The Miami HEAT finished their preseason slate 4-1 having ostensibly revealed their starting lineup and made their roster cuts. It’s time to get to the real thing. Here’s what we’ve been noting and noticing.
CATCH AND SHOOT TYLER
Since the end of last season, Tyler Herro has been pretty clear what his next goal was after winning Sixth Man of the Year. He wanted to be a starter.
“Same reason you want a promotion,” Herro says. “I didn’t come into the league trying to be a bench player. That’s just not who I am. I’m motivated to be one of the best players in the league at some point in my career, and I don’t think I can do it coming off the bench.”
On Wednesday night Herro seemingly achieved his goal in Miami’s preseason finale dress rehearsal with Erik Spoelstra revealing an opening group – that we can only assume will remain in place once the regular season gets going – of Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Caleb Martin, Bam Adebayo and Herro (a group that only played 38 possessions together last year).
All this would be more interesting were there more questions about whether or not Herro will work as a starter, but it’s so clear that it will work that there really isn’t a ton of deep analysis required.
It flew a bit under the radar last season as Herro blossomed into carry-the-bench role, taking the kind of do-it-yourself star shots that will always garner more attention, but Herro was one of the best off-ball shooters in the league. At 42.2 percent, Herro ranked No. 9 among the 117 players who attempted at least 200 catch-and-shoot looks, but his real hidden superpower was that he shot 49.3 percent on all threes taken after one dribble, per Second Spectrum. That was the best mark in the league among the 42 who took at least 50 such shots.
You might think one dribble is fairly arbitrary, but those are important because they’re often catch-and-shoot shots that aren’t logged as such in the play-by-play. One dribble and one dribble only is typically a relocation dribble. The defense flies out at you so hard that you can just take a simple bounce to the side and let it fly unencumbered. It was only on threes taken after multiple dribbles, the type you’ve seen for years from the likes of Steph Curry, Trae Young, Luka Doncic, James Harden, et all that Herro’s percentages plummeted.
Combined Herro’s pure catch-and-shoot opportunities and his one-dribble threes and he shot 44 percent, No. 4 of 136 qualified players. Playing alongside Lowry, Butler and Adebayo, that’ll do in a pinch.
The questions that come up with Spoelstra’s new lineup are only tangentially related to Herro. Despite being a deadly shooter, he has a different sort of gravity to that of Max Strus or Duncan Robinson, guys who freak defenses out flying around screens and handoffs with the turbo trigger held down. Strus and Robinson, whichever of them were starting over the past few years, were often the most reliable way for Miami to draw two defenders to the ball and get Adebayo a little bit of a downhill runway where his skillset could really shine. This is a moot point if teams commit to blitzing Herro, who doesn’t square up on a dime in quite the same way as Miami’s other two shooters, more often when he uses a screen, but from what we’ve seen of that coverage so far in a limited sample size is that it’s been targeting Herro more to create turnovers rather than as a last-ditch maneuver to get the ball out of his hands. If teams start to feel like they have no other choice but to send two to Herro, there may be no single greater developmental possibility this season which would have a greater impact on Adebayo.
In other words, Herro’s gravitational impact as a starter may have a lower floor than it might’ve with that spots previous incumbents, but the upside for consistently altering the geography of the floor is far greater due to Herro’s abilities after the threat of the initial catch. Considering he should be cashing in on plenty of off-ball opportunities as it is, there’s little risk attached to this move as it relates to the starters.
How this will all affect the bench is a different story. Spoelstra will certainly be able to stagger his various playmakers to optimize the mid-rotation groups, but even as Herro’s on-ball efficiency waxed and waned last season he always juiced the offense when he came into the game simply because defenses would immediately have to account for a different offensive dimension. Now that bench playmaking burden comes to Gabe Vincent and Victor Oladipo and how well they can keep the sled on the tracks when others have to rest.
Spoelstra indicated that he might choose to mitigate a changing bench – now also missing Caleb Martin’s defense, which we’ll get to in a moment – on Wednesday when he effectively played Robinson at backup power forward, using him and Strus at the same time. Whether that becomes a regular look or not remains to be seen, as Haywood Highsmith may factor into those groups as well, but playing two historically good shooters together is as obvious a way to grease the offensive wheels as it gets. The defense, which has appeared to be behind the offense through much of preseason despite Spoelstra’s system being relatively unaltered in its paint-focused approach, is another question entirely.
For Herro, he achieves his goal in a manner that should work out swimmingly for Miami’s stars. The shooting will play but adding another playmaker into the starting lineup only lessens the burden on Butler and Adebayo to initiate, increasingly allowing them to chase mismatches and scoring opportunities much in the same way Lowry’s presence did last season. If you wanted fewer Adebayo handoffs and more of him going towards the rim, this is the orientation you’ve been looking for.
Unlike Herro, Martin never sought the starting spot with the same amount of fervor. Herro has always had the security of being a high draft pick, and thus been more comfortably able to map out the path of his career. Martin, undrafted, wasn’t always sure he had a career much less been able to consider whether he could be a 6-foot-5 starting power forward.
“When I first came in, I was just trying to get a locker,” Martin said.
Martin isn’t on a two-way contract anymore. His status in the league is locked in. With P.J. Tucker now in Philadelphia, Martin is the most seamless fit next to Adebayo. The way it’ll work is a little bit the same, a little bit different.
Defensively, Martin slides right into the switching scheme which comes so naturally around Adebayo. Spoelstra had espoused the virtues of being able to play Adebayo some on the weakside this preseason, but ultimately he’s gone with the look that best weaponizes his Defensive Player of the Year hopeful. Martin may not be as stout as Tucker, which limits his ability to guard up on some bigger players – Milwaukee will be of particular interest now, as will most of the teams with more size – but he’ll be used as a lockdown defender regardless, taking on the best offensive wing or guard assignment as long as, he says, Butler isn’t fighting him for those duties. The HEAT are best as a switching team. Martin allows them to keep switching. Pretty simple. We’ll see how the rebounding holds up, but Miami has always been a far better defensive rebounding team with Adebayo at center than most seem to realize.
As long as Martin keeps making threes – he was up to 41 percent on 2.6 threes a night last season after tweaking his mechanics some, and he just shot 43 percent over two preseason games – he’ll be doing his job. Tucker wasn’t a high-volume shooter, but he was an efficient one, nearly or outright leading the league in three-point percentage last season. As long as Martin’s gains are real, he should provide adequate shot-making and/or spacing – two things that don’t always come together – to keep things moving.
The dimension Martin could add is his ability to get downhill. Martin’s best game last season may have been his six-three, 28-point game against Milwaukee when the Bucks sat back and let him shoot, but his most interesting performance was a 14-point outing against Boston in which Miami lost by 30. The only reason that game was memorable is that Boston put Robert Williams on Martin – the Celtics shifted almost entirely to playing Williams as a weakside safety at that point in the season – and even with nothing else going well for the team Martin committed to putting his head down and barreling through all the space afforded to him.
New Orleans put Zion Williamson on Martin last Wednesday and, after blocking Williamson at the rim on one end, he went straight for the paint.
Notebook Vol. 28: Martin Paint Attacks
“Last season and coming into this season I’ve seen that [defense’s] are going to put some of their best players on me to take pressure off those guys,” Martin said. “They typically put some of their best players on the weak link offensively and I take offense to that. Anytime I can put pressure on guys, when they’re trying to get plays off, I try and do the best I can. I use that as motivation. When I get downhill, I see opportunities and I want to make them work like they make us work.”
Martin has the task of stepping in for someone who just had one of the better role-player seasons in recent HEAT history, but he doesn’t have to be Tucker. He can enable Miami to play like it did with Tucker. He can also bring his own spin to the role. So far, he’s done nothing to indicate he isn’t ready for the gig.
NOTHING EASY FOR THE ROOKIE
While it’s been fun to see Nikola Jović get minutes at center this preseason, know that it’s largely been because the HEAT haven’t had more than one actual center available in most of their games. Jović certainly has the size to be a small-ball center of sorts down the line, it would just be a surprise if he actually played much there this season barring situations where nothing else is working and Spoelstra just wants to try and juice the offense.
It’s been curious, however, that in the time Jović has spent at that position he’s largely been using drop coverage in pick-and-roll with the occasional blitz trickled in. Jović may be tall with long arms – he does a pretty good job of getting those arms up and making himself as tall as he can be in the paint – he’s not exactly an imposing paint deterrent on the NBA level. One would think he’ll be a more natural switch defender after he’s gained a little seasoning.
Spoelstra might agree with that, which is why he’s chosen to focus on the areas with the most room for growth.
“Right now it’s about working on our base coverages,” Spoelstra said. “Eventually I think he could be a guy that could switch. That’s the easy route right now. He’s knows we’re trying to develop some habits and develop some technicality and some detail with our defense. He’s a quick learner. He picks up things faster than I probably anticipated for a kid his age. He’s diligent, he works at it in pre-practice, after practice, watches film, he takes accountability for his mistakes. He doesn’t often make the same mistake twice in a row. But I think that’s some of the intel we got from our scouts that he’s a smart player.”
“The same thing he told me,” Jović said. “He wants to see me do something different other than switching because we already know that I can switch.”
Jović predictably struggled against Williamson when playing center, as most rookies would. It didn’t look great, but that’s part of the developmental process. It’s not all about maximizing strengths. Working on your weaknesses, especially out in public in front of thousands, means a willingness to be vulnerable.
For what we’ve seen of him so far, Jović appears pretty willing to roll with whatever he’s asked to do.
-Once preseason officially concluded Wednesday, the HEAT began trimming their roster. Jamaree Bouyea, Marcus Garrett, Mychal Mulder and Orlando Robinson were all waived while Dru Smith was converted to a two-way contract. With Jamal Cain now on the other two way, the HEAT have 14 main roster players plus Cain and Smith both eligible to play in 50 regular season games. You can read more about Cain and Smith by scrolling down to the past two notebooks.
-Garrett was revealed to have suffered a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist – the same wrist he required surgery on last season – this week. He’ll be in a cast for four weeks.
-After practice on Tuesday Butler and Cain were engaged in a lengthy and spirited game of one-on-one. Butler won handily, with some classic Butler remarks afterwards before praising Cain’s play in the preseason. Let’s just say that Butler was not taking it easy on the rookie in the slightest apart from conceding a few standstill threes. Anytime Cain put the ball on the floor, Butler was locked into a full stance crowding every inch of airspace.
-Oladipo, on how he felt physically after his first preseason performance:
“I think that it’s a process. Even now, it’s been a little over a year since I had surgery, so this would technically be my first year back since last year wasn’t even a [full] year. It’s something that you just have to be patient with. My body has to get used to an 82-game season, my body has to get used to training camp, all those things. I have to be patient with myself, be patient with everything. At the end of the day I’m better.”
-The regular season kicks off for Miami next Wednesday with Chicago in town, followed by an Eastern Conference Finals rematch with Boston and a pair of home games against the Raptors before the team heads out for a brief road trip out west.