Can The Miami Heat Be The Team To Breakout In The East?

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Can The Miami Heat Be The Team To Breakout In The East?

 

LeBron is gone. Left the Eastern Conference and his home town Cavaliers for the glitz and glamour of LA. Naturally, this has caused the usual seismic shift of the NBA landscape when a superstar moves around. The East is suddenly less predictable. Sure, the Boston Celtics played extremely well without two of their best players, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. The 76ers have trusted a process and now have the best two young cornerstones in the League in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Even the Raptors, Bucks and Pacers showed potency last year with DeRozan and Lowry, Giannis, and Oladipo breaking out. But could the plucky Heat, former powerhouse thanks to guess who, be one of the surprise risers in the East?

As of yet, the Heat haven’t done much to improve their roster. Sharpshooter Wayne Ellington has come back and signed a one-year, $6.27 million deal. Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem are yet to decide between recommitting or retiring. The two need to be re-signed, despite the Heat being dangerously close to pushing the luxury tax.

Other than these three being maybes, the rest of last years 44-38, 6th placed team is back, and it’s the development of the younger players on the roster that will make or break the Heat.

Josh Richardson proved a versatile player alongside Dragic, providing a well rounded offensive contribution as well as leading the team in Defensive Win Shares. He will likely build on his 81 starts last year and be the teams go to starting 2, the next phase of his development would be to put the ball in the basket even more. While well rounded shooting splits of 45.1/37.8/84.5 are great, this only equated to 12.9 points per game. Miami had 9 players average double digits, but a bigger scoring punch from Richardson would take some pressure off Dragic to create, as well as open the floor up even more as defences realise how potent he can be.

Bam Adebayo, a personal favourite of mine, has represented the Heat at the Summer League with a dynamic shift in his skillset and role. After suprising many in his rookie year, Bam has been a point center of sorts throughout the summer league, proving to be more than just the rim running lob catcher of the previous year. He’s been given freedom to facilitate, bring the ball up the floor and even has an apparent green light on his long jumpshot. While the numbers aren’t amazing, the role expansion should see him earn more minutes, and potentially become a dangerous surpise packet in Coach Spoelstra’s lineups. Games like the one he had against the Raptors in January, posting 16 points 15 boards 3 assists (0 turnovers) and 5 blocks, just go to show the untapped potential residing in this big man.

Finally, a man long overdue for a breakout year, Justise Winslow. After being drafted pick 10 back in the 2015 Draft, Winslow was expected to be nothing more than a bulldog small forward, capable of lockdown D and some transition offence. After a shoulder injury derailed his 2016-2017 year, Winslow played the fewest minutes per game of his short career, due to falling behind both Richardson and James Johnson on the depth chart. What was encouraging however, was a slightly improved shooting split, most noticeably his three point percentage spiking from 20% in 16-17 to 38%, on the same amount of attempts per game (1.9). With Johnson still on the roster, Winslow will have to have a big pre-season to supplant him, but regardless, continued offensive growth is necessary for the Heat to make big moves up the rankings.

Dragic is a constant, a borderline All-Star who needs help. Whiteside a headache, but a shot swatting supreme headache. Olynyk proves a valuable floor spacer and creator as a big man. But for the Heat to make real moves in the now open East, they’re going to want to see steady and consistent improvements from Richardson, Adebayo and Winslow.

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