There was no self-aggrandizing phrase conjured to advertise the reconstruction of the Heat when they were through dominating the early part of the previous decade. There was no “Process” in Miami. Perhaps that is why we did not see this coming. Perhaps, though, we should have.
Because the person on top of the organizational chart still is Pat Riley, who constructed two different iterations of championship teams with the Heat after two relatively different paths that nonetheless contained the same core: Evaluation. In other words: Find really good players eager to play together and pursue excellence.
As opposed to drafting Dwyane Wade and adding a past-prime Shaquille O’Neal by trade (2006) or signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh as free agents to complement Wade (2012, 2013), the construction of the Heat squad chasing the 2020 NBA Finals involved even greater ingenuity. There is only a single top-10 pick, wing Andre Iguodala, in the 10-man rotation. The average draft position of those players: 34th, and that’s if you assign a draft value of 61 — there are 60 players chosen each year — to each of the three guys who initially were undrafted.
The Heat never tanked after James departed for Cleveland after the 2013-14 season. They signed only a single big-money free agent, forward Jimmy Butler, to fortify this roster. There are nine players in the NBA earning more than him. The two first-round picks among their top six players, wing Tyler Herro and big Bam Adebayo, were passed a combined 25 times in their drafts.
And here they are, up 2-0 against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. They are two wins away from the NBA Finals. An examination of how the roster was built proves just how remarkable the Heat’s performance has been.
Duncan Robinson, SG
11.0 points per game in playoffs, 40.9 percent 3-point shooting
How acquired: Signed to a two-way contract as an undrafted free agent in July 2018, converted to a full contract in April 2019.
Initial reaction to acquisition: Chet Kammerer, now senior adviser of basketball operations, told The Detroit News that Robinson was “high on our list” of potential free agent signings after the 2018 draft. “We liked him a lot, his ability to shoot. We talked to (Erik) Spoelstra. He talked about the one quality he likes the most or wants the most, is shooters. To me, he’s an elite shooter.”
Performance in 2019-20: In his first full season, Robinson started nearly every game and averaged 13.5 points and ranked fourth in the league in 3-point accuracy — first among players who started at least half the games — at 44.6 percent. He’s been a touch less productive and precise in the playoffs, but that’s the nature of the game. He’s only down to 11 points and 40.9 percent on threes. He has made 10 3-pointers in the first two games of the conference finals.
ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla told SN that he has been impressed with Miami’s development of Robinson, most noticeable in how he makes a one-dribble move off a dribble handoff.
“What does a player like Robinson need? Space,” Fraschilla said. “With that one dribble, he can get all the space he needs.”
Bam Adebayo, C
15.9 ppg in playoffs, 10.2 rebounds per game, 1.3 blocks per game
How acquired: Drafted in first round (14th overall pick), 2017.
Initial reaction to acquisition: Bleacher Report called it a “strange fit” for Adebayo to join the Heat, acknowledging his potential to contribute to the defense but labeling him “a limited offensive player” and giving the pick a grade of C.
Performance in 2019-20: Adebayo blossomed in his third full season, making the NBA All-Star game with his double-double average and also showing off a gift for passing — 5.1 assists per game — that proved he could contribute in a variety of ways to the Heat’s attack.
“It took Miami a year and a half to probably figure out all the stuff he could do,” his college coach at Kentucky, John Calipari, told SN. “He can really handle it, he can pass it. He did some of that for us, but you have eight months.”
Goran Dragic, PG
21.3 ppg in playoffs, 4.7 assists per game
How acquired: In three-team trade with the Suns and Pelicans in 2015, the Heat giving up multiple players and two No. 1 picks.
Initial reaction to acquisition: Sports Illustrated gave the Heat a B-plus grade for its part in the deal, although it mostly viewed the move as a near-term effort to increase the team’s promise in the post-LeBron period that represented the twilight of Dwayne Wade’s career.
Performance in 2019-20: Dragic became a productive sixth man during the regular season, yielding the starting role to Kendrick Nunn but still contributing 16.2 points and 5.1 assists in 28 minutes per game. Dragic went back into the lineup by necessity when Nunn had to leave the playoff bubble for personal reasons. And it worked. Dragic was magnificent in the series win over the Pacers and has continued to excel.
Jimmy Butler, F
20.6 ppg in playoffs, 5.6 rpg
How acquired: In a four-team sign-and-trade deal that sent out a 2023 first-round pick, Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside. Butler’s four-year deal is worth more than $170 million.
Initial reaction to acquisition: CBS Sports gave the move a B grade, saying, “The potential for this being a positive and necessary move is definitely there, and, frankly, the Heat didn’t have any other options for bringing in a player that can reverse what is starting to be some pretty bad momentum.”
Performance in 2019-20: Butler reminded everyone that he is among the most complete basketball players, averaged just under 20 points, 6.7 rebounds and six assists and making his fifth All-Star Game. He missed four games after the return to competition in August because of a foot injury but has played every game in the playoffs and scored 40 points in a statement-making Game 1 win of the Milwaukee series.
Butler said joining the Heat has led to a relationship with Wade, a three-time NBA champion in Miami.
“He’s always in my phone, telling me about the game, what to look for,” he told reporters after the opening win against the Bucks. “He’s been a huge help. He’s the first person that texts me tonight, whenever I get back to the locker room.”
Jae Crowder, F
13.3 ppg in playoffs, 5.9 rpg
How acquired: In three-team trade that sent out Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters and James Johnson and also brought in Andre Iguodala and Solomon Hill.
Initial reaction to acquisition: ESPN gave it an A grade, saying, “The Heat both added substantial frontcourt depth and shed a pair of unwanted contracts without giving up a single draft pick from a depleted stockpile.” But ESPN did suggest that Crowder would have to “accept a smaller role” in Miami because of subpar shooting; he’s hit 38.5 percent of playoff threes.
Performance in 2019-20: Since joining the Heat, he has gradually increased his role and added a degree of useful toughness while still performing well enough as a shooter that he must be guarded. He became a starter when the season resumed and has held that position as the playoffs advanced.
Tyler Herro, SG
14.8 ppg in playoffs, 36.3 percent 3-point shooting
How acquired: Drafted in first round (13th overall pick), 2019.
Initial reaction to acquisition: CBS Sports gave the pick a B grade, although correctly pointing out his free throw shooting and suggesting that he could become a dangerous 3-point shooter at the NBA level: “He deserved to be a lottery pick.” SB Nation also gave the pick a B, suggesting that Herro could have issues on defense.
Performance in 2019-20: Herro was an instant smash for the Heat. He started and played 33 minutes, contributing 14 points and eight rebounds in a comfortable win over the Grizzlies. And that’s pretty much how the year went for him, until he injured his foot in early February and missed the next 15 games. After the season’s resumption, he became one of the most important players on the most surprising team in the NBA Playoffs.
“Are you watching him defend? Are you watching him rebound? He’s doing other things besides shooting,” Calipari told SN. “He’s playing the most fourth-quarter minutes on the Miami Heat. Tell me why a coach would play him that many minutes? Doesn’t hurt him defensively, he’ll go get a rebound, he’ll make a play. He’s not afraid to be out there.”
Andre Iguodala, SG
3.3 ppg in playoffs, 18 minutes per game
How acquired: In three-team trade that sent out Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters and James Johnson and also brought in Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill.
Initial reaction to acquisition: Sports Illustrated gave the trade a B grade, saying it wasn’t clear what Iguodala could offer the Heat because he had not played all year and he had “started to show some signs of age” in the 2019 playoffs.
Performance in 2019-20: Iguodala hasn’t been a double-figure scorer since 2013, but he’s won three championships since. The only number that reflect his value is the 2.4 assists per game he delivered in the regular season, down to 1.3 in the playoffs. He’s around to provide defense, stability and an understanding of how to win the biggest games.
Kelly Olynyk, C
6.1 ppg in playoffs, 4.5 rpg
How acquired: Signed as free agent in July 2017 for four years, $50 million.
Initial reaction to acquisition: “As soon as Kelly Olynyk became an unrestricted free agent, we pursued him,” Riley said then. “He is not only a post player, he can also play away from the basket. What we like the most is that he is a playmaker, tough defender and rugged rebounder.”
Performance in 2019-20: With the Heat oriented toward playing smaller lineups, Olynyk offers a change of pace and the ability to keep the team from situationally struggling against size. He is not a rim protector but is a versatile offensive performer — a fine passer and dangerous 3-point threat — and does have the length to make opponents work to score.
Kendrick Nunn, SG
3.2 ppg in playoffs, 12 mpg
How acquired: Signed as a free agent in April 2019, after he’d averaged 19.3 points in the G League.
Initial reaction to acquisition: The Miami Herald called Nunn “an interesting developmental player for its summer program and potentially beyond.”
Performance in 2019-20: Nunn performed as if he were still tearing up the Horizon League, scoring 24 points in the Heat’s opener and averaging 15.3 points over 67 games and earning a spot on the All-Rookie first team. His role shrunk after the season resumed, with his arrival to Orlando delayed by a positive COVID test in July and then him taking a temporary leave during the opening series.
Derrick Jones Jr., F
2.0 ppg in playoffs, 8.6 mpg
How acquired: Signed two-way contract with Heat in December 2017 after release by Suns, then accepted a two-year deal for the league minimum in July 2018.
Initial reaction to acquisition: “It’s unbelievable how athletic he is,” Dragic told the Palm Beach Post. “He still needs to learn a lot, but what I saw … he can really help this team, and we’re lucky to have him.”
Performance in 2019-20: Jones was a very useful player during the regular season, averaging 8.5 points and 6.1 rebounds in 59 appearances, with an effective field goal percentage of .580. His playoff role has been smaller, as the Heat rely on their primary players.
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