The Miami Heat were defined by many things this season. A team that coming into 2016, had the roster capable of dethroning Cleveland and taking back the Eastern Conference, a conference, that from 2011-2014 was there’s. Yet, a setback to the hungry Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semifinals forced Miami to take a step back and glance at the bigger picture.
Through it all, the Heat trudged through the Eastern Conference with 48 wins and a #3 seed. While parts of their season were more meaningful than others, it saw 34-year old Dwyane Wade defy father time and produce at levels that occurred 5-6 seasons ago. Others hit home earlier than anticipated, like when star forward Chris Bosh fell ill to blood cuts in his calf after the All-Star break, putting his basketball career on hold.
Miami’s not perfect and GM Pat Riley knows it, calling this season “one that showed improvement, but in the end there’s still room to get better”, a quote last week in the Miami Herald. The Heat took major steps forward in becoming a threat in this league. No doubt there’s talent and pieces, but several of those pieces must be reworked in order to get back to the success they’ve previously had.
Resigning Hassan Whiteside is a must
In his second season as a member of the Miami Heat, starting center Hassan Whiteside turned the corner and produced the best season of his young career; averaging 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, as well as leading the league with 3.7 blocks per game. Whiteside’s numbers has grown exponentially in Miami and he expects to receive a big payday very soon. However, it might not be with the team who resurrected his career.
After the NBA season is officially over, the 26-year old will enter free agency. There’s no doubt Whiteside will be a hot commodity this summer as there are several teams who are in dire need of his assets. Whiteside’s game has flourished under head coach Eric Spoelstra, showcasing his skills as an up and coming shot blocker, provided by the GIFs down below.
It’s not just him emerging into a premiere rim protector – which has drawn rave for many teams within the free agency market. But it’s Whiteside’s evolution away from the basket, mainly from mid-range, that’s enhanced his overall game and market value.
Playoffs included, Whiteside’s shooting numbers per percentage was staggering (especially for a freaking 7-foot center). From 5-9 ft. out he shot 54.5%, 50.9% from 10-14 ft., and surprisingly 36.1% from 15-19 ft. This first shot chart tracks all of Whiteside’s makes/misses for both regular season and playoffs.
As you can see, while Whiteside improved his mid-range game, much of his production still resorted underneath the basket – as he shot 75.1 percent from under 5 feet.
The second chart is roughly identical, however there’s a twist as it provides the shooting percentage for every spot on the floor. The most damage Whiteside did from within 10 feet was on the left elbow, connecting on 52.6 percent of those shots.
Following the season-ending loss to Toronto, Pat Riley addressed Whiteside as “his No. 1 priority” when it comes to free agency this summer. He also stated that his future is unlimited if he stays in Miami.
“I don’t think he’s even reached his real ceiling in a couple of areas of the game that I think that now he will be more comfortable with once his situation ends,” Riley said. “He has shown all of us he can be 15 and 15 and four blocked shots and 70% field goal guy. There are other layers to his game I think he can even be better at. He’s very, very, very high on our priority list.”
It would be wise for Riley to commit to his goal of resigning Whiteside, as there’s no definite big man on the roster that can replace his presence. Right now, without Whiteside, Miami is looking at a much smaller and aging lineup involving power forwards Josh McRoberts and Amar’e Stoudemire. The 6’10” and 28-year old McRoberts attempted to fill-in Whiteside’s shoes during the playoffs, following his series-ending MCL injury against Toronto. But to no avail, McRoberts’ production was limited only scoring 3.8 points per game in 14 minutes of action. The Heat’s second resort – a deteriorating 14-year veteran Stoudemire – who is significantly on the downside of his career, only received 14.3 minutes per game this season, playoffs included.
This doesn’t account for the uncertainty of forward Chris Bosh either, who’s been sidelined since the All-Star break when blood clots were reportedly discovered in his left calf. Work will be done on Bosh over the summer to develop a program with the goal of getting him back on the court. However, the likelihood of Bosh ever playing basketball again is cloudy. In a case like this, locking up Whiteside long-term becomes that much essential. Because even if Miami does have to move on from a franchise-star, they’ll have his beneficiary, one that’s much younger and more polished in Whiteside.
Being patient with Justise Winslow
The rookie Winslow held his own for Miami this season, contributing 6.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game off the bench. In many cases, Winslow manufactured a position on the court, small forward, that lacked stability – as he was the only forward outside of starters Bosh, Whiteside and Luol Deng to play in at least 28 minutes of action a game.
Winslow’s gifted 6’7” frame provided him with an advantage this season that rarely do today’s small forwards in the league have. His size alone, made him interchangeable under Spoelstra’s game plan – either utilizing him as a bigger guard that could get to basket when going small, or as a compact forward that can shoot his way over defenses. Winslow’s 2015-16 shooting chart reveals just that.
Winslow never has been a terrific perimeter shooter, even at Duke, as you can see he only shot 30.0% from three. But to counteract his respectable driving ability, he connected on 57.9 percent of his shots at the rim, Winslow did damage along the mid-range as well, making 33.3 percent of his shots.
None of these numbers are going to blow any NBA coach out of the water and force a drastic shift defensively. But, unlike some rookies or second-year players who’ve easily gotten overwhelmed by the pace of the game (IE: Boston’s James Young and Portland’s Cliff Alexander). Winslow has stayed in there, battling to the end.
Miami purposely drafted Winslow because of his instincts on defense, which for a young basketball prospect is oftentimes the toughest thing to teach at the next level. Actually, Winslow’s defense was a bit hazy early on, possessing one of the worst defensive ratings (DRtg) on the team, at 102. However, he progressed significantly as an on-ball defender, switching back to the perimeter and by his defensive chart, the results show.
Part of this could be due to Winslow’s 7’0” wingspan, which can disrupt any point/shooting guard’s rhythm. But more of it really is Winslow becoming more accustomed with the speed of the game, as this is something that he progressed on the offensive end as well. Winslow’s DRtg at the end of the season improved to 94 (3rd best on team behind Whiteside and Deng), in addition Winslow supplemented a charge for Miami on the boards, corralling 15.8 percent of the team’s defensive rebounds.
Case in point, with everything going on, Riley and the entire Heat organization must remain patient with Winslow’s development. The progress he showed on both the offensive and defensive end can’t be ignored and with cap space being a big priority for Miami big men, Winslow should receive an uptick in playing time in the near future.
Finding Goran Dragic a position and sticking with it
Goran Dragic’s first full season in Miami didn’t start out as the smoothest. First, he suffered a dock in playing time early on, only seeing 29 minutes of action a game in the first two months compared to his career-average of 34. As a result, Dragic never found rhythm on offense, producing at inferior levels; averaging just 12.3 points per 100 possessions to go along with a 45.1 field goal percentage and 31.2 percent from three. This made it difficult for Spoelstra to put Dragic at the correct spot on the floor.
Dragic’s true position can sometimes be a mystery. Listed at 6’3” normally hints shooting guard, but not for Dragic, whose best assets involves distributing and penetrating, like a point guard. Unfortunately, Spoelstra never found out Dragic’s best weapons until mid-January, when Dwyane Wade was playing injured and SF Joe Johnson was their primary ball-handler.
Later on in the regular season and throughout the playoffs, however, Dragic exemplified the skills necessary to make Miami’s offense more effective. For instance, Dragic finally stopped settling for contested jump shots and drove hard to the rim almost every possession. These two shot charts are for the entire season, but does tell the story of how Dragic grew within the Heat’s offense.
Dragic kept up his high efficiency in the paint, shooting roughly 62.3 percent at the rim, in addition raised his AST/TO rate to 3:1 in the final month of the season.
Hard drives and dishes like these in the playoffs against Toronto and in regular season versus Boston reveals how much trust GM Pat Riley has in Dragic.
Riley said he understands that Dragic had a hectic year that involved a lot more than just his trade from the Suns a season ago. But he added in that the organization expects a lot more from Dragic next season.
“He’s got to be a player than can create and score when there is no space,” Riley said.“That’s part of the game also, because when teams start to take things away from you and the offense that the coach creates, what are you going to do?”
Being more involved in the offense is something that Dragic is still learning how to do, but a tactic that can make Miami’s offense much more potent in 2016-17.