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How Miami Heat’s unexpected bench play is helping team maintain status as NBA contenders

Miami Heat
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat acquiring Kyle Lowry was them going all in on getting back to the NBA Finals, which is where they were in the 2019-20 season. That said, Miami’s offseason transactions clogged their payroll, making depth an imminent issue.

Ironically, the presumed weakness of this team entering the season has been much better than anticipated. Furthermore, the Heat have a stable and productive second unit, and it’s rounding out a team that can win the Eastern Conference.

Here’s how bench play is completing head coach Erik Spoelstra’s team.

Miami Heat getting unforeseen bench production

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Miami Heat
Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Miami’s second unit is led by Tyler Herro, who has taken another step towards stardom this season. At the same time, he essentially gets starting minutes and was getting as such in his first two NBA seasons. The difference has been those getting on the floor after Herro.

Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin have been reliable and consistent forces. Strus has been an efficient source of offense, shooting from the perimeter at a high level. Vincent has been a scrappy scorer who occasionally starts and is a respectable shooter. Martin has made an impact on both ends of the floor and comes through with his fair share of buckets.

The aforementioned players are no older than 26. Meanwhile, they’re accompanied by veterans with established skill sets. Markieff Morris is a physical, two-way player who can stick mid-range jump shots. Dewayne Dedmon is a composed player in the paint on both ends.

  • Max Strus stats (2021-22): 11.0 points and 3.4 rebounds per game while shooting 46.2/40.4/75.8

With more minutes, maybe KZ Okpala, Omer Yurtseven and Marcus Garrett can make an impact? Plus, Victor Oladipo is still rehabbing from a knee injury. If and when Oladipo returns to the floor, the Heat have an exceptional bench with a bevy of plug-and-play skill sets.

Bench play isn’t something the Heat should be losing sleep over.

Reliable second unit gives Miami Heat a well-rounded rotation

Miami’s second unit is doing a plausible job of keeping the score close. That’s all this team needs because the starting five is an ever-improving force.

Jimmy Butler is a two-way star. When healthy, Bam Adebayo is one of the best all-around big men in the NBA. Lowry has been inefficient but forces defenses to respect his ability to score off the dribble, which takes some attention off Butler and Herro. Duncan Robinson is an elite shooter. P.J. Tucker is a steady “three-and-d” player.

All the while, Herro has become an All-Star-caliber scorer. This rotation has a little bit of everything: scoring, shooting, defense, interior players and tenured coaching. There are several five-man units that Spoelstra can roll with given the flexibility that players like Butler and Adebayo provide in their versatile scoring.

  • Tyler Herro stats (2021-22): 20.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game while shooting 44.4/40.8/86.3

Every NBA contender has its weakness. Usually it’s one of shooting, defense and depth. It’s difficult to find that gaping weakness on this Heat team even if Oladipo doesn’t take the floor.

Miami can do it all, and they have a roster of players with differing skill sets.

Related: Sportsnaut’s NBA defensive rankings – Celtics remain at the top heading into the postseason

Miami Heat are NBA contenders

Miami is off to a respectable start, as they’re 22-13, which is good for the fourth seed in the East. At the same time, they’re capable of better performance, which has been somewhat impacted by health and safety protocols and Adebayo’s thumb injury.

That being said, the Heat are in promising shape. They have young athletes with upside, a star player, a lot of shooting and a stout defensive team. All the while, this core is accustomed to high-leverage, playoff games, specifically through their 2020 run to the NBA Finals. Last season, they were swept by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs. This season, the Heat are deeper and have enhanced versions of their homegrown starters.

The NBA has been bizarre this season, to put it nicely. As it concerns the East, there are few, if any invincible teams in the conference at the moment. Young, inexperienced playoff teams like the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Hornets being in the mix works in Miami’s favor. They’re more battle-tested and in some cases deeper than those teams.

Developing talent makes or breaks NBA teams. Miami developed Adebayo, Herro and Robinson, who are all featured elements of their team. Now they’re seeing individuals in their mid-20s like Strus, Vincent and Martin contributing to victories.

The Miami Heat are an NBA contender, and they have the potential to be even better than they are in the present. That potential doesn’t exist without a firing second unit.