Culture of Hoops

2016-17 NBA Preview: Miami Heat

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

Atlantic: Boston Celtics | Brooklyn Nets | New York Knicks | Philadelphia 76ers | Toronto Raptors
Central: Chicago Bulls | Cleveland Cavaliers | Detroit Pistons | Indiana Pacers | Milwaukee Bucks
Southeast: Atlanta Hawks | Charlotte Hornets | Miami Heat | Orlando Magic | Washington Wizards
Pacific: Golden State Warriors | Los Angeles Clippers | Los Angeles Lakers | Phoenix Suns | Sacramento Kings
Northwest: Denver Nuggets | Minnesota Timberwolves | Oklahoma City Thunder | Portland Trail Blazers | Utah Jazz
Southwest: Dallas Mavericks | Houston Rockets | Memphis Grizzlies | New Orleans Pelicans | San Antonio Spurs

Presenting an NBA preview of the Miami Heat that looks at the potential highs and lows for this coming 2016-17 NBA season.

What’s Good… No more uncertainty. The Heat have operated on one-year plans the last two years with Chris Bosh’s battle with blood clots scuttling each season’s ambition. While unfortunate, the Heat no longer have Bosh’s health as Miami’s Sword of Damocles. Instead, the Heat have arguably the most interesting roster since the Big 3 arrived. Now the Heat have a clear path forward based around Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, and Goran Dragic. The supporting cast is a mix of veterans (Udonis Haslem, Tyler Johnson, Luke Babbitt), interesting young players (Josh Richardson, Briante Weber) and reclamation projects (Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington). Now the Heat can truly mix and match to find the best combination of talent to propel themselves forward.

What’s Bad… When you need a guy to take over a game where do you go? The loss of Dwyane Wade is most felt when answering this question. Even though Wade has lost a step, last year showed how crafty he is when dropping 20 points with ease. Waiters thinks he can take over games, and if his inordinate self-belief was at the same level as his talent then we’d have something. Sadly, it’s not. The other problem is the power forward position. With Bosh ruled out, the Heat don’t have much there except for perpetually injured Josh McRoberts, Luke Babbitt, and Mr. Heat – Udonis Haslem. The Heat could experiment with a small lineup with Winslow playing a Draymond-style 4, and it would probably be their best lineup.

The X-Factor… Pat Riley has cobbled together a team of X Factors; however, the biggest X-Factor is his biggest contract: Hassan Whiteside. Full disclosure: I love Whiteside – he’s emotional, plays with swagger, and has the most interesting social media presence in the league. But Whiteside got paid and has a history of being a less than 100% effort guy. If Whiteside is on cruise control, the rebuilding just got much longer and more painful. If Whiteside remains a snarling octopus in the middle of the paint, Miami has a game-changing center. The man can be moody, and when you watch Heat games literally three different assistants are on Hassan duty. If he’s going well, the Heat challenge for the 8 seed. If not, then it’s ping-pong ball paradise.

Bet On… Justise Winslow becoming a bonafide star. Winslow has all the tools and so far his shot shows substantial improvement. Last season Winslow impressed on defense thanks to his footwork and positioning. He’s already the most athletic player on the Heat but Winslow relishes doing all the dirty work to make his team better. He’s not as long as Kawhi Leonard, but is quickly developing into Miami’s version of Kawhi – a defensive freak with an emerging offensive game. With starter’s minutes and support from one of the best developmental staffs in the NBA, it’s not a matter of if with Winslow, but when.

The Crystal Ball Reveals… 25 to 35 wins, with most coming at the end of the season. The Heat will play at a faster pace, less ISO ball despite Waiters’ efforts. The Heat are too classy of an organization to tank, so wherever they end up it’s a result of squeezing the most out of these disparate parts. Winslow’s improving shot means he could be an All-NBA player this season – aside from Karl-Anthony Towns he’s the most talented player from last season’s draft class – and having Dragic free to run and create makes this whole team better. Defense is always a priority in Miami, so they’ll be in a lot of games. In the NBA every team has at least 1 person who will score 20 points, regardless of how scoring deficient the roster may be. Waiters might be that guy because he’s hunting a big contract this offseason and is playing very unselfishly so far. Whiteside is eyeing DPOY and All-Defense this season. The Heat may not be a playoff team, but for 82 games. this team will play an exciting, tough brand of basketball best reflecting their city’s ethos.

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