Turning up the Heat: Josh Richardson and lackluster defense

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 1: Josh Richardson
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 1: Josh Richardson /

Good news, Miami Heat fans: a new weekly column has arrived at AllUCanHeat.

Welcome to the first edition of Turning up the Heat. First and foremost, this will be a weekly publication filled with honesty, truth, and nothing else. We will dissect both the best and worst the Miami Heat has had to offer in the past week, and in doing so, will seek to uncover possible solutions and additional problems.

First up, Josh Richardson.

I’ve always admired his ability to be an impact player on both ends of the floor. Since the days of “Rook 2,” he’s been one of Miami’s most explosive talents. Offensively, he is a career 36 percent 3-point shooter and is relatively decent from the free throw line.

Over the course of the past four outings, Richardson has been red-hot from the field, averaging 17 points per game on 64 percent shooting (27-for-42), while collecting a steal and block per game. His outburst included a career-high 27 points on 11-for-14 shooting against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, knocking down three of four 3-pointers.

Despite Miami’s 1-3 record during that time span, Richardson’s play on both ends of the floor has been eye-opening. If there’s one thing pundits and critics can’t question of him, it’s his effort.

Since his days at the University of Tennessee, Richardson’s athleticism has served him well, and it continues to manifest itself on basketball’s biggest stage, amongst a collection of the most talented players in the world.

Not known as a 3-point shooter entering the NBA, Richardson’s ability to stretch the floor is vital for a Heat team that struggles to score, currently ranked 26th in points per game (100.0) and 27th in offensive rating (102.9).

For Richardson to reach the “next level” as a player, he’ll need to keep up this pace on a much more consistent basis. He currently has 12 games with single-digits in the scoring column, seven of which he has recorded five points or less. That must change for Miami to compete for a top-5 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, because as of now, the Heat are looking at another .500 season.

Next? Defense.

Where Miami has dramatically dropped off is on the defensive end, and the numbers are decreasing at alarming rates. Despite ranking ninth opposing points per game (103.7), the Heat have essentially become a shell of what they were during that dominant 30-11 stretch that concluded last season.

Currently boasting a defensive rating of 106.7 (13th), the Heat have allowed 111.5 points per game over the past four, including a 123-95 loss at the hands of the Golden State Warriors and a 115-86 bludgeoning from the New York Knicks.

Hassan Whiteside has yet to appear in a game since November 28, while battling a bone-bruised knee, and that has taken a noticeable toll on this group.

With Whiteside in the lineup, the Heat boast a defensive rating of 99.3. When he sits, that number jumps up to 107.7, nearly an eight-point increase. Despite rookie Bam Adebayo’s physical gifts and strong upside, he’s no Whiteside on that end…yet.

But Adebayo’s potential is on full display, despite being in such small incriments. Although he only averages 15 minutes per night, Miami holds a 90.1 defensive rating when No. 13 is on the court. Although he’s only appeared in 14 games, head coach Erik Spoelstra will be turning to the rookie to fill a potentially large void.

For now, the Heat are digging themselves in yet another hole as the All-Star break quickly approaches, despite lofty expectations before the season began.

Next: Josh Richardson defies the numbers as a Miami Heat threat

In no way is it time to press the panic button, but fans across South Florida are starting to feel antsy, and rightfully so.