What Does the Miami Heat's Win Streak Tell Us About Their Future?
In the big picture, there's not much of a reason to pay attention to the Miami Heat right now.
The days of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or even Chris Bosh, for that matter, are no longer. The Heat are far removed from their time as title contenders and have a 19-30 record through 49 games this season. According to our algorithm, they have just a 7.8% chance of making the playoffs and virtually no chance (0%) of winning a title. But, come on, we shouldn't ignore or dismiss them as a struggling franchise.
If that wasn't true before, it should be now.
After losing six of seven to start the new year, the Heat have slid under the radar and have now won eight straight games over the last two weeks. The streak includes victories over the Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, and Detroit Pistons -- five teams ranked above the Heat in our power rankings.
So, while they may not return to championship relevance this season, what does this suggest for the future in Miami?
Throughout the season, Miami has been one of the league's 10 best defensive teams.
According to NBA.com, their defensive rating of 104.1 points allowed per 100 possessions places them sixth in the NBA. They have forced the opposition into tough shots on a consistent basis, ranking third with an effective field goal percentage against of 49.7%.
Recently, however, they've been even better. The splits between their first 41 games and their last 8 are revealing.
|Heat Defense||Defensive Rating||Opp eFG%||Opp PPG|
|First 41 Games||105.0||49.9%||102.8|
|Last 8 Games||99.9||48.7%||98.8|
In case you're wondering, through the first 41 games, head coach Erik Spoelstra's defense ranked 12th, 7th and 9th, respectively, in the above categories. That's more than respectable for a team outside the playoff picture.
But during their eight-game win streak, Miami has turned up the heat defensively, rating second in defensive rating and points surrendered per game and third in opponent effective field goal percentage.
Within that streak, they did a good job to hold two of the league's best offenses, the Rockets and Warriors, to a total of 205 points: quite a feat considering the league's two best scoring offenses average a combined 232.2 points per game between them.
They did so by forcing at least 14 turnovers in each game and limiting them to 9 and 8 three-point makes, respectively.
It's clear that the Heat have defense on lock. After all, we've come to expect nothing less from a Spoelstra-led team.
What about offense?
The Heat, disassembled through the offseason and ravaged by injury early on, have struggled to find an identity throughout the season.
They rank 27th on the season with an abysmal offensive rating of 101.9. The only teams they're ahead of are the Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic, and Philadelphia 76ers, all of whom slot in behind the Heat at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Thankfully, it appears that they've unearthed something recently.
|Heat Offense||Offensive Rating||eFG%||PPG|
|First 41 Games||100.6||48.9%||98.3|
|Last 8 Games||108.4||55.0%||106.4|
The Heat have really improved over the course of the last 14 days. They've gone from 29th in offensive rating before the streak to 14th in the midst of it. Their effective field goal percentage of 55% ranks 5th in the league -- all the way up from 28th in their first 41 contests.
As a result, they're scoring more than eight additional points per game, balancing their offensive efficiency with an already elite defensive attack.
Dion Waiters has been the primary spark to Miami's jump in the offensive ranks. In his last eight games, the five-year veteran is averaging 33.3 minutes and 21.8 points on 48.6% shooting from the floor and 48.9% shooting from three. He's contributed 2.8 three-balls per game on top of 4.8 assists and 4.4 rebounds per contest. All this is in contrast to season averages of 15.3 points (on 40.6% shooting), 1.6 threes, 4.1 assists, and 3.4 rebounds a game.
Waiters' recent uptick in efficiency earned him Player of the Week honors, but it has also helped to balance the Heat's scoring efforts. Over the last eight games, six players have averaged double-figures. Meanwhile, Goran Dragic has led the team with 22.9 points per game. The inside duo of James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside has complimented the great perimeter play of Dragic and Waiters.
This balance -- not only in scoring but also in offense and defense -- has provided the Heat with a net rating of 8.5 points per 100 possessions over the course of their current run. That places them in a tie for third among all NBA teams, behind only the Warriors and Washington Wizards.
...With An Eye Toward the Future
Now, before diving too deep into the future, we have to address the elephant in team president Pat Riley's room: Chris Bosh. The Bosh situation, as to whether or not he plays again (in Miami or anywhere, for that matter), can hinder the Heat's future. But, on the flip side, it could open up a lot of opportunity.
After February 9th, the one-year mark of Bosh's last game, the Heat will be able to clear the remainder of what Bosh is owed from their cap. It will take the decision of an independent doctor to deem Bosh's condition career-ending or -threatening to do so, but if they can do that (then, or at a later date), it opens up nearly $25.3 million in cap space going into the offseason.
According to Yahoo's The Vertical, that would position Miami's cap hit, at this time, around $69 million in salaries, or roughly $34 million under the projected cap of $103 million in 2017-18.
On the downside that Bosh plays at least 25 games with Miami or another team, his salary will count toward the Heat's salary cap. If it does, the Heat, with over $85 million in guaranteed salaries, will be strapped for cash. If they're clear of Bosh's money, however, it opens up opportunities to re-sign players and to shop in the free agent market.
They could re-sign James Johnson, who will be a free agent at the conclusion of this season and will likely demand more than his current $4 million for his services. Johnson has proven himself a value in today's world of versatile forwards, with 11.5 points per game and a nERD of 0.1 (which indicates that he is an above-average player in today's NBA, based on his efficiency).
The Heat could do the same with the aforementioned Waiters. If he keeps trending in the right direction, it could take a decent extension to lock up a shooting guard of his nature. All in all, that wouldn't be smart, though, as Waiters has struggled to be efficient, having tallied a -3.2 nERD over the entire season.
Riley could bring one or both of those players back, but if anything, it will probably be one. If the Heat follow what they've done in years past, they'll be set on signing a bigger name in free agency, to put alongside the core of Dragic, Tyler Johnson, and Hassan Whiteside.
Among those likely to be available are Rudy Gay, Serge Ibaka, Gordon Hayward, and Paul Millsap. With the exception of Gay and the doubts around his Achilles injury, any of the other four would be a solid addition to a team cementing itself as one of the best defenses in the league.
Like in free agency, Miami is also primed to add a big piece via the upcoming draft. With their recent win streak, the Heat are likely to pick seventh in this summer's loaded NBA draft (according to Tankathon).
Basically, that's the only thing wrong with the win streak -- it decreases their chances of landing a higher pick. But, a pick in the top of this draft is possibly as good as ever. So, whether the Heat fight or tank is irrelevant. They'll get to feel out their roster in the last 33 games and, either way, they're likely to draft a top player to add to their promising roster.
Like the sun on South Beach, the future is bright in Miami.