The Miami Heat begin training camp in 5 days, play their first preseason game against the Hawks in 11 days, and start the regular season in less than 30 days.
Clearly, we’re approaching the beginning of yet another season, and for the Heat specifically, it should be quite interesting. New faces throughout the roster, new schemes for Coach Erik Spoelstra, and a new mentality after finally going through a true off-season in what feels like a decade.
I’ve gone through the ways players will be used and the evolving skill-sets heading into the season, but now it’s time to evaluate the most important attribute for each guy on the roster. In many of these cases, it’s not going to be the obvious answer since we know what they bring on a nightly basis, but more importantly, the underrated element.
So, let’s hop right into the most essential part of each player’s skill-set…
Off Ball Comfort
Kyle Lowry being added to this team changes things for the entire squad in a positive manner, and I think it may change things for Jimmy Butler the most.
Defensively, Butler will be in a better position than ever before. Added point of attack defense means that Butler won’t be in the action as frequently, leaving him as the weak-side lurker which is by far his biggest strength in my opinion.
Play-makers added to the starting lineup mean he can take a slight step-back, while overall rim pressure means he finally has his second attacker on the roster. But with Lowry and Butler sharing all of these strengths, it means that Butler won’t have the ball in his hands as much as he once was forced to.
That’s obviously a positive thing, but that means the most important part of Butler’s game will be his immediate production in an off-ball role. It’s not usually the easiest transition for player’s without a consistent three ball, but Butler is pretty much an exception.
Playing off the ball means that he will play off the catch for easy explosions to the rim. And while his weak-side defense is elite, he may end up being a weak-side killer on the offensive end as well. He’s very good at reading rotations to feed the weak-side, and now he will be the one reacting to them.
He’s going to have the ball in his hands a ton which will lead to a ton of good possessions, but the key for him will be his effectiveness when he isn’t on the ball in the Lowry minutes. He’s a master adjuster, which means he should fit in early on. And if that happens, wins will closely follow in the regular season.
Although many of these topics will be under the radar evaluations, others are pretty straight forward.
Bam Adebayo is one of those straight forward sections, due to this one non-physical change in his game making the entire difference. Much like Lowry’s impact for Butler, Adebayo will have things a bit easier. Simple buckets at the rim as a lob threat, less play-making duties, and receiving the ball in his spots in the half-court.
But Lowry isn’t what will maximize Adebayo’s skill.
If that’s going to make yet another leap this season, it’s going to because he chose to turn to pure takeover a bit more. He’s clearly an unselfish player which means he won’t usually turn into that completely, but he must sprinkle it in for the team to win games.
It doesn’t matter if it’s zero hesitance in the mid-range shot, unfazed by contact on the attack, or an unexpected development like a corner three or post-move, trusting his own skill-set enough to think about nothing other than scoring on certain possessions is the game changer.
There’s no doubt in my mind that’s the most important thing for Adebayo, and I believe we see it by mid-season at the latest once the newcomers are totally adjusted.
When Lowry is healthy and on the floor on any given night, we know what he’s going to bring. We’ve touched on it unconsciously since the move was made. From plugging in defensively to true point guard mechanics to scoring versatility, he has it all.
But there’s nothing more important than him just being on the floor.
Regular season availability hopefully won’t be in question for the 35 year old, but it’s an inevitable topic. Over the last few seasons, there have been some issues with that, and it feels like that may occur again to a certain degree.
For one, part of me thinks seeing him in a position to sit out games late in the season is a good thing, since that would mean the team is sitting nicely in the East and Lowry can be as fresh as possible by playoff time.
But on the other side of things, if the season was a bit uneven for Miami, you don’t want him burning out by the post-season. Will Miami’s depth be good enough to preserve Lowry? Will they need a late-season push from the stars?
Those are questions that I can’t answer right now, but something I can answer is that early season production will be crucial. This team does not want to be playing catch up again this season, especially with the way this current roster is constructed.
If Lowry is available this season, and the games he ends up sitting out is more of a Heat observation, then this team and Lowry will be in great shape.
Stepping Back to Stepping In
Duncan Robinson’s most important attribute is an interesting discussion. Of course everything revolves around that three-point shot of his, but at this stage, that’s pretty much a given by many. Now it’s more about the expansion from his toe being right behind the arc.
That expansion started last season by going in a different direction. Literally.
He began his offensive sets and simple spot-ups a few feet behind the three point line, right in between the half-court line and left/right wing. With the way he was being treated by defenses on a nightly basis, he was forced to flow away from that line as much as possible.
After pretty much mastering his craft when stepping a few feet back, the current focus is stepping a few feet in.
As I said before this past season, which was a bit unrealistic considering the off-season they got, a pump-fake one dribble pull-up changes the game for Robinson. For one, his pump-fake alone is deadly enough when defenders see him flowing into shooting motion, but he was missing that combo following the bite.
If he finds a way to get to a mid-range pull-up consistently and knock it down, it makes him so much tougher to guard. Not to make any unnecessary comparisons, but just ask players who’ve guarded Klay Thompson once he made that step inside the arc.
Oh, Did Someone Say Corner Threes?
When anybody thinks of the offensive role of PJ Tucker, they immediately shift to the corner three. And well, that one shot may make the difference for this Heat offense to move up to that next tier.
I don’t know if this will be the most important thing for Tucker, but it will be the most essential for the team.
With many of the base offensive sets I expect Miami to run this season with the addition of Lowry, it may ride on the pull the team’s corner spacers have on a defense. A popping Robinson and a rolling Adebayo is a duel threat already, but if you can eliminate full weak-side commitment from that corner shooter, then you’ve essentially won.
If Tucker can take advantage of that open corner three this season, things change dramatically.
Scoring, Scoring, and More Scoring
Much like the Adebayo topic, certain player’s most important attribute is the most obvious one.
As many have illustrated this off-season, the role for Herro this season is one that he can thrive in. It’s simplified, it’s fitting, and well, it’s a scoring one.
He’s going to have the ball in his hands a ton to create offense and get a bunch of shots up, but a lot of that will come down to the overarching creation that he gets. And it seems like that’s been a major focus this off-season in his behind the scenes training for the season.
Off-ball impact will be huge for him as well, since one of the only parts of his game that saw a decrease last season was catch and shoot threes. If that can be revived to rookie year levels, he will be in good shape.
Scoring, scoring, and more scoring. He’s going to be asked to be the bucket getter off the bench, or better yet, a closing bucket getter once again. And there’s nothing more important for his game this season than taking the reigns of that role from the jump.
This Heat team will be looking a lot different in the front-court this season. Tucker entering as a primary 4, Markieff Morris being picked up, and Omer Yurtseven being added as a youthful project. Things won’t be familiar in that department early in the season.
But two guys this team will trust down low are Adebayo and Dewayne Dedmon.
Dedmon showed last season that he’s a trustable piece to be utilized in different spots. He’s extremely efficient, doesn’t need to be a spot-light on the offensive end, and shows plenty of things that the Heat organization and coaching staff loves.
Much like Lowry, I do believe that availability will be very important for him after being super fresh for this past playoff series after only playing 16 regular season games. I don’t expect him to play close to 82, which is where the Yurtseven opportunity arises.
Aside from that, going back to the front-court additions, Dedmon is one of the only rotational pieces other than Adebayo who can be a true rebounding threat. They added size but didn’t add length, which felt like a case where Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley met in the middle.
Clean-up crew Dedmon will be important for this team, especially being a bench piece. The reason for that is due to predominant bench lineups being about getting shots up: aka Herro, Max Strus, etc. If he can continue to show consistency as an inside threat throughout the regular season, it’ll make the non-Adebayo minutes much easier.
Balancing Robinson Insertion and Personal Strengths
Max Strus is one of those intriguing story-lines heading into the season. He has slowly bumped up the rotation line in a similar way we’ve seen Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, and others do so.
There are a few things that we still need to evaluate from him, starting with consistency of offensive play at this level. We’ve seen him in solid spot minutes last season and Summer League domination, but consistent rotational minutes are always a bit different.
But in terms of his most important attribute personally, I think it’s about the role given to him. What I mean by that is he might have to do a bit of balancing to begin the season between: filling into Robinson movement sets and just being himself.
As much as he gets the Robinson comparison, he’s not Duncan Robinson. They don’t have the same body structure, they don’t have the same defensive capabilities, and they don’t have the same offensive control.
But yes, they can both shoot.
Will Strus thrive as a guy who never puts the ball on the floor, or will we see that’s how he creates his space with aggressive downhill attacking? It’s an interesting discussion, which is why his early season choices could dictate his play-style for the year.
No surprise here, it all comes down to efficiency for the recently acquired Markieff Morris. With the Lakers this past season, he shot 31% from three through 61 regular season games.
Although the record shows that he’s more efficient as a starter, I would expect him to be in that bench role with developing offensive weapons like Tyler Herro. And in a lot of ways, those are the type of players who can probably benefit him most.
Combining players who dominate the ball with a spot-up guy who is unselfish and willing to locate himself in different places definitely isn’t a bad recipe. With Dedmon’s interior location, that outside shot will be even more crucial for Morris.
Like I noted with Tucker, the corner three is the game changer for this team, but I don’t believe that’s where we see Morris most. He’s a guy that thrived in Horns’ sets because he can pop out to the top of the key with more things at his disposal.
As a play-maker, he always looked best with over the top passes from that spot of the floor, meaning I think we see that translate over this season as well. If he can knock down that shot consistently, the usage of him on this team shifts completely.
Victor Oladipo is the true definition of an NBA wild card. The projection of him slotting next to all of the team’s primary defenders or lining up next to Herro as a shot creator is clearly something to be happy about from Miami’s perspective.
But as much as that stuff holds high importance, none of it matters if he doesn’t get back out there on the floor at a decent percentage. Nothing matters more than the health of Victor Oladipo, which is why I don’t expect them rushing him back this season even if he pushes it.
The true value of this pick-up is having him as a late-season addition who can be used in a playoff series without a ton of prior film to evaluate from this season. Hence, the phrase wild card coming into play.
If this team ends up showing flashes early in the season before Oladipo returns, that’s when they’ll know they have a shot at something. A slow start may lead to a heavy reliance on Oladipo coming back at a high level, and that’s far from ideal.
Just have him work himself in with a minor workload next to Herro in the back-up back-court, and see where you can go from there.
Playing Off the Catch
Gabe Vincent’s name seems to be getting talked about less and less as the season approaches, which may lead to him ending up as another surprise
Erik Spoelstra showed a great amount of trust in him last season, even placing him in a role he wasn’t very familiar with. He was essentially asked to run offense and trigger certain sets, while being a point of attack anchor in the 2-2-1 press Miami relied on.
And well, that wasn’t really Vincent’s role in the past. The shooting struggles may have came due to the comfort levels differing. In the past, he was a guy who played off the ball as a spot-up threat from deep, but too much on his plate at the point guard position could have clouded things.
In his predicted minutes early on, I think we see more of him playing off the catch with the ball in Herro or Lowry’s hands. Allow him to play his own game then make an evaluation from there. He’s made huge steps in his game in every major area, except for that shooting stroke that we once saw.
If he can maximize that this season, this team will be in better shape than originally expected before Oladipo returns.
Omer Yurtseven, also known as the Summer League fan favorite, really made a name for himself this off-season. A lengthy build with enough versatility to shoot it from deep, play in the post, and protect the rim.
At this point in his young career, there isn’t a specific part of his game that will be more important than others, but the primary component will be playing time.
As I’ve said in the past, he’s going to get minutes this season. Guys like Dedmon don’t seem to be playing 82, while other front-court members are older in age, meaning he will be slotted in at some point in the season.
That’s when he can showcase his full game off at this level. Before working things down to a specific focus in his game, the initial game observation has to come, and I believe it’ll come sooner than some may think.
Behind the Scenes Focus
The current focus of KZ Okpala’s skill-set won’t be coming in NBA minutes. The true time to maximize his offensive skills in question is still going to be behind the scenes.
It’s very clear that spot-up three should be the thing he’s harping on right now. After seeing his willingness to attack, there just isn’t enough touch around the rim and perimeter combos to get downhill to obtain that ability consistently.
The three ball hasn’t been showcased yet either, but that at least has some potential to be useful in the near future. Like I’ve said before, aiming for a 3 & D role is all he needs right now. He has the defensive part, but a decent corner three is what can potentially get him some minutes down the line.
Until then, it’s more about focusing on attributes outside of NBA games.
And finally, the guy who has basically been a part of the Miami Heat since I was born: Udonis Haslem.
Discussing the skill-set of Haslem hasn’t seemed necessary up to this point since that’s never what he’s used for. It’s more about off-court leadership or on-court three minute stints before being ejected.
But could this be the year he actually receives more minutes?
Some have argued that he can clearly still play with that sweet baseline jumper and rebounding toughness, but I feel it’ll be harder this year than ever. The reason for that is if there was a season for him to see an increase in minutes, it was last season.
An uneven Covid season without any front-court depth is pretty much the combo that should translate to that. This roster, on the other hand, is filled with front-court depth who are looking for a long-term chance to prove themselves.
But well, you never really know what will happen in this league, especially with the Miami Heat.
We may not know the on-court situation with Udonis Haslem, but we definitely know the off-court situation. He will have his teammates prepared every single night to embody their new team theme.
Why is that? Well, the theme of this team is basically Udonis Haslem.