After a disappointing 2020-21 season, highlighted by a first-round sweep to the eventual championship-winning Milwaukee Bucks, the Miami Heat have returned to their rightful spot among the NBA’s elite.
Expectations were lofty this season for a Heat team that splurged in the off-season, acquiring big-name players like Kyle Lowry and P. J. Tucker, and through 20 games, the Heat have lived up to the hype, compiling a record of 13-7. They have navigated their way through a brutal early schedule that has included 12 opponents with a record of .500 or better and are currently in second place in a crowded Eastern Conference.
There is a multitude of key storylines regarding this Heat team, some positive and some negative, and it is fair to start drawing conclusions about how this team has looked and probably will look for the remainder of this season.
Tyler Herro Is a Budding Star
I must admit first that I was a Tyler Herro doubter throughout his first two seasons in the NBA; I was one of the many Heat fans who spent way too much time plugging Herro into possible trade packages to acquire a better player.
Not only has Herro proven me wrong this season, but his play has been so good that he might warrant NBA All-Star consideration this season if he continues on the pace he is currently on. The third-year guard is currently averaging 21.8 PPG this season, and he is the favorite to win the coveted “Sixth Man of the Year” award.
The biggest improvement Herro has made from last season is his shot-making ability, which has become borderline elite. He has also progressed as a defender and playmaker, demonstrating the capability to make the correct reads on ball screens. His passing accuracy has also vastly improved.
P. J. Tucker’s Role on Offense Is Surprisingly Diverse
Many expected P. J. Tucker’s role on offense to be similar to what it has been in his previous two tenures in Houston and Milwaukee: floor spacer in the corners and drop-off pass receiver on the dunker spot. His role in Miami’s offense has been much more multidimensional, with the Heat using Tucker as a short-role screener, allowing the 11-year forward to showcase his effective floater-shot, which is an effective counter to big men who are in drop coverage.
This season, Tucker is attempting 2.5 two-point shots per game, which would be the most for him since the 2016-17 season. He has also improved his three-point shooting percentage, which has climbed from 34% last season to 46% this year.
Caleb Martin Was the Steal of Free Agency
Statistics would not indicate the pivotal role that newly acquired Heat forward Caleb Martin has played this season. He was signed by Miami as a two-way player, with the expectation being that he would provide spot minutes on the Heat’s bench every so often.
That has been far from the case, as Martin has evolved into a bonafide rotation player off the Heat’s bench through his first 17 games played with the team. The energy that he exudes on both ends of the floor is infectious, and his ability to create rim pressure and run the floor in transition has provided himself with easy basket opportunities.
Kyle Lowry Needs to Be More Consistent
Kyle Lowry was the most prominent addition of the Heat’s 2021 offseason, and he was brought in for the purpose of effectively running the Heat’s offense and providing Miami with a reliable scoring option aside from Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro.
While Lowry’s playmaking ability and veteran prowess at point guard have assisted the Heat in becoming a top-12 offense in PPG (Miami was 25th in that metric last season), his shot-making consistency leaves much to be desired. All too often, there are nights when Lowry cannot buy a bucket. Off-nights are expected in the NBA, but an extensive amount of them suggests a worrying trend that Lowry is not the scorer that the Heat expected him to be when they signed him.
He provides so much importance to Miami with other facets of his game, such as his playmaking and defense, but Miami might need Lowry to turn into the consistent scorer he once was for the team to reach its full potential.
The Heat Have Struggled on the Road
I use the term “struggled” in relative terms; the Heat still have an above .500 record on the road, but their 7-6 record as a visiting team is far worse than their home record of 6-1.
This is not a huge reason for concern, as most teams tend to perform better at home than they do on the road, but you would like to see Miami improve as an away team over the course of this season. In the very likely scenario that the Heat make the playoffs, they will be forced to win some important games away from home in loud and boisterous arenas.
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