categories; but, hey, they did it once. Nothing is impossible in Miami.

 

5 Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Thunder

The Miami Heat finished 4-3 on their West Coast road trip after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder in an ugly offensive performance. Issues were clear for three and a half quarters, but Miami got hot when it mattered late in the fourth. Here are five takeaways from this game…

#1: Miami’s offense continues to appear problematic.

After discussing the offensive issues of the Miami Heat for quite some time, they come out with that type of performance against Oklahoma City. The reason Miami assisted on 13 of their 14 shot makes in the first half, is due to the lack of on-ball players in this game. Obviously Jimmy Butler falls under that category at times, but his unselfishness tonight proved why he needs somebody around him to do that. Kendrick Nunn is the closest thing to that, but there’s only so much he can do to keep the offense afloat. As much as we can discuss tonight’s offensive showing as a product of missing Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro, this is a recurring issue. It’s not just health, it’s not systematic, it’s not about one individual player. It’s just that Miami may be one on-ball player short with the current roster.

#2: Kendrick Nunn keeps Miami going on a night that was tough to do.

Kendrick Nunn was the guy for a good portion of the season that Miami awaited to be a spark. And tonight, he was the consistent player trying to spark others around him. He came out with the same scoring abilities that have been seen lately, but it’s much harder for him to be effective when there’s limited spacing with a stagnant offense. He then began to make an impact in other areas, most importantly as a ball-handler to set others up. The lob to Bam Adebayo late in the second quarter comes to mind, since that was essentially the only moment Heat players could score at the rim early on. He also competed defensively much more, since it seems he can be an impactful defender in spots when he wants to be. Nunn has been the real bright spot throughout some of Miami’s struggles, which has a lot to do with the overall trust to insert him in the starting lineup, while he continues to thrive in his minutes with Butler.

#3: Precious Achiuwa’s impact relies on the team’s health.

Precious Achiuwa’s overall role lately has been a tough code to crack, but it finally seems clear. It just plainly comes down to the overall health of this team for an abundance of reasons. For one, there’s a lack of offensive firepower off the bench with Dragic and Herro out, and those two guys are the ones Achiuwa benefits from most. Also, there’s a necessity to stagger Butler and Adebayo’s minutes with Dragic out, which means Achiuwa has a much different role than he did early in the season. Once Miami has a full roster, he will thrive once again in his minutes with both offensively savvy guards who work him into the offense. But for right now, his offensive role is unclear, which means his playing time comes in short spurts with the inability to get into a rhythm.

#4: Bam Adebayo has yet another efficient night throughout, but tonight was more about attempts.

The Bam Adebayo shot attempt discussion has been fluid for quite some time, since certain night’s efficiency is not the needed offensive ability. And as mentioned earlier, Miami’s offense had struggled throughout the entire night, by missing shots, not flowing into sets, and settling for jumpers instead of getting to the basket. But well, that’s where Adebayo comes into play. Most of his shots came at the rim on dunks, either from a lob pass or offensive rebound, but that just doesn’t seem to be enough on nights like this. Obviously he put up an impressive stat-line, but sometimes it’s much more than that. Even if he puts up some shots and they don’t go in, you live with the result, but relying on other guys that are much less qualified doesn’t always seem like the best route. It’s still something that many are awaiting Adebayo to fully realize, since he just needs to allow his talent to takeover at times.

#5: A Max Strus sighting, a Max Strus display.

After a tough shooting night against the Lakers on Saturday night, Max Strus had yet another opportunity with Tyler Herro out. He was basically thrown into the fire late in the past game, which didn’t allow him to get into a natural flow. Tonight, though, he had an obvious offensive flow, shooting the ball the way he usually does, but that’s not what stood out in his game. It was more importantly the other parts of the game that Miami lacked. He began to showcase a play-making ability when he was chased off the three point line, leading to kick-outs for open triples. The defense must be highlighted as well, since his physical presence allows him to guard bigger guys in the post, and stand strong against penetrating ball-handlers. Taking charges, grabbing rebounds, and-1 triples. Strus did it all on a night it was most needed, which shows they have another rotation guy awaiting his chance as the season progresses.

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Which team (Heat, Lightning, Rays) in Florida will win state’s next title?

It probably doesn’t need saying, but it’s been quite a seven months or so for sports teams in Florida. From September through March, we saw Florida teams in the Stanley Cup Finals, NBA Finals, World Series and the Super Bowl. If you count the MLS Is Back Tournament Final, which saw Orlando City SC lose out to Portland, that’s five major sports finals for Florida teams. Not bad. Not bad at all. 

But Florida sports fans already knew all of the above. The more pertinent question is what comes next? Can Florida teams capitalize on the best period of success since the Bucs, Marlins and Lightning won championships between 2002-2004? We just don’t know. But we are going to guess by power ranking every NBA, MLS, NHL and MLB teams by the probability of winning a championship in 2021, starting with the least likely. 

  1. Orlando Magic 

It’s a testament to Florida sports teams’ strength right now that the team at the bottom of these rankings isn’t awful. Orlando has been blighted by injuries this season, and that looks like it might cost the team a third consecutive tilt at the Playoffs. There have been positives, notably Nikola Vucevic emergence as a truly elite NBA player. 

  1. Miami Marlins

Clinching a first postseason berth since 2003 might have convinced Marlins fans that better days lay ahead, but the rebuilding might have to continue in 2021. A problem beyond the team’s own limitations is the strength of the NL East, with both the Mets and Braves tipped to have big seasons.  

  1. Inter Miami CF

Florida’s newest sports club is finding its feet in the MLS. The team has big ambitions, and the acquisition of Phil Neville as head coach looks to be a clever move. Gonzalo Higuain, too, could provide the X-factor and goals. But this is a long term project, and we would be shocked to see Inter Miami in the latter stages of the MLS Cup. 

  1. Miami Heat

It’s not impossible that Miami wins the NBA Championship this year. In fact, the basketball odds at MansionBet put the Heat at 28/1 – about ninth-favorite overall. So, you shouldn’t rule it out. But the team really needs to start winning consistently. We are approaching the half-way point of the season, and Miami sits outside the playoff spots. 

  1. Tampa Bay Rays

Sportsbooks and pundits are quite cool on the Rays’ chances this season. Both MLB and CBS have the Rays at 10th in their power rankings, behind the AL East’s Yankees and Blue Jays. It’s a tough call, but Kevin Cash and the Rays could make those journalists eat their words – again. 

  1. Florida Panthers

It might seem strange to rank the Panthers ahead of the Rays and Miami Heat, but NHL is a little less top-heavy than NBA and MLB, so we rate the Panthers’ chances just a little higher. A lot would have to go right, of course, but this is an organization on an upward trajectory. 

  1. Orlando City SC

You have to like Orlando City’s chances this season. Coach Oscar Pareja has made the team hard to beat, and the run to the final of the MLS Is Back Tournament will act as good experience for the players. Like Inter Miami, they have a potential superstar in Alexander Pato. You get the feeling the Brazilian will either shine or flop, with no in-between. If it’s the former, then Orlando could land the MLS Cup.

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning 

Tampa Bay tops the power rankings and bookmakers’ odds to retain the Stanley Cup in 2021. What more is there to say? The champions are the best team in NHL, and the most likely Floria team to bring home a championship in 2021.