ESPN predicts the Miami Heat to win 36 games in the 2016-17 because, "The franchise leader in scoring and the guy who helped bring three titles to Miami is gone, as are Luol Deng and Joe Johnson."
The 12-game drop-off in wins comes despite the Heat retaining Hassan Whiteside, the only Heat player to receive any All-NBA votes, two rookies to garner All-Rookie First Team votes, Justise Winslow (47) and Josh Richardson (2), and Whiteside snaring 44 First-Place votes for the NBA All-Defensive team. Pat Riley's priorities mirrored what writers and broadcasters agreed upon when they evaluated NBA talent last season.
A huge rift exists between the fan favorites chosen for the February All-Star Game and the post-season All-NBA team. Popularity aside, in the summer of 2016 Miami didn't lose any All-NBA players or promising All-Rookie prospects. By giving Whiteside, now second-year veterans Winslow and Richardson more minutes, the Heat further strengthen their chances to prove their 48 victories last season were no fluke.
While the future for the Heat youth looks promising, the sports analytics site, fivethirty.com sees declines in the production of key players for their Eastern Conference rivals Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors. The WAR (wins above replacement) values may drop significantly:
- LeBron James, 16.7 to 11.5
- Kyle Lowry, 13.9 to 9.4
- Paul Millsap, 10.7 to 7.3
- Al Horford, 8.9 to 5.7
- Paul George, 10.1 to 7.2
The experience assistant coach Dan Craig gained last season of bonding players in Sioux Falls, who never knew each previously, into a 46-11 juggernaut may be the key to Miami's success this season. The video below shows the players developing a chemistry so necessary to perform as a team once the season starts.
In the NBA talent still is the number one factor in winning a championship, there is no getting around that fact. Injuries and age may derailed strong but shallow teams, allowing less talented teams to achieve surprisingly good records. Excellent coaching also helps, as the stabilty of Erik Spoelstra could have been a factor in the Heat beating fivethirtyeight's last season's projected 37 wins by 11 victories.
Eligible voters for last-season's player awards often write publicly how the defection of the Heat's veteran players will drop the team into lottery status, yet none of them saw fit to view them as All-NBA material. There was a disconnect between what was said and done. The gap between them and their replacements may not be as great as believed.
Perhaps the Heat's "four horsemen" this season will build on their being together for an entire year and play closer to their potential. Also Riley and Spoelstra know what they are doing, that is, Heat scouts could have spotted something in the free agent signings other teams may have missed.