• Kyle Russell

Miami Heat 2020 Playoff Preview

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

Season Recap: A Surprise Leap Back Into Elite

After acquiring Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade and overhauling much of their roster, the Miami Heat came out the gate strong to start the season. Surprising many, Miami established themselves as one of the elite teams in the East.

Bam Adebayo blossomed into an All-Star and a leading Most Improved Player candidate. Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn were arguably the best rookie duo in the league. Duncan Robinson proved himself, and is one of the best shooters in the league. And leading the way was Butler, the do-everything star and type of leader Miami has lacked over the past few years.

The Heat slowed down a little bit mid-season, and injuries took their toll. Still Miami continued to over-perform, sitting no worse than fourth in the East. The Heat will “host” a first-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers this year.

Biggest Strengths: Depth and Versatility

Going somewhat hand in hand, Miami’s biggest strengths are depth and versatility. The Heat rotation runs a solid ten players deep - seven Miami players average double-digit points per game, six average at least two assists per game, and seven shoot at least 35 percent from 3-point range.

In keeping with Heat tradition, the roster is stacked with quality defenders, eight of whom have a positive defensive box plus-minus, and nine have accumulated at least one defensive win share this season.

This plethora of quality players gives Miami plenty of lineup versatility. They can go big with Meyers Leonard or Kelly Olynyk. They can go small with Bam Adebayo and multi-guard lineups. They can spread the floor with shooters or clamp down with defense first lineups. No matter the opponent, Miami will have a lineup answer.

Biggest Weakness: All-Star Shooting

Despite being the league’s best 3-point shooting team, the Heat still have some shooting concerns on their roster. Their two All-Star players, Butler and Adebayo, don’t stretch the floor.

Adebayo has been working on extending his range since entering the league, being able to knock down some mid-range shots now, but is shooting a ghastly 14.3 percent from three. Butler was never known as a knockdown shooter, but now is posting a meager 24.4 percent from three. Defenses have taken notice.

Miami has enough shooters on the roster that they can reliably fill the rest of any Adebayo-Butler lineup with them, but still spacing will always be a concern. In the era of 3-point shooting, having two non-shooters is a glaring issue.

Team’s X-Factor: Youth Stepping up in the Playoffs

The biggest X-factor for the Heat will be how the young players handle the spotlight of the postseason. Herro, Nunn, and Robinson will all be making their playoff debuts. Adebayo, meanwhile, has logged just 77 minutes of postseason experience.

The playoffs are a different animal than the regular season in large part because an opponent can hone in on exploiting flaws and limiting strengths. How will Adebayo fair when teams sag off him and cut off passing lanes? How will Robinson do when a defender blankets him every time he crosses half court?

Whether these players rise to the challenge or wilt under the pressure will have a huge impact on how the Heat perform in the playoffs, as well as their direction as a team in the future.

Players to Watch: Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Kendrick Nunn

As stated above, all eyes will be on the youngest members of the Heat.

Kendrick Nunn was a little up and down this season, but his scoring was a big boost for the Heat’s starting lineup. Nunn has also shown a knack for busting out of scoring slumps quickly.

Duncan Robinson was a lights out shooter during the regular season, and an outlet valve for many a botched offensive possession. Expect to see him running around off-ball screens looking for that small opening to catch and shoot.

But perhaps no player will be as important to watch as Tyler Herro. All season Herro was an intriguing mix of playmaking, shotmaking, and fearlessness that resumed in Orlando. Should he continue to elevate once the playoffs start, Miami will be that much tougher to take down.

Estimated Playoff Run: Eastern Semifinals

With the Eastern Conference playoff bracket secured, Miami will face the Indiana Pacers in the first round. Indiana will be without All-Star Domantas Sabonis, and has been relying heavily on TJ Warren with Victor Oladipo still rounding himself back into form. Indiana is certainly a tough team, with lots of versatility and depth to match Miami. Still with their best players either injured or returning to form, it seems very likely the Heat win in six or seven games.

From there Miami would presumably face the Milwaukee Bucks, favorites to come out of the East. Though Miami has the roster to give the Bucks fits, they don’t have the best player in the series in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Combined with the Bucks league-leading defense and a plethora of shooters, I’d expect the Bucks to advance in six games. Still, a noble outcome considering where we expected Miami to be this season.

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