The Miami Heat are 18-11 and sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference. After all the uncertainties of the last year and a half, it’s a pretty great spot to be for them. But no one would argue that they’re a championship contender, or could even hang with the Cavaliers at the top of the East. In fact, it’s possible they’re not even good enough to keep their current spot in the standings.
They’re outscoring opponenents by 2.1 points per game, a perfectly respectable number. But the Orlando Magic have the same number. Is playing just as well as Orlando where the Heat would like to be? That was rhetorical, but you can just imagine every sunglasses-wearing-indoors-Miami-bro yelling “NOOOOOO!” Of course it’s not. So what’s holding this once-elite team back from that status?
Goran Dragic found success on a blitzkrieg-ing Phoenix Suns team paired with Eric Bledsoe, slashing and cutting and running at will. The Heat traded two first round draft picks to get and spent $90 million to keep that player. But they won’t let him play like that player. Miami’s pace is second-slowest in the league; only the Utah Jazz are slower.
That style doesn’t fit for Dragic, but it does for the rest of the roster. Dwyane Wade’s knees are held together with scotch tape at this point, and despite Chris Bosh’s range, there are still often two traditional bigs on the floor. With Bosh, Wade, and Hassan Whiteside lumbering up and down the hardwood, even if Dragic wanted to push the ball it doesn’t matter if your teammates don’t come along with. The Heat create only 11.2 fast break points per game, well within the bottom half of the league.
Because they don’t get the ball down the court quickly, they don’t get shots up quickly either. Nearly 20% of all Miami shots come with seven seconds or less on the shot clock, which I believe makes Erik Spoelstra the alternate universe Mike D’Antoni. Plenty of these shots are the result of a good play taking its time, sure, but far too many come from what I’ll get into next.
Lack of Movement
Remember the LeBron James-era Heat? LeBron would do a pick and pop with Bosh, attack the hoop, and have shooters on the perimeter to kick to and swing the ball? Those days are long gone. Over 46% of Miami’s made field goals are unassisted, good for sixth most in the league. They’re in the bottom half of the league in assist ratio, averaging only 16 per 100 possessions. Compare with the 2012-13 Heat, who averaged 18.5/100, and weep.
Generally, assisted shots are the easiest ones. It means a player has found an open teammate for a shot. Unassisted means that player has to create the shot himself, with a higher likelihood that a defender can contest it. Miami shoots 55% of its shots with a defender “tight” or “very tight,” meaning within four feet of the shooter. Some players are great at that, some aren’t. The Heat have a little of both, which contributes to this next part.
Bosh and Wade are two of that rare breed who can create their own shots and score efficiently off them. Wade’s isolation/midrange game has been deadly for over a decade and Bosh has added range to already strong post game to beat defenders multiple ways. So naturally they’re the top two in usage rate on the team. So who’s third? Probably their $18 million/year point guard, right? Nope, it’s Gerald Green.
Yes, Green, a gunslinger by all definitions. Someone you’d love on your team, but shouldn’t be nearly that involved. His 26 minutes per game may be singlehandedly skewing Miami’s assist numbers downward. Between Green and Wade, there’s barely room for their actual point guard to handle the ball. I’m not sure that’s what Dragic thought he was signing up for.
That’s a good question, hypothetical reader. Despite all these problems, the Heat have succeeded. They rebound well, they don’t turn the ball over, they’re shooting efficiently, and they get to the free throw line. That’s a strong combination of traits for a good basketball team. But I’m warning you, it may not be sustainable.
The Heat have had an easy schedule with only 10 road games and three back to backs, some of the lowest in the league. Of their next 23 games before the All-Star break, 16 are on the road and 16 are against teams .500 or better. This will be a true test to find out if their game is for real. Stay tuned.
* all stats from nba.com/stats