Since the departure of LeBron James in 2014, the Miami Heat have struggled to put together a truly elite team to compete for a championship. The franchise had seen stars such as Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside, Chris Bosh, and Goran Dragic star in the previous five seasons, yet none could lead the Heat back to the top of the Eastern Conference. Before this year, nothing looked too different, aside from a few rookies and the signing of Jimmy Butler.
This year, though, Miami clearly looked like a much better team than year’s past, and following their dismantling of the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, the Heat seemed primed to have big playoffs. Especially with the way the team has played as of late, their young, talented core has warranted some consideration as one of the best up-and-coming teams in the league.
These are the reasons why the Miami Heat is suddenly so good.
The Heat’s Culture
The Miami Heat are known for having an incredible culture; specifically, one that holds everyone accountable. We see videos of Heat players yelling at each other, but this is all out of love for one another, and not hate. This culture, which has been around for a few years, has been taken to the next step by the Heat’s major free agent signing, Jimmy Butler. Butler is known for telling players like it is and not babying players, a tendency that made his teammates’ patience run thin in Chicago, Minnesota, and Philadelphia. This is all summed up by teammate Goran Dragic:
"For me, I even talked to some guys. I said, 'How did that even come out with the media or players that Jimmy is a bad guy?' I don't know. If I'm honest, I really don’t know. He wants to win. Jimmy is one of those players that he's going to call you out. If you're not doing your job, he's going to call you out. As professional players, we need that. He's our leader. Everybody knows that. It's nothing personal. He's here to win and we're here to win. Maybe other organizations with those young fellas, they couldn't handle that. I think they'e wrong. Everybody needs to be vulnerable and everybody needs to accept criticism, too. ... That's how Jimmy operates and I love him for that."
His teammates in Miami seem to love him, as they all seem to be holding each other accountable, a tendency that helps the team grow better together and helps the young players become stars. Work ethic is incredibly important to everyone on the Heat, so Bulter and his grind are a perfect match for his Heat teammates. Tyler Herro was quoted as saying “Jimmy has taken me under his wing since the summer and really pushed me and showed me the right way and has given me the confidence and has really put me in the right spots.” As we have seen, Butler’s leadership has been one of the driving factors behind the Heat’s success this season.
Young and Talented
The young core that the Miami Heat have is fantastic, and can help support the team now and lead them in the future.
First, the teams rookie guards in Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn have been amazing, and have earned big minutes in their first seasons in the league for a top team in the Eastern Conference, averaging a combined 28.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 5.5 APG, with both shooting over 85% from the free throw line. These rookies have not needed much time at all to adapt to the play style of the NBA, and are looking like future NBA stars.
Second-year sharpshooter Duncan Robinson has been automatic, averaging 13.5 PPG while shooting 47% from FG, 44.6% from 3PT, and 93.1% from FT. While everyone knew he was a shooter, nobody realized he would be this good. In fact, 8.3 out of his 9.4 shot attempts per game are from the 3-point line, and hitting at as high of a clip as he does helps create a lot of driving space for teammates.
Third-year big man Bam Adebayo has seen his minutes and stats jump up since the departure of Hassan Whiteside in the offseason, and the team has thrived with Adebayo manning the paint. As an All-Star in his third year in the NBA, Adebayo has averaged 15.9 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, and 1.3 BPG, while shooting 55.7% from the field. As one of the team’s ball handlers, Adebayo has helped unlock his shooters’ potentials with his incredible passing and ball handling for a center.
The Heat are a team filled with the right veterans; those that will keep the rest of the team on the right track. In the beginning of the season, the Heat had Jimmy Butler and Udonis Haslem leading the way, teaching the young players the ins-and-outs of the NBA and how to defend at a high level. While these players are certainly talented individuals, Haslem has not played real minutes in the league since 2015, and Butler also is the leader of the offense (leading the team in PPG and APG).
In the middle of the season, the Miami Heat sent Justice Winslow and Dion Waiters (two injury prone players) to the Grizzlies for two defensive-minded, gritty players in Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder to help toughen up their defense. With Iguodala and Crowder on board, the Heat now had a couple extra quality defenders who can also help lead the team as veterans of the league, letting the star offensive players be more active on the offensive side of the basketball.With the Heat’s defense now improving, their status as contenders became even more possible.
Now armed with top efficient offensive players, lockdown defenders and a lot of hard workers, look for the Heat to become a top team in the league for years to come.