Pat Riley acknowledged before the season this was the beginning of a rebuild for the Miami Heat.
With Chris Bosh unable to play again because of health issues, Dwyane Wade and a handful of other veterans gone from last season's second round playoff team, and nine new faces on the roster, the players themselves acknowledged it wasn’t going to be an easy transition. But no one expected the Heat to waddle into the midway point this bad.
At 11-30 following Friday night’s loss in Milwaukee, this matches the 1990-91 season – the third ever for the franchise – as the fourth-worst first half of a season.
The other four seasons that started this poorly ended with Miami losing at least 58 games and securing a top five pick in the NBA lottery. That’s ultimately where Riley, 71, could make the most important draft choice of his tenure.
For now, though, only the Brooklyn Nets have played uglier basketball than this Heat team league-wide.
A lot of it can be blamed on injuries. No team has had more players miss games than the Heat, who not only haven’t had Bosh, but lost Justise Winslow for the season to a torn labrum and aren’t sure if or when Josh McRoberts (foot stress fracture) will return this season. Through it all, coach Erik Spoelstra has shuffled through an NBA-high 17 different starting lineups.
Still, there is an overall sense of underachievement at the midway point for a team expected to go through growing pains, but not quite like this.
Here’s the midseason report card:
▪ Goran Dragic: Although he’s missed eight games due to back, ankle and elbow injuries, the Heat’s 30-year-old starting point guard has had his best season for the Heat. He’s leading the team in scoring, shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range, and had a stellar month of December (21.1 points, 6.7 assists). If he’s not traded away before the deadline, Dragic has proven he can be a reliable leader moving forward. Grade: A-
▪ Hassan Whiteside: He’s leading the league in rebounds, ranks top five in blocks, has been the Heat’s second-leading scorer most of the season at over 17 points a game and posted three games of at least 20 points, 20 rebounds. But there have been a handful of nights where Spoelstra has questioned Whiteside’s effort. He’s also regressed at the free throw line. For the most part, he’s lived up to the $98 million contract. Just not every night. Grade: B+
▪ Dion Waiters: Before he missed 20 games with a small groin tear, Waiters was beginning to flourish. He averaged 18.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists in his final eight games before going out of the lineup on Nov. 28. He’s also defended well, holding opponents to 5.4 percent below normal shooting percentage, second-best on the team. Still, he’s struggled with his shooting, especially finishing at the rim. Grade: C
▪ Justise Winslow: Outside of a career-high 23-point performance in a win over the Lakers, there weren’t many great nights for the Heat’s 2015 first round pick before he was lost for the season. He missed 16 games with a sore shooting wrist, shot 35.4 percent from the field and his defensive metrics were not good. He’s got a lot to prove when he returns next season. Grade: F
▪ Luke Babbitt: Of the four ‘power forwards’ on the roster, Babbit has made the most starts. But it’s been a bad season by his standards from the three-point line (36 percent). He’s a one-trick pony who hasn’t performed his usual trick nearly well enough. Grade: D
▪ Tyler Johnson: He would be a serious threat to win the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award if the Heat had a better record, but so far Johnson is showing signs it was worth it for Miami to match a back-loaded, four-year, $50 million deal this summer. He’s developed into one of the top three scorers in the league off the bench, a reliable late game weapon, a shot-swatter and he’s cleaned up his turnover prone ways of the past. Grade: A
▪ James Johnson: Signed to a one-year, $4 million deal this summer, the 29-year-old, 6-9, 250-pound forward has been the best of last summer’s off-season acquisitions. He’s having a career year and is not only the team’s best defensive player according to the metrics he’s also developed into a legitimate three-point threat. Together with Tyler Johnson, he’s formed one of the best tandems in the league off the bench. Grade: A
▪ Rodney McGruder: The final player to make the Heat’s 15-man roster coming out of camp has started the third-most games on the team. In an ideal situation, McGruder would be allowed to be more of what he is – a three-point shooter and solid defender off the bench. But he’s been asked to handle more than he should. Still, he’s been a decent surprise and should remain an inexpensive bench option next season. Grade: C+
▪ Willie Reed: He’s flashed with a couple of big statistical games when Whiteside was out for a week, but overall Reed remains the second-most seldom-used player on the roster because he’s a liability defensively. Like McGruder, Reed is another player being asked to do more than he should. Grade: C+
▪ Josh Richardson: A sprained MCL right before the start of camp got his season started off on the wrong foot and he hasn’t really recovered from it, sustaining ankle and foot injuries after that. There was a tiny stretch when Dragic was out that Richardson began to find his shooting stroke and did a good job leading. But like Winslow it’s been a little bit of a disappointing sophomore season in the league. Grade: C-
▪ Wayne Ellington: Normally pretty reliable health-wise, Ellington, 29, has missed 20 games because of a bruised thigh and a tight hamstring. He had a two-week stretch before the hamstring when he was becoming a pretty reliable scorer off catch-and-shoots. But overall his three-point percentage for the season is at a career-low 32 percent and he’s never been a good defender. Grade: D+
▪ Udonis Haslem: Outside of being the locker room leader, it’s clear Haslem, who said last year he thought he could play another three seasons, isn’t an oncourt contributor anymore. He’s playing less than anybody else on the team. Although he came in and defended DeMarcus Cousins well late in the Heat’s win in Sacramento last week, he’s really nothing more than an extra assistant coach these days on a bad team. Grade: C
▪ Josh McRoberts: He’s just never been able to stay healthy in a Heat uniform and although he was beginning to shoot better from three-point range (41.2 percent) and provided some help during his 14-game stint, he’s been one of the most disappointing signings all-time by Riley. Grade: F
▪ Derrick Williams: The Heat signed the 2011 No. 2 overall pick to a one-year, $4.6 deal hoping it could bring out the best in him. He’s not playing most nights per coach’s decision and shooting a career-low 39 percent from the field. Grade: F