Miami Heat: Can they keep up their red-hot start to the season?

Miami Heat Jimmy Butler (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Miami Heat Jimmy Butler (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

The Miami Heat are still red-hot; even while entering the bone-chilling winter schedule in the NBA

As the decade comes to a close, the Miami Heat are currently riding a four-game winning streak and sit in the third spot in the tightly packed Eastern Conference, only trailing the top-dog Milwaukee Bucks by four games. But one prominent question remains; is this success sustainable?

When thinking about the good times in Miami, it’s hard to avoid the 2012 flashbacks coming with a vengeance. Ah, the glory days of the “Big Three.”

Do you still till need a quick refresher? Remember this iconic moment between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James?

And because of this historic era, expectations of Miami basketball have since always been high.

Flash forward to today and much has changed on the shores of South Beach, even since last year. Over the offseason, the Heat parted ways with three of their top five scorers from the 2018-19 roster. Between Josh Richardson being shipped over to Philadelphia, Hassan Whiteside being picked up in Portland, and the retirement of Heat legend Dwyane Wade (shed tear here), the Heat were looking thin on scoring coming into the year.

Following a disappointing 10th place finish and missing the playoff picture entirely, many fans and analysts alike believed a full-on rebuild may be in the cards for the 2019-20 season.

So, how exactly is this hot-start possible? Enter stage right: Jimmy Butler.

Offseason jackpot

In one of the blockbuster deals of the offseason, All-Star shooting guard Jimmy Butler, along with the mobile center Meyers Leonard, were moved to Miami,  while Whiteside and Richardson were shipped off in the process. Worth it? I think so.

In the 31 games so far this year, the dynamic pair have combined to average over 26 points per game, with Butler being responsible for just over 20 of those aforementioned points. The two combined to nearly counteract the 30 points per game that Richardson and Whiteside were able to produce last season. But the stats only tell some of the tale.

Reassuring to Heat fans abroad, Butler signed a four-year, $140 million contract in hopes of cementing himself into the vision and future of the team.

After being bounced around from Minnesota to Philadelphia in the past couple of NBA campaigns, Butler seems to have found his home in Miami.

Jimmy Butler brings a brand of hard-nosed leadership which this Miami team desperately needed. After losing Wade to retirement following a Hall of Fame career, Butler’s mentorship would prove to be crucial in this rather young team’s pursuit of making it “over the hump” and breaking back into the playoff picture.

Although the new additions have helped immensely, this early season success would not be possible without the acquisitions Pat Riley and the Miami front office were able to make during the draft. The focus was simple; add 3-point shooting depth to this squad. And honestly, they hit this one out of the park.

The freshman and sophomores

Let’s start with Miami’s 2019 first-round pick Tyler Herro, selected 13th overall and voted by his fellow rookies as the best shooter in the 2019 class. Many shooters often take time to transition from the NCAA shorter 3-point line (abolished this year) to the NBA level.

This, however, was not the case.

Herro first put NBA crowds on notice during his dominant run during summer league play, averaging nearly 20 points as a freshman and making teams think twice about leaving him open along the arc.

During the regular season, Herro has maintained his form against everyday lineups. Through the 31 games so far on the year, Herro has become a main contributor on the Heat putting up 14 points per game. The rook’s production has been good enough for fifth-most scoring on the team.

Choosing quality over quantity, the rook has been selective with his shooting from long range, banking two from distance per game.

Kendrick Nunn, another sensational rookie, and Duncan Robinson, a sophomore, have both experienced breakout seasons in 2019 as well. The pair have become a staple of the gritty play which separates this club from the rest of the competition.

In the case of Nunn, he has evolved into a two-way guard who gives opposition headaches on both ends of the floor. On offense, Nunn has produced over 16 points per game in his first NBA season, after spending last year in G-League development. The patience was well worth the wait for the Heat as Nunn has become the second-highest scorer on the club behind Butler.

Meanwhile, on the defensive end, he has begun to put up highlight-reel worthy plays while not becoming a liability for his team. In his on/off numbers, Nunn is able to have an impact on opposing teams, contributing nearly an additional block and steal per game for the Heat while on the court compared to him on the bench. While it may seem like a minor change, it is paying off, including this explosive block on Russell Westbrook last month.

Last but not least, Duncan Robinson has been yet another pleasant surprise for Miami’s development this year. Over the season, the second-year forward has wasted no time making the most of his opportunities.

The young-gun has fully embraced the new wave of shooting big men in the NBA, jacking up more than seven shots from behind the arc and making just over three per game. The shooter is content with his outside game, limiting his 2-point shots to less than one per game. But in his own unconventional way, it’s working.

The result?

This team is once again capable of playing high energy basketball and has brought the excitement back to Miami basketball. The defensive presence paired with the offensive efficiency has allowed the Heat to contend with the top teams in the NBA. Miami has made their presence known, racking up statement wins over Milwaukee, Toronto and Houston thus far while not wavering from their playstyle against these plus .500 teams.

The new kids on South Beach are ready to make an impact in this league. Pairing their young draft picks with the veteran presences already on this roster, the Heat should be positioned well going into the playoffs in a far deeper Eastern Conference than we have seen in the past.

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Miami looks to stretch their recent win streak to five games as they face off against the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night.