The Miami Heat have played three straight tight games to open the 2018-19 NBA season, and in turn, fans have had his small sample size to overanalyze and overreact after the team’s 1-2 start. Now it’s time to slap some season expectations on each player on the roster based on the first 144 minutes of Heat basketball we’ve all witnessed.
Anything can happen as the season starts rolling, but Heat fans should expect some internal improvement from a team that made very few roster changes from last year.
Expectation: Maintain production
Heading into his fourth full season in a Miami uniform, Dragic is coming off possibly his best campaign. He went a whole season without losing teeth or having his eye swollen shut from an ill-placed elbow. He earned his first NBA All-Star selection with averages of 17.3 points, 4.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds in 75 games.
But how much can we ask of the 32-year old? This is around the time we see players enter the down swing of their career, so a similar season from Dragic would be considered a great success.
Expectation: Make that contract look less ugly
When the Heat decided to match Johnson’s 4-year, $50 million offer sheet from the Nets in 2016, some fans scratched their heads.
This season is when the contract really starts to hurt. Johnson is slated to make $20 million this season and the next.
Can Tyler soften the blow of his monster cap hit? Sure, but he has to show consistency and growth. We saw a drop in points per game (13.7 to 11.7), assists (3.2 to 2.3) and rebounds (4 to 3.4) the last two seasons. If Johnson can have a career year while showing improvement as facilitator that can run the offense, Heat fans will be happy.
If not, not even a couple gallons of water will help wash down that poison pill.
Expectation: Make the jump
There’s a reason that Pat Riley had been so reluctant to give up J-Rich. In 2017-18, Richardson was arguably the Heat’s best player. When Miami was battling numerous injuries, Richardson took control of the offense, appearing ready for the role.
It’s hard to put so much weight on a guy who has already well-surpassed his second-round draft pick status, but Miami needs a star. Richardson looks like he could be that guy.
Becoming a top-two scorer on the team while maintaining that excellent defense would be a sweet sighting. Sniffing an All-Star selection would be the cherry on top.
Expectation: Make me cry at least twice throughout the regular season
C’mon, man. We can’t ask this dude for anything at this point. He’s won three rings in Miami, one Finals MVP and three All-Defensive selections while electrifying the fan base for more than a decade. He’s never been the highest paid player on the roster, yet he’s the most important player in Heat history.
Wade should have expectations for US, and that’s to show him as much love as possible during his final run.
I already know I’m gonna cry during his last game. You will, too. If he can make me cry another time throughout the regular season, what more could I want?
Expectation: Remain The Man with the Golden Arm
Ellington has been a fantastic weapon in Erik Spoelstra’s arsenal. But can he replicate the success of the last two seasons?
This will be his third year in Miami, something he only accomplished once with his previous six teams. Opponents will definitely game plan for Ellington now more than ever, so a drop in his 7.5 attempted three pointers per game is likely.
But can he hit his long-distance mark at the same volume (39.2 percent)? With such a crowded backcourt, Ellington might have to in order to remain in the rotation consistently.
Expectation: Don’t try to do too much
That’s a tall task for a guy who loves to chuck. But considering he won’t be available to start the season and hasn’t been able to condition the Miami way, asking Waiters to do less while letting others do more is the way to go.
In 30 games last season, Waiters shot just 39.8 percent from the floor. That’s a decent drop from his first season in Miami, which already wasn’t fantastic at 42.4 percent.
Dion should use this season to carve out a set role in the offense, which is something he’s been trying to do since he entered the league. This will lead to more timely, consistent shot-making.
Expectation: Develop a well-rounded offensive repertoire
It’s pretty clear what McGruder does for the Heat. He can stick to practically any guard or forward like glue, and knock down the occasional jumper.
Spoelstra has a ton of confidence in the third-year player, as we’ve seen him start the first three games.
If McGruder can pack some more punch offensively, it would be hard to take him out of the starting lineup. He showed a great three-point stroke in limited action last year (42.9 percent in 18 games), so signs are pointing in the right direction.
Expectation: Point Justise!
Heat fan’s expectations for Winslow have gradually decreased since he was drafted in 2016 and heralded as the next Paul George or Kawhi Leonard.
Despite his up-and-down preseason, Winslow is still just 22 years old, and he showed plenty of promise late last season and throughout Miami’s short postseason run.
Throughout the last 23 games of the regular season, Winslow scored in double figures 16 times. Even more noteworthy was ability to facilitate. The Duke product had nine games in that span with three or more assists.
When the ball is in Winslow’s hands, good things happen… most of the time. A season of point Justise could change that “most of” to “all”.
Expectation: Come back next year… as a coach
UD isn’t going to get a lot of minutes, especially with the logjam of good forwards on the roster. The reason he was brought back was purely to help mentor younger players and take one last ride with his good pal Dwyane Wade.
This is probably already going to happen, but Haslem should be back with the Heat next year as a coach. We’ve seen something similar with former Miami forward Juwan Howard, who has thrived as an assistant coach and might make a jump to a more prominent role elsewhere.
A great locker room presence, I would be shocked if we didn’t see Haslem working with the organization in some capacity after retirement.
Expectation: Take a sophomore leap
It will be hard for Adebayo to make his presence truly felt while he sits behind Hassan Whiteside and Kelly Olynyk on the depth chart.
However, if the 21-year-old shows even more versatility and adds to his offensive game in his second year as a pro, it will be increasingly difficult to keep him off the floor.
Bam showed exactly that this summer in Sacramento, averaging 12.3 points and 11.3 rebounds. This preseason included a 26 point, 12 rebound, five steal performance against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Adebayo has teased Heat fans this offseason with his talent. Now it’s time for those skills to translate on a game-to-game basis this year.
Derrick Jones Jr.
Expectation: Become a rotation player
Last year, Jones Jr. was a pleasant surprise for Heat fans. The lanky 21-year-old forward showed premier athleticism and provided key minutes to an injury-depleted team.
His talents were enough for the Heat to sign him to an extension, prolonging his stay.
Considering he’s started the first two games to open the season, feelings must be good surrounding his improvement. If Jones can build some muscle and become a better rebounder and shooter, Miami will have uncovered yet another gem.
Expectation: Return to 2016-17 form
The 2017-18 season for James Johnson was a disappointment. After signing a long-term deal, Johnson was oft-injured and never looked comfortable after a breakout campaign the year prior.
Johnson does great things with the rock in his hands, but he’s limited when he isn’t a threat to score from the perimeter. We saw a significant drop in his three-point percentage last year (34 percent to 30.8 percent).
If Johnson can find his outside stroke once again, that will open up more opportunities for teammates and make the Heat offense much harder to contain.
Expectation: Maintain Production
It’s hard to ask more of Olynyk, who played his role of a stretch big to near perfection last year. He didn’t try to do too much and fit perfectly into Miami’s system last year.
And it showed, with a career-high in points per game (11.5), rebounds (5.7) and assists (2.7).
All we can ask for the sixth year big man is to avoid getting injured while putting up similar numbers. His role as a starter or off the bench unclogs the middle of the lane and gives the Heat a desperately needed sharpshooter.
Expectation: Show us this summer wasn’t a fluke
After receiving plenty of postseason criticism for his disappointing showing against Philadelphia, Whiteside took it to heart. He spent a decent amount of the offseason working on his shooting touch, posting short clips of his skills from distance.
If Whiteside wants to maximize his value as a modern NBA big, he’ll need to show the association that those videos are no gimmick and show it in real competition. Then we might see opinions start to shift on the 29-year old. Also, becoming a better team player and not stat-chasing would turn a lot of heads and most definitely improve his player stock.