Admit it, for the last couple of months you’ve been penciling Damian Lillard’s name into your imaginary Miami Heat depth chart. Since Lillard requested a trade in early July and named Miami as his one-and-only preferred destination, the sentiment around the NBA has been that it’s only a matter of time until Lillard gets his way.
Well, that time has dragged on. Lillard is still employed by the Portland Trail Blazers, whose GM Joe Cronin has done the front-office equivalent of taking his ball and going home. He won’t talk to the Heat, according to multiple reports, so we wait.
This means the Heat could enter the season without Lillard on the roster and would have to start their 2023-24 slate by replacing last season’s starting backcourt and introducing some additions into the rotation.
What will the Heat’s starting lineup look like if they are unable to complete a Lillard trade before opening night? They have a few options.
1. No traditional point guard
G: Tyler Herro
G: Josh Richardson
F: Jimmy Butler
F: Kevin Love
C: Bam Adebayo
Before you roll your eyes at this possibility, let me explain my three reasons why I think this is the Heat’s most probable starting lineup.
1. The Heat prefer to bring Lowry off the bench. We saw this at the end of the regular season and even during Miami’s Finals run. Lowry, at 37, is not the two-way contributor he once was. He’s a step slower on defense and bends defenses by getting to the rim as often. The Heat found that with Lowry, less is more. Limit him to 20-25 minutes a night, and his rate of effectiveness goes up in those minutes. That minute’s restriction is easier to accomplish when he’s coming off the bench.
2. The Heat don’t need a traditional point guard because the offense should be running more through Bam anyway. Adebayo has joked that his assist numbers fell after Lowry joined the team in 2021, and the numbers are there to back it up. Over the last two seasons, Adebayo averaged 5.5 assists per 100 possessions with Lowry on the bench, versus 4.3 when he played alongside Lowry, per PBP Stats. That’s a pretty dramatic difference. The Heat can run their offense through a combination of Bam facilitating from the high post, Tyler Herro running pick-and-roll (with Bam) and Jimmy Butler isolations. Surround those three with shooting from Josh Richardson and Kevin Love, and the offensive pecking order is nice and tidy.
3. If Herro is still on the roster, he needs room to do more. Herro’s perceived value around the league has taken a hit. The fact that the Heat made a run to the Finals without him didn’t help, and now his name has become synonymous with Miami’s “bad” offer for Lillard. Herro, weirdly, has become underrated over the last four months. If he’s still on the team to start the season, the Heat will want to put him in position to repair and raise his value (for them and for a potential trade). Herro’s scoring numbers get the headlines, but his assist numbers climbed from 2.2 to 3.4, to 4.0 to 4.2 last season. He’s not a great passer, but he can drive to the basket and kick out to open shooters at different angles. Allowing him to run more of the offense without having to share with a traditional point guard will give him the space to explore more of his game and post career-high numbers.
The concern with this starting five is that it provides two obvious weak links for opposing offenses to attack: Herro and Love. The Heat could opt to start Caleb Martin in Love’s place, but then they risk being undersized. Erik Spoelstra has figured out ways to hide below-average defenders and field elite defenses in the past, and I trust he can do it again.