What the 2020 Playoffs Mean for the Miami Heat
After a few months’ hiatus, the 2020 NBA playoffs are coming back, with only eight games of the regular season left. More so than most teams, these playoffs have implications for the Heat well beyond just this season. After a few years either barely missing the playoffs or flaming out in the first round, the Heat overhauled their roster last offseason. Now, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra will look to see how this new roster fairs in the fire of the playoffs. The standard in Miami is title contention, and for the Heat these playoffs are all about how close they are to that standard.
Make no mistake; Jimmy Butler will be out to prove himself these playoffs. Soon to be 31 years old, there are definitely questions about how far a team can go with Butler as the number one guy. Double those concerns when Butler is shooting 24.8% from three-point range on the season. And yet, just last year in the playoffs the Philadelphia 76ers nearly toppled the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors in large part because of Butler, not despite him. Additionally, outside of the jumper not falling Butler has been doing everything else for his team, playing All-NBA level defense while leading the Heat in points and assists per game. In the first of his four-year contract with the Heat, Butler needs to look like, at worst, a number two guy on a title-winning team. Should his three-point shot come back after several months of rest, he’ll look more like a number one guy, making the Heat closer to a contender.
Beyond Butler, the 2020 playoffs will also be a time for several young rotation players to prove themselves. Duncan Robinson is arguably the best shooter in the league this season, but will his shot still drop when he gets his first taste of playoff intensity? Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro are easily the best rookie duo in the league, but the playoffs are not as forgiving for rookies as the regular season.
Despite making his first All-Star team while turning in a Most Improved Player worthy campaign, Bam Adebayo doesn’t have much playoff experience. Adebayo has only logged 77 lackluster playoff minutes during his rookie season in a five-game first round loss. In the era of NBA duos we’ve just entered, having a deep rotation is vital to playoff success; if that rotation is comprised of young, cheap players, all the better to contend for years. Short of a catastrophic meltdown, Adebayo is a lock for this Heat roster going forward. The rest, depending on how they do, could secure a spot as well, become enticing centerpieces in a trade, or have to prove they deserve minutes next season. Whether these players flourish or flounder will be pivotal to what kind of moves the Heat make going forward.
Ultimately, these playoffs are more about the 2021 offseason when Miami will have cash and several of the league's best players could be available. That summer, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Victor Oladipo, and potentially Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will all be free agents. Should they succeed in landing one or two of those players, Miami will vault to title contention for years. Every move until then is about proving they have an excellent roster that’s just one MVP-level player away from owning the East. It wasn’t that long ago that the Heat shook the NBA world by landing Leron James in 2010. They would go on to win the East every year of James’ tenure with the team. Now, Riley and company are looking to set up the same by making a splash in 2021. Should Miami perform well in the 2020 playoffs, that will sow the seeds that could bear fruit in 2021.
For Miami, the ultimate prize these playoffs may be how it paves the way for them in the next few years. Butler will be out to show he’s still a superstar level player that can lead his team in the playoffs. Young players like Adebayo, Nunn, Herro, and Robinson will be looking to prove their regular season success translates to the playoffs. How well the Heat does this season will impact their pitch to superstar free agents in 2021. Though they’re not contending for a title now, the 2020 playoffs are going to be a defining moment for the team and it’s players. With excitement, and a little nervousness, I can’t wait.