Coming off a season in which the Miami Heat won 48 games with Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, and partial contributions from Joe Johnson and Chris Bosh, it’d be downright foolish to suggest they could improve after losing that large of a chunk of their veteran core, right?

Vegas thinks so, with sports books giving the Heat an over/under of 36.5 wins and that was before Pat Riley announced Chris Bosh would never play another game with the organization.

ESPN places the Heat at 38 winsEthan Skolnick, Jorge Sedano, and many other NBA pundits are similarly down on Erik Spoelstra’s squad.

Maybe I’m a Heat homer. Maybe I’m a blind optimist.

But as I wrote in July, under the assumption Bosh would be not be playing, it is not crazy to see them tally a win total in the mid-40s and perhaps, with plenty of variables bending in their direction, eclipse last year’s 48 victories.

giphy-1

I think Vegas and the low expectationers are blinded by the fact so many names are departing, failing to see what’s right in front of them. I see a young, talented, and most importantly, still developing, roster that is tough to project considering the upside.

The Heat’s over/under would be more appropriate somewhere between 42 and 46 wins.

It’s not implausible to expect another elite unit defensively while the team’s young core continues to improve on the offensive end with experience, a shift in style, and more responsibility.

Again, Justise Winslow is the ultimate key and without a sizably improvement out of the 20-year-old, what will be interpreted as a steaming hot take is all for naught. Ditto for potential major injuries, but who the hell takes those into account when making preseason prognostications. No player on the roster provides as much upside (and unknown) next season as Winslow. Not former No. 4 overall pick Dion Waiters. Not the now filthy wealthy Hassan Whiteside.

Just as the general expectations are insultingly low, I also feel it’s foolish to bet against Winslow refining his jumper (refining, not perfecting) and becoming a more efficient contributor in Year 2. We could see a 1-2-3 punch of offense sourcing from Goran Dragic, Whiteside, and Winslow — probably in that order.

Winslow becoming an igniter offensively would radically shift the six-foot ceiling being set for the team in the preseason.

A fierce and versatile defender already, he’s shown glimpses as a passer who possesses an excellent feel for the game. Developing into a moderate 3-point threat would take his offensive potential to another realm, freeing up more space to attack both on and off the ball. We just don’t what he is yet because he hasn’t been given the opportunity offensively and showed a broken jump shot in his rookie season. But it was a 19-year-old rookie season…

I’m also confident in Dragic, Whiteside and, to a lesser extent Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, not only increasing their scoring output to make up for the departing points, but to do so at a respectable levels of efficiency because all three are proven to be efficient scorers.

Dragic was essentially playing with a collar around his neck the last two years. Every time Wade pounded the rock, Dragic’s elite attacking skills were rendered useless. He’s not a great off-the-ball weapon. With a higher usage, he can tap into the type of imposing player he was during the 2013-14 season, something I’m sure the low expectationers are failing to properly consider.

As for Whiteside, this is a developing big man with a rare combination of size and skills who has a chance to post historical numbers next season. So long as he’s playing for the team first — the stats will come naturally — the potential for him to become a Top 20 player is very real.

The league’s No. 7 defense last season should improve slightly with athletic and willing youngsters inhaling the sluggish defensive minutes of Wade and Johnson, who both might’ve been solid defenders in their respective primes but appeared to be sliding their feet in slow motion last season.

Reminder: Miami’s defense allowed eight points per 100 possessions more with Wade on the court last year. Combine that with his high-volume scoring and his net contribution was closer to a wash than many could’ve imagined.

There’s a deep combination of factors for why I’m higher on the team than most but in essence the Heat’s recipe for success, and the potential for matching or surpassing(!) their 48 wins from a season ago, will rely primarily on:

1. An elite, slightly improved defense

2. Winslow’s ascension

3. Similar offensive efficiency but a different style

The team’s offense is going to look much different stylistically with some heavy isolation scorers departing but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be worse collectively. It’s just going to take a different recipe, one that if predicated on more ingredients has a good chance to become a better, more sustainable offense down the road.

Now while the Heat will have a tough time eclipsing their 48 wins from last year they can still improve even if they end up with a few wins under. It’s much easier to defend an isolation-heavy team, like last year’s group, that depended heavily on ball-dominant veterans than an offense predicated on movement.

For Vegas, ESPN, and NBA insiders predicting a losing season for the Miami Heat, y’all are drunk.

Mark me down for 45.