During the 2016-17 NBA season, headlines will be dominated by Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors on a daily basis. However, having a super-team doesn’t guarantee a championship; just look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Everything can change and anything can happen in the NBA. A team can implode, the injury bug could strike, or a team simply might not play to its potential. In this Last Word On Pro Basketball series, we’ll break down which two key factors will determine the fate of each NBA team in the upcoming season.
In this edition, we’ll take a look at the Miami Heat.
Two Key Factors to a Successful Miami Heat Season
The most notable part of the Miami Heat’s off-season was the debacle that occurred with their long-time star, Dwyane Wade. When it was all said and done, Wade signed with the Chicago Bulls, leaving Heat fans furious, relieved, or simply confused. Now that Wade is gone, and the Heat are no longer relying on the 34-year-old to lead them, where do they go from here? Two things stand out as key factors that could potentially make or break Miami’s season.
First Key: Chris Bosh’s Health
Any discussion about the 2016-17 Miami Heat season has to begin with the health of their best player, Chris Bosh. Bosh has missed 67 games over the past two seasons due to blood clots – first in his calf, then in his lung. Each of those campaigns has been cut short for the 11-time All-Star, as he started each year healthy before the issue came up mid-season. During last year’s playoffs, Bosh expressed a desire to return to the Heat’s lineup, even asking the National Basketball Players Association to reason with the team on his behalf. However, the Heat decided to be cautious, eventually ruling out Bosh for the entire 2016 playoffs.
Erik Spoelstra’s Justified Concerns
Some realize, though, that there’s a reason the Heat have been more careful with their star than most teams might be. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was on the court during a college basketball game more than 26 years ago, when Hank Gathers tragically collapsed and died mid-game. The traumatizing event undoubtedly made Spoelstra more wary than ever when it comes to situations like this.
In Bosh’s case, it was unclear for a long time whether the big man was going to fully recover or something was seriously wrong. Bosh used the platform of Bleacher Report’s Uninterrupted less than a week ago to talk about his struggles. He said that this past February, team doctors “told [him] that [his] season is over, [his] career is probably over and this just happens, this is just how it is”. While that quote makes it seem as though there’s no way that Bosh would now be healthy and able to play, he went on to say quite the contrary.
“I felt right away that I was written off…If a doctor tells me, ‘Hey, that’s it, and this is how that is,’ and I don’t buy that, I have a right to disagree with you,” Bosh continued. Clearly, Bosh would love to keep playing. He’d love to prove the doctors wrong, help the Heat succeed this season, and continue a nearly sure-fire Hall of Fame career.
Troubling Recent Reports
But just yesterday, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported that things are more serious than Bosh has let on. Although the Heat expected Bosh to be ready for training camp, doctors found more evidence of blood clotting, causing Bosh to fail his physical. The Heat couldn’t clear him for camp, and his return will almost certainly be delayed again. Now, there’s no telling when Bosh will return to the lineup, if ever.
In fact, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo‘s The Vertical reported shortly afterwards that the Heat believe that Bosh’s career is over. The health issues may simply be too serious for Bosh to play through them, so he’ll likely have to retire at just 32 years old. Wojnarowski mentioned that Bosh has been avoiding conversation with Heat president Pat Riley for months.
At the end of the day, if Bosh isn’t quite right, he shouldn’t risk his life just to play the game of basketball. That’s especially true for a person like him, who not only has a wife and kids to look after, but also may have countless other career opportunities when he hangs up his sneakers for good.
The Heat with Bosh
With all of that said, if Bosh does make a miraculous recovery, the Heat have a lot going for them. Bosh’s excellent perimeter game meshes perfectly with Hassan Whiteside’s aggressive dives to the rim out of pick-and-roll situations on offense. Besides that, Bosh is an excellent screen-setter himself. His shooting provides space for ball handlers coming off of his screens, and he can either roll to the basket or pop for jumpers. Bosh’s mid-range game is among the best in the league, while his three-point shooting is solid for a big man. Additionally, with Wade gone, Bosh is the Heat’s best isolation player. He might be the only player on the roster who can truly create efficient shots for himself consistently.
On the other side of the floor, while Bosh may have lost some of the quickness that he had during Miami’s championship years, he can still defend all types of big men. Bosh’s ability to help on guards coming off screens, then recover to defend his own match-up makes his defensive presence invaluable. He gives the Heat versatility on the defensive end that no other big man on the roster can provide. Whiteside makes boneheaded decisions on defense every so often, which makes Bosh’s basketball IQ and defensive instincts even more crucial.
Life Without Bosh
Without Bosh, the Heat may be a disaster. On the face, they have a solid core – Goran Dragic will certainly be deadly in pick-and-rolls with Whiteside, and the second year duo of Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson will provide energy, defense, and more on the wing. But, looking past those four guys, this Heat roster lacks the depth to do much without Bosh. Tyler Johnson, who the Heat re-signed for big money this summer, is a solid young player, but his production won’t be nearly enough to replace that of Wade.
Lack of Depth
Outside of those five players, this Heat roster is mostly filled with castoffs and old veterans. Derrick Williams and Wayne Ellington have bounced around the league after disappointing starts to their careers. Dion Waiters and James Johnson have a lot of talent, but they also have attitude and shot selection issues that multiple teams couldn’t fix. Udonis Haslem has been washed up for years, while Josh McRoberts hasn’t been the same since a major knee injury that he suffered in 2014.
This Heat team doesn’t have enough talent to make the playoffs without Bosh. They don’t have the defense to grind their way to the playoffs like the injury-riddled Memphis Grizzlies did last season. They don’t have a fast-paced, high-powered offense that can help them beat teams that are better than them.
Since the departure of LeBron James in the 2014 off-season, the Heat have been just a run-of-the-mill team, dependent on its two best players – Wade and Bosh. Now that Wade is gone, Bosh is left to lead Miami, alongside Dragic and Whiteside. But if Bosh can’t stay healthy, it’s tough to see the Dragic-Whiteside duo leading this team to the playoffs. The team’s secondary players have not yet developed enough to have a huge impact, while the rest of the roster is weak across the board. Bosh’s health is vital to the Heat’s playoff hopes.
Even before speaking on Uninterrupted, Bosh recently went on the record to say that he’s healthy enough to play. However, we’ll have to see if his status changes between now and the start of the season. Even then, if Bosh goes down mid-season, the Heat’s year could take a turn for the worse.
Second Key: Development of Youth
The absence of Bosh would essentially guarantee that this team won’t make the playoffs, but even with Bosh, it’s not a foregone conclusion that Miami will succeed. As mentioned earlier, the Heat’s lack of depth is a major issue. Having the star power of Bosh is one way to overcome that, but Miami will still need more weapons. That’s where the aforementioned sophomore tandem comes in, along with Tyler Johnson. Winslow, Richardson, and Johnson are all under 25 years old, with the former still just 20. Winslow and Richardson are heading into their second NBA season; Johnson will technically be in his third, but he has yet to go through a full 82 game campaign.
In the upcoming season, the development of those three players will determine a lot for the Heat. For the purposes of this series, we’ll ignore the implications that it could have for Miami’s future core. Instead, we’ll focus on the present – the three young guns will be integral to the Heat’s 2017 playoff push. They’re the only three players on the roster who not only have plenty of room to grow, but have also proven that they have the work ethic and mindset to allow their improvement to happen.
What Winslow, Richardson, and Johnson Can Do Already
All three are feisty perimeter defenders, especially Winslow and Richardson. They’re quick and aggressive, allowing them to bother and frustrate opposing players. But their energy is what separates them; the intensity with which they play takes them to another level.
On the other end of the floor, Richardson is already a solid three-point shooter, giving the Heat some much needed spacing. Johnson has a nice dribble drive game, providing Dragic with some play-making relief. Winslow is an excellent cutter, often finding open spaces and making himself available for aggressive moves inside. All three players are already good slashers – to no one’s surprise, given their terrific athleticism – meaning that the Heat have several ways to get easy baskets or draw fouls.
How They Can Improve
In terms of development, it’s simple for Winslow – shooting. Winslow is already a well-rounded player overall, but he needs to be able to make three-pointers consistently. He shot just 27.6 percent from beyond the arc last season. If Winslow was a shooting threat, he’d be able to space the floor for the Heat and make them deadly when he plays power forward in small lineups. When Winslow is on the floor with Whiteside, opposing teams clog the lane and make it difficult for players like Dragic and Johnson to do what they do best – get to the rim. If Winslow can just develop a reliable jumper, his game may transform entire Heat lineups.
Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson
Richardson shot a scorching 46.1 percent on threes last season (albeit on a smaller number of attempts), while Johnson shot 38 percent. Neither player has any glaring flaws like that of Winslow. However, both can still improve incrementally. Johnson’s court vision could get significantly better, as he averaged just 2.2 assists per game last year, despite handling the ball a lot and even playing some minutes at point guard. If he can continue to get in the lane as he usually does, but look for kick-out passes more often, that would be a great source of offense for Miami. It’d be even better if Winslow became one of the players converting on the open shots that Johnson can create.
For Richardson, he just needs to do more of the same. The 2015 second round pick played in just 52 regular season games last year, only carving out a spot in the rotation towards the end of the season. The young stud needs to keep working on his game and improving upon the things at which he already excels. If Richardson does that, he’ll prove that last season’s small sample size was no fluke, and he may even help the Heat claim a playoff spot once again in 2017.