In today’s NBA, you have to be one of two things to win games: (a) be extremely talented (a la the Spurs, 2015 OKC), or (b) make 3s and play some defense. (The crazy teams do both.) And in the Miami Heat’s case, well, they just lost their most talented player to his hometown team, the Chicago Bulls. In addition, Chris Bosh is sidelined, and should probably never play professional hoops again. Okay, so it’s looks like the transcendent talent option isn’t available for this Heat squad—so that leaves them with this: launching salvoes of 3s and praying they go in, followed up by getting back on the defensive end. We’ve seen it done before.
Think the 2014-15 Houston Rockets. If you’re picturing a team with a superstar surrounded by shooters, you’d only be half right. It was more like James Harden surrounded by mediocre gang of gunners with a license to let it fly. The 2014-15 Rockets only shot 34.8 percent from 3, according to NBA.com/Stats, a tick below average.
So, all you need is: a crafty, left-handed point guard (check), below average 3-point shooters and a dash of defense (more coming on that). Also, Miami’s newly inked center, Hassan Whiteside, allows a close-fisted 49.7 percent within 6 feet of the rim, per NBA.com/Stats--that's a 10.7 percent difference from his opponents’ usual field goal percentage of 60.4 percent. That’s good, like, really good.
And as far mediocre 3-point shooting, the Heat have that covered. More like asphyxiated. I took the would-be average of the 2016-17 Heat roster-to-be and it looked something like 33 percent. (I used the the 2015-16 season statistics for the lion’s share of the Heat’s roster—neither Whiteside nor Amar’e Stoudemire or Willie Reed took a heave last year; and I used Dorell Wrights last, full-ish regular season, Briante Weber’s 28-game D-League sample size and Rodney McGruder’s college shooting percentage to “simulate” the type of shooting we might see this October. And you thought you knew about advanced statistics/analysis.)
Bad news? Well, only one team shot worse than 33 percent from downtown last season: The Los Angeles Lakers. Gulp. Good news? The Boston Celtics shot 33.5 percent from deep last year on 26.1 attempts per game, and they won 48 games without a marquee player. The lesson: quantity over… um, well, that’s it—quantity is the lesson. Also, as accurate as my projected 2016-17 Heat 3-point-chucking is, it will probably—100 percent definitely—figure out to be wrong.
For instance, take Derrick Williams. He shot a brick-laying 29.3 percent from 3 this past season, per NBA.com/Stats. But from the corners, Williams canned a combined 40.7 percent from the NBA-favored short corner 3. Scheme and design is everything. That goes for defense, too. The Heat’s 2016-17 season will rely on the product being better than the sum of its parts, something that is possible through an effective game plan.
The tricky thing for Erik Spoelstra & Co. this coming season is, that they need to completely change how the Heat plays, again. When LeBron James left, Spo adapted; when Chris Bosh was sidelined (twice), Spo adapted (which went mostly unnoticed). Now, Dwyane Wade is gone, and Spo will have to adapt—again. Since 2010 (mostly), Miami’s season-to-season game plan has been a tumbling Etch A Sketch, erased every time someone got a good look at it. And excluding Bosh, the biggest amendments have been demonstrably self-inflicted. Pat Riley and Miami’s front office never properly reloaded around LeBron after the 2013 title, which played a role his decision to leave after getting molly whopped by the Spurs in 2014. LeBron need more help. With Wade—Riley played hardliner with his best player, the guy who puts Floridian butts in seats, and lost—or won depending on how fore-thinking/pragmatic a Miami Heat fan you’re talking to.
The Heat has the vague pieces to be quasi-competitive this coming 2016-17 NBA season. (At least there’s a recipe). They harbor a decent rim protector/defensive anchor, a gaggle of mediocre triggermen, a capable point guard and—most importantly—a coach that is no stranger to change. And make no mistake, this Heat team will need a metamorphosis if it wants to come out looking like a butterfly on the other end.