Miami Heat: The team’s dynamic duo has lifted their ceiling

NBA Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo defend John Collins (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
NBA Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo defend John Collins (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The Miami Heat’s dynamic duo has lifted their ceiling for the 2019-20 NBA season, something no one could’ve seen coming

Before the season began, no one really thought of the Miami Heat as a real threat to come out of the Eastern Conference.

Ever since the departure of LeBron James and the end of the Big Three’s reign of terror, the team has been in a bit of a limbo. Avoiding the traditional rebuild of today’s NBA, the Heat teams of the last five years could be described from anywhere from mediocre to slightly above average.

Over the summer, the acquisition of Jimmy Butler was a big move for the Miami front office. It was a bit of a risk, paying a max contract to a player who’d had a history of becoming frustrated and volatile when put on a team of young, developing players.

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Not to mention giving up budding star Josh Richardson in the sign-and-trade for Butler, which was also a gamble, but one that ended up paying off for this talented Heat team.

A new identity

At 32-15 and in third place in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat have taken a larger leap than expected. The team from last year who couldn’t quite bust into the eighth seed in an admittedly underwhelming playoff push has transformed into a team of tough, unselfish players who work extremely well together. Much of that can be credited to Jimmy Butler and the attitude he brought with him.

Butler has always had a certain style to him. He is one of those “first in the gym, last one out” kind of guys. He will never be outworked and he expects his teammates to do the same. This has caused some issues within organizations in the past (Minnesota) but Butler seems to have finally found the perfect fit for his unique personality.

What has been a pleasant surprise is the rapid development of Bam Adebayo. As a solid contributor off the bench last season, Bam has blossomed into a should-be All-Star and key piece in the success of the team. He plays a Draymond Green-like role as an elite defensive force and a facilitating playmaker on offense.

Offensive punch

The duo of Butler and Adebayo has proven to be one of the better duos in the league roughly halfway through the season. Compared to other two-player lineups (who have played at least 1000 minutes together), the Jimmy-Bam combo ranks 12th in offensive rating, 7th in net rating, 6th in assist percentage, and 6th in true shooting percentage per NBA advanced stats.

The stability and facilitation ability of a big man like Bam, combined with the scoring prowess and fearlessness of Butler has created a lethal combination in Miami. These stars are also supported by a cast of valuable role players (Derrick Jones Jr, Kelly Olynyk, Meyers Leonard) and some very capable shooters/scorers (Tyler Herro, Goran Dragic, Duncan Robinson).

Lineup strategy

With the exception of the last few games (Kendrick Nunn out with an Achilles injury), Miami has relied very heavily on their starting lineup of Nunn, Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson, Meyers Leonard, and Bam Adebayo. Before Tuesday night’s game against Boston, Miami had played that lineup a total of 464 minutes together while the next most played five-man lineup (replacing Meyers Leonard with Derrick Jones Jr), had only played 56 minutes together per Basketball-Reference.

The Heat obviously knows exactly what works for them and they are riding this lineup through every game. The ball-handling of Butler and Nunn, the playmaking and pick-and-roll ability of Adebayo, and the perimeter scoring/size of Robinson and Leonard creates a very balanced lineup that should be sustainable throughout the rest of the season.

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This team is the most promising core of players that the Heat has had since 2014.  There is a true winning culture within the organization, led by Butler as the prime example of work ethic to the more impressionable young players.  With all the pieces of this Miami team seemingly coming together, they are in prime position to make some serious noise in the playoffs.