The Heat have a glaring problem at point guard, and they need to fix it

Oct 30, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard (0) drives for the basket against Miami Heat guard Kyle Lowry (7) in the second quarter at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 30, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard (0) drives for the basket against Miami Heat guard Kyle Lowry (7) in the second quarter at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

Writing this on the back of the Miami Heat’s loss in Milwaukee, the third straight loss in three games away from Miami. It feels like last year’s playoffs didn’t really happen and the Heat are just continuing what they were doing last regular season. Lack of offensive ideas, lack of offensive creation, a lot of *insert X player* “please save me, I don’t know what to do” shots. And it starts at the point guard position, on what they can do versus what the team needs them to do.

The Heat have a big problem at point guard, and they need to address it sooner rather than later. Either that or your playoff fairy tale will turn into a ping-pong ball watch party come May.

The current backcourt is not working and the Miami Heat find themselves in trouble early in the season. They need changes, and fast.

Every option at point guard has one or two unique traits with some glaring deficiencies attached. Kyle Lowry is clearly the best option, as he is the one who can still organize the team and put everyone in their spots. But he can’t be your point-of-attack defender at this stage of his career. But, with the starting lineup as currently constructed, he has to be.

At 37, he can’t guard elite on-ball creators. You can’t just put him on Lillard, Anthony Edwards, Cade Cunningham and expect great results. He doesn’t possess the necessary lateral mobility and can’t navigate through screens, but he has to since the other options in the starting lineup are Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Love or Bam Adebayo, who has his hands full with other things at center.

That’s how Miami gives up an average of19.3 points per game from Lowry’s defensive assignment on 58% shooting (these numbers jump to 21.7 points on 69% shooting if you take away the Pistons game, where he was actually good defensively, but didn’t do anything offensively). Add the 17.3 points per game allowed by Herro and the starting backcourt is giving up 36.5 points per game while scoring only 31.3.

Switching —  something that has been a strength of Lowry’s throughout his career — hasn’t been pretty. The Heat have given up 6 points per game on an astounding 12 for 13 shooting when Lowry is switched onto a big. He has created 13 turnovers through four games, with three coming when guarding bigs, and those are good numbers, but not nearly enough to compensate for what the Heat are giving up.

In terms of the other options, there isn’t a great answer.

Dru Smith seems to be the Heat’s latest development success story. He is a good on-ball defender who can put pressure on ball handlers and force turnovers, but he has no particular skill on offense. (He’s 4 of 6 from 3-point range to start the season, but has been a 23.7% shooter for his NBA career on a low number of attempts.) Plus, he’s small and teams have already noticed that and are attacking him anyway.

He’s perfectly capable of putting pressure on the ball and forcing some errors and turnovers (2 per game), but he struggles a bit more on screens because of his build. Opponents can either put him down low or just shoot over him with little to no resistance.

That leaves us with Josh Richardson, the one player who can provide two-way play with his on-ball defense and shooting. The problem comes when he has to be a ball handler, which he clearly isn’t comfortable with — and never was. I shouldn’t have to say this, but that’s pretty important for a point guard. Especially for a point guard on this team.

There’s also the thing that is transversal to all three and the point that, for me, makes it absolutely mandatory for the Heat to explore the market and look for another option for their backcourt: rim pressure.

Here are the shot charts of each of Miami’s point guards from last season:

All three point guard options are below league average on attempts at the rim and weren’t much better at converting their shots when they eventually got there.

Lowry lacks the burst to get inside and is much more of a distributor and outside shooter right now.

Dru Smith doesn’t have the creation ability to bend defenses and get to the rim or the strength to finish.

Richardson is much more of a pull-up guy from mid-range than someone who will go inside and finish at the basket.

What does this leave the Heat with? Last season, they were below average in drives created (45.4 per game) last season and sixth-worst at finishing (0.55 points per possession). They are creating even fewer drives per game this season (40.8) and about the same in points per possession (0.56).

From last season to this season, the Heat lost Oladipo, whose efficiency wasn’t great but did get to the basket and open things up for teammates. The Heat didn’t replace him with anyone in the offseason, and now have Duncan Robinson as their fourth most common driver (this should never happen).

Butler is driving less and still seems to be in preseason form, which leaves Herro to do the dirty work. Even though that’s not his game, he’s been going well (apart from being the player with the most field goal attempts blocked in the NBA. The second is Butler).

The Heat’s offense through four games has relied too much on Herro bailing out possessions and it’s not sustainable. They need more options who can get their foot in the paint and create points that way.

Plus, going back to who initiates, that’s not Herro’s game. He’s much more comfortable attacking off the catch. Five of his eight turnovers have come in the first seconds of a possession, with him initiating. Butler and Adebayo should not be tasked with the bulk of initiation this early in the season if they are to be fresh for the playoffs, and no one else on the roster has that ability. (Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Nikola Jovic have some ball-handling ability but they’re young and need to play fast — something the starting lineup won’t do. I won’t go there today.)

That leaves the Heat with Lowry and all his shortcomings that are more problematic than what he can offer.

Can the Heat acquire a better option?

The guy they could’ve and should’ve gotten is on his way to Los Angeles, but there are other names the Heat could explore. Collin Sexton, T.J. McConnell and Terry Rozier can bring the ball up, put pressure on the rim and defend to some extent. Malcolm Brogdon can set the table and defend at a high level. Zach LaVine, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jordan Clarkson can attack the paint but leave a lot to be desired in other areas.

None are perfect options, but the Heat need to make a move. Quick. The season may just have started, but it can get uncomfortable sooner than you expect.

Next. Reason behind Jimmy Butler's early struggles. dark