For the Heat’s seven returning rotation members, there’s at least something that each must prove, at least one area where improvement from 2018 is needed for this team to rise up the Eastern Conference standings:
▪ Bam Adebayo’s jumper.
For all of the Adebayo’s assets — including a unique ability to defend most every position on the floor — he must become a better jump shooter to expand a modest offensive game. Last season, he shot 22 for 59 (37.3 percent) from 10 to 15 feet, 7 for 16 (43.8) from 16 feet to the three-point line and 3 for 15 (20 percent) on threes.
Overall, he shot just 32.6 percent on all jump shots (42 for 129), per basketballreference.com.
After a summer of taking at least 100 “great, quality shots” during each workout, his said he’s nailing those shots more consistently. He knows that if he makes his jumper more often, “I’ll be able to play-make even more. [And] I’m trying to get myself to impact winning. I’ll do it in different ways than H [Hassan Whiteside] did. I’ll do it in different ways than I did.”
Whiteside, incidentally, twisted an ankle during the first few days of Portland’s training camp and is now sidelined for an undetermined period of time.
▪ Justise Winslow’s finishing and free-throw shooting.
Winslow has made great strides improving his three-point shooting (38.0 and 37.5 the past two seasons). But he knows he must be better at the rim; he shot 48.6 percent on layups (102 for 210), compared with 59.4 for Dwyane Wade, as a comparison.
And his 62.8 percent free-throw shooting last season must improve; he has never shot higher than 69 percent from the line as a pro, which is puzzling.
“I think the last couple years, I spent a lot of time focusing on the three ball and my finishing that I kind of forgot about the free throws,” he said. “But it’s a big part of the game.”
▪ Derrick Jones Jr.’s offensive game.
His energy, athleticism and offensive rebounding are valued. But to become a regular rotation member, there needs to be offensive growth. He shot 30.8 percent on threes (28 for 91) and just 28.9 percent (13 for 45) from 3 to 9 feet.
So he came to the arena all summer — even at “12, 1 in the morning” — and took thousands of shots, to the point “my wrist still hurts,” he cracked Monday. “I’m a sharpshooter now. I hope [defenders] play me the same way. Don’t box out, leave me open. If you all do that, I might average 20. They are going to foul me and I’m going to hit my free throws.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Jones “logged the most workouts in our facility in the offseason. You will see a stronger, more efficient, capable athlete. He made us, at one point, [need] to play him. But he wasn’t someone… we put him in ink. That’s the next challenge for Derrick Jones, to make sure we have him in ink as someone available and reliable.”
▪ Goran Dragic’s health and shooting efficiency.
The challenge is to remain healthy after last year’s knee injury (that limited him to 36 games) and show that last season’s decline in shooting (to 41.3 percent from the field, down from 47.7, 47.5 and 45.0 the previous three seasons) and on threes (to 34.8, from 40.5 two seasons ago) was an anomaly, or the result of rust and the knee injury - which is what the Heat believes.
“I feel way different, way better,” Dragic said. “When you are fresh after the injury or surgery, you need time to adjust. I had a whole summer to work on it. I feel good. The knee doesn’t swell up at all. I feel more comfortable now than a few months ago.”
The Heat believes he’s poised for a strong comeback year.
▪ James Johnson’s conditioning and overall game.
Coming off sports hernia surgery 18 months ago, Johnson’s impact last season was often negligible, and his numbers were down across the board, including shooting (down from 50.3 percent from the field to 43.3 percent).
“I had a terrible season, humbling experience,” he said. “[But] I will always play my best when my back is against the wall, so I like my chances this year.”
He’s off to a bad start, banished from training camp for not meeting the Heat’s conditioning requirements.
▪ Dion Waiters’ conditioning (lost 15 pounds) and the return of more forays to the hoop.
Last season, he fell in love with the three ball; 60.4 percent of his shots were three-pointers, compared with 32.5 percent during his best season here (2016-17). That’s probably too much, even though he became a better three-point shooter (37.7 percent).
Conversely, only 22.5 percent of his shot attempts were at the rim last season, compared with 34.2 during that 2016-17 season. And his overall number of drives — even those to set up teammates — dropped appreciably. That needs to change.
“His ability to really attack and break defenses down and get into the paint, it’s something that I think a lot of teams in this league are looking for,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is talking about the three-point ball and the three-point spacing, but you really notice teams and players that have an ability to break down defenses. That’s what Dion can bring.”
▪ Kelly Olynyk’s start.
The hope — especially after being sidelined to start camp with a knee injury — is to avoid another slow start, like the one last season where he shot 34 percent on threes before the break and 38.5 after. Spoelstra sounds committed to sticking with the Olynyk/ Adebayo frontcourt pairing; Miami outscored teams by 114 when they played together (third-best two-man combo on the team).
“I love what Kelly and Bam did last year,” Spoelstra said. “Their strengths bring out the strengths of the other guy. Their weaknesses mask the weaknesses of the other. It’s a very good tandem.”