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Who are better: the Miami Heat starters or the rotation players lead by James Johnson?

Discussing Heat identity depends on whether bench players outperform the starters over 48 minutes.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Before comparing the Miami Heat starters versus the bench players, let's look at a video recap of the first Minnesota Timberwolves contest in Miami, because the explosive Wolves present an entirely different challenge than the stingy Boston Celtics. Jeff Teague and Andrew Wiggins were a handful, while Minnesota's defense allowed Dion Waiters to get his way in the paint.

The Wolves beat the Heat at the foul line by 15 points in that game, 32-17. Since Tom Thibideau plays his starters more than other NBA coach, Minnesota's paint-oriented offense draws a lot of fouls. It’s the starters, in particular, who can win games at the free throw line.

Starters vs Bench

DATA MHsta MHben MTsta MTben
DATA MHsta MHben MTsta MTben
MIN 30 19 34 14
%2PT 60 40 60 50
%3PT 27 45 20 32
%FT 13 15 20 18
%PTTO 15 20 19 15
%PITP 49 35 47 34
%FGAST 46 69 56 57
%FGUAST 54 31 44 43
PF 213 149 216 113
PFD 205 120 308 99

The figures show Miami bench makes more 3-point attempts than any other bench unit in the NBA. Looking at the numbers, the Heat has two identities, depending on who is the floor. Heat starters match up well with the Wolves starting five, while Heat's bench unit could draw the Wolves out of the painted area a little bit.

Miami's starters score twice the number of points with 2-point baskets than the 3-point type, while bench players make more points from downtown than inside the arc. The starters go iso rather than assist, 54% vs 46%, while the bench players generously share the ball, i.e. 69% of their makes are assisted.

When discussing Heat culture and identity, the answer depends on which unit is on the court. James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Kelly Olynyk have made a compelling case for themselves. Facing the Wolves tonight, the Heat can either be on the court with or without sheep's clothing.