Since the All-Star break, the Miami Heat are playing like a borderline championship contender. It may not seem like it, given the squad’s merely decent 8-5 record, but check out the numbers. In that time, the Heat have been seventh in the NBA in offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) and eleventh in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). The squad has posted the sixth best net rating (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) in basketball — better than the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors (!) and Washington Wizards.
What has been the key to the team’s post All-Star ascent? In typical Heat fashion, it’s hard to point to one dominant trend. Miami’s whole is larger than the sum of its parts.
But let’s take a look at some of the parts. Since the break, seven Heat lineups have played at least 20 minutes together, per NBA.com data. (Small sample size alert!) Four have been average to dominant. The other three? No so much. Here are three units Coach Erik Spoelstra should trot out more as the Heat gear up for a playoff run — and two that should never again see the light of day.
1. Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow (Net rating of 8.8 in 37 post-All Star Break in 37 minutes)
It’s no surprise this lineup is torching fools in today’s NBA. It’s a switchy, rangy outfit with plus defenders at three positions in Winslow, Whiteside and Richardson — and heady stalwarts who always give a good effort at the other two. Offensively, the group features four knockdown 3-point shooters, leaving big man Hassan Whiteside plenty of room to operate near the rim. (Man, it feels good to use “knockdown” to describe Justise Winslow.)
The group also has multiple smart passers, scary athleticism and the ability to play at almost any pace. The Heat’s closer Dwyane Wade may not be a part of this group, but don’t be surprised if Spo trots it out in a big moment or two come playoff time.
2. Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Kelly Olynyk, Dwyane Wade, Justise Winslow (Net rating of 26.8 in 25 post-All Star Break minutes)
You may immediately notice something about this delightfully weird lineup: 3 of the players from the first unit I mentioned are not featured at all. This is classic Heat. The team is deep to a fault.
This lineup boasts an eye-popping offensive rating of 128.2 since the All-Star break. The group features four 3-point shooters and a Hall of Fame floor general in Wade. Kelly Olynyk, who’s made sweet basketball music out of elbow handoffs all season, makes a ton of sense in this space-tastic motley crew of three-and-D ballers. And the groups is better on defense than you might expect, with a rating of 101.4 — as good as Boston’s league-leading mark. Whether that is sustainable without a dominant rim protector is the biggest question for this group going forward.
3. Bam Adebayo, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Josh Richardson, Dwyane Wade (Net rating of 29.6 in 21 minutes post-break minutes)
This squad is the mirror image of our second group. No one can score on these guys. They’ve posted a preposterous 86.5 defensive rating since the break. That’s not sustainable. Still, the thought of trotting out a lineup that can switch across all five positions and clog every passing lane with an arm should give Spo a reason to believe in this group.
Offensively, the unit has posted a sparkling 116.1 rating. But given the personnel, that may be an aberration. It’s unclear whether there’s enough shooting here to make this lockdown squad work well enough to sustain big minutes.
Please, never again
1. Wayne Ellington, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Kelly Olynyk, Justise Winslow (Net rating of -19.6 in 29 post-break minutes)
This group is getting shredded on defense, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s a small unit anchored by a minus defender in Olynyk. Ellington is rangy and tries hard, but he’s not quick enough to stay in front of more athletic wings. Miami needs another plus defender to make this unit workable.
What is surprising is that these guys aren’t scoring better. The group has five three-point shooters, yet it’s only posting 97 points per 100 possessions. If Spo sticks with this squad — and I pray he doesn’t — look for that number to tick up.
2. Luke Babbitt, Goran Dragic, James Johnson, Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside (Net rating of -25.3 in 24 post-break minutes)
No way around it, that net rating has no alibi. It’s ugly, and there’s a big reason: Throughout the year, Whiteside has had trouble anchoring the paint alone. The big fella has been a member of some of the Heat’s highest-usage lineups. Those groups have only thrived when Whiteside has been paired with Justise Winslow. Winslow helps Whiteside by smothering bulkier fours and swallowing up the rebounds that spring loose when Whiteside goes for a risky block.
It’s no surprise that this particular five man crew has struggled mightily on the defensive end of the court, coughing up a ghastly 133.6 points per 100 possessions. Let’s hope Spo treats us to as little of these guys together as possible the rest of the season.