Pat Riley spoke with media today before the season opener this Thursday, and the overall vibe was completely different from when he spoke a couple months ago after the loss to Milwaukee in the post-season.
Riley actually embodied something in this presser that the entire team will embody this season: being refreshed. A new team, a rested mind and body, while carrying over that same winning mentality is both the Riley and Miami Heat way.
Anyway, following a ton of topics to cover from this 45 minutes presser, here are some things that stuck out to me:
#1: Bam Adebayo might be a “flat out scorer this year.”
There’s never a better place to start in these type of evaluation pieces than Bam Adebayo. Riley started out saying that Adebayo has “gotten extraordinarily better than last year.”
He mentioned some things regarding his role last season, such as being that much needed ball handler and facilitator with the guys around him, but following some off-season additions, the goal posts are moving.
Riley adds, “I think you might see a flat out scorer this year.” And as many have added in the past, that places this Miami Heat team in a completely different tier. If Adebayo is your leading scorer on a team with Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, and an emerging Tyler Herro, the league must watch out.
This isn’t just Heat twitter fantasizing over offensive tweaks that may never ultimately happen. This is Pat Riley once again saying to the public that this transformation is upon us. And well, as Riley alluded to a bit in the presser, Lowry and Butler will be major reasons for that.
#2: The closing lineup factor isn’t a surprise.
The question started with a general evaluation of Duncan Robinson, and his goal to close games with this Heat team. Riley jokingly responded, “He’s got to be on a bad team,” in terms of him closing every game since he’d be the best player on a bottom tier ball club.
In this scenario, the way to close games is pretty straight forward for Riley: “They know now that if you want to be on the court at the end of the game that my defense is not gonna hurt me in the last 4 or 5 minutes.”
This type of discussion pretty quickly turned into an interesting topic that’s been brought up a ton recently: will Herro or Robinson be the one closing?
Riley gave his opinion, saying, “Tyler is probably gonna be on the floor, because he’s a multi faceted player.”
Just from what I’ve seen so far, aside from Herro’s string of masterclass performances, it seems like they need that looser offensive piece late in games who can handle over the spacer.
But yet again, there won’t be a set closing lineup. Spo will do his usual tinkering, but we do know the four who will be on the floor at all times.
#3: PJ Tucker isn’t just an Erik Spoelstra guy. He’s actually a Pat Riley guy.
When PJ Tucker was signed this off-season, the initial thought was that this is an Erik Spoelstra guy. Doesn’t explode in the scoring column in any capacity, but he plays hard, plays his role, and he can be trusted late in games.
Yet, the respect Pat Riley has for him seems to be even greater.
Spo and Riley speaking with PJ Tucker pic.twitter.com/mN0659r1LV
— Brady Hawk (@BradyHawk305) October 18, 2021
“He’s 3 times more than I thought he was. If I wanted to put on a defensive clinic, I would use him.” Riley continued to praise his ability to defend in every way, using perfect close-outs, positioning, and even screening on the offensive end.
As I said before, we all know Butler, Lowry, and Adebayo will be out there when that final buzzer sounds every night, but Tucker is in that grouping as well. This team needed extra defensive size, and although his length on paper doesn’t project that to be true, his on-court presence certainly does.
#4: Max Strus is high on this team’s “young guy” big board.
Pat Riley brought up the “young guys” on this team quite frequently. Not just bringing them up in terms of their age, but also the ways they can contribute at this stage.
That list clearly consisted of Adebayo, Herro, and Robinson, but one other name kept being thrown in when being discussed: Max Strus.
Now, this may not seem to be a big deal to many, since he’s going to be a major piece of this team’s bench unit this season, but the respect level among his peers has been incredible. It’s not just his teammates and coaches either. It’s the business man upstairs as well.
Riley joked, “His agent is on the phone all the time trying to extend his contract.” And well, pretty soon those conversations will be progressing even further. He puts in the work, and he produces at a high level on the big stage. There’s no doubt he’s in store for a big season.
#5: The season focus: early season success.
After discussing a lot of individual players, there was one general theme that floated around a couple times in this press conference: the strength of the early-season schedule.
This team had to deal with a bunch of things to begin the season last year regarding Covid, and it lead to a 7-14 start. Due to that being the case, it seems like there’s some extra initiative to come out the gates hot.
To talk about this on a much smaller scale, opening night could really propel this team into a hot start. Taking down the defending Champs, in the Milwaukee Bucks, to kick off their season will give them the ultimate confidence to keep it rolling.
And as Riley noted today, that Bucks team has a bunch of versatile bigs to try and match-up with. But well, Miami added some size of their own, and one of them was taken from that Bucks team.
On this team that is built for the playoffs, a hot regular season start can move them up to that next tier.
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