While the beginning of the season for the Miami Heat seemed as if there was no true identity on either side of the ball, that has turned as of late.
The Heat are the number one team in defensive rating over the last 15 games, which is as big of an improvement as possible. Some may point to a more consistent Jimmy Butler in the lineup, but the defense has been strong even when he’s been out.
And that’s a big reason Erik Spoelstra deserves a lot of credit, since he’s been forced to use some players at the bottom of the roster and put them in spots to thrive. Gabe Vincent made a jump in minutes, mostly since he realized his unique ability at the top of the 2-3 zone and full-court press.
But although their defense has been consistently good, that hasn’t been the case for their offense. Over the last 15 games, they’re 20th in offensive rating, and somehow still ended up going 11-4 in that stretch. And quite frankly, a portion of those losses were winnable, including the LA Clippers game without four starters and the Golden State Warriors game with a decent lead and a struggling Stephen Curry.
So if there’s been success as of late with a struggling offense, what is the next step for Miami’s offense?
Well, the obvious answer would be a consistently healthy roster, but that can never be relied on this season. Miami’s played 36 games up to this point, while only 9 of those games included Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Goran Dragic all playing.
From a systematic perspective, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact reason. They’ve proved to move the ball exceptionally well, since a good portion of their field goal makes on a nightly basis are assisted on. Miami has gone slightly away from constant DHO’s, leading to much more back-cuts, which is essential on a team that prides themselves on off-ball screening.
But the true fix to improve Miami’s all-around offensive success will be to decrease the load from Miami’s veteran go-to guys. Butler and Goran Dragic are two unbelievable offensive players that are capable of sparking the entire offense, through attacking off the dribble, setting up others, and scoring down the stretch when it matters.
But if these two guys have been Miami’s only offensive hope in many games, how does it make sense for them to take a step-back?
Well, that’s where Miami’s young guys, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, come into play. This doesn’t mean Butler and Dragic need to take a step back, but less reliance on these guys in a half-court offense will allow this team to truly thrive.
There have been flashes from both Adebayo and Herro this season by taking over on their own, Adebayo in the Brooklyn Nets game and Herro in the Philadelphia 76ers game with only 8 available players. But when all four of them can play in the same game and all thrive in their own roles, that’s when the leap will occur.
Waiting for Adebayo to take offensive initiative has been discussed frequently, since his unselfishness leads to him trying to set others up, while Herro has struggled lately just through a lack of rhythm and flow after missing time.
When Adebayo can begin to find his favorite spot at the free throw line for mid-range jumpers consistently, and Herro can attack the basket without hesitance and kiss the ball off the glass with confidence, this team will be hard to beat.
In many ways, the rise of Kendrick Nunn has been a major reason for Miami’s offense landing 20th, since without his consistent play, the rating would be significantly worse.
The reason I’m discussing this in a broad fashion is because it seems pretty obvious that these two guys will be the only way large improvement will be seen. Instead of diving into the film today to breakdown certain possessions, it’s time to evaluate the first 36 games as a whole, and how to move forward in a positive manner.
If Herro can regain that bubble confidence with the ball in his hands, and Adebayo can attempt more shots per game than the number on his jersey, it’ll allow Butler and Dragic to have much more freedom in the regular season, instead of forcing them to do too much before the post-season even begins.
Now that the entire team gets a week off at home, that second half push will be ready to be made. And with a healthy Butler, a continued strong defensive effort, and the increased aggression from the guys discussed, there’s a good chance a .500 record will be the last thing they’re thinking about.