The first year of a post-LeBron Miami did not go well for the Heat.
After their former star forward reverse-burned the Heat and unexpectedly bolted back to his Cavalier home team, Miami was left somewhat scrambling to fill his role and replace his production, tasks that are inherently impossible when dealing with a world-class vacancy like James’s.
The team’s difficulties didn’t stop there. While the Heat were able to sign Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts and cobble together a respectable squad of veterans in the wake of LeBron’s departure, the group never seemed to gel on the court. Despite getting almost nightly appearances from the oft-injured Dwyane Wade and Deng, Miami was just 22-30 at the All-Star break last season and badly struggling to score, notching a meager 101.5 offensive rating that placed them deep in the bottom half of the league, per NBA.com.
At the time, the team had already lost McRoberts for the season to a knee injury and subsequent surgery in December, and the All-Star break brought even worse matters to Miami. Doctors noticed blood clots in Chris Bosh’s legs that would cause him to miss the rest of his season as well, leaving the Heat without its highest-paid player and most versatile scoring threat.
Hassan Whiteside showed serious promise and became a phenom for a time last season, but his impressive play was eventually marred by negative incidents involving his temper. As unlimited as his big-man potential was, so seemed to be his temper as well.
Even the addition of the electric Goran Dragic, brought in from Phoenix at the trade deadline, did little to change Miami’s fortunes. He had a difficult time making the on-the-fly adjustment to a new team in the middle of the season, a change that surely wasn’t made any easier by the drastic difference between Phoenix’s fast-paced, fly-around style versus a Heat offense that was much more buttoned-up last year than usual.
Altogether, the Heat missed the playoffs and finished at 37-45.
After another busy offseason, however, optimism has risen once again in Miami. The Heat managed to hang on to both Wade and Dragic during the offseason while somehow adding Justise Winslow in the draft, a selection that many considered a steal at pick ten. They also added veterans Amar’e Stoudemire and Gerald Green to boost their bench. Those moves, combined with the returns of Bosh and McRoberts, have many believing in Miami’s chance to once again ascend to the upper echelons of the Eastern Conference.
There’s no question that the Heat have a ton of talent, more than many of their conference foes. Miami also has leadership and depth, as long as injuries don’t hit their aging squad as hard as they did last season. They also have an elite coach in Erik Spoelstra. And yet, the biggest problem for the Heat might be an area they knew was a problem in June: outside shooting.
The champion Warriors, Spurs, and Heat have shown during the last few postseasons just how valuable and necessary the ability to spread the floor can be to teams trying to win championships. Each of those teams finished first, first, and second, respectively, during the regular season in team three-point percentage, according to NBA.com. Last season, Miami was in the bottom third of the league in three-point shooting.
That will clearly have to change if the Heat are to compete with the likes of Cleveland and Chicago in the Eastern Conference. The problem is, if Miami is essentially running back last year’s squad, who steps up to fill that void?
Their options are limited. Outside of his career season two years ago, Dragic has barely been an average NBA three-point shooter during his career. Luol Deng is simply average as well, same for Gerald Green. Wade has essentially given up on his three-point shot for a long time, while Justise Winslow is brand new to the NBA three-point line, and he was a streaky outside shooter Duke.
The return of Bosh will do many things for the Heat, but this is one area where his presence offers a tremendous boon. Bosh shot 37.5 percent on 168 three-point attempts last year in his first season as a full-time scoring option in Miami. That number led all team regulars except for Shawne Williams, and if Bosh can find a way to repeat it, it would probably lead the team again this year.
Obviously, one shooter doesn’t make a whole team, but Bosh’s shooting and size in conjunction give the Heat a unique player at the power forward spot, one who’s bigger than virtually all stretch-fours, but still extremely mobile and a very good shooter. This type of mismatch offers huge value at a crucial position, since opposing defensive strategies are hugely influenced by the different types of modern power forwards.
Deploying Bosh gives Miami as good a foundation as any for their three-point attack, since it pulls at least one opposing big very away from the basket and spreads the defense thinner. That will make attempts easier for the likes of Dragic and Deng as well as open up the lane, where the Heat are surely hoping the ball-handling creativity of Wade and Dragic can offer alternative scoring avenues for this team.
As team composed mostly of established veterans, this is a problem that isn’t going to simply go away for the Heat. Outside of Winslow and Tyler Johnson, the members of Miami’s rotation are who they are at this point in their careers, which doesn’t leave much room for improvement during the course of the season. Either of those two youngsters developing into an influential three-point threat would be a big deal for this offense, although it would also be unexpected.
In that sense, Spoelstra already knows what he has to work with, and although a team of league-average outside shooters isn’t a death sentence, some inventive coaching from a smart basketball mind could present new possibilities for a team with many intriguing pieces that don’t necessarily fit perfectly together.
Ultimately, that’s what we keep coming back to with the Heat. They’re a team of many talented players, however old they might be, but is it the right blend of talent? And how much does that matter?
The early returns from last season, with a similar group, don’t make for a promising outlook. But Dragic is now heading up that backcourt, and if he can get comfortable the way he did in Phoenix, and Bosh, Wade, and Deng can stay healthy, there should be enough complementary skill-sets on that offense for Spoelstra to make something serviceable. That’s his challenge this season, and it could determine how successful this team eventually becomes.
With Wade playing on a one-year contract and Bosh returning from a serious injury, this could be a pivotal chapter for this era of Heat basketball. We’ll see if the squad that once helped ring in this decade’s three-point shooting revolution has enough touch left to make another run at it.