IntroductionWhat do you think you know about the 2016-2017 Miami Heat? Nothing, that’s what. This team is drastically different from the playoff squad of last year. Miami staple Dwayne freaking Wade signed with the new-look Chicago Bulls, Chris Bosh’s Heat career is over (as per rough and tough Pat Riley), and aging vets Luol Deng and Joe Johnson took their talents away from South Beach. Luckily, free agent news isn’t all bad in Miami, as the Heat were able to resign young producers Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson to hefty, multi-year deals. Still, there were more acquisitions: Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, Derrick Williams, and James Johnson inked short-term contracts with Miami. Damn, the Heat went through a complete roster overhaul. I didn’t even include every single offseason move (i.e. Beno Udrih, Luke Babbit, and Willie Reed) for brevity purposes.
Any team that loses the dynamic duo of Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh will undoubtedly be worse off than before, especially barring no big free agent splashes (no, Dion Waiters does not constitute a splash… or even a ripple for that matter). Nonetheless, the Miami Heat are one of the few mystery teams heading into the 2016-2017 NBA season. Of course, there is the new dynamic duo of Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, but there are also many new-to-the-team players who may or may not form a cohesive squad on the court. The spectrum of possibility for this Heat team stretches further than any other team in the Eastern Conference, and probably even in the entire Association. Will the Miami Heat be an abysmal mess scraping for wins, a fringe playoff team in a newly highly competitive conference, or a force to be reckoned with near the top of the standings? Continue reading to find out.
Starting Lineup: Goran Dragic (PG), Tyler Johnson (SG), Justise Winslow (SF), Derrick Williams (PF), Hassan Whiteside (C)
This starting lineup is indicative of a new age for the Miami Heat franchise. None of the Big Three players (LeBron, Wade, and Bosh) remain from the two-time championship-winning team. Likewise, their starting five is as unproven as ever before.
Goran Dragic is the clear starting point guard for this Heat team. Despite an underwhelming performance in his first full season for Miami, Dragic showed large improvement following last year’s All-Star weekend. Dragic shines in an up-tempo game, and that’s exactly what the Heat are aiming for game-in and game-out this season. Look for Dragic to show long flashes of the player that Pat Riley saw on the Phoenix Suns and envisioned on Miami. The matchup between him and Matthew Dellavedova will be fierce, and the winner will likely lead his team to victory.
Tyler Johnson is the probable starting shooting guard for the Miami Heat. Johnson deserves respect from league-wide fans – after going undrafted in 2014, he has managed to make multimillions for the upcoming four years! However, he will be less respected on the court, as proven guards will cause Johnson difficulties. Sadly, these are just the growing pains of every non-superstar freshman, sophomore, and junior player. Still, Johnson’s knockdown shooting will help space the floor for Dragic and Whiteside to do their thing. The matchup between Johnson and the Bucks shooting guard, whoever the hell that is, will be anticlimactic and nothing to turn the TV on for.
Justise Winslow will likely play small forward for this intriguing Miami starting five. Winslow has loads of potential, and should build off of last season’s success to *HOT TAKE ALERT* eventually become one of the best young players in the league. When Winslow finds a consistent shooting stroke, he’ll be a great two-way NBA player. For now, we’ll just have to salivate over his pesky defense. Winslow will almost certainly guard Giannis when the Bucks face off against the Heat, and I expect him to annoy the crap out of the Greek Freak. The Bucks will need a plethora of solid contributors outside of our Point God in order to beat Miami this year.
Derrick Williams may actually be the starting power forward for the Heat (…their depth is wildly thin here). Williams has underperformed ever since being drafted second overall in 2011, and I fully expect fellow second overall draftee Jabari to seize the opportunity. If you’re the Bucks, you have to be looking at Parker one-on-one against Williams – these are the moments where the oft referred “matchup nightmare” roster of the Bucks becomes an in-game reality. However, don’t forget that Williams always seems to have a career game against Milwaukee; let’s stop the trend this season.
Finally, and most importantly for the future of the Miami Heat franchise, Hassan Whiteside will hold down the paint as the starting center. The Heat’s new franchise player will continue to grow and achieve higher heights as he gets more and more NBA minutes under his belt. Whiteside led the league in blocks per game last season, and he should continue to rack up rejections for the upcoming campaign. Him and Goran will be a problem for their opposition. Expect to see Whiteside devour Plumlee’s finishes at the rim when the Bucks are in their slow-paced half-court sets.
Key Reserves: Dion Waiters (SG), James Johnson (PF), Wayne Ellington (SG)
If Dion Waiters is in the “Key Reserves” category, you know that a) this is not a strong team or b) I value Waiters too highly (I don’t). Somewhere, deep down inside, Waiters is a skilled, high-level scorer. On the surface, however, he is a shooter, and more often than not, a miss-er. Let me step off my pedestal and admit that Waiters should occasionally provide sparks of life from a rather weak bench unit. He’s creative and not afraid to put up shots, and hey, maybe this year is the Year of Dion.
Next on the disappointing bench slate is James Johnson. Johnson is not really above average at anything basketball related, but he provides useful position versatility off the bench. When teams go small, Johnson will likely slide into the center position and work equally as well as he would playing power forward. He’s not the showiest of reserves, but James Johnson provides a useful practicality that any NBA team would desire in the ever-changing landscape of the NBA (threes for days).
Finally, there is young NBA journeyman Wayne Ellington. Him and injured young’un Josh Richardson should compete with Tyler Johnson for the starting shooting guard position. Both will likely be tasked with spreading the floor by taking and making threes. If just one of the two is hitting his shots, Goran will have ample room to work with and the Heat’s offense should subsequently benefit.
Erik Spoelstra is not quite a Pop-level mastermind, but he knows how to coach a team to success. Spoelstra will find a character for this inexperienced Heat team, and will not be afraid to change directions if one plan begins to crumble.
Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside will be an intimidating pairing that will render opponents useless if the surrounding shooters are hitting their marks. Goran finally has complete control of the reins after the departure of fellow playmaker Wade, and this will likely be a positive.
Further, the Heat will be one of the stronger defensive teams in the Eastern Conference. With Whiteside gobbling up any drives to the paint, opponents will depend on midrange and outside shooting to garner points. If the Heat guards do their jobs one-on-one, they will be forcing many teams to take difficult shots late in the shot clock. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have Winslow smothering the opponent’s star player.
If Dragic doesn’t have space to work with and the defenders prevent fast breaks and fast-paced possessions, the Heat will struggle mightily on the offensive side. Riley built the team to spread the floor with shooters so creation magic can happen between Dragic and Whiteside (impromptu duo nickname idea: Blue-Eyes White Dragic). If shooters are missing and/or defenders are hounding Blue-Eyes White Dragic, points will be hard to come by for this team.
Furthermore, the Heat’s bench is not deep enough to match those of contending teams in either conference. Sure, there are a few solid players on the pine (*looks toward Dion Waiters, slowly looks away from Dion Waiters*), but they will not be riding up leads anytime soon.
Most importantly, however, is the fact that the current Heat players are inexperienced in terms of playing with each other. There are so many new guys on the Heat that it’s almost unfathomable to expect a playoff run. Chemistry in the NBA is a valued entity that sometimes takes years to build. But sometimes it just quickly and randomly clicks too (i.e. 2014-2015 Milwaukee Bucks pre-All-Star Weekend). Nonetheless, the Heat do not look like a team that will spontaneously form a unified basketball machine.
So, what does all this mean for the 2016-2017 Miami Heat’s record? It’s honestly tough to say and similarly difficult to conjure a semi-informed guess. I might as well just throw it out there then: the Miami Heat will win 36 games this upcoming season. Again, however, the range of possibility for this team is so broad. In some parallel universe, I can clearly imagine the Heat having an absolutely garbage season as they scrap and crawl to 20 wins, and then Pat Riley ships Dragic away as he recognizes an eminent rebuild. But that’s just one roll of the die – can’t you also envision this Heat squad routing mediocre teams and battling high-level franchises as they take hold of a middle playoff seed? I can. Ultimately, however, we here at Cream City Central predict that the Heat will finish ninth in the Eastern Conference standings.