The 2015-16 NBA season is here and the Miami Heat are hoping to change their fortunes from last year where almost everything that could wrong did.
After missing the playoffs for only the fourth time in his tenure as president, Pat Riley rebuilt the roster around a core of guards Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic, forward Chris Bosh, and center Hassan Whiteside with the intention of competing for a championship and at the same time topple the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. He added veteran players like center Amar’e Stoudemire and guard Gerald Green to fortify the bench while adding youth in drafting forward Justise Winslow and guard Josh Richardson.
Now after a month of training camp and eight pre-season games here is a look into the Heat’s strengths, weaknesses, surprises, and unanswered questions from camp.
Strength: Roster versatility and experience
One aspect that was expected when training camp started was that the Heat would have a deep bench after adding Green, Stoudemire, and Winslow to join forward Josh McRoberts and guard Mario Chalmers. What became evident as the pre-season went on is how versatile the lineups can be depending on who runs the point. While Dragic is the starter, the pace he wants to play may not always mesh with Wade and Bosh, making Chalmers a good choice to play alongside them for an extended period of time given how long they have been teammates. The reverse is also true as Dragic can play with Green and Stoudemire at the pace he wants thanks to their time spent together with the Phoenix Suns.
Another aspect going in Miami’s favor is experience. The core of the team save for Dragic and Whiteside have been key parts of teams that have gone on deep playoff runs whether it was with the Heat or in the case of forward Luol Deng the Chicago Bulls. The bench is also filled with this in the form of Miami co-captain Udonis Haslem, Chalmers, and Stoudemire. Deng’s role will be key as he is tabbed with being Winslow’s mentor both on and off the court.
Weakness: Perimeter and health
One problem that the Heat know they have and was made clear in the preseason is that the team is weak on both sides of the perimeter, particularly on offense. Miami’s roster as it stands doesn’t have a spot up three-point shooter that other teams can’t risk to leave open. One reason for this has been the drafting of Winslow as the tenth overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft. Being drafted that high has the expectation of Winslow being a rotation player, which played part in the Heat’s decision to turn down former player Mike Miller’s request to come back to Miami during free agency. Green and Chalmers are the most reliable three-point shooters Miami has but that is not enough in a league where the defending champions are a Golden State Warriors team that are lethal from beyond the arc. One option the team does have is develop one of their young players (Winslow, Richardson, forward James Ennis, and guard Tyler Johnson) into a spot up shooter but it may take a long time before that plan bears fruit.
The other issue that the Heat knows it had to deal with is the health of the core players. The expected starting lineup of Wade, Dragic, Bosh, Deng, and Whiteside did not get much playing time together in the pre-season due to injury and it is a guarantee that it will be the same as the regular season goes by. Wade is the main player to watch as Miami has engineered a maintenance program for him that included missing games in the past. Similar programs will likely be put in place for Deng due to wear and tear from his Chicago days and Stoudemire due to his chronic knee issues.
Surprises: Bench play
When the Heat picked up Green for the veteran minimum in free agency to provide offensive energy from the bench it was seen as a slight bargain. As the pre-season went it looked more like a steal. In the four pre-season wins Miami got Green was either the team’s leading scorer or tied for the stat. Green led a trend where the Heat bench outplayed the starters at times and showed the athletic play of young players like Johnson and Ennis and the passing ability of McRoberts.
Unanswered Question From Training Camp: Status of James Ennis
While Ennis did make the 15-man roster for Miami his fate is still in the same shaky ground as when camp began. Before training camp he restructured his contract with the Heat to make it fully guaranteed should he be on the Opening Night roster. On Saturday Ennis restructured again to have 40% of his contract guaranteed at the start of the season and for it to be fully guaranteed if he remains on the team by January 10. This means that if Miami’s perimeter issues don’t improve or get worse the team can waive Ennis before then. He might not have many opportunities to prove himself as he is behind Deng and Winslow on the small forward rotation.
Record And Standing Prediction: 53-29 (2nd in East)