We’re just hours away from the Miami Heat’s opener against the Orlando Magic and it’s time for a quick preview in list form because that’s apparently the type of written content you people enjoy consuming the most.
Here are four (couldn’t think of five) wild predictions for the Heat this season.
1. Justise Winslow becomes a respectable shooter
It’s no secret that Justise Winslow must improve his perimeter shooting to become a well rounded star after hitting just 28 percent of his threes in his rookie season.
This year he will become at least respectable, hitting over 35 percent (about the league average) from behind the arc overall and over 38 percent from the closer-in corner three. Why? Because I believe in Winslow’s will and his preseason form looked smoother, hitting 36 percent of his attempts from deep.
Considering Winslow is likely to play 35-plus minutes regardless of his shooting, his improvement in this area would provide a serious boost to the Heat’s offensive potential. If not, the Heat will have spacing issues unless he’s playing at the 4 or 5.
2. The Heat will win over 40 games
The Heat’s over/under is 34.5 wins, per Bovada, which is personally horrifying considering my written prediction is an appreciably higher 45 wins.
So saying they’re going to win over 40 here can still be considered a bold prediction, as I consider 45 to be closer to their ceiling. The reasoning behind the optimism is two-fold: (1) They’re going to be a Top 8 defensive team this year with Joe Johnson and Dwyane Wade no longer acting as turnstiles on the perimeter; (2) While they no longer have as many big-brand players, their offense should still be respectable, it’ll just look much different — less isolation and more flow, with most of the action emanating off Goran Dragic penetration.
If Winslow or Tyler Johnson (or Dion Waiters) can’t step up as a secondary facilitator, there’s no question they’ll struggle to score efficiently in the half court, but, again, I’m banking on growth from Winslow here.
3. Hassan Whiteside wins Most Improved Player
Despite receiving no consideration for MIP in the preseason, Whiteside seems like an obvious and overlooked choice, especially considering voters place a heavy emphasis on improvement of raw statistics.
Consider this: Whiteside averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.8 blocks in 29.1 minutes of action last season. Per 36 minutes, and Erik Spoelstra mentioned he should play between 34 and 36 minutes this year, those numbers boost to 17.6 points, 14.7 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks.
And those stats were on a team where he was never the first option — this year he will be. Considering a definite increase in minutes and shots are in his future, it’s not crazy to expect Whiteside to average 20 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocks next season, becoming only the third player in NBA history to enter the 20-13-4 club since the NBA started recording blocks in the early 1970s. The only two members: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon (twice).
While I don’t think Whiteside has shown enough discipline yet to be considered among the league’s best overall defenders he should absolutely be on the preseason watch list for MIP.
4. No major trades by the deadline
I understand the Heat won’t be a contender this season barring some bizarre injuries across the East and perhaps a blockbuster trade but it’s not in Pat Riley’s DNA to tank, especially not after the summer he’s had.
I think this year will be about developing youth and finding an identity, while aiming for another playoff run. If they fall short and land a lottery pick, so be it.
While Riley is always probing for a monster trade which would act as a shortcut back to the NBA elite, I think it’s considerably more likely a deal occurs next summer. This season is about growth.