Here are 10 things we’ve learned about the Heat through the first 10 games

PHOENIX — This isn’t the start the Heat wanted, but it’s better than last season.

Miami is 4-6 through 10 games, which is an improvement over last season’s 2-8 start. As you would expect, there have been some positive takeaways and some negative takeaways to start the year.

Here are 10 things we’ve learned over the Heat’s first 10 games …

Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat reacts as his team plays the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on November 3, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The Heat need Hassan Whiteside to be their best player. When he’s not, Miami is in big trouble. With the Heat’s drive-and-kick game depending on the threat of a lob to Whiteside, he’s a big part of the offense. And on the other end, his ability to protect the rim and rebound makes Miami’s defense one of the best in the NBA when he’s on. Whiteside, who missed five games early on due to a bone bruise in his left knee, just hasn’t been good enough yet. The problem has been inconsistency with Whiteside recording 26 points and 22 rebounds in one game and three points and six rebounds, and 13 points and three rebounds in two other games this season. Known as a walking double-double, Whiteside needs to live up to that label.

Bam Adebayo is going to get playing time as a rookie. With Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson ahead of Adebayo on the frontcout depth chart, there was some uncertainty surrounding the 20-year-old’s role with the Heat this season. Erik Spoelstra even mentioned sending Adebayo to the G League for more playing time as a possibility.  While that still may happen down the road, Adebayo has made Spoelstra play him early this season because of the energy and athleticism he brings. Adebayo has played in eight of the Heat’s first 10 games.

The Heat have been a below average team through 10 games. It’s not only the 4-6 record, but even the advanced metrics say the Heat are playing like a team that belongs in the bottom half of the standings. Miami is ranked 25th out of 30 teams with a net rating of -4.3, which is a reliable team performance measure that’s the difference between a team’s offensive and defensive ratings (OR-DR). That’s worse than teams like the Nets, Knicks and Lakers. Obviously, it’s not time to panic yet. The Heat have played just 10 games and Whiteside missed five of them.

Dion Waiters’ troublesome left ankle is a concern. Although the only games he’s missed this season are due to the birth of his daughter, the fact that the ankle is still a topic of conversation between games is discouraging. The Heat say that Waiters’ ankle is improving with treatment, but he’s just one tweak away from a setback. Waiters is averaging 15.9 points on 44.8 percent shooting to go with 3.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists. But Waiters is also a team-worst minus-39.

Turnovers have been a problem. Miami currently ranks 27th out of 30 teams with 17.1 turnovers per game. By comparison, the Heat averaged 14.8 turnovers last season and 14.1 turnovers in 2015-16. Spoelstra has said the Heat need to keep the turnovers in the range of 12-14 per game to win consistently. So far, Miami is 2-4 when committing more than 14 turnovers this season. With four of the Heat’s six losses coming by single digits, this sloppiness can be the difference between a win and a loss.

The Heat’s offense is not where it needs to be. Miami ranks 27th out of 30 teams with an offensive rating of 99.2 this season. This comes after the Heat posted the eighth-best offensive rating during their 30-11 run over the second half of last season. A big part of Miami’s struggles come down to its 3-point shooting and lack of fouls drawn. The Heat’s drive-and-kick offense is better when the shooters are making shots and the penetrators are getting to the foul line. Miami ranks 20th with a 3-point shooting percentage of 34.2 and ranks last with just 4.1 percent of its drives ending with a foul call.

Josh Richardson needs to play big minutes. Yes, Richardson has been up and down offensively so far. He’s averaging 10.0 points on 37.9 percent shooting. But the Heat are better when he’s on the floor because of his defense. Players defended by Richardson are shooting 32.0 percent, which is 12.3 percent worse than their averaging shooting percentage. Among players who have played in seven or more games and are defending at least eight shot attempts per contest, Richardson is second in the NBA in opponent field-goal percentage behind Bulls guard Jerian Grant. This is a big reason why Richardson is a team-best plus-15 this season.

The rotation isn’t set yet. The Heat have used five different starting lineups in 10 games. That’s probably not what Spoelstra was hoping for entering the year. The fact that Whiteside missed five games with his knee injury has something to do with this, but Spoelstra has also been trying to find the right starting power forward to play next to the Heat’s $98 million center. Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson and Okaro White have all been given a chance to start at this spot. For now, White seems like the guy. He’s started in each of Miami’s past four games.

The Heat’s best lineup includes four bench players. The unit of Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Josh Richardson has outscored opponents by a team-best 20 points in 17 minutes together. Richardson is the only starter in this group. A big part of this lineup’s success is defense, as the five-man group has limited opponents to 7-of-28 shooting (25 percent).

This Heat team needs some time. A lot of people thought Miami would just pick up right where it left off after its 30-11 finish last season. That hasn’t been the case. With new faces like Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo in the Heat’s rotation, the on-court chemistry hasn’t always looked great. Just look at the turnover numbers. But like last season proved, the Heat usually improve as the season goes on. Only 10 games have been played. Give it some more time.

[Spoelstra calls Whiteside’s benching vs. Warriors ‘a coach’s decision,’ Heat teammates call it part of learning experience]

[Five takeaways: Warriors cruise to victory over Heat as Hassan Whiteside watches second half from bench]

[Dion Waiters expected back Wednesday vs. Suns]

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