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How high is the ceiling for the Miami Heat’s young trio?

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Lacking game-changing talent, Miami turns to its youth to provide improvement.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Barring a major trade, the Miami Heat will enter next season with largely the same roster as 2017-18, which means internal development will be paramount. Luckily, the Heat sport a trio of promising young players in Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, and Justise Winslow. Their potential isn’t just theoretical either, the “mini-three” are already amongst the Heat’s best performers. The trio, plus Wayne Ellington and Kelly Olynyk, posted a +19 net rating together, which ranked as Miami’s third best lineup in 2017-18 (with at least 50 minutes of court time).

Going even further, the trio posted a 7.2 net rating together as a three man combination. That was 33rd out of 155 combinations that played at least 50 minutes together for the Heat. Even more impressive, they slotted in at 7th in defensive rating. Miami looks like it has the foundation for a defensive juggernaut.

Clearly this trio can already function as a solid core, but their development has been unsteady at times. Bam started his rookie year out strong, but faded by the end of the season. Both Richardson and Justice regressed badly in their sophomore season, but rebounded nicely in 2017-18. Richardson flashed All-Star potential, and Justise reminded reminded people why the Heat turned down four future picks to draft him 10th overall in 2015. All three have promise, but none seem like a surefire star. Just how high is this young core’s ceiling?

Josh Richardson

2017-18 stats: 12.9 pts 3.5 ast 2.9 reb 1.5 stl - 55.1 TS%

Any discussion of star potential has to begin with J-Rich. He was at times the Heat’s best player, and looked comfortable taking over games when he got hot. He also had a tendency to sit back and watch when his shot wasn’t falling. JRich regards himself as a defense-first player, but he shouldn’t be satisfied with excelling on one end of the floor, especially with such a promising offensive game. His 55.1 true shooting percentage isn’t elite, but it’s a solid floor and his 84.5 free throw percentage suggests he could get even better from distance. Even if his percentage stays where it is, an increase in his 4.1 three point attempts per game could up his efficiency. If Wayne Ellington leaves in free agency, expect J-Rich to soak up some of his shots.

Richardson’s per-games stats aren’t eye popping, and his aggression, or lack there of, was a weak spot at times, but it also hints at his potential. If given free range in the offense, akin to what Ellington has enjoyed, J-Rich could explode next year.

Bam Adebayo

2017-18 stats: 6.9 pts 5.5 reb 1.5 ast 0.6 blk - 57.0 TS%

Bam is the most enigmatic of the three. He posted a solid 15.6 rebound percentage and his 57.0 true shooting percentage is excellent. That being said, he was just a tick above the 33rd percentile as a roll man, and clocked in at the 14th percentile on post up plays. Those are rough percentages but no reason for concern. He should improve in both these areas as he becomes more comfortable with the NBA game, and it seems inevitable he will figure out how to use his athleticism as a roll man. It’s easy to dream on that incredible athleticism, but that’s not what makes Bam potentially special.

This is the player the Heat envisioned when they took him 14th overall. Starting at 0:25, Bam shows off a greatly improved handle. He looks comfortable with the ball and flashes a nice eurostep, floater and mid range pull-up. Perhaps most impressive is his spin into a layup at the end of the video. Bam is a bit undersized at the center position, but if he can take players off the dribble he creates an advantage against almost any defender. Put a center on him and he can dribble by them, put a wing on him and he can bully them to the rim. He’s not there yet, but Bam has the blueprint to be a nightly mismatch.

Justise Winslow

2017-2018 stats: 7.8 5.4 2.2 0.8 - 49.6 TS%

That true shooting percentage is brutal. It ranks 229th out of 253 players who played at least 20 minutes last year, but Winslow isn’t a scorer. Sure, the Heat want him to be more efficient, but his passing is what sets him apart as a prospect.

He slashed 10.8/6.0/2.5 on 45/31.6/59.1 shooting over the final 20 games of the season. Over that stretch, he finally seemed to figure out how to finish on layups and put up double digit points in 12 of those contests. On top of that, Winslow demonstrated his mature distributing skills, looking more and more comfortable handling the ball. Lacking a true backup point guard, Winslow could serve as the primary playmaker when Dragic sits. He has the upside to be a point forward at the 3 or the 4 and seems to have developed a solid three point stroke.

Justise looks to have the lowest floor of the three, but if he can up his miserable 44% conversion rate on two-point-attempts he could become the multi-positional threat he was projected as out of Duke. The Heat would be wise to put the ball in his hands and let him learn on the fly.

The Heat’s mini three aren’t a guarantee. There’s a possibility that none of the three will develop into an All-Star level talent. The Heat could be stuck with more “good-not-great” players, but they give the Heat roster much needed upside. On a team starved for elite talent, can any of them be the star Miami so desperately needs?