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Can the Heat play to their strengths instead of conforming to the rest of the NBA?

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Miami Heat have their own unique identity to win a championship.

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat versus L.A. Clippers' preview from SB Nation's Clippers' site made the following observation with a neutral perspective.

"It's hard to tell quite what the issue is, but when I saw this team play in person from the press box at Staples Center in January, they didn't look like a team with an identity."

Sometimes being too close to the team leads to flawed decisions. Seems like everyone is a Golden State Warriors wannabe, but nobody else has a Stephen Curry to build their team around.

The Miami Heat do have an elite core of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Luol DengHassan Whiteside for this season, with Justise Winslow to build a team around for the future. Winslow is clearly not the shooter Curry or Kevin Durant are, but he is more like a potential Russell Westbrook or Draymond Green in his versatility. The Heat won their last three games when they did not make a 3-point basket, so that fact could point to sticking to doing what they do best, at the highest level.

Net Rating gives an idea of a player's overall impact on the team while they are on the floor. Below are the Net Rtgs for the current Miami Heat roster as of February 11, 2016. The PIE (Player Impact Estimate) is included as another metric that goes past the box score.

PLAYER OFF DEF NET PIE
Jarnell Stokes 105 88 16.6 16.1
Josh McRoberts 102 98 4.7 7.1
Justise Winslow 101 98 3.1 6.1
Goran Dragic 103 100 2.8 9.4
Tyler Johnson 101 98 2.4 9.8
Gerald Green 104 102 2.2 6.1
Chris Bosh 102 100 1.7 15.1
Hassan Whiteside 102 101 0.9 15.6
Beno Udrih 102 102 -0.2 7.8
Udonis Haslem 98 99 -1.0 8.6
Dwyane Wade 102 103 -1.4 13.4
Luol Deng 99 102 -2.8 8.5
Amar'e Stoudemire 98 103 -4.5 12.3
Josh Richardson 87 101 -13.3 0.7
Chris Andersen 95 119 -23.9 9.9

The top five players are Stokes, McRoberts, Winslow, Dragic and Johnson. Stokes, who has been shuffling his time between the Heat and their D-League affiliate team, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, has the best defensive ratings on the Heat in very limited minutes. Highlights from his last NBDL game show what he potentially brings to the table:

  • Put-back basket
  • Reverse lay-up
  • Left-handed hook shot
  • 18-foot jump shot
  • Authoritative dunk off a cut to basket
  • Good handle on fast break with nice assist
  • 3-point shot
  • Right-handed post basket
  • 14 rebounds

No wonder Stokes had the highest net rating, even if the minutes were in garbage time. He has a variety of weapons in his arsenal, which makes him the multi-dimensional player the Heat thought Josh Richardson would be. As a 22 year-old he is four years younger than Whiteside, without known maturity issues who, at 6'-9", could be a power forward or a center in a small-ball lineup.

With Winslow on a four-year rookie contract, the Heat could build a team around him and still be very competitive this year and next with their current core of All-Stars. The difficult part is not trying to be like everyone else, but using what they have to the utmost.

Of the top five Miami Net Rtg players, only Gerald Green is 30 years old. The rest of top-rated ones could form a youthful team that has possibilities for the future. This nucleus would not be like the Warriors at all, but a physically tough bunch that can defend, rebound and score in the paint. At 190 lbs. Curry was forced to become one of the best shooters in NBA history and his team is built around winning from the perimeter mainly due to Curry's size.

Miami Heat have an identity crisis because their younger key players are more suited to a defensive game won in the painted area. Winslow, Dragic, McRoberts, Stokes, Green all run the floor very well and get out on offense from defensive stops for quick, high-percentage baskets.

The Heat have the best of both worlds by confusing other teams with two styles of play that compliment each other. A half-court game featuring Wade, Bosh, Whiteside, Deng and Stoudemire, along with a running game of Winslow, Dragic, McRoberts, Green and Stokes: together that combination can throw the other team out-of-sync.

While these line-ups look good in theory, they still have to prove they can win games in the NBA versus teams featuring Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and the like. First the Heat need to solidify who they are and not try to become something they are not, even though the call to conform is very strong.