Back in 1988, the NBA decided that it needed some new faces around the league. The fans wanted something new, something exciting. Thus, the Miami Heat were born. It’s safe to say that the Heat are one of the most successful expansion franchises of all time, far surpassing the Charlotte Hornets, who were implemented in the same year as the Heat, the Orlando Magic and the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were added the next season. From the dynamic duo of Shaq and Wade to the big 3, the Heat have always put on a show for NBA fans around the world. Now, we take a look at the present-day Miami Heat to determine; are they a title contender?
First, we analyze the Heat’s starting lineup to assist in determining whether or not this team can win the title. Leading the pack, they have 5-time all-star and defensive menace Jimmy Butler. Following Butler, they have first-time all-star Bam Adebayo. The rest of the starters consist of Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson and Meyers Leonard. As of late, Derrick Jones Jr. has been starting in place of the injured Meyers Leonard, but Leonard will certainly be returning to his starting role when healthy. As with many of the top teams in the league, this starting lineup has many good aspects to it. This season, Jimmy Butler has embraced the role of being the best player on the Heat while also being the leader of this young squad. He has led them to win after win, despite the previous leadership questions surrounding him from his time with the Timberwolves and 76ers. Helping Butler immensely this season has been Bam Adebayo. Adebayo has not only been a defensive powerhouse but has also made the scoring load on Butler significantly lower, averaging 16 points per game. To top it off, undrafted free agent Kendrick Nunn has shocked the NBA world with his play so far. Averaging 16 points per game, Nunn has been a clear contributor to why the Heat have had such a good season up to this point. Throw in Duncan Robinson’s dead-eye three-point shot and Meyers Leonard’s contributions on defense, there’s no wonder why many consider this to be a top starting lineup in the league. One notable detriment of this team’s starting lineup is the lack of playoff experience. As of right now, the only two players who have a good amount of playoff experience are Meyers Leonard and Jimmy Butler. Aside from those two, Bam Adebayo has only played in one playoff series to five games, while both Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson have never seen the playoffs before. The playoffs are a different brand of basketball. It is very hard for a player to excel in the playoffs with little to no experience. It should be interesting to see how the younger players in this starting lineup react to playoff basketball.
The Heat’s bench has plenty of notable guys on it. Andre Iguodala, Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro, Jae Crowder, Derrick Jones Jr., Kelly Olynyk and Udonis Haslem all sit on the Heat’s bench, waiting for the moment they get in. The big thing this bench possesses is veterans with productivity, Veterans like Iguodala and Crowder come in and impact the game immensely. They have a 6th man of the year candidate in Goran Dragic, who is averaging 16 points per game. They also possess one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA, Tyler Herro. Derrick Jones Jr. is a high-flyer who never fails to get the bench hyped with an insane dunk. Kelly Olynyk provides a nice, little scoring punch when he comes, averaging about 8 points per game. Udonis Haslem is strictly there for leadership and exemplifies a successful, lengthy NBA career. This bench has a very good mixture of young talent and veterans with solid production, which should be crucial come playoff time.
Next, we look at how the Heat have done on both sides of the ball so far this season. Offensively, they seem to be one of the more timid teams in the league. They average 112.7 points per game, which is currently thirteenth in the league (FoxSports.com). Though they aren’t putting up a huge amount of points, they’re offense certainly isn’t failing. Miami shoots 47% from the field, good enough for ninth in the league. They also shoot 38.2% from beyond the three-point line, which puts them that second in the league for that category. When it comes to passing the ball and waiting for good shots, the Heat seem to be one of the better teams in the league at doing that. On the defensive side of the ball, this team is very good at making others miss shots. So far this season, opponents of the Heat are only shooting 45% from the field and 34% from deep, which puts the Heat’s defense in the top 10 for both stats. Combined with this, opponents only score 109 points against them. The fact that the Heat shoot very well on one end of the floor and force their opponents to shoot very poorly on the other just proves that this team is one of the most well-rounded teams in the NBA.
Furthermore, we have to take a look at the Heat’s possible “it” factors. Candidate number one being none other than Jimmy Butler. Jimmy Butler has been a great player in the league for the past couple of seasons. Not only has he averaged 20 or more points on six different occasions, but he has also helped teams in the playoffs on multiple occasions. Even with all of this, Butler is pretty much stuck in the definite all-star, not superstar player category. These are players who are great, who make the all-star team almost every year but just aren’t at that superstar level. Jimmy Butler can not be the best player on a title-winning team. The second candidate would be Bam Adebayo. Coming off of his first all-star selection, Bam has been having a great season thus far. Not only does he play defense superbly, but he can also get the ball in the basket. The truth is; this is the first season he’s done something. Although he’s young, his previous years in the league have been nothing special, so to label someone an “it” factor based on one season’s production wouldn’t be right. Time will tell if he can become that special type of player.
Lastly, we look at how the Heat have done so far this season. Miami is currently 39-22, good enough for 4th in the eastern conference. What really stands out about this Miami Heat team is their ability to beat the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks have looked close to unbeatable this year, having only lost 9 games out of 61. Two of those losses come from the Miami Heat. Just this Monday, the Heat beat the Bucks by 15+ points. One concern is that the Heat have not won a game against the Celtics all year, losing both matchups. These teams will most likely not be meeting up in the first round, but it may be something to watch for if they end up meeting in the playoffs.
As with most top seeds in the east, this team is very good. Not only do they shoot the ball well, but they also force others to shoot poorly. Along with this, they have shown time and time again that they possess the ability to beat the good teams around the league. Their bench has a good mix of veteran productiveness and youthful energy. There are some things hindering this squad from being title contenders, though. The fact that their starting lineup overall has very little playoff experience, from Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson never stepping foot on the court during an NBA playoff game to Bam Adebayo only playing in one playoff series. They also seem to not have that “it” factor. Jimmy Butler is a great player, a perennial all-star, but does he really have the ability to be the best player on a championship-winning team? We haven’t seen it yet, so we’ll just have to wait and see in this year’s playoffs. This team has a very good chance to make it out of the first round as it’s looking right now, but making it further than that will certainly be a challenge. This team will not contend for a title this year but has certainly paved the way for their future.