Moore: The Miami Heat Won’t Maintain This Pace All Season

Moore: The Miami Heat Won’t Maintain This Pace All Season article feature image
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Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Jimmy Butler (22), and Bam Adebayo (13) of the Miami Heat.

I want to be clear here: I’m not saying the Heat are frauds, they’re just not 100% authentic.

As of Jan. 23, the Heat are 31-13 with the second-best record in the East and tied for the third-best record league-wide. They are also 5-2 against the Sixers, Raptors, Celtics, and Bucks, while also being 20-7 vs. teams under .500.

They have surpassed every preseason expectation and beaten high profile teams. They appear to be sitting pretty for a deep playoff run.

Yet I’m about to fade them into oblivion — at least for the rest of the regular season.


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Where There’s Heat, There’s Smoke (And Mirrors) 

The Heat have made more shots than they should to a degree that cannot simply be ascribed to personnel and coaching superiority. On the flip side, their opponents make fewer shots than they should to a degree that cannot be ascribed to personnel or coaching superiority.

Miami is 13th in expected field goal percentage per Cleaning The Glass, which is still good. However, they rank third in actual eFG%, which means they are shooting well above their expected outcome for all players.

This would be understandable if they were the Warriors, but a team playing multiple rookies along with Jimmy Butler, who’s shooting just 27% from 3-point range on just 2.6 attempts per game? That’s different.

But that’s not all, Miami ranks 21st in opponent expected eFG%, meaning their opponents should be shooting really well … but they’re not. The Heat have the ninth-best opponent actual eFG% league-wide. So teams can’t hit water if they fell out of a boat against the Heat.

In related news, before Dec. 1, the Heat’s defensive rating was below 105 (per NBA Advance Stats). It’s been 111 since Dec. 1, as opponents have gone from a 51.3% eFG to 53.9% (a major jump in league-wide trends) and opponents are shooting better from 3-point range.

Heat opponents have seen their expected eFG% to actual eFG% differential stabilize to within 0.3 percentage points since Thanksgiving.

The big key is the corner 3’s. Miami gives up the second-highest rate of corner 3’s in the entire league and yet opponents shoot the fourth-worst percentage. There is no “selective allowance” of various shooters that will account for that.

What’s more, oftentimes their pick-and-roll defense specifically rejects switches and brings help from the corner and they just don’t try that hard to get out to the corner.

Watch these sequences and ask if you think these are good looks, often from good shooters:

So opposing offenses’ luck has caught up with them. However, since Thanksgiving, they still have the fourth-best differential between expected shooting and actual. So the offense is still running hot. That’s going to come back down.

Take a look at some of these shooting numbers:

  • James Johnson: 45% on 3s | 64% eFG
  • Meyers Leonard: 43% on 3s | 62% eFG
  • Duncan Robinson: 43% on 3s (on 7.6 attempts per game!) | 64% eFG
  • Kelly Olynyk: 40% 3pt | 58% eFG
  • Goran Dragic: 39% 3pt | 54% eFG

The league average, by the way, is 35% from 3, 52.5% eFG.

Those aren’t stars. Those aren’t top-level guys. Those are role players. And I’m not saying they can’t shoot well. But drop the 43% and over guys down to 40% and the 40% guys down to 37% and the Heat’s season looks remarkably different.

The Heat are also relying on multiple first-year guys, specifically Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn (Robinson is a second-year player, but it’s his first year with real minutes and a real role).

Do you know what usually happens to those guys after the All-Star Break? The rookie wall.

We’re setting up for a perfect storm here. The Heat have losses to the Knicks, Nets, and Spurs during the last two weeks, and went to overtime with the Kings. In that same span, they beat the Spurs and the Thunder, but there’s a trend towards inconsistency.

Meanwhile, the market has caught up. Before Thanksgiving, the Heat were an average of a 1.3-point favorite. Since Thanksgiving, that’s up to their being a 2.9-point favorite on average. And since Jan. 1? The Heat are 3.4-point favorites on average.

For the season, the Heat are a phenomenal 25-17-2 against the spread, making them the third-most profitable team to wager on this season, according to our Bet Labs data. Since Thanksgiving, however, as they have fallen back to Earth ever so slowly, the are just 13-13-1 ATS. As a favorite? Just 8-11-1 ATS.

Oh, and one more note: The Heat are 8-0 in overtime games this season, an absolutely absurd figure in both quantity and success rate. The Timberwolves are the only other team with more than five games to go to OT and they’re 4-2.

The Heat will continue to be favored this season. They will benefit from increased exposure (they have five more national TV games this season, including one against the Clippers on Friday), making them more of a public team. And they are due for multiple regressions.

I don’t have a specific point for where to fade them, and there isn’t a future I can recommend with Orlando already 9.5 back for the division. But be ready, it’s coming.

And Now … The Twist 

I love their playoff chances. I don’t want to go in on an East future yet. But this team is very well built for a playoff run even if it slides in the standings. If the Heat wind up in a 3-6 or 4-5 matchup, they’re likely facing the Celtics, Raptors, or 76ers.

That means Butler vs. his old team in Philly, which has major consistency issues, plus the Heat have Bam Adebayo to counter him to some degree, along with better depth.

In a Heat vs. Celtics matchup, the Heat have both the shooting and athleticism to counter the Celtics’ perimeter weapons, and a better frontcourt (both Adebayo and Olynyk would start on Boston, and Adebayo would make them a legit contender).

Toronto is tougher, but the athleticism is there, and Butler showed he can drag a team to a Game 7 vs. the Raptors even when they had Kawhi Leonard.

And while the Bucks deserve the benefit of the doubt in a potential matchup, they’re another team that is vulnerable to hot shooting (See: VanVleet, Fred). If the Heat roll in there, Butler’s not going to be scared of the Bucks and will trash talk them into oblivion. The bigs can play to the perimeter with Brook Lopez, and the Heat have shooters who can get red hot and steal a game against the Bucks.

The Heat are 10-1 to win the East. I don’t like them on their own. But if you’re building a position? Miami has the best set of matchups for the teams ahead of them that you may find.

All the Heat’s regular-season smoke and mirrors can be real difference-makers in a playoff game. Adebayo, in particular, is just waiting for a Siakam-like emergence. He’s even showing playmaking:

Watch the sheer explosiveness here:

Adebayo would lose the Embiid matchup, but would have a fighting chance against any other matchup in the East. Herro is ready for big moments. Robinson is a pure shooter. They are well-coached, and discipline.

Do not sleep on the Heat in the playoffs. But you should absolutely sleep on the Heat in the second half of the season.