So much of the Heat’s success will rest on the growth potential of three key pieces of the young core - Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow and Tyler Herro. And the early signs are encouraging.
What’s realistic to expect from each of them and what are their ceilings?
Before the season began last week, I solicited input on that from a veteran scout and from TNT analyst Stan Van Gundy, the former Heat, Pistons and Magic coach.
The background: Averaging 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.3 blocks and 31.8 minutes in four games this season... That’s a big jump from the 8.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists, in 23.3 minutes per game.
Last season, he allowed players he was defending to shoot 44.6 percent, which was good -- 13th among all centers who played at least 50 games. This season, he’s even better, holding players he’s defending to 37 percent shooting....
And there has been clear offensive growth. Last season, he shot 32 for 90 from 10 feet and beyond, an offseason area of emphasis. This season, he’s 5 for 12 on those shots.
Van Gundy’s take on what Adebayo can be (again, offered before the regular season started): “I like him for them. This is true of a lot of players; a lot of it comes down to what do you want him to do? I think he’s a great fit; he can be an above average [center] for them, because he can defend and move his feet.
“He gives them a lot of flexibility defensively. He’s great in pick and rolls. He brings great energy. His consistency has gotten to where he can make a mid-range jumper. He can be above average at his position. He can get them more to where they want to play.”
A veteran Eastern Conference scout’s take: “Being an All Star is a stretch. But he can be a very good complementary starter. He can be a Brook Lopez level player in terms of level but not specific skill set; he’s obviously better defensively than Lopez but obviously not the shooter Lopez is.
“He’s certainly a piece of a winning program, even a championship program but you’ve got to surround him with high-level talent. You need three scorers around him in this day and age.
“He can score enough. He is good defensively. His rebounding hasn’t turned out to be an issue and I thought it would be. He’s become a better rebounder.
“His offense has gotten somewhat better. He can be an 11 points, 8 rebounds, two blocks guy, maybe more. His switchability on defense is obviously above average for a big. It’s a nice term in NBA lexicon - switchability - and that’s more important than shot blocking and that’s one of his greatest strengths.
“He can handle but does he make plays? I don’t see him as a playmaker like Andrew Bogut. He can advance the ball, which is good, play dribble handoffs. But how much advantage is that? A modest advantage.”
The background: Averaging 14.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists through four games, but shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and playing a lot more than a year ago (37.8 minutes per game).... Last season, he averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists and shot 43.3 percent, in 29.7 minutes per game....
His three-point shooting actually dropped from 38 percent to 37.5 last season, though he made more (96 compared to 49 the previous year).... This season, he’s off to a 3 for 10 start on threes after going 0 for 12 in preseason....
One big early areas of improvement: Last season, the player he was defending shot 47.1 percent, compared with the 45.6 percent they shot overall. This season, it’s 31.3 percent, which is obviously elite.
Golden State’s Draymond Green - the player former coach and TV analyst Doug Collins and others have said Winslow should aspire to be - allowed players he was defending to shoot 42.3 percent last season.
Van Gundy’s take on Winslow’s upside: “He really found himself last year when [Goran] Dragic was hurt. They found a role for him as a quasi point guard, as a primary ball handler. That utilizes his intelligence and toughness, and he did a really good job. They can use him in that role when Dragic is on the bench.
“Can he find a role playing with Dragic and Butler? I like what Winslow showed last year and I’m anxious to see what the fit is now because he wasn’t nearly as effective playing off the ball. He had trouble finding an offensive niche when he’s off the ball. He hasn’t been a great finisher. [But] he’s a good defender, smart player. And Erik [Spoelstra] is as good as anybody in the league to play guys to their strengths.”
Asked what Winslow and Adebayo could eventually be, Van Gundy said it minimizes them to merely say they could be rotation players longterm on a good team: “I’m not sure either one of those guys can’t be starters on a good team. So much comes down to role. They will at least be good solid rotation players and more likely starters.”
Scout’s take on Winslow: “I don’t know if he can go to a much higher level than we’ve seen. His shooting got better. Can he maintain it would be my question. Can he consistently maintain a 38 three point percentage? I don’t see him shooting 40 from three.
“The rest of his offense is suspect. He has had trouble finishing. I don’t see him as a high teens scorer. You probably want him as a one [point guard] because it reduces the offensive liability component.
“I don’t see a heck of a lot of upside there beyond what we’ve seen. An All Star? Definitely not. But he’s a very good complementary player. Their faith has been rewarded. He’s a rotation player on a real good team.
“Is he a four? Is he a one? His versatility is his major selling point. Defensively, he’s above average; he holds his own, can guard a lot of positions.
“As far as the Draymond Green comparison [that Collins and others have raised], he’s not quite the passer Draymond is; Green is top 10 in assists. Winslow is not quite the rebounder Green is. You could argue if Winslow were playing with [Steph] Curry and [Klay] Thompson, he would probably get more assists. Green is perceived as a great defender.”
But Winslow is now the better three-point shooter, with Green’s three-point percentage sliding from 38.8 in 2015-16 to 30.8, 30.1 and 28.5 the past three seasons.
Has exceeded expectations so far, averaging 16.3 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 36.8 percent on threes.
Herro is ESPN analyst Tracy McGrady’s preseason choice for Rookie of the Year, and ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins - after Herro’s 29 point game Tuesday - tweeted:
“This kid Tyler Herro is Special. He can shoot, nice handles, sneaky athletic, good IQ and he can defend!!!”
Scout’s take, on Herro: “He’s better than what I thought. People insisted he’s a better shooter than his numbers indicated in college and he’s proving to be, albeit in a limited sample size. His stroke is fine. He can get the shot off.
“He’s got upside as a very good complementary starter. I don’t see him as an All Star, but he could be the fourth-best guy as a starter on a good team. That seems to be viable. Can take guys off the dribble. Good all-around player. Good IQ. Can he guard quick guys? That remains to be seen. Will he become an above average starter? That’s within the realm of possibility but not clear to me at all.”
What about JJ Redick as a potential comparison to aspire to be? “Redick had an unbelievable college career, above 40 in three in college [40.6 at Duke],” the scout said.
“Herro played one year and shot 35 on threes. That’s not fair to Redick. Redick is one of the best pure shooters in the league in the last 10 years. Herro is more diverse but [it’s too soon to say he’s] an elite pure shooter at this point. But I expect him to be a good NBA player.”
Van Gundy’s take: “Herro can shoot the ball and seems to have courage to shoot the ball and they definitely can use shooting. I’m not sure they have anybody on their team you can classify other than him and say that guy is a knock down shooter.
“Jimmy has shot the ball pretty well over the last few years; he’s a pretty good shooter but not a high volume three point shooter. They need shooting. Dion Waiters is an up and down guy shooting the guy. They need a shooter” and the hope is Herro can be that.
Van Gundy made his comments before Kendrick Nunn’s strong start to this season.
Dion Waiters was contrite in his meeting with Heat officials and rejoined the team for practice today, but is still working toward meeting the team’s conditioning requirements. He didn’t travel to Atlanta... James Johnson met the requirements and traveled to Atlanta... Derrick Jones Jr. and KZ Okpala are out Thursday with injuries... Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller call Thursday’s Heat-Hawks game for TNT. Miller, one of the best shooters in NBA history, said he’s eager to see Herro.
Here’s my Wednesday UM 6-pack.
Here are my Wednesday Dolphins tidbits.