Can the Miami Heat make the playoffs without Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson? ESPN doesn't think so. A possible return of Chris Bosh, the tandem of Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, plus the championship coaching experience of Erik Spoelstra and his staff may prove the commentators wrong.
Coach Nick of BBallBreakdown said Dragic topped his list of point guards a few years ago. In his third Miami season Goran has young running mates Dion Waiters (24), Josh Richardson (22), Tyler Johnson (24), Justise Winslow (20), who can sprint from the back-court and beat their man to finish at the rim, as this analysis of his Phoenix days shows.
Coach Nick's take on Russell Westbrook lists Dragic as the second-best finisher at the guard position. Since Waiters played alongside Westbrook in Oklahoma City, he may have picked up some bad playing habits. Despite these issues Westbrook's incredible athletic ability can't be matched and leads to failure if anyone else tries to copy him.
Playing alongside showboats Kyrie Irving and Westbrook, Waiters hasn’t fulfilled his potential as a #4 draft pick. The instructive video, which exposes Westbrook's flaws, might help elevate Waiters’ game, because both use their athleticism so much, if he fixes weaknesses. As help, Pat Riley brought in sharpshooters, such as Luke Babbitt and Wayne Ellington, for Waiters to kick the ball out, because defenses collapse to the basket on drives.
The injury to Richardson presents an early chance to practice the position-less tactics Spoelstra favors. Plus this setback serves as a reality check for the physical limits that even a young body can endure. Count it as part of the NBA learning lesson needed to lead a team to a championship, i.e. this is not the one-and-done NCAA.
Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Stephen Curry didn’t win rings in their first two NBA seasons. Neither Winslow, nor Richardson, were on the NBA All-Rookie first-team, and at 20 and 22 years-old respectively need time to develop their complete game.
Most of the summer signings were players in their prime. Their experience gives them edge this season, until ex-Rook 1 and ex-Rook 2 get more reps to prove they can survive in the NBA on a long-term basis. (example: Derrick Rose)
The WS/48 numbers favor older players, because most guys who don’t belong in the NBA leave by the time they are in their mid-20’s. By 30 usually only the better players are still around. At 27 Whiteside faces father time, and will have to increase his skill level to survive once he reaches 30 in three years, when his athleticism slowly erodes.
At the prime point of his career, an undersized Waiters could even be used as a forward in some situations because of his strength. Waiters going against, and under, bigger players might draw fouls because referees generally protect the smaller guy. Getting a third foul in the first half, big guy watch the game from bench. (Just ask Whiteside.)
With leapers Derrick Williams, James Johnson and Willie Reed to finish at the rim, the Heat have people who can score in transition, from deep and in the paint before the defense gets set. What strategy Miami uses might change from game to game, depending on the circumstances.
Wade and Joe Johnson specialized by making tough shots in half-court sets. This Heat team is fast and so quick that they have the talent to convert high-percentage attempts before defenses recover in time.