The Heat needed to improve on paper to compete with the clear-cut top three in the east. After a slow start to the season due to COVID absences to key players and injuries, the Heat found their footing. However, it still feels that they lack offensive pop.
When Jimmy Butler isn’t firing on all cylinders, they have a hard time generating offense. A lot of their guys aren’t downhill creators and rely on player movement to get themselves looks. While it can be effective at times, teams still need multiple players to break down the defense consistently. The Heat may have resolved some of those concerns at the deadline.
The Heat were also able to bolster their already solid defense (seventh in defensive rating) with a roster upgrade. A hopefully improved offense should also help their defense, as teams aren’t going to get into transition as much off misses.
Last season, the Heat made two key acquisitions in Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder at the deadline. Both guys, especially Crowder, played huge roles come playoff time. Can this year’s moves possibly do the same?
The Heat were able to acquire Victor Oladipo at a low cost. His overall value has sunk since his Most Improved Player season due to injury. He hasn’t fully returned to his pre-injury form. He also turned down the Rockets’ extension offer, signaling he had no intention to stay with the Rockets. That indication made it, so the Rockets had no leverage over any suitors. They wanted Duncan Robinson or Tyler Herro in the deal, but the Heat waited them out until the last minute.
Oladipo hasn’t reached the level from his early Pacers days yet, but he is still a former All-Star level player. He was one of the few players on the trade market that could help a team up a tier. He’s a legitimate two-way threat that adds to the Heat’s strong defense and boosts them offensively.
Oladipo has tried to get to the Heat for some time now. He got what he wanted and could have a renewed energy playing for the team he wants. It’s a fresh start for him in a contract year, so he has a ton of incentive to play well in the playoffs.
Going back to the lack of offensive pop, the Heat doesn’t have enough guys that can get downhill. Butler is their most consistent driver as he can bully his way into the paint and kick out. Adebayo can attack sometimes, but he needs to do a better job blending his playmaking ability and scoring aggressiveness.
Outside of those two, Dragic was able to turn it on in the playoffs and give the Heat the slashing they were missing. However, Dragic has been in and out of the lineup with injuries and is getting older. Plus, he is somewhat of a liability on defense since he could have trouble staying in front of guards and is too small to guard.
Oladipo is a guy that can duck his head and get to the rim. He’s also a solid passer and can run pick and rolls. With Adebayo as a screen and roll partner, the Oladipo’s reads will be more straightforward. He can also play off-ball since he is a capable, playoff-level shooter. He fits what the Heat needs offensively in terms of adding another downhill creator.
During his time in Indiana, Oladipo was named to an All-Defensive first team. He’s an aggressive point of attack defender, which the Heat don’t have. Their backcourt guys are all negative to neutral impact defenders. Oladipo gives the Heat an option that can handle the quicker guards that the Heat might come across.
It’s a scary sight that the Heat patched up one of their few defensive weaknesses. They scramble exceptionally well as a team and can junk the game up with a 2-3 zone. At the center spot, Adebayo is probably the most versatile defender in the NBA with his ability to guard the perimeter and bigs. Jimmy Butler is one of the league’s best defenders both on and off the ball. Just the thought of Oladipo picking up an opposing team’s guard with Butler in the nail spot and Adebayo in the backline is frightening.
Dipo was the Heat’s highlight acquisition. He’s a great fit in their culture and on both ends of the court.
Bjelica is a five-year veteran from Serbia. He’s made his mark in the league with his ability to stretch the floor as a big. He’s a high I.Q player and can shoot off movement. He fits well into the Heat’s ball-movement principles on offense. Essentially, Bjelica fills the semi-mobile stretch big role Kelly Olynyk played, who was traded in the deal to acquire Oladipo. Bjelica is more of a four than a five, but he brings a similar offensive role.
Regarding championship aspirations, teams can never have enough shooting. He can slide into the fourth spot next to Adebayo if the team needs some more shooting. His lack of athleticism limits what he can do on defense, but if the Heat play him in shorter stretches, he can elevate them offensively.
Ariza was acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder almost a week before the deadline. While he’s on the backend of his career, he’s still a capable three-and-d wing. He may not be able to keep up with quicker guards, but he has the I.Q and length to bother longer wing scorers, such as Jayson Tatum, Khris Middleton, and Tobias Harris.
Ariza was reinvigorated last season when he got to the Portland Trailblazers before the season was shutdown. , However, he hasn’t played in over a year since he opted out of the Bubble. It will take some time for him to get his legs back. When he does, he can be a valuable rotational piece in the playoffs.
The Heat’s Championship Outlook
The Heat were not considered a top-three team before the deadline based on their regular-season performance. When they got off to their slow start last season, there were rumblings about how their Bubble run was a fluke. Taking a look at their roster even after this new trade, they still aren’t a high-octane offense. They are 26th in the league in points scored per game at 106.6. They win games by bunkering down on defense as they allow the 7th fewest points in the league at 110. There was a similar trend last season where their offense was middle of the pack, but they still had a high-level defense.
The bottom line is that the Heat are a team built for the playoffs. Over the course of the season, it’s difficult for teams to maintain defensive intensity every game. Especially on a veteran-heavy team like the Heat, they might not have great energy every single night. If their defense is slacking, their offense isn’t enough to beat teams on their own.
There might be something to say about their regular season struggling offense, but playoff offense is a whole different game. Many of the younger teams in the league play at a fast pace in the regular season, which can catch some of the older teams off-guard. However, when it comes down to the playoffs and the pace slows, those veteran rosters thrive. The Heat don’t get up and down super fast. They grind out in the halfcourt and can do that with Jimmy Butler and now Victor Oladipo.
Their defense only gets better in the playoffs as well with a slower pace. They are a strong halfcourt defense with their switchability at the five and Jimmy Butler as a great on-ball and help defender. The Heat can also plug in defensive-minded wings like Ariza, Iguodala, and maybe even KZ Okpala. Oladipo only adds to their defensive prowess.
The Recipe for Success
The league learned last season that teams don’t necessarily need a super-charged offense to be championship contenders. What’s more important is having a tough defense that can get stops when the offense is sputtering. Last season, the Lakers and Heat relied on their defense to carry them when shots weren’t falling. On the offensive end, they played through their stars to generate looks in the halfcourt. In the end, that proved to be enough for both teams to reach the Finals.
The Heat still have the same playoff blueprint. They added Oladipo and Ariza, who will bolster their defense and contribute to the offense. Bjelica can come in for specific stretches and keep the offense afloat with his shooting at the big position. They also have Butler, who can get to the free-throw line at will, and an improved Bam Adebayo who can score in isolation.
The Heat’s moves insert them into the top-three in the east. The Sixers and Bucks haven’t proved they can get over the hump in the playoffs. Their roster constructions and playstyles also are questionable in how they will translate to playoff basketball, as they rely on big men for a chunk of their scoring.
Going off track record, the Heat and Nets are leading the pack. While the Nets’ are essentially a first-year team, their overwhelming amount of talent and individual players’ playoff experience makes them a formidable team. The Heat may not have the offensive firepower to keep up, but if they can muck up the game defensively, they have a shot. The one key advantage is their ability to generate three-point looks and a mobile big in Adebayo, who won’t get run off the court.
Regarding the Heat’s midseason moves, they leveled up their roster for the playoffs. The results might not come immediately, but they will surprise the league come playoff time.