It’s been a rough opening two months for the Miami Heat this season. After last season ended with a somewhat controversial loss to the Boston Celtics, the team has opened up just 10-12.
This leaves the Heat tied with the Knicks for just 10th place in the Eastern Conference, a far cry from last season’s first place 53 win finish.
This has been a massive disappointment. Miami entered the season hopeful after last year’s team was so close, losing in 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Just one or two lucky bounces could have swung such a close series in their favor, giving them a chance at a championship victory against the Warriors.
Unfortunately for the Heat however, in the offseason starting forward P.J. Tucker was convinced to join the Philadelphia 76ers on a larger contract than what the Heat offered. Tucker was the only notable departure of the summer, although they were unable to replace his impact with the summer’s only important addition being 27th overall draft pick Nikola Jovic.
Jovic may be helpful one day, but at just 19 years old it appears unlikely he will make much impact on a team made up of veterans wishing to contend.
This has led to a rough start for the Heat, with the team dropping from a 10th place finish in offensive efficiency all the way down to 23rd this season. This has coincided with a drop from fifth to 10th in defensive efficiency.
This has caused the team to drop from sixth in net rating last year to 21st in net rating this year.
The Heat can take comfort in knowing that P.J. Tucker’s departure is not solely responsible for these issues. While Tucker could explain the drop from fifth to 10th in defensive efficiency, it is clear that he did not help their offense last season, averaging only 7.6 points a game, which was tied for 10th on the team. Tucker was fifth on the team in minutes per game so clearly, he was not a productive scorer.
So what is causing these issues? The biggest reason is they just haven’t made shots, which sounds pretty simple. Last season the Heat averaged 37.9% from three, this season has seen them make only 33.8% of their threes. While Tucker is a solid three point shooter, he took less than three a game and barely impacts their percentages here.
The main culprit for this is Tyler Herro. Last season Herro took 6.7 threes a game and shot them at a 39.9% clip. This season Herro is shooting just 33.7% on 7.0 attempts a game.
Max Struss is also shooting significantly worse with last season seeing him take 6.5 threes at a 41% clip compared to 36.4% on 8.7 attempts this season. The last culprit is Duncan Robinson who went from 37.2% on 7.9 tries to just 31.5% on 4.3 attempts.
The Heat can rest comfortably knowing that some of this will regress to the mean and bring their numbers up. But it also appears that the Heat have overachieved in recent years, starting with their 2020 NBA Finals appearance in the NBA bubble.
That year saw a fifth place Miami team dominate in the playoffs taking out the number one seeded Milwaukee Bucks in a blowout 4-1 series victory before dispatching a young Boston team in 6 games to go against the Los Angeles Lakers who defeated them in the NBA finals.
The bubble was a season marked by many anomalies, chief among them the break in the season as the country was hit by COVID-19 for the first time and shut down its NBA season. This led to a Disney Bubble without fans and a unique game style that has not really been replicated before or since.
Players seemed to have better energy without constant travel between games and both shooting efficiency as well as scoring increased. The lack of home and road games also seemed to play a big deal as teams did not hear it from the fans following good or bad stretches of play.
The next season saw the Heat place just sixth in the Eastern Conference, further contrasting the massive differences in the teams play despite keeping a very similar roster in all of those seasons.
The Heat will not finish the season outside the playoff picture in 10th place, that much is clear. But it also seems very unlikely that the team can catch up to Boston at 18-4 or Milwaukee at 15-5 for a top finish in the conference.
With key starters Jimmy Butler 33 and Kyle Lowry turning 37 by the end of the season, it seems much more likely that the Heat will end up in the fifth or sixth seed rather than contending as they have in certain recent years.
While they have a strong track record against Eastern contenders like the Bucks, Celtics, Cavs, and Sixers in recent years, it appears more likely that these young teams have now surpassed the Heat, currently all placing higher in the standings.