The way the Heat have slowly crept up the Eastern Conference standings would feel sneaky if it didn’t feel preordained. Jimmy Butler landing in Miami was some of the biggest news of the offseason, and smaller shuffles have given an already good roster more room to breathe. It just feels like it’s time for the Heat to take the top down on that dormant convertible of a team and really let that thing rev. Here are some points of polish that could help keep up their successful start to the year.
No. 1: A beach house for Jimmy Butler
In no way are these Jimmy Butler’s golden years. This isn’t the winter of his career, but would it be wrong to call him a snow bird? There is clearly something about Miami that agrees with Butler in a way that hasn’t seemed inherent since his time in Chicago, and even then.
For starters, there’s the Miami Heat system. The kind of honed focus on fitness, physicality, and intensity that someone like Butler was clearly trying to implement in his last few franchises with mixed reception. He can now work out to his pumping heart’s desire, in the Heat’s practice facility in downtown Miami, or else casually strolling in South Beach where there are as many outdoor gyms as palm trees. And then of course, the Miami lifestyle. As soon as Butler arrived, he started making friends with some of the city’s most authentic residents.
All that vitamin D is doing something for his game. Butler is averaging 20.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 2.1 steals per game. When he’s playing, the Heat’s offensive and defensive rating climbs like the mercury in South Beach, and they’re already performing as a top-10 offensive and defensive team. Miami is the beach house Butler always wanted.
No. 2: More Bam
Bam Adebayo has a lot of fans, one of the biggest being Butler. After a win on the road against the Sixers earlier this month, Butler joked Adebayo was the lone star on the team.
Reporter to Jimmy Butler: "What do you say when they say you need a team of two to three stars and this team has just one star?"
Jimmy: "This is a team of one star? Who is that? Bam [Adebayo]?
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) December 19, 2019
But the fandom is warranted. Adebayo has always been a defensive juggernaut, but his offensive game is on the rise. He’s averaging 15.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game since he stepped into this season with way more minutes in the absence of Hassan Whiteside and as Butler’s defect wingman. With length, quickness, and a knack for smart passing, plus his offensive intelligence, Adebayo is redefining what a big man can be. If the Heat want to keep climbing in the East, they’re going to need to capitalize on everything a versatile player like Adebayo can offer.
No. 3: Hanging loose
The Heat have a system. It is regimented, precise, and for the most part it works. But it’s a long regular season and as it goes on the top of the East is going to get crowded. To stick it out, teams will need a certain level of finesse and flexibility.
Where Miami can lend to their game is by, well, loosening up. Experiment with lineups, rest players when they need it and let young producers looking for more minutes step in and hopefully step up. Being indefatigable in all things can get exhausting, and easing up doesn’t mean becoming less competitive. It sounds over-simplistic to say that the Heat should have some fun, but with a more or less healthy roster, stars on the rise, and a very winning record, it just might be an edge they can use.