It’s understandable for Miami Heat fans to be pessimistic with the team’s 1-2 start.
Especially while Dwyane Wade is toasting in Chicago, hitting an astonishing 56 percent of his 3s, and Justise Winslow is 1 for 11. While Dion Waters pumps out nauseating inefficiency (41% FG) and Chalmersian turnovers (over three per game). While the Heat rank 21st and 15th in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively.
However, fans can take solace in the fact the two losses were against high-quality opponents and in both games we saw glimpses of a playoff-caliber team.
We’re only three contests in and all stats should be dipped in salt as we wait for a respectable sample size to plant its roots. But it’s okay to sift through data and track these flashes for sustenance.
Looking exceptional is Miami’s starting lineup of Goran Dragic, Waiters, Winslow, Luke Babbitt, and Hassan Whiteside. This lethal combination — Waiters, included — has outscored opponents by 32.5 points per 100 possessions in 38 minutes of play, leading the league (minimum of 30 minutes), per NBA.com.
Yes, it’s even better than the Cavs’ top five-man combo (No. 3), so far.
And it’s reasonable to expect Miami’s opening group to become more dangerous once Josh Richardson returns and is inserted for Waiters (in all likelihood).
Another positive: Despite Winslow’s inability to find a groove from the perimeter — and there’s still plenty of time to turn it around — he’s showing the skills to be a potent attacker off the dribble.
Winslow double crossover and finish over two defenders. Beautiful https://t.co/bxGKKEXurQ
— James (@SportsTakeJames) October 27, 2016
This is evident both from the eye test and the numbers.
— FOX Sports Florida (@FOXSportsFL) October 31, 2016
His assist percentage has more than doubled from a year go, up from 7.4 percent to 16.5 percent. While it looks awkward at times and he’ll never be as smooth as a Wade, Winslow has been able to consistently slice into the paint, showing goods as a creator.
Winslow ⬆️ Whiteside pic.twitter.com/Jr9GaH93Su
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) October 29, 2016
Then there’s Hassan Whiteside, a dynamo on both ends who is still searching for consistency at theline (52%). Defensively, he’s not only leading the league in blocks but he’s holding opponents to an absurd 23 percent shooting at the rim, which also paces the league (minimum of eight attempts). The next closest man is third-year rook Joel Embiid at 35 percent. Rudy Gobert led the way last year at 41 percent.
He also did this.
— Josh Baumgard (@joshbaumgard) October 27, 2016
Whiteside appears to be lurching less for swats which equates to a smarter more stable last line of defense.
Averaging 21.7 points, 14.7 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks, the last player to finish with 21-14-3 in points-rebounds-blocks was Hakeem Olajuwon in 1990. And this is with Whiteside averaging just 31 minutes (had foul trouble against the Spurs) while Hakeem was at 38 minutes a night that year.
At this stage of the season it’s about seeing signs of growth for the Heat, especially from its young core, and this has been blatantly apparent in Winslow and Whiteside in addition to a very productive starting lineup so far.