For a team that seemed on the cusp of earning the “dynasty” designation just a few weeks ago, the Miami Heat are facing an offseason of upheaval.
Each of the Big Three has an opt-out clause he can activate this summer—so LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could wave goodbye to South Beach—and the only member of the team who’s absolutely under contract next year is Norris Cole. Miami’s 13 potential free agents are the most in the NBA.
So this thing could go a lot of ways. Some of the answers, however, will come during Thursday’s 2014 NBA draft. And they might be answers that will suddenly give hope to pessimistic Heat fans.
Though Miami only holds the No. 26 and 55 selections, this is a deep class that could yield immediate difference-makers for the dethroned Heat.
At No. 26, the best-case scenario is that UCLA power forward Kyle Anderson slips to Miami. Though DraftExpress has pegged him as its No. 16 prospect, ESPN’s Chad Ford (subscription required) ranks the sophomore 26th on his board. Suffice it to say, it’s possible Anderson tumbles to Miami.
And this would be manna from heaven for the Heat. Anderson stuffed the box score like a Christmas stocking for the Bruins in 2013-14. In 33.2 minutes per game, he averaged 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.8 steals. The 20-year-old also shot 48 percent from three-point range, which is a key in Miami’s space-contingent offense. He’s a capable mid-range shooter as well.
He isn’t without his warts, though. (If he was perfect, he wouldn’t be available at No. 26.) He’s limited athletically and, consequently, isn’t a great defender. He also posted some efficiency numbers that are troubling, according to DraftExpress:
UCLA's Kyle Anderson is as unique as you'd expect him to be on paper. Ranking below average in scoring efficiency relative to this group due primarily to his group leading 18.7% turnover rate and group worst .87 points per possession in transition, Anderson's status as his team's primary ball-handler has an obvious impact on his numbers. Using only 1.4 spot up, .7 cut, .8 off screen, and 1.1 post up possessions per-game, all of which rank well below average, almost a third of Anderson's possessions were isolations, easily the most of any player in this group, as he was charged with creating for himself and others as a sophomore. Finishing at an average 1.18 point per-shot rate inside, but showing massive improvement as a jump shooter, scoring 1.01 points per pull-up and 1.41 points per catch and shoot attempt, Anderson is yet another extremely unique small forward prospect who will be fascinating to keep track of in the coming years.
As DraftExpress spelled out though, these issues were a function of the effective point forward role he played in UCLA’s offense. With two ball-dominant scorers in James and Wade already on the roster, Anderson’s role would be reduced in Miami. Furthermore, his trouble in transition would be mitigated on a Heat team that, according to ESPN, has quite literally slowed down over the years. The Heat finished 27th in the NBA in pace in 2013-14 and, during the playoffs, finished 16th among the 16 qualifiers.
Another reason to be optimistic about Anderson: According to Arturo Galletti of Boxscore Geeks, the forward was the fifth most productive draft-eligible player during the 2013-14 college season, per wins produced. He would be a steal for Miami at the tail end of the first round.
If he isn’t available at No. 26, the University of Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier would be a great second option. He averaged 18 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists for the Huskies during his senior season. The point guard is a terrific scorer and an above-average rebounder despite his 6'1" size. He’s also a tenacious defender—which is sorely needed in Miami.
According to Sports-Reference, he led the nation in win shares in 2013-14.
Inefficiency is a problem for the guard, though. He shot just 42.9 percent from the floor during his senior season and, during his freshman and sophomore years, managed just 37 percent and 38.9 percent marks, respectively.
This said, Napier would have more space at the next level—while he was the focal point for opposing defenses at UConn, that wouldn’t be the case in Miami—and given the Heat’s trouble with the point guard position and his success at the highest level of the sport, team brass would likely view him as a great value pick at No. 26.
Pat Riley likes champions. At worst, Napier would be an immediate upgrade over Cole and Mario Chalmers.
At No. 55, the picture gets cloudier for the Heat, but there may still be some productive players left at that point. One name to keep an eye on is UNLV’s Khem Birch.
The power forward/center is a bit undersized—he was measured at just 6’7.5” at the combine—but he could be a nice replacement for Udonis Haslem if Miami management can convince the veteran to retire to clear cap space.
Though Birch is ranked as just the 55th best prospect by Ford and No. 54 by DraftExpress, he has the athleticism and the production to make an impact at the next level. He averaged 11.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and a gaudy 3.8 blocks during his junior season.
The latter figure put the explosive Canadian at No. 2 in the nation, according to Sports-Reference. His shot blocking would certainly help a Miami defense that struggled during the regular season and was torched by the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.
Galletti put another feather in the prospect's cap when he revealed that, by measure of wins produced, Birch was the third most productive draft-eligible player in 2013-14.
While any of these three would be a welcome addition to the Miami roster, let’s be honest: This draft won’t be what makes or breaks the Heat in 2014-15. Those fortunes hinge almost entirely on what LeBron James decides to do, and the dominoes that fall as a result of that decision. But the draft still counts.
A team that’s as top-heavy as Miami needs to nail the little things. With so little cash available to build out the rest of the roster, the Heat need to bat 1.000 on draft picks and mid-level free-agent signings to ensure they have enough depth to hold up.
This is especially so given that the Heat were the oldest team in the NBA in 2013-14, and regardless of how this offseason shakes out, they figure to be pretty long in the tooth this coming season as well. An infusion of productive young players would be a boon to Miami’s hopes—both near and long term.
"I think we need to have a perspective about things," Heat president Pat Riley lectured the media during his now infamous post-Finals press conference, according to Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick. He continued:
I think everybody needs to get a grip—media, Heat players, organization, all of our fans—we got to get a grip on greatness and on teams. I've been here for 45 years in the NBA, and I've witnessed dynasties, I've witnessed great teams. The '80s Lakers, five championships in 12 years. So what does that mean? Seven times they didn't win. In that run, they didn't win. You got to deal with it, you got to come back.
For the Heat, the comeback starts on Thursday. Stay tuned.