Heat Check

What were the Heat’s biggest accomplishments this season?

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside goes to the basket against Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, March 12, 2017.
Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside goes to the basket against Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, March 12, 2017. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

After learning of their season-ending fate Wednesday night, Heat players weren’t exactly in the mood to discuss their accomplishments this season – especially becoming the first team in NBA history to climb out of a 19-game hole and finish at least .500.

“Right now it doesn’t mean nothing because we are full of emotions and it’s really tough to swallow that,” Goran Dragic said. “Probably in a couple of days when ... my head cools off a little bit, then maybe I’ll understand what we did.”

Despite the natural disappointment of missing the playoffs, there was plenty to be proud of from a team and individual perspective.

Here’s a list some of the more notable ones:

HASSAN’S REBOUNDING TITLE

Hassan Whiteside became the first Heat player ever to win a league rebounding title with a 14.1 average. He also became only the third player this century according to Elias – joining Chris Paul and Dwight Howard – to lead the league in two different statistical categories in consecutive seasons.

“It’s big, man,” Whiteside of winning the league rebounding title. “It’s not easy. I think leading the league in something that’s positive towards the team is something that’s not easy. You got coaches every night saying ‘This guy does this – he’s the best at this in the NBA’ and trying to stop you every night. For you to do it night in, night out is not easy.

“Any time you can get them records it’s always something nice.”

Hassan Whiteside tapped in a rebound off a Goran Dragic shot as the buzzer sounded Tuesday leading the Miami Heat to a 97-96 win.

Whiteside, who finished fourth in blocks (2.09) after leading the league in blocks last season, said he felt the biggest stride he made this season was becoming more vocal.

“I always tried to be a guy that leads by example,” Whiteside said. “Being more of a vocal person, that’s where I think I really made strides. Off the court too talking to guys, learning guys personalities.”

His teammates and coaches would say on the court Whiteside’s biggest improvements came in the way he defended the pick-and-roll and handled his defensive assignments overall. It was more from a team-first approach.

Whiteside’s 58 double-doubles set a franchise record and tied for fourth-most in the NBA behind only James Harden (64), Russell Westbrook (62) and Karl Anthony-Towns (62).

What did this season teach Whiteside?

“It showed me to never doubt the will of a person,” he said. “These guys showed incredible heart. I didn’t know these guys. I didn’t know JJ. I didn’t know Rodney [McGruder], none of these guys. The way they came out here and showed heart, that’s why I think we gelled so much because we had so many similar stories. Even our lottery picks. Dion, he's one of our few lottery picks on the team, a lot of people wrote him off for the season in the NBA. The way he came out, I just enjoyed watching his success. I just enjoyed all of it. Him doing ‘the lean back’ against the Warriors. I enjoyed all of it man. These guys are fearless.”

DESPITE THE INJURIES

This isn’t necessarily something to boast about, but something to remember in regards to what the Heat was able to accomplish: Miami was the most injured team in the league this season with 328 games missed because of injury or illness.

Yes, that includes Chris Bosh, who was on the books for $23.7 million and missed the entire season.

The Heat had Dion Waiters for only 46 games, Josh McRoberts for 22 games and Justise Winslow for 18 games.

Wayne Ellington missed 20 games total and Luke Babbitt missed another 14.

Waiters badly sprained his left ankle in Friday's win over Minnesota and talked about his progress before Sunday's game. March 19, 2017. Video by Manny Navarro

The long list of injuries coach Erik Spoelstra had to deal with is a big reason why I gave him my vote for the NBA’s Coach of the Year.

Houston’s Mike D’Antoni figures to receive a lot of support and rightfully so (I voted D’Antoni second). But the Rockets were the least-injured team this season and Spoelstra and the Heat went 2-0 against Houston despite being ravaged by injuries.

▪ As a team, the Heat finished 10th overall in net rating (+1.0). Of the top 17 teams in the league in net rating, the only one other team not to make the playoffs were the Charlotte Hornets (+0.3) who finished 12th.

▪ On defense, the Heat finished fifth in defensive rating (104.1), seventh in field goal percentage defense (45.0), third in three-point percentage defense (34.3 percent) and allowed the fifth fewest points in the league (102.1). Miami also allowed the fewest fast-break points in the league (10.3) and finished third in blocks (5.8).

MOST IMPROVED

James Johnson surpassed his career highs in many categories including points (12.8), rebounds (4.9), assists (3.6), steals (1.0), blocks (1.1), field goals made (368), three-pointers goals (87) made and free throws made (152).

His improvement this season was the largest in the NBA when factoring in points, rebounds and assists per game averages from last season to this season. According to STATS, Johnson +12.9 differential in those three categories were better than Denver’s Nikola Jokic (+12.1) and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (+11.0), next on the list.

Heat captain Udonis Haslem talks about the season, the players and his workout with Dion Waiters. April 11, 2017. V

Full disclosure, I voted James Johnson second for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award behind Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.

▪ Rookie Rodney McGruder started 65 games this season, the fifth-most by a Heat rookie in team history. League-wide, only Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon (4.1) and New York’s Willy Hernangomez (3.4) had more win-shares among rookies according to basketball-reference.com.

BENCH MASTER

Tyler Johnson averaged 13.7 points per game this season, the second-highest average in the league by a player with no starts. He totaled 1,002 points, 293 rebounds and 233 assists and had a franchise-record 11 games of at least 20 points off the bench.

It was the fourth-best season ever by a Heat bench player (5.8) in terms of win shares.

Only Chris Andersen (6.0) in 2013-14, Udonis Haslem (6.0) in 2009-10 and Rafer Alston (5.9) in 2003-04 were better according to basketball-reference.com. James Johnson had the ninth-best season ever by a Heat player in terms of win shares (5.1).

ENTER THE DRAGON

Dragic shot 40.6 percent from three (second-best three-point shooting season of his career) and led the team in scoring with 20.3 points per game (31st in the league) and was one of 31 players in the league to average at least 20 points per game. Dragic’s team-leading 5.8 assists for the season ranked 21st overall.

Dragic had 15 points, five rebounds and six assists as the Heat beat the Cavs in overtime 124-121 on April 10, 2017.

There were only five players in the league who averaged at least 20 points, 5.5 assists and shot better than 40 percent from three-point range this season: Dragic, Kyle Lowry (22.4 ppg, 7.0 apg, 41.2 percent from three), Stephen Curry (25.3 ppg, 6.6 apg, 41.1 percent from three), Mike Conley (20.5 ppg, 6.3 apg, 40.7 percent from three) and Kyrie Irving (25.2 ppg, 5.8 apg, 40.1 percent from three).

MAKING IT RAIN

The Heat made a franchise-high 808 three-point field goals this season, accounting for 28.7 percent of their total points (the highest percentage of points coming from three-point range in franchise history). Additionally, Miami set a new franchise-record for threes in a game with 21 at Charlotte on April 5.

The Heat connected on double-figure three-pointers 38 times this season, the most for a single-season in team history. Eight players connected on at least 70 three-pointers, tying for the most in the NBA by a team.

The Heat finished 12th in the league in three-pointers made (9.9), attempted (27.5) and three-point percentage (36.5 percent) as a team. In 2015-16, Miami was 28th in three-pointers made (6.1) and attempted (18.0) and 27th in three-point percentage (33.6 percent).

Luke Babbitt (87), Wayne Ellington (149) and James Johnson (87) all set new career highs in three-pointers made while Dion Waiters shot a career-best 39.5 percent from three.

▪ Miami had eight players average at least 10 points a game this season, the most in the NBA.

Dragic (20.3), Whiteside (17.0), Waiters (15.8), Tyler Johnson (13.7), James Johnson (12.8), Justise Winslow (10.9), Ellington (10.5) and Josh Richardson (10.2) all reached the double-digit scoring mark for the season.

Denver was next on the list with seven players. Six other teams had five players average double-digits in scoring.0

THE CAPTAIN

Haslem, the longest tenured player in franchise history, played in only 16 games this season, but his 830 career games are now just 25 games short from tying Miami’s all-time franchise games record held by Dwyane Wade at 855.

According to Elias, only three other active players have debuted and remained with their team longer than Haslem: Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki (1998-present) and San Antonio’s Tony Parker (2001-present) and Manu Ginobili (2002-present).

Haslem, 36, has said repeatedly he would like to continue his career beyond this season with the Heat.

Miami Heat veteran Udonis Haslem talks about the season following Wednesday's night's finale.

“When you get to this point of your career you've got two options: you either be a part of a rebuilding process, which is what I'm doing now, or you go be a part of a championship,” Haslem said after Wednesday’s game. “If you're part of a rebuilding process, you’re probably not going to play because the younger guys are going to play. If you join a championship roster, then you're probably going to get minutes. Those are the decisions you're faced with. You look at the guys that are my age, they’re guys in the playoffs. The other guys my age not in the playoffs is me.

“You've got two choices to make whether you want to be a part of a rebuilding process and not get the minutes or you go to an organization and compete for a title and then you probably get minutes. For me, I would love to be here. I would love to be a part of these guys’ process and maturation and when time does come I want to be in a situation where I was able to help those guys get to the playoffs. Not making the playoffs is not the way I want to end it. I still got a lot of gas in the tank. We will see what happens.”

 
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