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3 things to watch as Heat look to rebound in 2021-22: Kyle Lowry effect; Tyler Herro, Victor Oladipo X-factors

Written by on September 30, 2021

After a pretty magical run to the 2020 (Bubble) NBA Finals, the Miami Heat were never able to find their stride last season. They flirted with the play-in line for most of the season, landing at the No. 6 seed before getting swept by the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. They were never a real factor. 

That figures to change this season, as the Heat made one of the splashiest upgrades of the offseason in acquiring Kyle Lowry, who at 35 years old remains a championship-level difference-maker. 

PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris also join the Heat, while Andre Iguodala, Goran Dragic, Trevor Ariza, Kendrick Nunn, Nemanja Bjelica and Precious Achiuwa depart. Here’s a look at the Heat’s current roster (which will be trimmed) along with three things to watch as the Miami aims to reenter the contender conversation. 

Miami Heat roster

1. Kyle Lowry effect

You’re going to hear Lowry’s name and Heat Culture in the same sentence enough times to make you want to vomit this season, but there’s truth in the sappy sentiment: This is a player-team match made in hoops heaven. Lowry is a tough, no-frills, defensive-minded veteran who, in the favorite words of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, “impacts winning” in ways both tangible and intangible. 

Miami doesn’t need any more leadership. The tangibles are what interests me, and in contrast to all the tough-defense talk that so casually defines the Miami-Lowry compatibility, it’s his offense that’s going to provide the most-needed jolt. The simple truth is the Heat had a scoring problem last season, ranking 19th at 111.8 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass. 

There are a handful of reasons for that. Let’s start with the fact that Miami’s two best players last season, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, are non 3-point threats. With Butler, that’s particularly problematic as so much of NBA offense is dictated by the threat pick-and-roll initiators represent as pull-up shooters from range. Lowry, who shot 40 percent from 3 last season, gives Miami this threat. It’s almost impossible to overstate the impact that should have on Miami’s offense. 

Lowry is an adept mover and shooter off the ball, too, and Miami, which shot a lot of 3s (as always) last year but didn’t make all that many (19th in percentage), could use as much of that production and byproduct spacing as possible. Other than Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro, no current Heat player made more than 50 3-pointers last season. That extra threat off the ball should really open things up for Adebayo and Butler as playmakers who operate primarily inside the arc. 

And, yes, Lowry’s defense will help, too — a major upgrade from Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn. There’s a reason the Heat have been basically tracking Lowry for the last few seasons just waiting for the right time to move: They need him. Now they’ve got him. Who knows how the three-year, $90 million contract Miami gave Lowry will look in Year 3, but on the front end of that deal, he should be worth every penny. 

2. Butler and Bam’s scoring

Lowry’s ability to orchestrate offense should also, hopefully, free up Butler to attack with more of a scorer-first mentality. Over his two seasons with the Heat, Butler has, at times, gotten too pass-happy, particularly on teams that have lacked anyone else who could be considered anything close to a 1A scorer. 

Butler scored just 14.5 points per game in Miami’s first-round loss to Milwaukee last season. That’s not nearly enough, obviously. His decline as a 3-point shooter has been significant. Butler was never a high-volume 3-point shooter, but he was at least an average marksmen from a percentage standpoint prior to joining Miami, where he has shot 24 percent from deep over the last two seasons. It’s been a Russell Westbrook-like plummet. 

Nobody’s saying Butler needs to start jacking up 3s. He’s incredibly impactful exactly as he is: getting to the free-throw line a ton, tallying career-high facilitator numbers and picking his spots as a basket attacker and short-mid-range shooter; Miami outscored opponents by just under 11 points per 100 possessions last season with Butler on the floor, per CTG, and he was top five in just about every encompassing advanced metric, including offensive win shares, in which he registered fifth league-wide (one spot higher than Stephen Curry), per 

If Butler’s not comfortable from 3, that’s fine (frankly, at the shooting percentages he’s been putting up, it’s probably better if he does stay inside the arc). But in certain situations, Butler could stand to get a bit more selfish, even with Lowry around to pick up more of the slack. He has often encouraged Adebayo to do the same, and Adebayo is not the scorer Butler can be when he sets his mind to it. 

To that point, for Adebayo it’s more about adding to his actual game than just adjusting his mentality. He’s not a refined post scorer; he lacks any real counter moves, and he doesn’t really have a go-to move, either. Bam has shown an ability to face up and hit mid-range jumpers, but that needs to be a more consistent part of his arsenal. 

In the aforementioned loss to Milwaukee last postseason, the Bucks sagged well off Adebayo even as he faced up at the free-throw line, and still be looked hesitant to take that shot consistently. Adebayo is an elite defender and playmaker for his position, but if he’s going to take his game, and by extension the Heat, to another level, he has to become a more polished, versatile, aggressive scorer. If his legitimate shooting range extends to 3-point land, the Heat will have hit the lottery. 

3. X-factors

That would be Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo. After Herro enjoyed a sensational rookie season that led to him being handed, for big stretches, primary playmaking responsibilities in the middle of a Finals run, his sophomore season was portrayed as something of a slump. That’s not really true, however. 

Herro, in fact, averaged more points (15.1), rebounds (5.0) and assists (3.4) per game than he did in his rookie season. He also got to the free-throw line more, and shot better from the field. His usage rate also went up but his turnover percentage stayed roughly the same. He struggled in the playoffs and his on-off numbers were negative, as they were his rookie season, but mostly the Heat were not the same team and the perception around Herro, who was expected to do more as a starter but just didn’t feel as impactful or consistent to the eye test, suffered by extension. 

I love Herro’s game. I loved it when he came out of Kentucky. He’s way more than a shooter. He has a great feel with the ball in his hands, and his confidence is through the roof. If Herro — who will get to settle back into a bench role but will see plenty of time with the first unit — pops this year, Miami will be an entirely different team. 

The same goes for Oladipo, who signed a one-year, $2.4 million clearance-rack deal with the Heat this summer as he recovers after having surgery to repair his right quadriceps tendon. Can you imagine if Oladipo rediscovers anything close to his All-Star form while making that peanut salary? 

And it’s not completely out of the question. The guy basically averaged 20-5-5 last season over stints with the Pacers, Rockets and Heat. True, he only played 33 games, and his efficiency left a lot to be desired. But some of the explosiveness was there. Oladipo is not likely to be a 20-point scorer on this Miami team; lack of opportunity alone will all but ensure that. But the truth is, anything that Oladipo adds is gravy. If he adds something truly significant when he returns to full health, the Heat are going to be a serious problem. 


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