Early Season Struggles: How to Fix the Issues Facing the Miami Heat
After reaching the NBA Finals last year, the goal should have been clear for this Miami Heat team. Regroup, and maybe, restructure the team to surpass their disappointing finish the year before. As of now, though, the Heat are 5–7 and 12th in the Eastern Conference. Even worse, only one of those 5 wins came against a team that was above .500. While this organization only had a month of time off before the new season, other playoff teams also faced a similar struggle. If no changes are made, these struggles could continue, so Miami needs to solve three primary issues: defense, health, and inconsistencies.
Despite head coach Erik Spoelstra praising the defensive strides made by Tyler Herro, the team as a whole has regressed significantly. Last year, the Miami Heat had the 10th best defense in the league. Not the best, but it was above average. The offense was slightly worse, placing at 15th. In the 2020–21 season, the Heat are ranked 24th in defense and 18th in offense. While the Heat had that slight dip in offensive production, the defense is alarmingly bad.
One reason for this might be the team’s new starting lineup. This year, the Miami Heat are starting both Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson. While this may provide benefits on offense, both players are bad defenders. Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday, Garrison Matthews, Danny Green, and Derrick Rose all had significant games against the Heat. Other teams realize the gaps in the Heat’s starting backcourt and can cook against the team by taking advantage of this fact.
Using CraftedNBA’s formula to determine the league’s worst defenders, Herro is ranked as the league’s 38th worst defender. By analyzing the defensive plus-minus for when he’s on and off the floor and his defensive player impact, he can be considered one of the worst defenders in the league. His game also doesn’t pass the eye test. Fans who watched the Pelicans game on December 25th or the Celtics game on January 6th could see how Tatum and Ingram were feasting on Herro, as well as Duncan.
Times like these are when the Heat feel the effects of letting Derrick Jones Jr. go in free agency. While his offense was suspect at times, his shot-blocking and perimeter defense could be a great help to this team.
Solution: Rotation Changes
Just because Herro and Robinson are bad defenders does not mean that they are not beneficial to the team’s success. They need to be utilized correctly, and this can be done by carefully choosing their running mates. While it is unlikely that Miami benches one of the two players, their flaws can be minimized by pairing them with a good perimeter defender. This is where Avery Bradley comes in. Bradley has been a bright spot for the Miami Heat; playing as a 3&D wing off of the bench. By playing Herro and Robinson with as many good defenders as possible (Iguodala, Bradley, Precious, Bam, and Jimmy), they can work towards their strengths.
This also works the other way around. By surrounding Bam and Jimmy with shooters, it opens up the paint and allows them to operate down low. While Herro and Duncan have described that they are working on their defense, those abilities are not apparent 12 games into the season.
Like many other teams, the Heat have struggled with their team health early in the season. The primary issue that has sidelined many of their players is COVID-19. Butler, Bradley, Adebayo, Dragic, Harkless, Haslem, Nunn, and Okpala have all missed games due to health and safety protocols regarding the coronavirus disease. This has greatly thinned the Heat’s lineup and left them using players like Max Strus and Chris Silva who wouldn’t have cracked the rotation otherwise.
Other injuries like Meyers Leonard’s shoulder and Tyler Herro’s neck has changed the rotations the team uses. This is likely a large contributor to early season disappointments. The team has not had enough time to mesh, and with the addition of new players, the rotation has not been completely established.
Solution: Postpone the Season
There is really no way for the Heat to avoid injuries entirely. It is just a part of sports. There is a way to prevent the spread of COVID, though. This is an issue that other teams have been plagued with as well. The Wizards and the 76ers have also had notable cases like the Heat, having to play games with reserve players. Many games have been delayed throughout the league as a result of the virus, and it raises the question: should the season be postponed?
If this is an option, then yes. Though, the NBA likely cannot afford another delay. Last season cost the league and the team owners millions of dollars, so another postponement is probably out of the question.
This has been a problem for the Heat, and it is out of their control. The best the organization and the fans can do is hope for the safety of their players.
The Miami Heat lost by 47 points against the Bucks this season. The Heat then proceeded to beat them by double-digits the next night. This team has been wildly inconsistent; the same thing happened against the Pistons. The Heat lost to them by 20, then beat them by 6 two days later.
These team inconsistencies stem from the players. For example, Kendrick Nunn scored as many points (18) in his last game against the Pistons than he has in his other 4 most recent games. Moe Harkless is averaging slightly over 11 minutes per game, and he isn’t even averaging 1 point a game.
Similar criticisms can be raised with Bam Adebayo. Adebayo, locked up as the Heat’s franchise player with his new max contract, has played subpar on defense the past few games. Despite having great statistical lines, averaging about 20, 9, and 5 for the year, he almost fouled out against the Pistons and the Wizards. Robin Lopez, Moritz Wagner, and Mason Plumlee all had great games in their match-ups against Bam. This isn’t exactly what you want from your franchise player.
Solution: Trade for Consistent Players
With the talent around the league growing, the Heat are looking less and less like contenders with each passing game. The Brooklyn Nets, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, and Milwaukee Bucks all have more star power than this Miami Heat team. It is highly unlikely the Heat can win a championship this year with the same roster if they even make it to the Finals.
One solution is to flip their assets while they’re still valuable. Beal has been previously connected to Miami in trade talks, and Oladipo reportedly hopes to play there as well. LaMarcus Aldridge is another player they can target to play as a big alongside Bam. Whether it’s consistent scoring, interior defense, spacing, or perimeter defense, there are many ways the Heat can improve their team.
Tyler Herro, Precious Achiuwa, and Duncan Robinson are valuable trade pieces that Miami holds. If Kendrick Nunn’s value can still be salvaged, then he provides another bargaining chip for the team.
The Heat can wait until 2021 Free Agency to make another big title run. Though that would waste another year of Butler’s prime, and Dragic isn’t getting any younger either. Improvements need to be made to this team soon and expect Pat Riley to make those changes a reality.