Heat’s Hidden Gem: Star-less Success

There’s been a lot of discussion about the Miami Heat lately, beginning with their star Jimmy Butler. He’s having a career year in field goal %, rebounds, assists, double-doubles, and triple doubles, while the Heat are 30-19 when he plays.

After an absolute dominant performance against Boston to say the least, he’s the clear headliner when discussing this Miami team. A close second would be Butler’s sidekick, Bam Adebayo, who was close to perfect on Sunday afternoon against the Celtics as well.

These two guys are at the top of the list when discussing the reasons for the team’s success, but the true reason for the latest spark has to do with when they are off the floor.

Some of Miami’s worst minutes this season came when Adebayo exited the floor, since there was a clear drop-off at the center position. But well, they cleared up that issue with the recent acquisition of Dewayne Dedmon.

The Heat originally approached the back-up big spot as a player that can try to mirror some of the things Adebayo does, but that didn’t really work out in the short term with Precious Achiuwa. The Dedmon pick-up showed that they were willing to go in the complete opposite direction instead.

He’s an interior force on both ends of the floor, who has a veteran play style, which tends to their playoff hopes. The other set of minutes that have had trouble is the non-Butler minutes, due to the fact his offensive abilities weren’t being reiterated by an aging Goran Dragic and inconsistent Tyler Herro.

The last set of minutes that were absolutely atrocious were the non-Butler and Adebayo minutes, which weren’t seen much throughout the season. One of the two making an early exit in the first, followed by one subbing back in as the other got a breather, became the new normal on this team, which didn’t seem like a winning equation.

But they’ve turned that around recently, and it’s the one hidden gem when discussing the Miami Heat’s success.

A recent Dragic surge and Herro comeback have been the main reasons for this, since that back-court tandem has been on a roll lately. They combined for an efficient 50 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, which was an introduction to Miami’s new play-style.

Now, the Heat are able to leave Butler and Adebayo off the floor for longer periods than ever imagined, and not only have those lineups been stable, but they’ve boosted production. In the last two games, the bench lineup with Dragic-Herro-Iguodala-Dedmon, with Kendrick Nunn plugged in, has an offensive rating of 122 and a defensive rating of 97.

Although those numbers are exceptional, it’s a small sample size, but this shouldn’t be taken lightly. I don’t think anybody expected a lineup of Dragic, Nunn, and Herro to have a defensive rating of 97 over a two game span, but they’ve found a way through an effective scheme consisting of lots of blitzing and doubles. That defense also plays into their favor offensively while it allows them to get out in the open court and run.

The question now becomes, is it sustainable? It’s something that can’t be answered at the moment, but I will say that this Dragic run doesn’t seem to be temporary. The comfort levels with the three guard lineups have been a huge reason for the recent surge as well.

When I asked Erik Spoelstra about the lineups with Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn being so effective, he responded, “It wasn’t like jumping off the screen or in our reports and reviews until about two weeks ago. We started to notice that combination was actually being pretty effective. So it’s something that we will continue to explore.”

Well they’ve continued to explore it, and even thrown Herro into the mix with them, which has posted an offensive rating of 120 since his return.

This team has needed one more guy to step up for quite some time, and they currently have every role player doing that at the same time. If this team can at least stay afloat when Adebayo and Butler head to the bench over these last four games, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll have a week off while other teams battle it out in the play-in.

It’s a hidden gem that’s becoming not so hidden. And once that ability is noticed in a playoff setting, it leads them right back into Butler or Adebayo takeover mode, which is exactly what they want. As Adebayo said, “When we’re clicking on all cylinders, we’re a hard team to beat.” And their cylinders are currently clicking, due to this very reason: star-less success.

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