Whether it’s because of injuries, COVID-19, or both, all 30 NBA teams have had to fight through adversity this season. But few can relate to the plights of the 2021-22 Miami Heat.
The Heat roster has often been a shell of what it was supposed to be. Guys like Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo have been absent for long stretches, leaving inexperienced teammates to fend for themselves in a loaded Eastern Conference. But somehow, someway, Miami has survived. In fact, it has thrived.
Rather than succumbing to the constant trials and tribulations facing them, the 26-15 Heat are a legitimate title contender. But inquiring minds want to know … how are they doing it?
The Miami Heat have been decimated all season
Two seasons removed from a trip to the NBA Finals, the Heat entered the fall of 2021 with a deep roster ready to compete. Too bad they’ve hardly seen it all together at the same time.
No player has played in all 41 of Miami’s contests. Duncan Robinson has played the most with 38, followed by newcomer Kyle Lowry at 37. Everyone else on the team has missed six games or more, including Tyler Herro and P.J. Tucker.
Out of all of Miami’s losses, none have been greater than Adebayo and Butler. Starting with the former, the All-Star center played 18 games before undergoing thumb surgery in early December. As for Butler, tailbone and ankle injuries have kept him on the shelf for most of the last six weeks. The five-time All-Star has suited up for just 23 games total, meaning he and Adebayo have missed a combined 41 games at the halfway point.
In addition, Markieff Morris has yet to play since being hit from behind by Nikola Jokic on November 8. He’s also in health and safety protocol, which was previously occupied by Lowry, Tucker, and Gabe Vincent.
Miami’s depth is helping them stay competitive
For most teams, losing your two best players would all but end any playoff hopes you might have. But the Heat are not most teams.
With a roster that has seen 19 players get some level of on-court exposure, Miami is just 2.0 games behind the one-seed Chicago Bulls. It’s also tied with the Brooklyn Nets, who despite coronavirus issues of their own have had both Kevin Durant and James Harden play 35 games. So how are they doing it?
Development. Next man up. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Take a player like Max Strus. The 25-year-old had two games of NBA experience with the Bulls before Miami signed him to a two-way contract in 2020. Now, Strus has gone from fringe-NBA player to a guy averaging 11.5 points and shooting 42.0% from three.
What about Omer Yurtseven? The rookie center was scooped up by Miami last year and is providing instant relief as Adebayo recovers. Since entering the starting lineup on December 26, Yurtseven is averaging 12.1 points and a whopping 14.6 rebounds.
Caleb Martin is another player Miami signed to a two-way deal in September. Through two seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, Martin averaged 5.3 points on 39.1% shooting. With Miami, he’s scoring 9.2 points and shooting 50.5% from the field. He too has found his stride upon entering the starting lineup, reaching double figures in his last six contests and 12 of his last 14 overall.
In a nutshell, no team gets more out of their players than the Heat.
When Butler and Adebayo return, look out for the Heat
The performance of Miami’s roster is a testament to president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra, among others. After all, how many other teams can be in a realistic position to win the conference while giving major minutes to Strus and Yurtseven every night?
With a distorted roster, the Heat still rank fifth in offensive rating and seventh in defensive rating. They are the second-best 3-point shooting team in basketball, hitting 37.6% of their long-distance attempts. And they have the fifth-largest margin of victory on average. Not to mention, they’re an impressive 11-4 in games both Butler and Adebayo miss, with victories against the Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, and Phoenix Suns.
Now imagine when Butler and Adebayo are back.
Miami is a top-three team in the East right now. Adding a veteran superstar like Butler and a dominant big man in Adebayo will elevate them even further. And with the Yurtsevens and Martins of the world moving to the bench as a result, it’s safe to say Miami’s depth will be almost impossible to match when everyone is healthy.
No conversation about the NBA’s best teams should exclude the Miami Heat.