This past weekend's games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs pushed the Miami Heat beyond the midpoint of the season — one that has been, by almost any measure, a delight. Though half of a season does not make, well, a whole season, much can be learned from the results of more than 40 games of basketball.
Heat president Pat Riley has always said he can gauge what kind of team he has after 20 games and knows if it's for real after 40 games. So right about now, he must be feeling pretty good about the squad he has put together heading into the second half of the season.
Heat fans too are feeling pretty good about their favorite little basketball team at the midpoint of the season. So many positive things have happened over the course of the first half. Here's a list of our favorites:
Goran Dragic not only accepted a role off the bench but also has been the perfect sixth man. There really isn't a good reason for Goran Dragic to accept that he's not a starting point guard in the NBA. He's just 33 years old and has consistently, even in these later years of his career, put up solid numbers while being a model teammate and unselfish ball handler. He could start for a dozen teams in the NBA. The Heat is certainly paying Dragic like a starting point guard too, at $15 million a year.
Dragic isn't a starting point guard, though, because the Heat is a better team with him coming off the bench. So he has accepted that role and thrived while only truly playing a handful of minutes less than he would have as a starter, including routinely being on the floor for crucial fourth-quarter minutes.
Dragic coming off the bench for the Heat is almost unfair and is a huge reason the Heat impressed in the first half of the season. His 15 points, three rebounds, and five assists per game are nice numbers for a reserve, but they really don't tell the full story of just how good he's been and what his taking a reserve role has meant to the franchise's success this year.
Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson established themselves as capable starters in the NBA. Most NBA teams find their starters in the draft or through free agency. Once in a while, a team will pull an NBA-level starter out of nowhere and he'll be just fine, for a while at least. No one expected Kendrick Nunn or Duncan Robinson to begin the season in the starting lineup, and most certainly didn't see it lasting too long or being ultrasuccessful.
Turns out most people didn't know what they were talking about. The Heat found two NBA-ready starters for almost nothing, both making near the minimum an NBA team can legally pay a player, much less a difference-making starter.
Between Nunn and Robinson, the pair is averaging almost 28 points a game. More important, however, is that the two brought to the squad a knack for three-point shooting that has perfectly complemented the talents of players already in place, such as Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler.
The Heat now has two starters making less money combined than most teams pay a nobody veteran bench player. That's how you get good quickly in the NBA.
Tyler Herro is a bucket. When it comes to building contenders in the NBA, finding cheap, young, useful talent in the draft is what most opens your team's window for a championship. Hitting on first-round draft picks such as Adebayo creates salary-cap flexibility and, in the long run, enables a team to build a stronger core than free-agency signings do.
The Heat, once again, nailed its first-round pick when it selected Tyler Herro out of Kentucky during the last offseason. He's already a solid rotation player, and through half of a season, it's clear he has no fear of playing in the NBA against men twice his age and size.
Bam Adebayo didn't take the next step this season — he took two and is now an elite NBA center. Entering this season, the hope was that Bam Adebayo would up his game and become, at the very least, a solid NBA center who had a lot of promise and a high ceiling. After 40-plus games, it's clear the Heat has one of the brightest up-and-coming stars in the game on its roster, and he's still six months away from turning 23 years old.
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Adebayo is not only impressing in his first season as a starter, but also thriving to the point many Heat fans are noticing he might be more than just a nice complement to Jimmy Butler; it might be the other way around, with Butler complementing Adebayo. The Heat will be hard-pressed to make a better draft pick than Bam anytime soon.
Jimmy Butler isn't as good as advertised. He's better. This is very simple: Jimmy Butler has been a perfect fit for the Miami Heat. He's the human embodiment of "Heat culture." His shooting percentage doesn't matter. His statistics are secondary. He's been the glue the Heat would have been missing without signing him. He truly brings the entire team together, keeps the players accountable, and heightens the expectations because he refuses anything less.
Butler has brought the Heat back to contention in this first half of the season. His attitude and work ethic alone have been worth the maximum contract the Heat gave him. The 30 wins the Heat has already garnered, including a 19-1 record at home, are all byproducts of his signing.