Because the Heat doesn’t have any superstars, it needs its bench - filled with skilled, highly paid players - to be consistently better than the opponent’s reserves every night. And that hasn’t happened, one reason for Miami’s 6-7 start.
• Kelly Olynyk’s first month has been decent - and very good at times - but he hasn’t yet taken the jump that the Heat would love to see after giving him a four-year, $50 million contract.
He seems hesitant offensively at times as he adjusts to a new team, is allowing the player he’s guarding to shoot 48.9 percent (third worst among all NBA forwards who have defended at least 30 shots) and has had a few games of limited impact (fewer than five points, five rebounds).
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Erik Spoelstra experimented with Hassan Whiteside and Olynyk playing together early on but hasn’t gone back to it since, though both players insisted that pairing had great potential.
His points and rebounds average (9.8 points, 5.8 rebounds) are up slightly over what he did playing comparable minutes in Boston last season (he’s actually playing a bit less - 19.8 minutes per game, compared with 20.5 last season). But his turnovers are up (1.3 to 2.3) as he assumes more ball-handling responsibility.
On the positive side, his shooting has been examplary - 54.2 percent from the field, 47.2 percent on threes.
He has a zero plus-minus, best of the Heat’s key bench players.
• James Johnson’s four-year, $60 million contract brought extra responsibility, to be sure.
He has excelled as a leader, from all accounts, and Spoelstra acknowledged that by making him one of three captains, with Udonis Haslem and Goran Dragic. His versatility is still an enormous asset. He’s holding the player he’s guarding to 44 percent shooting, compared to 47.1 percent that those players shoot otherwise.
His stats (12.1 points, 5.4 points, 4.3 rebounds) are very comparable to his numbers last season.
But for whatever reason - and part of this is likely beyond his control - the Heat hasn’t played nearly as well with Johnson on the court this season as last season.
The Heat outscored teams by 139 with Johnson on the floor last season. This season, Miami has been outscored by 30 with Johnson on the court.
Johnson has been generally productive but has a couple of recent clunkers and he’s 11 for 35 on three-pointers (31.4 percent) after shooting 34 percent last season.
Let’s be clear: Johnson’s swiss-army-knife skills are extremely helpful on this roster. Whether he’s ultimately good value at the sizable financial investment must still play out.
• Tyler Johnson was a plus 36 last season but stands at minus 13 this season.
When he’s shooting well, he’s one of the NBA’s top bench scorers, already with games of 23, 19 and 19 this season.
But there have been too many poor shooting nights so far: 3 for 9, 1 for 9, 1 for 6, 2 for 7 and 1 for 8 (twice).
As a result, his field goal percentage is down from 43.3 last season to 35.4 and his three-point percentage from 37.2 to 30.2.
And his scoring is down from 13.7 to 9.9 per game.
The 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio could be better.
He remains a value this season at $5.8 million. But the production must be more consistent when the salary skyrockets to $19.2 million the following two seasons.
• Of the Heat’s 16 best lineups in terms of plus/minus after the All-Star break last season, 10 of them featured Wayne Ellington. But his minutes per game are down dramatically, from 24.2 to 17.5.
Part of that can be attributed to the fact that Ellington needed to play more last year with Dion Waiters and Josh Richardson sidelined for a significant number of games.
As a result of fewer minutes, his scoring average has dropped from 10.5 to 7.1.
He’s shooting threes - his speciality - slightly better than a year ago, rising from 37.8 to 38.2 percent.
But his field goal percentage on two-point shots is down to 40 percent, from 50.9 last season. And he’s a minus 14 in plus minus compared with a plus 86 last season.
Bottom line: The Heat needs to have the better bench than the opponent on most nights, to compensate for a starting lineup lacking an elite player at either forward position or shooting guard.
And that means the key pieces on that bench must be at their best more often.
Here’s my Tuesday post on what Jimmy Johnson and Howard Schnellenberger told me about this UM team and the fun they’re having watching these Canes and how they might do against Alabama.
Here’s my Tuesday post with Adam Gase’s state of the Dolphins press conference.