2020-21 Record: 40-32
Patrick James Riley is 76 years old and no less competitive than he was pacing the sidelines for the Lakers, Knicks, and Heat. He certainly wants to win another championship before he retires. Riley and Butler made sure the long-held expectation that Kyle Lowry would join the Miami Heat this offseason held firm. However, the Heat were forced to part ways with Precious Achiuwa and Goran Dragic—the apparently unpaid model for Big Face Coffee—in the sign-and-trade that brought Lowry to Biscayne Bay. The Heat are hoping Lowry’s three-point shooting, playmaking, and toughness imbue the team with new life and help them recapture some of the bubble magic that escaped them last season. Everything starts with their three stars— Butler, Lowry, and Bam Adebayo—and they need those players to remain healthy if they want to reach their full potential and secure a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. The Heat will be leaning heavily on their player development this season. Players like Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, KZ Okpala, and Omer Yurtseven could be more central to the Heat’s success than anyone outside the organization ever expected.
Kyle Lowry is the headliner of this position group and he should comfortably finish the year with the best fantasy output. Lowry is a somewhat inefficient, but productive two-way guard. He’s getting older and you can probably comb through his stats over the past few seasons to find evidence of age-related decline, but there’s still plenty left in the tank. He’ll provide plenty of three-point shooting, assists, and steals. He’s probably better in Head-to-Head leagues than Roto due to that inefficiency, but he’s ultimately a solid option in both formats. Basketball Monster projects him to have fifth-round value. Last season he averaged, 17.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 1 steal, while shooting 43% from the field, 39% from three, and 87% from the free-throw line. Lowry is a career 42% from the field so you shouldn’t expect an uptick in overall field goal efficiency. I expect Lowry’s stats to look pretty similar to last season, with maybe a slight uptick in free-throw attempts. Lowry certainly benefited from the league’s friendlier foul rules in recent seasons, but I’m expecting that a more normal off-season helps rejuvenate him, allowing him to get to the line just a bit more.
Tyler Herro is a score-first combo guard, but I’m listing him as a point guard because I expect him to be the primary ball-handler and playmaker on the second unit. With Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn gone, Herro will have to shoulder more of the scoring and playmaking load whenever Lowry isn’t on the floor. Herro is in line for a bounce-back season after a mild step back from his bubble transcendence. The incredibly well-kept secret about Herro is that he improved in almost every area except three-point shooting last year. Here are the numbers from Herro’s first two seasons in the association:
2019-20: 13.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.6 steals, and 0.2 blocks, while shooting 42.8% from the field, 38.9% from three, and 87% from the free-throw line.
2020-21: 15.1 points, 5 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 0.6 steals, and 0.3 blocks, while shooting 43.9% from the field, 36% from three, and 80% from the free-throw line.
I consider last season to be the groundwork for the step forward Herro will take this year. Herro suffered a very slight dip in True Shooting percentage—55% in 2020 and 54.3% in 2021—which can be traced, in part, to his worse three-point shooting. If we dig deeper into Herro’s three-point distribution we can see the outline of the role he’ll take on this season. Herro took 298 threes in 2019-20 and 297 threes in 2020-21, but he was 72 for 163 on catch-and-shoot threes in his rookie season (44.2%). In year two, he was just 59 for 149 (39.6%) from three, still a respectable percentage, but the dip in total attempts foreshadowed what should be increased on-the-ball responsibilities this season. Herro has yet to make pull-up threes at anywhere near the same efficiency—33.1% in 2020 and 32.9% in 2021—but very few players shoot well on pull-up threes. If Herro can find a good balance between catch-and-shoot and pull-up attempts while raising his pull-up three-point shooting numbers, maybe to 34%, the perceptions about his game will change drastically.
Furthermore, Herro has looked sharp in the Heat’s first three preseason games. You should take all pre-season numbers with a massive grain of salt, but here they are nonetheless: 25.3 points, 5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.3 blocks while shooting 56% from the field, 50% from three, and 85.7% from the free-throw line. Let me be clear, Herro isn’t going to shoot 50% from the field or on threes during the regular season, obviously. But the strong performance and good vibes are great to see. All indications are that Herro has added weight and improved his strength and looks bouncy and refreshed coming into the season. He’s a solid late-round option with potential for a surprise season.
Gabe Vincent has shot 38% or better from three in a number of basketball contexts—college, the G-League, and FIBA World Cup play—but his shooting ability hasn’t yet translated to his time in the NBA. He shot just 30.9% (46 of 149) from three last season. If he can find his stroke, he can give the Heat some extra guard depth, especially while Oladipo is out. However, he likely won’t be anything but a points and threes streamer when one of the team’s better guards misses time with injury or load management.
I hinted at this in laying out my expectations for Tyler Herro this season, but it’s nearly impossible to understate the abnormality of the 2020-21 season. The Heat were eliminated in the NBA Finals on October 11th, 2020 and they began the 2020-21 NBA season on December 23, 2020. That compressed schedule and the overwhelmingness of a Covid plagued season may have had something to do with the lower shooting numbers from Duncan Robinson. Here are the full stat lines:
2019-20: 13.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.5 steals, and 0.3 blocks, while shooting 47% from the field, 44.6% from three, 62.5% on twos, and 93.1% from the free-throw line.
2020-21: 13.1 points, 13.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.6 steals, and 0.3 blocks, while shooting 43.9% from the field, 40.8% from three, 62.5% from two, and 82.7% from the free-throw line.
It’s somewhat insane to say that a player is a better shooter than they showed in their previous season when they shot as well as Duncan Robinson did last season, but that’s my belief. Robinson is one of the best shooters on the planet and I expect him to shoot better from all three areas next season. It’s unfair to expect him to shoot as well as he did in 2019-20 since that was arguably one of the best three-point shooting seasons in NBA history, but even raising his three-point percentage to 42% would improve his overall numbers. Something to keep in mind with Duncan Robinson is that he mixes volume and efficiency like only a handful of players in NBA history. His size allows him to take and make threes over strong contests and he’s led the NBA in catch-and-shoot three-point attempts the past two seasons—498 in 2020 and 458 in 2021. It’s of course true that Robinson’s drop from 44% to 40% is well within the range of variance for even the best shooters, but I think things are set up for Robinson to improve on that number this season.
Victor Oladipo is a combo guard who can do a little bit of everything when healthy and he could be a big swing piece for the Miami Heat this season if he’s able to return at even 75-80% of what he was at his best. If the reports are true—that Oladipo’s quad tendon was not properly reattached in previous surgeries—then there could be reason for optimism. However, there’s no guarantee Oladipo is ever healthy again. He would be an incredibly risky draft choice in fantasy and his output likely wouldn’t warrant the risk. I’d prefer eating the lost games for a higher upside player like Pascal Siakam. You can comfortably add him to your watchlist and track the progress of his recovery.
Jimmy Butler continues to be one of the most impactful players in the NBA despite his awful three-point shooting. He had maybe the best season of his career last year, averaging 21.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.3 blocks, while shooting 49.7% from the field, 24.5% from three, and 86.3% from the free-throw line. I wouldn’t expect Butler to shoot as well from the field this season. His career shooting percentage is 45.8% and his previous season’s best was 47.4% in 2017-18. His assists numbers should see a small drop with Lowry on the roster. All that said, the statistical drop for Butler won’t be steep. 18 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1.8 steals seems like a reasonable, even conservative forecast for Butler. Butler finished the season ranked 18th in total value per Yahoo and Basketball Monster in 2019-20 and 11th in 2020-21. He’s been pretty consistent of late and I don’t expect that to change.
We’re starting to see the thinness of the Heat’s roster as Jimmy Butler is the only player I’m certain will be fantasy-relevant at either forward position on the roster. PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris, the most experienced players at the forward positions, simply won’t accrue enough stats to be useful in standard leagues. They may be streamable, at times, in deeper leagues, but there’s very little offensive upside for either player. The most interesting players at the forward spots are Max Strus, KZ Okpala, and Caleb Martin. KZ Okpala has, at moments, flashed some defensive ability, but he fouls too much and his complete inability to make an open three made him unplayable last season.
Max Strus would be the watchlist player of this group for me. He was given more freedom to explore the full breadth of his game at Summer League and had some nice moments. He shot 40% from three in Summer League (18 of 45) and 34% (50 of 147) from three during the regular season last year. Although he has a strong reputation as a shooter, he’s never shot 38% or better from three in college or the NBA. He has a little bit more of an off-the-bounce game than a player like Duncan Robinson, but what that amounts to is still unclear. It’s unlikely he ever rises above a points and threes streamer in standard leagues, but he has a bit more utility in deeper league formats. Strus scored in double figures eight times last season and given the lack of quality depth at the forward position, it’s a safe bet that he’ll have some moments over the course of a long season. Furthermore, there’s a decent chance he becomes a staple on the second unit, so he’s definitely worth monitoring in 14-team or larger leagues.
Bam Adebayo, Bam Adebayo, Bam Adebayo. Everyone in the Heat organization is bubbling over with belief in the young, versatile big. He’s ever-improving and showed some advancement in his mid-range shooting last season. He’s even talked about stretching out to the three-point line this season. I’m pretty confident that the best versions of Adebayo as a shooter will be in future seasons, but if he could knock down a corner three every other game, that has a positive impact on the offense. Whether Bam adds the stretch element to his game or not, he should have a strong season and could push for the first 20 & 10 (points and rebounds) season of his career. Last year he averaged 18.7 points, 9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1 block, while shooting 57% from the field, 35% from three, and 79.9% from the free-throw line.
Lowry’s arrival should help Bam get easy buckets in transition and out of the pick-and-roll. Lowry’s presence might also free up Bam to attack smaller or slower players from closer to the basket rather than so often facilitating the Heat’s motion offense from the high post. Not to mention, the Heat are going to need Adebayo to rebound well because they’re a relatively small team who could be playing even smaller for parts of most games. I’m expecting an improved Bam Adebayo this year and I’m expecting that improvement to show up in his fantasy production—points, rebounds, maybe even blocks. With better defenders around him and a full offseason to train and get his body right, Adebayo should be closer to the 1.3 blocks a game (99 total) we saw in 2019-20. I’m not sure it will even be perceptible, but I reckon Adebayo will look like a faster, springier athlete this year.
Dewayne Dedmon seems to be both a fan and organizational favorite in Miami, but sadly, this only improves his utility in fantasy basketball so much. The lack of depth at the center position benefits him, but he’s been a pretty uninspiring player the past few seasons. Not to mention, I’m somewhat concerned Omer Yurtseven could overtake him in the rotation if he can improve his defense, but maybe that’s more of a next season thing?
Omer Yurtseven flashed some shooting touch during Summer League and it’s clear he has some offensive upside, but the question is whether or not he’ll defend well enough to be trusted with real minutes. Again, however, the lack of depth at the center position is hard to overstate. If Dedmon were to get injured, Yurtseven would have to play. You’re not going to be thinking about these two players in standard leagues and you might want to avoid them even in deeper leagues.