The Miami Heat have a glut of unknowns to answer this season, and they might have penciled in a few of them in week one. In no particular order, here a few of the things I noticed.
This off-season there was some buzz as to who would soak up ball-handling minutes to fill the vacuum Dwyane Wade’s left. Some thought Beno Udrih. Nope. Some thought Josh Richardson. Funny story. (For the record, Richardson is no point guard. He’s a damn fine player, but he’s dribble isn’t fluid enough, he has trouble navigating with anyone in his airspace.)
Turns out Dion Waiters might win the backup point guard spot behind Goran Dragic. And not out of complete desperation. (Some desperation but not complete.)
The lesser Oklahoma City “defector” has looked more than competent handling the ball and was more than confident dribbling into the teeth of the Orlando Magic’s thought-to-be-stout defense in the Heat’s first game.
I would go as far as to say he looked like James Harden-feather-lite. Waiters flipped a duo of passes to gunner Luke Babbitt for pair 3s, and pulled off a few slight of hand dump-offs to Hassan Whiteside. As far as ball-handling goes, Waiters is head and shoulders above any other guard on the Heat.
Waiter’s continues to play sneak-good defense, when he’s locked in. He needs to be more consistent to solidify his role as a ball-handler, though.
It seems like he’s content mailing in possessions, at times, not setting picks or moving very much.
In the pick-and-roll, Justise Winslow has played the maestro more times than Waiters, and he’s actually averaging a higher points per possession figure, per Synergy Sports.
If Winslow can be a secondary ball-handler, it means someone has to defend him(!). No one can leave baby in the corner, like opponents often did in last year’s playoffs.
I think we’re seeing a “leap” by Winslow. (It’s way too early to say this.) He can get to the rim and pass out of the pick-and-roll, and he’s a plus defender. He’s an absolute work horse.
It’s going to be really hard for a player that can pass, defend, get to the rim, and run a pick-and-roll to not be really good.
A non-basketball point about Winslow: It looks like he might actually be a personality. At first, Winslow seemed to go the route of Kawhi Leonard. Strong yet stoic. But now, we’ve seen some bicep flexing; we saw his radiance when cheering on teammates last year; we’ve seen him dance on Instagram. I’m buying up all the leftover Winslow stock. You should, too.
Oh, and his jumper looks horrid. Six-of-22 from the field; 1-of-11 on 3s. Which is good and bad. Bad because 9.1-percent from deep is gruesome figure, but good because he’s actually taking them. You have to close out on a guy—even just by instinct—who’s taking a wide open 3.
Tyler Johnson might be—let’s jump to conclusions (and two-handed jams!)—worth the money. Wait, is $50 million too much to pay to watch a 6-foot-4 four guard yam on Jeff Green? No? Didn’t think so.
That key-hole grin and those jet pack dunks almost make you forget that the Heat are paying him $18 million in 2018 (and even more in 2019).
But I’m not sure who Johnson can defend. He doesn’t seem to have enough know-how to taper a decent point guard’s production, or enough size to stymie a bigger guard.
There are couple things that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing. The scene in “Flight” when Denzel Washington (spoiler alert) flips the plane, Niykee Heaton’s Instagram (you’re welcome) and Hassan Whiteside passing. Two of those three things are real, not sure which—also, not sure it matters.
In Game 1, Whiteside had some good-looking passes, actually converting a seamless give-and-go with Rodney McGruder, late in the third quarter. Fool's gold? We’ll see. He executed a similar give-and-go versus the San Antonio Spurs this Sunday.
Otherwise, we know what Whiteside is. He can dunk, rebound and play a certain brand defense.
There’s one thing that the big fella won’t let die, though. His post-up game. He looks unnatural doing it but Miami doesn’t have a lot of “hey, go get me a shot” guys, so sometimes it’s all they have.
And he doesn’t look terrible doing it. By “doesn’t look terrible,” I mean the ball goes into the basket.
Still, at 0.81 per possession, per Synergy Sports, the Heat shouldn’t be relying on Whiteside’s weird post-ups down the stretch.
Whiteside looks about as good as a vegan cheese tastes, when posting-up; he looks the part, but somethings is off and the execution is goofy, even if it works sometimes. Try vegan cheese. You’ll know what I mean.
Without Whiteside on the floor, the Heat’s defense is toothless. And that’s not a euphemism for Tyler Johnson.
Versus Charlotte, the Heat gave up a near-20-point lead due to the incompetence of their backup unit—and Whiteside’s foul trouble (that’s going to be a reoccurring theme).
There are a few big things to take away from the Charlotte game. Willie Reed, the man who spells Whiteside, can’t play pick-and-roll defense if A) he has to defend a non-traditional big man, or, B) if he has to help hedge on a Kemba Walker-like point guard (might pull-up, might drive). Reed isn’t used to guarding big men on the perimeter, even when they set picks; he just sinks into the paint, leaving an oh so sweet pocket for guards who like to rise up for 15-footers.
That is going to be a huge problem if Whiteside keeps fouling like he’s playing on the blacktop.
Otherwise, Reed is a good roll-man on offense and plays with energy. He might pick up the Heat’s defense scheme in time. For now, get used to seeing him screw of up pick-and-roll coverage.
The second big takeaway from the Charlotte game: Miami’s Swiss cheese-like transition defense.
Now, the big reason we had such a nice display of the Heat’s transition defense was because they had 19 turnovers, giving up 22 points and allowing 1.2 points per turnovers.
The Heatles couldn’t find their assignments, trailers were left wide open.
This might just be because it’s the first week of a long season. But it’s something to keep tabs.
Here’s where it gets weird—or good. Both, really. Against the Orlando, the Heat trickled out only 14 3-point attempts, and made four of them. The very next game, versus Charlotte (a better team than Orlando), the Heat bombed 34 3-pointers and made 14 of them. They chucked 20 more 3s than in their previous contest!
To put that in perspective, the Heat averaged 18 3s per game, last year.
And they weren’t just chucking those 34 attempts; the Heat were generating good looks and missed a few that they should’ve canned.
Whether it be the pick-and-roll or just dribble penetration, the Heat have been creating a decent amount of spot-up looks for open gunners.
On 62 total catch-and-shoot possession, the Heat are averaging 1.13 points per possession, per Synergy Sports, which is the sixth-best mark in the league, through one week.
But by no means is Miami’s offense humming. At four per game, per Synergy Sports, Head coach Erik Spoelstra still hasn’t dialed up enough picks-and-rolls.
Until this team starts averaging 25-plus 3-point attempts a game, or locks down on defense, they don’t have any real identity. And in NBA that’s not great.