Gone are the days of Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers etc. While we might sometimes pine for the wins those players brought, this year’s Miami Heat team has something it hasn't had in a long time: athleticism.
For the past few years, management has been steering this team towards increased hops. The Heat now sport superior athletes at almost every position. Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Bam Adebayo, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow are all excellent athletes who can finish above the rim. Hassan Whiteside, despite his slow-footedness, should be included in this category as well. He is a powerful finisher with ample hops for the center position, lest we forget this jam he threw down last year:
On the front end of most Heat dunks is Goran Dragic, orchestrating pick and rolls and selectively pushing the pace. Despite this abundance of athletes, the Heat rank 28th in pace. This seems to be a stylistic decision by Erik Spoelstra to maximize the Heat's suffocating defense, which ranks 4th in opponent points per game. By all accounts it’s working, because, despite a negative net rating, Miami is eight games over .500.
The Derrick Jones Jr. signing represents the culmination of this athletic revolution. Pat Riley released a good shooter in Matt Williams Jr. to sign DJJ, signaling what he and Spoelstra value. They are confident their system can teach shooting (still waiting on Winslow though), but to modify the old adage: "you can't teach vertical."
I mean just look at this:
I genuinely gasped when this happened. I am not used to the guys in red and white doing things like this. I barely remember Shane Battier's feet ever raising more than a few inches above the floor.
Since signing Derrick Jones Jr. the Heat are 8-2. There's probably not a huge correlation there, but at the very least, defenders need to watch their backs now, or a Heat player might just jump over them for a putback.