The Miami Heat’s offense (and playoff odds) have fallen off a cliff without Dion Waiters

Feb 13, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters (11) looks on during the second half against the Orlando Magic at American Airlines Arena. The Magic won 116-107. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 13, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters (11) looks on during the second half against the Orlando Magic at American Airlines Arena. The Magic won 116-107. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

The loss of Dion Waiters has not only severely hampered the Miami Heat’s offense, but also their playoff odds, according to one popular outlet.

It’s 2017 and Dion Waiters is a vital starter on a playoff team. Who saw this coming?

On the day Waiters went down with the ankle injury that has kept him out for the last three-and-a-half games, the Miami Heat’s odds to make the postseason — according to FiveThirtyEight — peaked for the season, at 86 percent.

Now, three games AD (After Dion) — a stretch that saw the Heat go 1-2 — that number has dwindled to 55 percent. And considering Miami play their next three on the road, at Boston, at Detroit and at Chicago, the situation could look even more stark in a week’s time.

Without its starting 2-guard, the Heat’s offensive numbers have taken a nosedive. Makes sense, too; after all, the team’s game plan is built around Waiters and Goran Dragic’s downhill, drive-and-kick attacks. Without his running partner, Dragic has less room to operate, and his game has suffered probably more than anyone.

But before we get into that, let’s take a look at the numbers on a macro level.

Miami’s offense AD

The difference between the Heat’s numbers with Waiters and without is staunch. Here’s a quick breakdown of Miami’s offense in the two time frames:

That’s a lot to digest, but in essence, the numbers tell us what we already knew: Miami is a lottery team without Waiters. We saw it during the first 41 games of the season and we are seeing it again over the last three.

The most obvious factor in the Heat’s decline on offense is their three-point shooting; 32.5 percent from deep AD isn’t just a low mark, it would actually rank second-to-last in the NBA if were their rate for the season.

Some may believe Miami has simply gone cold. It was bound to happen, there was just no way they could continue shooting more effectively from three than the Golden State Warriors. And that’s at least part of it.

But we must also take another variable into account: Quality of shot attempt.

Just last night, against the Toronto Raptors, with the offense completely stagnant, James Johnson tried to take matters into his own hands. His solution? Throw up six shots from deep. And guess what? It didn’t work, as he only made one.

Guys are forcing shots they didn’t have to when Waiters was sharing playmaking duties with Dragic. Now, everyone is out of sorts. James Johnson isn’t the only one who’s felt the impact.

Goran Dragic (among others) is hurting without Waiters

In the span of the last three games, Dragic has taken a hit. It’s been so bad that I imagine him sitting at his locker after the debacle against Toronto, listening to late ’90s classic, “I’ll Be Missing You,” by Puff Daddy, thinking about his old buddy Waiters.

Since he went down, Dragic is scoring 15.3 points per game, to go with 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists, which are okay raw averages. However, the issue is with his efficiency, which has been putrid: 30.9 percent from the floor 26.7 percent from three.

By replacing a borderline elite three-point shooter in Waiters (among players averaging over four attempts per game with at least 20 games played, he’s 24th overall at 39.4 percent from three ) with Josh Richardson (29.9 percent), the Heat have lost all sense of spacing.

On both of those misses, Dragic is literally driving into a paint occupied by four Phoenix Suns defenders. Teams don’t have to respect Richardson from three, so all of their attention goes to shutting down driving lanes for Miami’s point guard.

And Dragic’s three-point shooting is in the toilet because he’s not getting the same wide open looks he was when Waiters was around.

Richardson simply isn’t the shot creator that Waiters is. And that brings us to our next point.

Others impacted

Speaking of the second-year combo guard, his play as a starter has been disappointing. He had a chance to find a rhythm with the opening unit but has done nothing with it. As Waiters’ replacement, he’s averaged 12.0 points, 1.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists, is shooting 33.3 percent from three and a Shaq-like 40.0 percent from the foul stripe.

He’s also been the primary defender against two historic performances: Damian Lillard’s 49-point explosion and DeMar DeRozan’s 40-point-on-25-shot outing from Mar. 23.

Just poor play out of Richardson, on both ends.

There’s also Luke Babbitt to discuss. Babbitt went from shooting 1.7 “wide open” threes per game from Jan. 15 to the day Waiters went down, to 1.3 over the last three games (per The difference may seem minuscule, but believe me, it adds up over time. We’re already starting to see it affect his numbers, as he has made just two of his last eight attempts from deep.

Next: Heat still hoping to trade Bosh, per report

Basically, Waiters going down has put a wrench in Miami’s play, as well as their hopes for the postseason.

Could this change how Pat Riley treats his impending free agency? Maybe. But one thing is certain: If Waiters doesn’t get healthy soon, Heat fans should start to pay attention to college basketball and the upcoming draft lottery again.