MIAMI — The year 2017 included a historic 30-11 turnaround for the Heat, but it didn’t include a playoff berth.
On the first day of 2018, there’s hope that a trip to the playoffs is just months away. Here are 10 New Year’s resolutions for the Heat (19-17) …
Get healthy: Injuries continue to hurt the Heat. Eight Heat players have combined to miss 103 games due to injury or illness this season. This comes after the Heat led the NBA in games missed due to injury or illness last season. Right now, Miami’s injury list includes Dion Waiters (sprained left ankle), James Johnson (right ankle bursitis), Justise Winslow (strained left knee), Rodney McGruder (left tibia surgery) and Okaro White (left foot surgery).
J-Rich, continue to develop: What a month it was for the 24-year-old Josh Richardson. The Heat’s starting small forward averaged 17.4 points on 54.6 percent shooting from the field and 46.8 percent shooting from 3-point range in 15 December games. He’s also limiting players he’s defending to 39.1 percent shooting (5.8 percent worse than their combined average shooting percentage) this season. It’s pretty clear that Richardson is coming off the best month and is in the middle of what looks like the best season of his three-year NBA career. It seems like the smartest decision Miami made this past offseason was signing the 2015 second-round pick to a four-year, $42 million extension.
Become a better defensive team: The Heat need to play quality defense more consistently to reach their full potential this season. Miami is currently ranked 14th out of 30 teams in defensive rating, allowing 105.0 points per 100 possessions. Coach Erik Spoelstra wants the Heat to be in the top 10 in this category. Miami ranked fifth in defensive rating last season.
Continue to explore Bam Adebayo’s potential: The 20-year-old big man out of Kentucky is in the middle of an impressive rookie season. Adebayo is averaging 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.0 assist in 20.0 minutes. While those stats may seem somewhat underwhelming, his play has not been. And his versatility on defense has been eye-opening, as he’s already proven he has no problem switching on to All-Star perimeter players like LeBron James and Stephen Curry. The future is bright for Adebayo, and the Heat must find a way to maximize his potential moving forward.
Do more damage in the paint: The Heat are averaging the third-most drives to the basket per game and feature center Hassan Whiteside. But somehow, Miami is still one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to scoring in the paint. The Heat rank 27th out of 30 teams with 40.4 paint points per game this season.
Stay on the court, Hassan Whiteside: The Heat’s $98 million center has missed 18 of the Heat’s first 36 games this season due to two separate bone bruises on his left knee. But Hassan Whiteside is back and he’s averaging 11.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists in three games since returning from his latest injury. Even with the emergence of Miami centers Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk, Whiteside is still a very big part of the Heat’s winning formula. To make the playoffs, Whiteside is needed.
Cut down on turnovers: The Heat enter 2018 with a winning record despite a sloppy start to the season. Miami is averaging the third-most turnovers per possession in the league. For a Heat team that ranks in the middle of the pack in team shooting percentage (16th – 45.4 percent), making the most of their offensive possessions is especially critical. Miami is averaging 15.3 turnovers per game this season, compared to 13.4 last season.
Make the playoffs: Yes, the Heat want to earn one of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference to enjoy home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. But just advancing to the postseason as one of the conference’s top eight teams is a step in the right direction for the Heat. Miami has missed the playoffs in two of the past three seasons. As it stands right now, the Heat entered Monday just 1.5 games out of the No. 4 seed.
Figure out a way to keep Wayne Ellington: Most of the Heat’s core is already under contract with the organization past this season. But 3-point shooting specialist Wayne Ellington will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Ellington has been one of the NBA’s top 3-point shooters this season, making the shot at a 42.3 percent clip. Among those averaging six or more 3-point shot attempts, that number ranks fifth-best in the league. If this continues for Ellington, he will earn a bit of a pay raise in free agency from this season’s $6.3 million salary.
Find a way to acquire a draft pick: It’s not going to be easy, considering the only way the Heat can acquire an additional draft pick is through a trade. Miami doesn’t own both of its picks in a draft until 2022. The Heat’s 2018 first-round pick will go to the Suns (unless it’s a top-seven pick) as part of the trade that brought Goran Dragic to Miami.