So What Does $129 Million Get You?

Heat New Faces: Edrice Adebayo (R), Jordan Mickey, Kelly Olynyk,  A.J. Hammons, Larry Drew II

2016-17 Heat Weaknesses: 30th: Free Throw Percentage. 26th:  Free Throw Attempts, Small Forward Scoring. 25th: Starters Points. 23rd: Fast Break Points.  22nd: Assists, Steals. 21st: Scoring, Pace, Frontcourt Points. 20th: Power Forward Scoring.

2016-17 Heat Strengths 3rd: Blocks, 3-Point Defense. 5th: Opponent Points, Defensive Rating. 7th: Bench Points, Field Goal Percentage (Defense). 9th: Point Guard Scoring. 10th: Shooting Guard Scoring.

2016-17 Leading Scorer: Goran Dragic, 20.3

Best Defensive Rating 2016-17:  Hassan Whiteside, 100.

The three highest payrolls in the NBA are the Golden State Warriors ($140 mil), the Cleveland Cavaliers ($140 mil), and the Oklahoma City Thunder ($130 mil). There is no cogent argument to be made that the past two NBA champions should not have the highest payroll. The Thunder who have the reigning MVP get the benefit of the doubt. Then it gets dicey because the 4th highest payroll for 2017-18 is the Miami Heat.

The Heat are paying $129 million dollars in salary and don’t have one player who has been an All-Star and they haven’t gone past the first round of the playoffs since the Big Three era in 2014.

Regardless of how this season goes, the Heat are going to pay the luxury tax. But money aside, it is the product that counts.  Is the product worth it?

Let’s delve into who is making the money and what the stats say.

Hassan Whiteside is the highest paid Heat player at $23 million. He dominates the middle and makes it easier for wings who miss their assignments. He covers up for mistakes. Last season he played the most minutes of his career, took the most shots, made the most shots, had career highs in offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds and total rebounds. He dropped way off in blocks and he needs to be a better passer. When he gets the ball he shoots it.

Hassan Whiteside, 2016-17 Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Real Plus-Minus Rank (C) Defensive Real Plus-Minus (C)
113 100 13th 13th

Goran Dragic is the second highest paid Heat player at $17 million. Dragic had had first 20 point per game year last season. He took the most shots and made the most shots of his career. For the second time, Dragic was a 40% three point scorer. His 5.8 assists were identical to the year before. His medicore defense is a huge negative for the Heat backcourt. He doesn’t have the quickenss to keep up with elite point guard scorers.

Goran Dragic 2016-17 Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Real Plus-Minus Rank (PG) Defensive Real Plus-Minus (PG)
112 109 19th 65th

The Dwyane Wade hero replacement, Dion Waiters, is the Heat fourth highest paid player, making $11 million. Waiters had a dynamic year in the games he played in 2016-17.(Injuries sidelined him for half of the season).  The question about Waiters is can he stay healthy?

Waiters is the analytics poster boy. Threes and rim finishes but he only finished 50% at the rim last season.  He went to the free throw line 2.8 times so he wasn’t an attacking player.

Last season, Waiters had a career high in shots taken and tied his career high for shots made. With all the Waiters hysterics, he only shot 42% from the field. He is a streaky shooter you can count on and one  who can go cold real fast. That said, he shot the ball better last year than in any year of his career except his second year in the league. His three ball was a career high, and nearly cracked the 40% plateau. He was an awful free throw shooter, the worst of his career. He’s never been a rebounding guard ala Russell Westbrook but he passed the ball for 4.3 assists. His offensive rating was mediocre at 101 but it was the first time he cracked an OR of 100 and his defensive rating was the third worst of his career. You know what Waiters brings at this stage of the game.

Dion Waiters 2016-17 Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Real Plus-Minus Rank (SG) Defensive Real Plus-Minus Rank (SG)
101 109 25th 27th

In 2016-17, most of the Heat shortcomings were on the offensive side of the ball. Once Erik Spoelstra restructured the team towards three point shooting, it was hit or miss with very few fastbreak easy basket opportunities. The Heat were 22nd in assists, nearly identical to the year before. But they were 12th in three point attempts; the year before they were 28th. It had a slight impact on their pace: 25th in 2015-16, 21st last year.  There is no greater mediocrity scenario than a team that doesn’t move the ball and plays slow and takes a lot of threes. This season the Heat have to play faster and be more efficient with the ball by moving it.

As for the rest of the team. James Johnson, the third highest paid player ($13.9 mil), is the best jump shooter the Heat have and the most efficient all around player, who can defend and score. Kelly Olynyk, the fourth highest paid player ($10 mil) provides more pick and pop and he learned defense under Brad Stevens. He efforts even as he has been accused of cheap shot fouls.

2016-17 Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Real Plus-Minus Rank Defensive Real Plus-Minus Rank
James Johnson (Heat) 107 105 9th (PF) 16th (PF)
Kelly Olynyk (Celtics) 113 107 28th (C) 41st (C)

In 2017-18, Spoelstra will demonstrate how talented a coach he is. Spoelstra easily could have won  Coach of the Year and he’ll earn his stripes this year for keeping the team hungry on defense and executing offense. This is the same team as last year, only more seasoned and familiar with one another. Spoelstra is counting on their chemistry because he can’t count on superstardom. And that is the Spoelstra talent.

He is brilliant coaching the NBA’s middle class, getting them to believe in themselves and compete. Riley tried to get stars but couldn’t so it is ride and die with Waiters, Whiteside, Johnson and Dragic.

Defense on the wing is going to be the issue and ball movement. Less hero ball, more team ball will take the Heat into the playoffs as a surprise.

Prediction: 47-35

 

 

photo via llananba