Heat season preview: Can Miami take that final step to win a title?

Three seasons ago, the Miami Heat got all the way to the NBA Finals, coming within two games of taking home the fourth championship in franchise history, albeit in the COVID-19-related bubble in Orlando. Then, last year, they were within one game – and arguably one three-point attempt by star forward Jimmy Butler – from reaching the Finals again. Now, the team will look to take that final step and win a championship while Butler remains in his prime. The question is: Do they have enough as construed to get there? Because after this offseason, one in which they lost PJ Tucker to the conference rival Philadelphia 76ers without finding a replacement to start at power forward, there are questions about if the Heat have enough firepower for another deep playoff run.

Below, check out our season preview for the 2022-23 Heat.

Roster changes

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Returning: Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, Max Strus, Victor Oladipo, Dewayne Dedmon, Caleb Martin, Udonis Haslem, Marcus Garrett, Gabe Vincent, Haywood Highsmith, Omer Yurtseven

Additions: Nikola Jovic (Mega Basket, Serbia), Jamaree Bouyea (San Francisco), Jamal Cain (Oakland), Orlando Robinson (Fresno State), Dru Smith (G League), Darius Days (LSU)

Subtractions: PJ Tucker, Markieff Morris, Javonte Smart, Mychal Mulder

Strengths

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* Jimmy Butler has been one of the best players in the league since joining and is showing no signs of slowing down… Don’t believe us? How’s this: Since joining the Heat in 2019-20, Butler ranks fifth league-wide in total Win Shares (27.5), trailing only two perennial MVP contenders in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola JokicRudy Gobert and James Harden. Change that to BPM and Butler still sits in the Top 10. And Value Over Replacement Player? Butler is seventh there out of all players. So even without a reliable three-pointer, Butler’s scoring, playmaking and defending make him a two-way force, one that elevates his game to an even higher level in the playoffs. Lest we forget Butler just posted a 27.4-point, 7.4-rebound, 4.6-assist, 2.1-steal playoff run over 17 games. Can Butler be the best player on a team that wins a championship? Maybe, maybe not. But he can get you close as he has proven in two of the last three seasons.

* The team has strong depth around Butler… The loss of Tucker was a stinging one for Miami, especially to lose him to a potential playoff foe in Philadelphia. But even after Butler, the Heat boast another All-Star, All-Defensive Team-level player in Bam Adebayo, one of the league’s most unique and skillful two-way bigs, as well as Kyle Lowry, who looks to be heading into 2022-23 in much better shape than he was in last year. Then there’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Tyler Herro, and two more sharpshooting experts, Max Strus and Duncan Robinson. We can’t forget the two backcourt bulldogs Miami has in Gabe Vincent and Victor Oladipo, either, both two-way players who can get hot as scorers, too. Even Caleb Martin is coming off of a breakout campaign. A lot of those players may overlap positionally, making a trade for another frontcourt piece by the Heat plausible, but there’s no question Miami has nine guys they can count on any given night.

* Shooting and defense will be strengths again… Two of the most important areas for championship contenders to thrive in is with their outside shooting and with their ability to get stops on the other end. Miami should excel again in both after leading the NBA in three-point accuracy last season (37.9 percent) and ranking fourth in defensive rating (108.4). Why the team failed to reach the Finals was in part due to its three-point shooting abandoning it, as Miami hit just 31.3 percent of its threes in the postseason. If the Heat are able to stay hot next playoffs, we could see a different outcome for the South Floridian franchise.

* Erik Spoelstra remains one of the league’s elite head coaches… We don’t have to dwell on this one, as although he has yet to be named Coach of the Year in his career, Erik Spoelstra remains one of the brightest minds in the game, able to adapt his rosters to whatever challenges may arise and getting more out of his players than most of the league’s other head coaches.

Weaknesses

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* The frontcourt isn’t as strong as the wings and ball-handling positions… Outside of Adebayo, Miami has a whole lot of question marks in its frontcourt heading into 2022-23. Dewayne Dedmon is a tough, serviceable backup to be sure, but his impact isn’t felt enough on a nightly basis due to his style of play, more fitting for NBA basketball in the ’90s due to his struggles guarding out in space. Besides Dedmon, Omer Yurtseven is a solid finisher down low and can hoard rebounds and protect the rim, but he remains inexperienced. His upside is higher than that of Dedmon’s… can he take the next step and become Miami’s full-time backup to Adebayo? And that’s the center position, where the Heat are actually in pretty good shape. What about power forward, where things look grim after the loss of Tucker? For one, who is going to start? Is Martin ready to be a full-time starting NBA power forward? Will Miami go with two more traditional bigs at the 4 and 5 in Yurteven and Adebayo? Will Robinson take Tucker’s place and provide shooting for Miami as a stretch-4? Spoelstra has a lot to figure out in the frontcourt.

* How much will the loss of Tucker affect the defense? Miami has always prided itself on having an elite defense, full of high-energy players excelling on both ends of the court. Tucker was a huge part of that last season, often guarding the other team’s best player, always jumping passing lanes or drawing charges and putting his body on the line to grab loose balls. Will Martin be able to match that level of impact if he’s the one tasked with taking Tucker’s spot? The Heat still have Butler and Adebayo, two All-Defense-level guys, as well as Lowry, Oladipo and Vincent, all solid-to-good defenders in their own right. But the team does have Herro, Strus and Robinson, who often get targeted by opponents. Without Tucker around, it might be harder for Miami to hide those guys defensively.

* Does the team have enough scoring to win a title? This will ultimately decide the Heat’s season, as although Butler steps his game up to an elite level in the playoffs, Miami has still lacked that second consistent scorer in its last few postseason runs, which has caused it to fall short of its golden goal. Some would argue that if Miami had another at least Butler-level scorer, it could make serious noise on a championship hunt. Can Herro be that guy in the playoffs? He was in the 2019-20 postseason, but that was in the bubble and he has followed that up with two extremely forgettable playoff runs since then. Could it be Oladipo, who looks healthier than he has been in years? Or will this be the season Adebayo truly puts it all together and starts dropping buckets on a more consistent basis? If the answer is no to all of those questions, then the Heat could find themselves where they have been for the last few seasons: pesky, tough and talented but just not quite good enough to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Depth chart

Possible moves

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Miami could’ve matched Philadelphia’s offer to PJ Tucker by using their non-taxpayer mid-level exception but that would’ve hard capped them. Instead, they chose to keep their flexibility open in case they were able to acquire Kevin Durant or Donovan Mitchell since acquiring them could’ve put them over the apron. Also, they wouldn’t have been able to retain Martin had they used their mid-level exception on Tucker, and the salary difference between the two made it possible to bring back Oladipo as well.

The Heat are sitting with 14 players on their roster and are just $162,830 below the luxury tax. It seems that they will look to stay under it as long as the roster remains the same, but they could be open to going above it if a worthwhile trade opportunity comes along. Robinson and his $16.9 million salary makes him a logical trade candidate though a trade might be more realistic closer to the deadline when their other recent free agents become trade-eligible.

Prediction

1st in the Southeast division, 4th in the Eastern Conference (as voted by the HoopsHype staff)

Story originally appeared on HoopsHype