Just one calendar year ago, the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers were competing in the 2020 NBA Finals. Somehow, a full NBA season has passed since then and we are now entering the second season removed from the Heat being crowned Eastern Conference Champions.
After what can only be described as a disappointing end to the 2020-2021 NBA season for the Heat, the team upgraded its roster this past summer and is set to re-establish itself as one of the league’s elite teams.
Let’s take a look at the Heat’s offseason moves and their potential impact on this season.
Unquestionably the Heat’s most significant offseason addition is six-time NBA All-Star Kyle Lowry. Lowry has been the face of the Toronto Raptors since the 2012-2013 NBA season and signed a 3-year contract with Miami in free agency this summer. Lowry immediately provides the Heat with something it has long been lacking: elite point guard play (with all due respect to Goran Dragic). Lowry’s combination of elite playmaking, defense, shooting, driving, and foul-drawing abilities is something that the Heat arguably have never had at the point guard position. His impact will be felt from Day 1, not only because of his own abilities but also due to his presence immediately making things easier for his teammates, particularly his co-stars in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
Last season, Butler put together arguably the best statistical regular season of his career. He was relied on so heavily to be the primary scorer and playmaker while defending the best player on the other team. Obviously, this level of responsibility is not sustainable over the course of a full season and his magic predictably ran out in the playoffs where the Heat were embarrassed by the eventual-champion Milwaukee Bucks.
The addition of Lowry will take a huge load of responsibility off of Butler’s shoulders. Lowry will immediately fill the role of being the primary playmaker for the Heat, allowing Butler to play more off-ball and hone in defensively while being a more effective scorer overall. While he may not match his statistical output of last season with less playmaking duties this year, Butler’s impact on team success will be far greater this season (which he would rather have over the statistics 10/10 times). Lowry and Butler have been close friends off the court for several years, as well. Lowry is even the godfather to Butler’s daughter. The chemistry between the two could not be any better off the court and undoubtedly will be just as evident on the court.
While I have already outlined what Lowry brings to the Heat, perhaps his most valuable contribution will be his direct impact on Bam Adebayo. Adebayo has taken enormous steps in his career offensively, adding a reliable midrange jumper and free-throw shot to his bag last season. He has consistently become a better player each year, and he has done so without the assistance of an elite point guard in his career (again, all due respect to Dragic). The effect that a top-tier point guard can have on a center cannot be understated. Look no further than the jump that Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton took just last season after the Suns added Chris Paul to their roster.
Adebayo will certainly still operate as a playmaker in the post and facilitate Coach Erik Spoelstra’s notorious dribble-handoffs with sharpshooters Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro, but Lowry will provide Bam with someone who can consistently feed him the ball in his spots and allow him to develop a score-first mindset. This is a luxury that Adebayo has never had in his career. In his media day interview last week, Bam stated, “I want to be a shooter. I’m going to be shooting, attacking the basket more often and being more assertive”. Heat fans have much to be optimistic about in regards to the leap Bam will be taking this season, and he is poised for a career year.
PJ Tucker & Markieff Morris
Two of the lesser discussed offseason additions that the Heat made were forwards PJ Tucker & Markieff Morris. Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra have notably loved to play tough-minded, defensive, versatile players who can do a little bit of everything at the power forward spot. With Tucker and Morris, the Heat will get exactly that. Additionally, the two of them each provide championship-level pedigree. Fun fact: something that all three (Lowry, Tucker, and Morris) have in common is that each of them won the championship in the last three years (Milwaukee Bucks in 2021, Los Angeles Lakers in 2020, Toronto Raptors in 2019) and each of them defeated a Jimmy Butler team in the process.
Tucker and Morris have both described this upgraded Heat roster as a “dog pound”, and both will exemplify the famed Heat Culture and provide the team with some depth at the power forward position that was noticeably missing last season.
While Oladipo is not an offseason “addition”, resigning him to a minimum contract was a tremendous win for Miami. After acquiring the former All-Star at the trade deadline in 2021, the Heat were unfortunately never able to really feel his impact on the court as his season ended with a quad injury just a few games into his brief tenure with Miami. Although Oladipo has a track record of injuries over the last few seasons, resigning him came at virtually zero risk for the Heat as it was a minimum contract with enormous upside.
As of right now, Oladipo is not scheduled to return to the court until around January, although the Heat may decide to hold him out until the All-Star break at that point. Although Oladipo may not return to the level of play he showcased in his elite 2017-2018 campaign with the Indiana Pacers, even playing at 60-70% of that level would provide the Heat with an elite defender and a dynamic three-level scorer. His health is arguably the x-factor for the Heat this year for this reason.
After being dominated by the Bucks in the 2021 NBA Playoffs in excruciating fashion, the Heat retooled their roster to fill several gaping holes that were exposed last season. The additions of PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris provide Miami with a layer of grit and toughness in the frontcourt that will alleviate some of the size mismatches. More importantly, however, the acquisition of Kyle Lowry gives the Heat a top tier point guard that will make life easier for everyone on the court.
The Pat Riley definition of Heat Culture is the “hardest working, best conditioned, most professional, most unselfish, toughest, meanest, nastiest, most disliked team in the NBA”. With the Heat offense being completely reloaded and the defense set to be a nightmare for any matchup in the regular season of playoffs, the culture has certainly been revitalized. The Heat will look to get back to the main stage where they found themselves just one calendar year ago.