Sports

The Miami Heat Have All the Ingredients to Contend

After a lost season, the Heat have built a uniquely tasty roster. If everything goes right, they'll be really good. There is also another way it could go.
October 16, 2015, 4:59pm
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It was a busy summer for almost every championship contender in the NBA. The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Chicago Bulls got new coaches, the Houston Rockets traded for Ty Lawson, the Los Angeles Clippers overhauled their second unit, and the San Antonio Spurs paired free agency's prime cut, LaMarcus Aldridge, with a healthy side of David West. The Miami Heat did not do any of those things.

They thought about it, sure. Pat Riley made a push for Aldridge, but considering the cap gymnastics required to even make it a possibility, that was more a testament to Riley's audacity than anything else. The Heat really didn't have many moves to make, given that they'd already made them last season, when they traded for Goran Dragic and watched as Hassan Whiteside, signed before the season to a super cheap two-year contract, became a star. This year, with Chris Bosh fully recovered from a scary bout with blood clots, the Heat find themselves with one of the best starting units in the NBA and a more athletic bench. They have, as Dwyane Wade told Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel, "all the right ingredients. We just have to make sure we mix it right."

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One element that the Heat don't have to worry about is the Dragic-Bosh pick-and-pop, as Erik Spoelstra, in an uncharacteristic bout of giddiness, told Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post:

"That's the combination we'll probably have to work the least on," he said, laughing at the mere thought of how dangerous he expects them to be. "If you tried to craft a pick-and-pop game, those two guys would be near the top of your list."

Spoelstra should be laughing, and the rest of the league should be quaking. Dragic and Bosh are two of the more dynamic and unusual players in the NBA. Dragic is a shifty whirlwind of a point guard, a pick-and-roll maestro who seems to play at several different tempos simultaneously. Bosh has the range to stretch out defenses, the handle to shake his man, and the intelligence to find the open teammate. Putting those two together is going to create a lethally funky mixture. Serious questions remain about the Heat's other ingredients, however. With apologies to Papa John, this could be a case of better ingredients not making a better pizza.

Take Wade. When healthy and fresh, he's still a near-elite attacking guard, but that is a big "when." Wade played in 62 games last season, and just 54 the season before that. He'll be healthy, probably, to start the season, but knees and hamstrings do not improve with age.

To keep doing this, Wade needs to stay healthy—and find a way to stop the aging process. Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Most guards, as their explosiveness erodes, will expand their range in order to prolong their careers. Wade's a rare exception. He's never been an exceptional shooter, and has shot above 30 percent from beyond the arc just four times in his 12 seasons. Even his mid-range game is in decline: he shot just 42 percent from 10-16 feet last season, down eight percentage points from the previous season. Wade is a Hall of Famer and a legend, but there are many sturdier cornerstones.

The Heat picked up some insurance, and addressed the concerns surrounding their three-point shooting and depth, by signing Gerald Green and drafting Justise Winslow, who inexplicably fell to them at the tenth pick. Winslow doesn't yet have reliable range on his jumper, but he's the sort of player good teams tend to have: an exceptional athlete who can play multiple positions, and who should provide a wealth of options for Spoelstra. Green, a former running mate of Dragic's in Phoenix, might be the Heat's best pure shooter, which is good when Green is good—he's a supernova when he's locked in, and still a dazzling athlete—and disastrous when he's off. Green or Winslow (or James Ennis, who should also see more time this year) won't fill Wade's shoes—that's impossible—but they'll take the weight off him during the regular season, giving defenses a different look and giving Wade more rest.

The Heat at least have a general idea of Wade's expiration date, and a strategy to postpone it. When it comes to Hassan Whiteside, no one can be sure if that date is still years ahead or if it's already passed. Once an NBA castoff, Whiteside burst onto the scene late in the year, posting eye-popping efficiency (26.2 PER) and rebounding numbers: his total rebounding percentage, which is an estimate of the percentage of available rebounds the player grabbed when he was on the floor, was an implausible 25 percent. In what was otherwise an unfortunate season, Whiteside was a winning lottery ticket—a bona fide two-way center who barely dented the salary cap. His challenge, now, is to keep it up—and keep it together—over a full season, now that he's undoubtedly on opposing scouting reports. If he regresses on the court, or struggles with his temper, the Heat will have a gaping hole in the middle.

If this all seems to doom the Heat to failure, it shouldn't. Contenders are allowed to have questions, and the Miami Heat are going to be fucking good. They're more athletic than they were even when LeBron was throwing alley-oops to Wade; they have an elite point guard and an elite forward who are going to be brutal in pick-and-pop. Their starting five is going to be an absolute pain to defend, especially with Spoelstra's plan to incorporate more motion into the offense.

The ingredients are all there, as Wade said, but if just one of those ingredients spoils—if Wade's health declines, if the Heat can't hit enough shots from deep, if Whiteside proves to be a one-year wonder—the entire dish could be ruined. If it all comes together, though, this will be a feast.