By: Jalon Dixon, Columnist
Once regarded as nothing more than a team full of “misfits” and rotational pieces, forward Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat have been playing themselves into the title contender discussion and the national media is starting to take notice.
Coming into this season, the Heat were not on anybody’s championship radar. Even in a very diminished Eastern Conference, most analysts had the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers leading the pack with a young Boston Celtics team sitting at a close third. Despite having Butler, this Miami team is not built similar to these three teams. They are not a team with multiple superstars. They are not even a team with a good number of well-regarded top draft picks. Yet they have still managed to work their way all the way up to sitting at fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
With a record of 19 – 8, Miami has the sixth best record in the entire league and have a roster built to sustain their success throughout the entirety of an 82-game schedule. At the top is All-Star forward Butler who has made an almost seamless transition from Philadelphia. Acting as a leader for this relatively young squad, Butler has already assumed the role of one of the team’s primary ball handlers and the closing scorer for them in crunch time. While averaging 21 points, Butler is also recording career highs in rebounds (6.4) and assists (6.8) on 43.2% shooting from the field, displaying an improvement in his overall game while also functioning within head coach Eric Spoelstra’s ball movement offense.
This team has everything that you would want in a complete roster from top to bottom. According to ESPN, the Heat have seven guys averaging double digit points per game and four guys averaging at least four assists per game. They have ball movement. They have athleticism. They have a deep roster that plays tenacious defense. And now they have a collection of shot creators that get a bucket on their own or facilitate for others. But what has been the most impressive is the growth and impact that their young players have already had on the court.
They have players like veteran guard Goran Dragic giving them great minutes off the bench and guard Justice Winslow is really starting to pan out in the team’s experiment with utilizing him as 6-foot-6 point guard. However, no one has been more special than the combination of guards Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro. As two rookies coming out of a class headlined by forward Zion Williamson, and guards RJ Barrett and Ja Morant, it is easy to say that Nunn and Herro were afterthoughts from a talent perspective.
Nunn went undrafted back in 2018 and eventually went on to average 19.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 for the Golden State Warriors’ G-League team before eventually signing his official rookie deal with Miami on April 10, 2019. Herro, on the other hand, was a top pick, as he was selected in the lottery at 13th overall in 2019. But, he was the sixth guard off the board and was even taken behind former North Carolina forward Cam Johnson who was regarded as a player likely to be taken towards the end of the first round at best. Yet here they are.
Nunn is one of the team’s leading scorers behind only Butler, averaging 16.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 3.6 assists, essentially not missing a beat from his G-League days despite facing more talented competition. Herro has come in and acted as a microwave scorer off the bench, averaging 14.2 points on 41.9% shooting from the field and 37.6% shooting from three. With Williamson out due to injury and Barrett and Morant currently playing on struggling teams, this year’s Rookie of the Year award poll could easily include one if not both of these guys in the running by the time we reach the end of the season.
As a team on the rise, the Heat even has members of the national media raving with excitement about the potential threat they can pose to as title contenders. On ESPN’s First Take, NBA analyst Stephen A. Smith was so excited to talk about Miami that he even went as far as saying “I have not been this excited about the Heat since Lebron left.” Smith’s co-host Max Kellerman continued this sentiment by even comparing them to the 2004 Detroit Pistons and the Dallas Mavericks of 2011 who both shocked the NBA world by winning the NBA championship in their respective years over teams that were easily regarded as title favorites entering those seasons.
This team not only has the potential to be one of this year’s most exciting teams moving forward, but they also have the chance to be a real title contender coming out of the East. With all the high praise from the media, a leader like Butler at the helm and a championship culture built by Spoelstra and legendary basketball executive Pat Riley, the Heat are looking like easily one of the most dangerous teams in the entire league.