The Miami Heat are sneaky title contenders heading into 2021-22.
With the 2021-22 NBA less than a week, let’s take a quick look back at the headlines that dominated the off-season:
- Does Damian Lilliard want out of Portland?
- The entire Ben Simmons situation
- The Kyrie Irving vaccination saga
- The Lakers complete roster renovation, including the addition of Russell Westbrook
- What to expect from the Golden State Warriors this season: More likely to win Finals or miss playoffs?
There were other storylines too that have been discussed at length like how the new-look Chicago Bulls will fare this season and the recent Zion injury news. This is all brought up to say that not much media attention has been given to the Miami Heat.
Let me be the first to say: The Miami Heat are LEGITIMATE TITLE CONTENDERS for the 2021-22 season.
Pat Riley and the Heat front office have done an incredible job putting together a team that can compete with anyone in the league. Don’t think so? Let’s break down their roster.
The Heat start and end with Jimmy Butler. Since signing with Miami, Butler has really bought into “Heat Culture.” He is the heart and soul of one of the toughest teams in the league.
With that being said, Butler doesn’t get mentioned as a “superstar” or in the same breath as guys like LeBron James or Kevin Durant, and quite frankly he isn’t, BUT Jimmy Buckets is one DAMN GOOD player.
The guy can truly do it all. If the team is struggling to score, Butler can take over a game with the best of them as seen in his NBA Finals performance that happened just over a calendar year ago.
If the Heat can’t get anything going offensively, Butler is able to run point and create open looks for his teammates.
If the Heat is sluggish on both ends of the floor, Butler isn’t afraid to get into anyone’s face, give a “pep talk,” and get the team going. At 32 years old, he is still an exceptional defender that’s capable of guarding the best wings in the game, a significant leader that teammates legitimately love and respect, and just a really good all-around hooper.
Right below Butler in the pecking order for Miami is Bam Adebayo. When discussing young players set up to have breakout years this NBA season, names like Jayson Tatum, Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, Trae Young, and LaMelo Ball are constantly being brought up by the media. For whatever reason, Bam is not brought up in the same vein as these guys which is ridiculous.
Bam Adebayo is going to have a monster 2021-22 season, Mark it down!
Bam is, undoubtedly, Miami’s most important player. With the depth they have accumulated over the summer, Miami can afford to rest Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry or be without Tyler Herro or Duncan Robinson, but they can not afford to lose Bam. The former Kentucky Wildcat holds the key for Miami’s success this season.
Through his play in his four seasons in the NBA, Bam has already established himself as one of the best defenders in the league. He is the rare big that is capable of covering every position on the court. From one through five, Bam has the footwork and instincts to guard anyone.
He’s strong enough to force someone like LeBron into a contested jumper, quick enough to guard Russell Westbrook out on the perimeter, and big enough to take Anthony Davis in the paint. Also, he’s not just a great one-on-one defender, he understands team defense.
Bam is an incredible help defender and rim protector. If a teammate gets beat, Bam is always right there to step up. What’s most impressive though is that Bam is more than just a defending, rim-running big. He is an exceptional offensive player. However, his offensive game needs to improve in order for Miami to take that next step.
He needs to have developed a consistent mid-range jumper reminiscent of Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan. He’s shown he’s able to nail those 15 footers but he doesn’t make them at a consistent rate. Once he’s able to do that, opposing bigs will be dragged out of the paint when guarding Bam, opening driving lanes for teammates.
What’s even more important though for Bam is becoming a more aggressive offensive player. Last season this was a growing concern in the Heat locker room. There were reports coming out of Miami that suggested that Jimmy Butler was frustrated with Bam’s lack of aggressiveness. Guess what? Butler is right. Bam needs to be more aggressive.
According to Basketball-Reference, last season Bam averaged 12.5 shots per game and 5.5 free throws a game. Erik Spoelstra and his staff should want those numbers to increase from 12.5 to at least 15 shots a game and from 5.5 to at least 8.0 free throws a game.
The thing is though Bam isn’t this incompetent offensive player that’s never shown improvement through his career. He’s no Ben Simmons. Bam just needs a consistent mid-range jumper, some reliable post-moves, and to be more aggressive and he’s good. By just doing that he’ll assert himself as one of the league’s best big men and as one of the league’s best young stars along with Luka, Tatum, Ja, and Trae Young.
Bam holds the biggest key for the Heat’s success this season but says for whatever reason he doesn’t improve and stays the all-star caliber player that he is. Well, the Heat still has enough to win the Title.
Whether you hate him for his flops or love him for being the little guy underdog, Kyle Lowry is still a very good player. His experience and knowledge of the game will prove to be vital come playoff time. Also, Lowry has become an underrated player when it comes to this one area: his ability to play with other stars.
In Toronto alongside Kawaii Leonard, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet, Lowry had no trouble playing second, third, or even fourth fiddle to any of those guys. He makes all the hustle plays that will fit in perfectly with #HeatCulture. He doesn’t have a big ego that will get in anyone’s way. All he cares about is winning.
Lowry will also be vital in Bam’s development. In Toronto, Lowry has an artist in the pick-and-roll with guys like Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. He has to be salivating at the chance to get screens from a bigger and better player in Bam.
Pat Riley and the Heat’s front office also added experienced veterans this summer in Markieff Morris and PJ Tucker. Those two will provide an even greater edge and toughness to Miami. They will prove to be valuable acquisitions during the dog days of the regular season.
There’s also Tyler Herro who, despite last season’s disappointing season, still holds massive potential. All he will be asked to do is get buckets off the bench. Would it surprise you if Herro is in the running for Sixth Man of the Year? Currently, Herro ranks fifth in the league in scoring at 22.4 points per game. Granted it is the preseason so take it with a grain of salt, but all signs point towards Herro having a bounce-back year three.
Oh, and did I mention they re-signed one of the best shooters in the league in Duncan Robinson.
Miami also made some moves that went under-the-radar to most but will prove to be valuable additions. The signings of Caleb Martin and Dewayne Dedmon aren’t sexy in the slightest but they give the Heat much-needed depth in important areas: shooting in the case of Martin and a rim-protecting big in Dedmon.
Lastly, their wild card is Victor Oladipo. If he can return to the player he was in Indiana, with Lowry, Butler, Bam, and their depth, the Heat stack up with anyone in the league as far as talent is concerned.
Despite all of the solid signings and projected improvement from young players, there is always a chance that things go poorly. If the Heat does struggle, whether it be from injuries or just poor play, they could look to make a big deal at the deadline because they have the assets to do so.
Say Damian Lillard gets frustrated in Portland, Bradley Beal in Washington, the aforementioned Karl-Anthony Towns, or some out-of-nowhere star, the Miami Heat will be one of the top suitors just based on their assets that can provide immediate impact as opposed to future draft picks.
Now taking a look at their competition in the Eastern Conference, it starts, not with the defending champions Milwaukee Bucks but with the Brooklyn Nets.
Even without Kyrie Irving, the Nets might still have enough to win the title. That’s how good Kevin Durant and James Harden are. However, the whole Kyrie situation can not be overlooked. It will for sure be a distraction for the Nets that will eventually get on everybody’s nerves. Also, Durant hasn’t been the healthiest of players throughout his time in the NBA. Last season was really the first time Harden has dealt with a serious injury, but role players like Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Paul Milsap have dealt with their fair share of injuries. Health is a major concern for Brooklyn.
As for those Milwaukee Bucks, well, they’re the defending champs that many media members believe will be even better this season. It can’t be said enough how relieving it is for a team to get that monkey off their back to win their first title. Going into their second season together, with Giannis’ new and improved jumper, the Bucks are looking to make it back-to-back.
Other than the Bucks and Nets though, the Heat is in reality right there. Yes, there are the Hawks who look to carry over their success from the playoffs to this season. But other than those three, who really scares you? From a talent standpoint the Sixers, Knicks, Celtics, Bulls, Hornets, Wizards, and Bulls are all inferior to the Heat.
The Heat’s combination of experienced all-star caliber veterans like Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry, and young rising stars like Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, in a top-heavy Eastern Conference, should make fans and media members think twice about just penciling in the Nets to make the title. Look for the Miami Heat and Bam Adebayo to make some noise this season.