Heating Up: Preseason Trends
By Azam Masood
The Miami Heat have raced out to a 3-0 start.
Ok, yes, it’s the preseason, where the games don’t count, but there are still some interesting trends to examine that are worth keeping in your back pocket once the regular season begins for the HEAT, who will tip off against the Milwaukee Bucks on October 21.
Red Hot Herro
The standout performer for the HEAT during their brief exhibition stretch has been the 21-year-old Tyler Herro, who has poured in 76 points (a NBA preseason-leading 25.3 points per game) over his first three games on 56-50-86 (FG%-3FG%-FT%) shooting splits. Hyper-efficiency aside, Herro has also averaged a solid 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists, doing all of this while clocking under 30 minutes per game (28.3 MPG).
“He’s really improved all across the board,” said HEAT Head Coach Erik Spoelstra. “He’s developing into one of the most skilled players in this league. You can see he gets where he needs to get.”
Herro’s faced varying circumstances in each of his first three preseason games, starting Game 1 in place of Jimmy Butler, coming off the bench in Game 2 with all the projected starters active, and playing as the lead shot creator in Game 3 (25 shot attempts) with only eight active players. Considering the wildly different, often experimental lineups he’s been playing with, Herro’s consistent scoring binges are drawing praise.
“Tyler is the one guy that has been extremely impressive,” said point guard Kyle Lowry. “He had been playing his butt off.”
Lowry Quarterbacking the Offense
Lowry’s debut as the HEAT’s starting point guard has drawn rave reviews from his teammates and coaching staff. In two preseason games (Lowry and others were held out of the Friday matchup against San Antonio), playing just 34 total minutes, Lowry has dished out 17 assists while committing only 4 turnovers. Many of these assists have come in semi-transition, with the fiery floor general flinging outlet passes and hitting cutters in stride.
“It’s the first thing you notice, really when you get on the floor with him, is just how willing he is to get off the ball, which is super unique,” said HEAT swingman Duncan Robinson following the team’s first preseason win against Atlanta. “I feel like a lot of times point guards always feel like they have to have the ball in their hands. And he’s so willing to move the ball ahead, hit-aheads, throw-aheads and create space for others to make plays. It’s a luxury to play with somebody like that. It’s almost like it’s controlled chaos. It’s an incredible line to be able to walk and he does it well.”
Though the typical preseason and small sample size caveats should be noted, the HEAT’s preseason pace of 104.7 is well ahead of their 2020-2021 regular season pace of 97.1 (which ranked 29th in the league). It is something to keep an eye on once the regular season kicks off in earnest.
“It’s his brain speed,” Spoelstra said about Lowry following the Atlanta win. “That’s what you always dreaded on the other side. You couldn’t relax for one second or one possession. He’s always scanning, looking ahead, looking for any weakness in the defense, particularly early in the clock. And if he doesn’t feel like it’s there, then he has a great feel for it when to get organized and get the ball where it needs to go.”
Bam Adebayo, Shot Hunting
Do-it-all big man Bam Adebayo has seen his scoring average and field goal attempts per game rise in each of his first four seasons. Few at his size possess his combination of athleticism, ball-handling, shooting touch and passing ability. Now entering year 5, it seems like Bam is poised to elevate his offensive game even further.
In two exhibition outings, Bam, who has only played 14.5 minutes per game, has averaged 8.5 shot attempts in each of those two games. Extrapolate that to 36-minutes-per-game (Bam has averaged 33.5 minutes per game over the last two regular seasons) and that brings Bam up to 21.5 shot attempts per game.
“It’s easy when you got somebody like him, an All-Star, All-NBA guy, super-talented,” said Lowry. “It’s really easy for me to just go out there, put the ball somewhere, and he can go get it. It’s not even about like forming a connection. It’s just understanding and respecting and knowing how good he really is.”
Over 20 shots a game is probably an unrealistic regular-season number, another reminder that small sample sizes and preseason matchups come with a myriad of caveats, but between Bam’s immediate pick-and-roll and transition synergy with Lowry, as well as him showing a demonstrably more aggressive mindset against one-on-one matchups – whether it’s a slower big who can’t content with his jumper or an undersized mismatch who can’t keep him out of the paint – there appears to be a window for Bam to have an historic season for the team, with an opportunity to become the third center in franchise history to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game (Hall-of-Famers Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal being the other two).
“It’s deeper than accolades. Everybody in this league chases something. It’s just motivation,” Adebayo said during the HEAT’s media day. “I love when people doubt me. I feel like a chip will make a monster, so I try to find stuff that will motivate me like UD’s rebounding record, that’s motivation. Seeing what D-Wade has done in his career in Miami, that’s motivation. That’s something that I want to do, that’s something that I want to be a part of and get that experience.”