Having an incredibly deep team is a blessing for a head coach in any team sport.
The Miami Heat are a prime example of this. The Heat endured all kinds of injury misfortune this season. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry, and Tyler Herro played in 57 games, 56 games, 63 games, and 66 games this season respectively. Before the season started, many experts and fans alike predicted the Heat finishing anywhere from the 3rd-6th seed in the East this season and that was with the assumption that their top players would play regularly. Given that none of the top four players on the team played a significant number of games this season, it is nothing short of miraculous that the Heat finished as the 1st seed in the East.
However, this same depth that has been a blessing for head coach Erik Spoelstra all season long is now perhaps his greatest challenge as the Heat prepare for the 2022 NBA Playoffs. Max Strus and Gabe Vincent have proven themselves as extremely valuable rotation pieces. Duncan Robinson, who has now been relegated to the bench, is still one of the top sharpshooters in the league despite a regression in efficiency this season. Victor Oladipo has shown flashes of his former All-Star days. Caleb Martin, Markieff Morris, Dewayne Dedmon, and Omer Yurtseven all proved to be solid contributors at the backup forward/center spots.
So how in the world is Erik Spoelstra going to narrow down this list to just a 8-9 man rotation as the playoffs start? First, let’s take a look at the guys who are obviously going to be playing.
The Big 3
It goes without saying that Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Kyle Lowry will all be in the Heat playoff rotation and will be playing significant minutes. Take a look at how they have each elevated their game to another gear over the last couple of weeks at just the right time.
Over the Heat’s latest 6-game win streak, Jimmy Butler posted averages of 24 PPG, 5 RPG, and 6 APG on 59/41/84% shooting splits. He has been shooting 41% from three on 3.5 attempts per game ever since the “9% from 3” jokes that came his way over the 4-game losing streak two weeks ago.
Over that same span, Bam Adebayo put up 19 PPG, 10 RPG, and 3 APG on 57% FG while further adding to his DPOY case. He likely will not earn the accolade due to his missed games from the thumb injury this season, but his supreme defensive abilities and improved offensive arsenal will be pivotal as the Heat look to make a deep playoff run.
During this winning streak, Kyle Lowry averaged 16 PPG, 3 RPG, and 7 APG on 57/53/80% shooting splits. The biggest leap that Kyle Lowry has taken over the last few weeks is that he has been far more aggressive in seeking his own shot than he was over the course of the regular season. Lowry’s offensive aggression is the key to what will really take the Heat offense to another gear during this upcoming postseason.
The Spark Plug
There has been recent discourse over the last few days about the Sixth Man of the Year “race”. However, there is no race at all. Tyler Herro has had the award essentially locked up since November. Herro is putting up averages of 21 PPG, 5 RPG, and 4 APG on 44/40/86 shooting splits. While those stats are already impressive enough as he’s posted one of the best six-man stats we have ever seen, it is really what Herro has done post-All Star break that I wanted to highlight.
Since the All-Star break, Herro has upped his scoring average to about 23 PPG on 49% field goal and 45.7% from three with nearly seven three-point attempts per game. Only a small percentage of the looks that Herro gets are unassisted, uncontested looks. The efficiency that Herro has shown with the degree of difficulty of his shots is absurd, and his scoring punch will have to continue into the postseason in order for Miami to punch their ticket back into the NBA Finals.
While only Duncan Robinson and Max Strus are pictured here, this list also includes PJ Tucker and Gabe Vincent. The biggest question mark about the Heat heading into the postseason is how their half-court offense will look once the game slows down in a playoff game. The Heat offense has struggled with this at times during the course of the regular season, most notably during the four-game losing streak in which they lost to the shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, and then were blown out by the Brooklyn Nets.
Following these abysmal losses, Erik Spoelstra made a lineup change in which he started Strus at the shooting guard position and sent Robinson to the bench. The purpose of this was not necessarily an indictment on Robinson, but rather a rotational move to increase the spacing off of the bench. Coach Spo also tweaked the minutes distribution of his rotation to allow Butler to play more minutes at the power forward position off the bench with multiple shooters to increase the space he has to operate in the post. Not coincidentally, this has dramatically improved Jimmy’s numbers and the Heat half-court offense over the last two weeks. The Heat have been an efficient three-point shooting team all season, and maintaining this efficiency will be critical for the offense come playoff time.
I have discussed the majority of players who Erik Spoelstra will likely trust in his short rotation in the postseason, but there remains one wild card that can dramatically impact the Heat’s playoff success: Victor Oladipo. After making his return from two quadriceps surgeries, Oladipo expectedly struggled to find his offensive rhythm in the first couple of games back. However, he turned heads and looked like his former All-Star self in his last two games played to finish out the season. Against the Toronto Raptors, Oladipo had 21 points, 4 assists, 2 steals, and had 6 threes while shooting 7/11 from the field. Against the Orlando Magic in the last game of the season, Oladipo had 40 (!!!) points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, and shot 13/22 from the field. While Oladipo has been in and out of the rotation as of late when everyone is healthy due to his inconsistency upon his return, he easily provides the highest upside amongst those competing with him for minutes (Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson, Max Strus). Oladipo is easily the best defender amongst that group and if his last two games were any indication of what he can do when his name is called, his resurgence could be the key in Miami getting back to the Finals.
The Heat finished atop of the East for the first time since the 2012-2013 NBA season. With the bitter memories of being swept out of the first round last year by the Milwaukee Bucks are still fresh in the team’s and fans’ minds, Miami will look to put that in the past and prove that they do have what it takes to win it all. While the opponent who the Heat will face in the first round this season is still yet to be determined based on the play-in games, one thing is for certain: Miami is not scared and will be ready for whoever.