How can the Miami Heat switch things up next season?
The Miami Heat have a basketball dilemma.
The good news is that the Heat have brought back their entire core unit – Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk, the list goes on and on – for the 2018-19 season. This core plays inspired basketball and creates a top-10 defense, grounded by its switchy nature.
The bad news is that this group doesn’t inspire confidence that the Heat have made any real gains this offseason.
“Running it back” has been the narrative of the 2018 offseason.
With teams unable to shell out for big roster moves (the Los Angeles Lakers notwithstanding), doubling down on already secured prospects was the only way for good teams to stay good and bad teams to find hope.
Sure, each player has been putting in hours in the grindhouse. Richardson linked up with the training facilities at P3 in Santa Barbara, while Adebayo got some one-on-one time with Rasheed Wallace.
But beyond individual improvement, the Heat have effectively returned the same 44-38 team extinguished by the Philadelphia 76ers in five games during the playoffs.
Some of the greatest NBA success stories often involve a caterpillar-to-butterfly summer transition. The offseason of 2014 made the now three-time champ Golden State Warriors, just as Victor Oladipo redefined his career the summer after his trade to the Indiana Pacers.
Miami certainly has players capable of returning the franchise to contention, but making the jump from “oh, Miami is a solid bunch” to “Well, look out East!” will rely on the Heat nailing down its rotations and figuring out exactly who they are as a team.
With that said, Miami’s defense will be their biggest success story next season.
No. 1 Defense
The Heat limited their opponents to fewer than 100 points 33 times last season. In such occasions, Miami held a record of 27-6, further adding credibility to their seventh placed defensive rating (104 points allowed per 100 possessions).
Their best run of the season came in January, a time when players start eying mid-February vacations over All-Star Weekend.
Contributing to Miami’s success was their supreme conditioning.
Leaguewide players and personnel are well aware of Miami’s training regimen, with Dion Waiters standing as one of the Heat’s best models. Waiters flaunted his transformation on Instagram in April 2017, illustrating the lofty standards to which the Heat hold their players.
Having that extra bit of gas in the tank before All-Star Weekend led to the Heat both notching their longest win streak (seven games) and limiting their opponents to a season low 17.7 assists per game in the month.
Capitalizing on what made that run special – defense – will be Miami’s key to success next season.
Miami will post a league best defensive rating in 2018-19.
Miami’s defense at it’s best in anchored by Hassan Whiteside, who has built a career denying hoop-ball relations. But before Whiteside can get his mitts up to send the rock careening away from the goal, he has the help of his ever-scurrying teammates.
On January 14, 2018 Miami held the Milwaukee Bucks to 79 points en route to Miami’s seventh straight victory. The Bucks point total was their lowest of the season and was only the second time they failed to score more than 80 points during the year.
Keeping a team from reaching the 80-point threshold is a mind-boggling feat in the NBA.
Considering the increased reliance on 3’s in the modern game, managing fewer than 80 points is just plain hard. Such only happened 29 times in the 2017-18 regular season, out of a combined 1230 games played.
But Miami did so by flooding their defense with anti-Whitesides – players who thrive on switches and help defense.
In the above play, the Bucks’ Eric Bledsoe hits Khris Middleton on the left wing. Thinking the 6-foot-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo has the mismatch on the 6-foot-4 Tyler Johnson, Middleton gets caught in his inability to dump it into Antetokounmpo, thanks to Johnson’s ability to deny that option.
Here, help defense is key.
Henson splits Olynyk and Richardson after screening for Malcom Brogdon, but is immediately met by the undersized Johnson on the block. Another fumble and the Heat are out to the races.
Finally, in this instance, Richardson manages the seemingly impossible.
He fights over the Thon Maker screen and immediately chases him down in the span of 3 seconds, intercepts the pass, and starts the transition for a Winslow-Olynyk alley-oop.
Miami’s defense is predicated on the ability to play bigger than their height charts let on. Hitting teams with what should be mismatches is perplexing.
In theory, Antetokounmpo should work over the smaller of the Johnsons in the post. Miami’s fighting spirit however, rooted in supreme conditioning and a never quit mentality, creates the basis for the NBA’s best defense in 2018-19.
Another year older, another year stronger, the Miami Heat are coming.