Miami Heat Weekly Observations: Do They Have Enough Depth?
Udonis Haslem's newfound importance, the Miami Heat's knack for drawing charges, Bradley Beal's future and explaining Ye vs. Drake.
MIAMI — Udonis Haslem walks, talks and, if only by the grey in his beard, looks every bit of a grizzled vet. Teammates and coaches respect him, and he carries a gravitas that can only be earned with time.
So when the 41-year-old forward checked into Wednesday night’s win against the New Orleans Pelicans at FTX Arena, it should be no surprise that the crowd welcomed him with roaring cheers. What may be surprising is that Haslem, in his 19th season, was able to help the Miami Heat erase a 15-point deficit and earn a comfortable home win.
“UD gives you that emotional ignitability,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s tangible. You can’t put an analytic to it, but he gave us a great emotional spark.”
This spark was no more evident than in the third quarter, when Jimmy Butler found a sprinting Haslem for a left-handed layup that inspired cheers from FTX Arena. Then Haslem turned, got back on defense and stifled rookie Trey Murphy III’s dunk attempt. With the crowd buzzing, the Heat got out in transition and Gabe Vincent hit a 3-pointer to give Miami a 10-point lead late in the game. Haslem held up three fingers on each hand as he was showered with cheers.
This series underscored Haslem’s newfound importance to the Heat on the court this season. After spending years swearing he can still contribute, Haslem has already surpassed his minutes total from last season as the Heat plan to incorporate him more in the rotation.
With Bam Adebayo nursing a knee injury in Wednesday’s win, Dewayne Dedmon was Miami’s only proven center available. After trying out prospects KZ Okpala and Omer Yurtseven as backups, Spoelstra turned to the player who has spent the whole of his career in Miami.
Haslem’s line doesn’t wow — two points on one shot, three rebounds, an assist and a block in seven minutes — but the number that matters most is in the far right end of the box score: Plus-12.
“He makes everybody better,” Butler said.
Playing Haslem more is not an act of desperation or merely playing to the crowd. After acquisitions of veterans Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker, team president Pat Riley and Spoelstra told Haslem over the offseason that there would be more opportunities for playing time this season.
“This year, this team is more of a veteran team and I think it just fits for those kind of spot minutes,” Spoelstra said. “He’s right in his element. Those guys all speak the same language. And again when you look at it, the emotional lift that he can bring this group is pretty evident.”
Unfortunately, this was the one year in which Haslem was not ready for the start of the season. Haslem missed training camp and the first five games as he mourned the death of his father, Johnnie Haslem, who passed on Aug. 30 at age 70. The 1 on 1 matchups with Butler on the practice floor, the sage advice for his younger teammates, facilitating conversation between coaches and players — all the things Haslem has done to help the Heat behind the scenes for years — were paused.
Haslem didn’t make his first appearance until the sixth game of the season, when he logged 2:49 in Memphis on Oct. 30. He’s played about once a week since as the Heat navigate multiple injuries. Once Adebayo and Markieff Morris (neck) return, there will be more people in front of Haslem on the depth chart. But the Heat are a bumped knee or a tweaked ankle away from calling Haslem’s No. 40 again.
Long-term, that may not be ideal. Asking Haslem to provide an emotional spark during the doldrums of the regular season is one thing, but what if the Heat suffer an injury to the frontcourt in the postseason? Beyond Adebayo and Dedmon, Miami doesn’t have a rotation-caliber center on the roster. Haslem is the only line of defense between them and thrusting Okpala or Yurtseven into major minutes.
The Heat would be wise to seek out frontcourt help before the March trade deadline. While Riley doesn’t have much to offer in a trade beyond replaceable young players and a distant first-round pick, he could survey the buyout market for help. If Kevin Love, Thaddeus Young or Derrick Favors agree to terms with their current teams, any would significantly deepen Miami’s bench.
However, any sort of addition could be months away. For now, the Heat will continue to rely on Haslem for occasional spot minutes and the emotional edge only he can provide.
“You don’t focus on the things you can’t control, you just focus on the opportunities that you have and seizing the moments,” Haslem said. “That’s all I’ve been trying to do.”
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Let’s get to the games…
Monday, Heat at Thunder: Elite at drawing charges
Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker get a lot of attention for being elite at drawing charges, but Max Strus is mounting a darkhorse campaign to be considered Miami’s top charge drawer. In Monday’s 103-90 win in Oklahoma City, Strus took two charges and is now tied with Lowry for the most drawn charges on the team. Keep in mind that he missed five games with a knee injury, and that hasn’t stopped him from sliding in front of danger.
Here’s a clip of those charges. His anticipation is next level. On the second charge, Aaron Wiggins never sees him coming. Wiggins, who doesn’t even put up a fight with the official, looks like he’s seen a ghost.
The Heat are the only team with three players in the top 16 in charges drawn in the league. That’s not a championship-swinging skill, but it does say a lot about the team’s effort each night. Miami also leads the league in rebounding rate and is fourth in offensive rebounding rate. Basically, these dudes thrive in any category that requires body-to-body contact. The Heat are the best football team in the NBA.
Wednesday, Heat vs. Pelicans: Rest takes center stage
It’s been a rough schedule to open the season for the Heat. Nine of their first 15 games were on the road, including a taxing five-game swing on the West Coast. Only a back-to-back set at home separated that trip from an upcoming four-game excursion. Understandably, Erik Spoelstra is trying to build in opportunities to get his guys some rest.
Against the Pelicans on Wednesday, who were 2-13 at the time, Spoelstra decided to rest Kyle Lowry and Bam Adebayo while Jimmy Butler made his return after missing four games with an ankle sprain. Hosting the Wizards 24 hours later, Herro was ruled out with a wrist issue that didn’t appear to bother him when he was scoring 17 points in the second half against New Orleans.
This could become a trend this season. With a core rotation with five players age 32 or older, Miami’s top priority is making sure they are healthy for the playoffs.
“The schedule has been pretty intense,” Spoelstra said. “We’ll manage the schedule throughout the year when we feel it is necessary. We’re not predetermining things, but there are certain parts of the schedule that are a little bit more intense.”
The big question is: How many games will Miami’s veterans miss for rest, and how many of those games can they win? They nabbed one this week. The Heat have 11 more back-to-back sets this season, including next week’s games in Detroit on Tuesday and Minnesota Wednesday.
Thursday, Heat vs. Wizards: The Gabe Vincent game
Herro missed his first game of the season with a right wrist injury he suffered on a block attempt against the Pelicans, and as of Thursday night, it’s unclear how much time he may have to miss. If backup guard Gabe Vincent’s recent play is an indication of what he can contribute, it could lessen the blow.
Vincent finished Thursday’s win with 18 points on 6 for 12 shooting, bringing his total over the back-to-back set to 31 points on 45.8% shooting. He’s a decent athlete and his 3-point shot appears to have stabilized after a rocky start to the season. Since missing 11 of his first 12 3-point attempts, Vincent is 7 for 14 from deep over the last three games. Against the Wizards, he played with Herro-like confidence, slashing to the basket and stepping into jumpers. He’s also a reliable ball-handler who boasts a safe assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5) and earnest defender.
“I see the work that he puts in and I know he's a great shooter,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a matter of getting comfortable and I think that’s what your seeing.”
Backup point guard was considered a weakness for the Heat entering the season. Beyond Lowry, they don’t have a true point guard on the roster. Even Vincent, at 6-foot-3, has logged plenty of minutes alongside Lowry through the first month of the season. But if the 25-year-old can play consistently well, it could curb the club’s enthusiasm to add a veteran point guard before the trade deadline.
“Kid can play man,” Butler said. “He’s definitely going to change the game for us a lot this year.”
This brings up the recent John Wall rumors. According to reports, Wall, 31, is not willing to give up money in order to facilitate a buyout from Houston. The Rockets would obviously prefer to trade him. With nearly $90 million left on his deal, that’s probably not happening. The guess here is that both sides eventually settle on a buyout. If that’s the case, the Heat would have interest, as the Miami Herald reported.
Two games isn’t enough to make any conclusions, but if Vincent is the real deal, the Heat can make decisions from a position of power. Maybe they would still want Wall. Or maybe they could seek upgrades elsewhere in the frontcourt or on the wing. Either way, early signs are that Vincent could be the latest developmental find for Miami.
🍩 Ye vs Drake: It appears the beef between Kanye West and Drake has been squashed. In an Instagram post this week complete with a photo (but missing Ye’s eyebrows) the two rappers announced their reconciliation. The rocky history between the two is dense and not something we need to get into here, but it culminated this summer when the two megastars were each due to release their highly-anticipated albums. Eventually, “Donda” and “Certified Lover Boy” were released and both spent time at the top of the Billboard charts. Now many are wondering what change resulted in Yeezy and Drizzy coming together. Well, as Mr. West explained in a recent interview, the beef was never meant to be permanent.
“Life is like the NBA, and people are either on your team or they’re on another team. And everybody plays games in different kinds of ways,” West said on Drink Champs. “It’s like away games and home games like in football. This is professional rap.”
Allow me to explain: Just like in a basketball game between the Heat and the Jazz, there was a clock on Ye vs. Drake. The buzzer sounded when the two albums dropped. During a game, Bam Adebayo and Donovan Mitchell will go at each other with the utmost competitiveness. They might block each other’s shots, foul one another, talk trash. Then afterward, they might grab some food and resume being friends. Same thing for Ye and Drake. The game is over.
🍩 What I’m drinking: Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea Bourbon. Big tropical fruit notes and great by itself on the rocks. More of a summer drink, but it’s Florida so it works.
🍩 Camera roll dump: Here’s Jimmy Butler shamelessly shilling Dwyane Wade’s new memoir, Dwyane, during his post-game press conference Thursday night.
🍩 Sunday pick: The Dolphins are 3.5 point favorites over the Jets in New York. The Jets will be starting Joe Flacco, and I trust Miami’s improved pass rush to get pressure on the statuesque 36-year-old. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but gimme the Dolphins to cover.
Programming note: No Tortured Dolphins Fan column this Sunday since I’ll be out of town for the weekend. See you next week!