Additions: Malik Newman
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Josh Richardson
SF: Justise Winslow
PF: James Johnson
C: Hassan Whiteside
Key Bench Players: Dwyane Wade, Bam Adebayo, Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington
This Heat lineup could look different if they pull the trigger on a Jimmy Butler trade, but recently trade talks have stagnated. Without Butler, the Heat will still make a run for the 7th or 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. Although their best player is only Goran Dragic, coach Erik Spoelstra has a very deep rotation consisting of at least 11 quality contributors. This team was able to compete against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of last season’s playoffs before ultimately losing in five games.
There is one problem that the Miami Heat must face: Hassan Whiteside. The 29 year old saw his minutes reduced significantly against the 76ers in favor of rookie Bam Adebayo and stretch-5 Kelly Olynyk. Whiteside’s stats look decent in paper, averaging 14 PPG, 11.4 RPG, and 1.7 BPG. But if you look deeper into his performance and actually watch him play, Whiteside is a liability for Miami. He is a ball-stopper; he averages 0.5 assists to 1.6 turnovers per game for his career. He’s a great shot blocker but can have a tendency to chase blocks instead of playing quality defense. He is slow, which is why Spoelstra opts for the younger, quicker Adebayo for more speed in the lineup. On top of all of this, Whiteside is still on the books for over $32M over the next two seasons.
Bam Adebayo is the future center for this franchise. Although only 6’10, the second year big man out of Kentucky has a 7’1 wingspan and is an explosive athlete. Per 36 minutes, he averaged 12.6 points, 10 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.1 blocks. If Whiteside is dealing with injuries again this year or the Heat can find a trade partner for him, look for Adebayo to get the majority of the minutes at the center position.
At age 32, point guard Gordan Dragic reached his first All Star game after being chose as an alternate for the injured Kevin Love. Although Dragic is the undeniable best player on the Heat, he actually has some quality help throughout the roster. Starting alongside the Slovenian comes down to two very different players: Josh Richardson and Dion Waiters. My bet would be on Richardson, as Waiters is more suited for the sixth man role where he can be the top option for the second unit. Richardson brings quality defense, athleticism, and above average shooting to the starting lineup alongside Dragic. Justise Winslow is still an intriguing young player heading into his fourth season. Already an exceptional defender and athlete, the Duke product upped his three point percentage to a career high 38% (his previous best was 27.6%) and is a strong rebounder and playmaker from the wing position. He still has the potential to be one of the best players on this team and will look to make that next step. Finishing out the starting lineup is James Johnson, the 6’9 Swiss Army knife. The former undefeated MMA fighter with a 7-0 career record is a tenacious and versatile defender, capable shooter, strong playmaker, and rebounder. He does not have a specialty but can contribute to every area on the floor. The Heat do not have any stars in their lineup, but their chemistry and Coach Spo’s leadership allow them to compete.
This is a strong bench unit with at least six guys who can produce on a nightly basis. The aforementioned Waiters, who was sidelined with an injury for 52 games last season and 36 the season before that, will be sidelined for the beginning of the season. Once healthy, he will have a shot at cracking the starting lineup as he started in all 30 games he played in last season. The previously mentioned Bam Adebayo should be the first big man off the bench along with Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk is a sweet shooting big man with passing ability and a physical style of play that frustrated the 76ers during their playoff series. Other players off the bench include Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington who are both strong shooters off the bench. Ellington, most especially, is a career 38.1% shooter from deep and knocked down 227 threes last season, good for 6th most in the league. And do not forget about Dwyane Wade, who opted to play another season with Miami. Although aging with various injuries, Wade still has the ability to take over a game once in a while, as he proved against the 76ers (28 points in Game 2 and 25 points in Game 4). Off the bench, Wade can provide scoring and veteran leadership to this Miami Heat team.
The Heat will most likely make the Eastern Conference playoffs behind the Celtics, 76ers, Raptors, Pacers, Bucks, and Wizards. They will not be an easy out by any means but also will not be a favorite. The front office must keep in mind that they have very little young pieces outside of Winslow and Adebayo to build for the future. If they can trade away Whiteside’s horrid contract, even better. Until they can find younger players to develop and free up more money, the Miami Heat may be stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference.
Picture Courtesy of USA Today (Dwyane Wade)
*For yesterday’s article on the Memphis Grizzlies, click here
Up next tomorrow: Milwaukee Bucks
University of South Carolina ’21