When the Heat lost P.J. Tucker and didn’t add a veteran rotation player this past offseason, the organization knew that any chance of improvement needed to come from within.
A quarter into the season, the production of most Heat veterans remains comparable or down from a year ago, and two others haven’t played a minute due to injuries. That’s a big reason Miami entered Wednesday’s game in Boston with a sub- .500 record (10-11), even after three wins in a row.
Sizing up where the incumbents stand on the personal growth meter:
▪ Bam Adebayo: The offensive jump that everyone hoped would happen is finally happening, at least for now, with Jimmy Butler sidelined.
The scoring average has risen from 19.1 to 20.5, and the free-throw percentage has increased, from 75.3 to 86.3 (88 for 102).
His rebounds, assists and steals are slightly down, and the turnovers are slightly up, but Adebayo continues to diversify his offensive game, after being challenged by Pat Riley to become more aggressive offensively.
“I don’t remember when he played like this,” Washington’s Kristaps Porzingis said after Adebayo lit up the Wizards for 38 last Friday.
“I’ve been working on my touch, trick shots and just practicing those types of extended shots,” Adebayo said.
And this is meaningful: In the fourth quarter, he’s shooting 62 percent and 26 for 30 on free throws.
▪ Caleb Martin: This is a case of the numbers not telling the story.
Martin’s stats - per 36 minutes - are down from a year ago in points (14.5 to 12.5), rebounds (6.0 to 5.7) and field goal percentage against the player he’s defending (41.8 last season, 47.2 this season). His field goal percentage (48.6) and three-point percentage (40.9) are very good, but slightly below last year (50.7, 41.3).
But anyone who watches sees his game has grown; it’s no coincidence he leads the team in plus/minus at plus 63.
He has scored at least 20 points for three games in a row for the first time in his career. His assists are up (1.1 to 2.2 per game) and he’s justifying the increase in minutes (22.9 last season, 32.8 this season).
“Both ends of the court, he is really developing into a unique winning basketball player,” Erik Spoelstra said. “It shows you how much Caleb’s game has grown and changed.”
▪ Butler: He was up in rebounds, assists and steals before being sidelined with knee soreness, while scoring essentially at the same level as his previous two seasons here.
The biggest rise has been in three-point shooting, from 24.4, 24.5 and 23.3 percent in his first three seasons here to 35.5 (11 for 31). The field goal percentage against has risen from 44.3 last year to 48.4 this season.
▪ Kyle Lowry: When a more aggressive offensive bent was needed amid injuries to other, Lowry delivered, resulting in a slight scoring jump from 13.4 last season to 14.6 this season. His assists are down (7.5 to 6.2), in part because teammates are missing so many shots.
One concern is the drop in field goal percentage from 44 to 38.9, which would be his lowest since his rookie season (2006-07).
▪ Haywood Highsmith: The shooting remains a shortcoming (28.6 percent overall, 5 for 24 on threes), but the defense has been been exceptional; players he guards are shooting just 37.8 percent.
▪ Max Strus: His scoring has jumped significantly, from 10.6 in 23.3 minutes per game last season to 15.3 in 34.1. (Per 36 minutes, his scoring is essentially identical to a year ago, and his rebounding and assist numbers are down.)
The shooting percentages have dropped from a year ago, from 44.1 to 42.5 overall and 41.0 to 35.6 percent on threes. Players he’s defending have shot 46.5 percent, compared with 45.2 last season.
▪ Gabe Vincent: He remains a reliable backup and is fourth on the team in fourth quarter minutes.
Among rotation players, he’s best on the team in defensive field goal percentage against at 41.8; last season, players he guarded shot 44 percent.
His scoring, rebounds and assists are all up slightly, but the three-point shooting is down, from 36.8 to 30 percent (24 for 80), with a knee injury likely contributing to that.
▪ Tyler Herro: The triple double Sunday in Atlanta - the first of his career - showed the growth in his overall game, even on a night he missed 10 of 13 shots.
“Honestly, scoring probably doesn’t make Spo as happy as it does seeing me impact the game,” Herro said.
To that end, the rebounds are up from 5.0 to 6.5 per game in virtually the same playing time. The assists overall are down slightly, and so is his scoring from 20.7 (which led all NBA bench scorers last season) to 18.1 this season, which ranked 16th among starting shooting guards entering the week.
Like many of his teammates, the shooting percentages are down, from 44.7 last season to 42.5 this season and 39.9 to 33.7 on threes.
▪ Duncan Robinson: There has been clear improvement in his ability to create shots for himself and others off the dribble. But his shooting accuracy - his most unique NBA skill - has dropped from 37.2 to 30.6 (22 for 72).
▪ Dewayne Dedmon: He’s by far the worst on the team in plus/minus, with the Heat outscored by 47 points when he’s on the floor. The player he’s guarding is shooting 49.6 percent this year compared with 46.4 last season.
And perhaps because of a lingering foot injury, he’s averaging three fewer rebounds per 36 minutes, though his scoring is up seven points per 36. The overall contributions have increased since a slow start.
▪ Victor Oladipo, Omer Yurtseven, Udonis Haslem: Incomplete, with Oladipo and Yurtseven having not yet played and Haslem’s on-court role extremely limited.
Oladipo has improved enough to practice fully with the team this week, though it was a non-contact practice on Tuesday in Boston.
He’s with the team on four-game road trip that includes games in Boston on Wednesday and Friday and Memphis on Monday. But he won’t play on this road trip, Spoelstra said Wednesday.”
“He’s making progress,” Spoelstra said. “I do not have a timeline.”