Analyst Takes Bold Stance on Miami Heat Future

Jimmy Butler

Getty Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler drives to the basket against the Charlotte Hornets.

The Miami Heat are closer to the lottery portion of the NBA standings than they are to the top of the Eastern Conference. That isn’t stopping Bill Simmons from showering them with praise.

The Ringer’s top personality left little ambiguity, highlighting Miami’s top-level players, status as the defending conference champions, knowledge of their own identity and more.

In all likelihood, his sentiment is shared, at least throughout notable portions of the league, given head coach Erik Spoelstra’s penchant for using the regular season to set the stage for even more dangerous play when games truly count.

Bill Simmons Refers to Heat as the ‘Alpha’ of the Eastern Conference

On the December 8 edition of his “The Bill Simmons Podcast,” Simmons was discussing the Indiana Pacers’ defeat of the Milwaukee Bucks in the semifinals of the In-Season Tournament and mentioned how the Heat would never have allowed Tyrese Haliburton to explode for 27 points and 15 assists.

That spiraled into a discussion about the bonafides of the South Beach residents.

“If I had to bet on a team, I would bet on Miami,” Simmons said. “I think they’re the safest bet in the conference. I really do. I think they have two top-20 guys in the league. They know who they are. If they played Indiana today, they’re not letting that Haliburton thing happen, not in that stage.”

Simmons is referring to Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo as the top-20 players, which is a fair characterization even if it could be slightly hyperbolic. Rankings vary from source to source, but The Ringer’s own, which were last updated on December 5, had Butler and Adebayo at Nos. 11 and 18, respectively.

The bigger issue is “that Haliburton thing.”

Miami did face Haliburton and the Pacers on November 30. And while they didn’t let the dynamic guard explode for 27 and 15, he did post 44 points, 10 assists and just two turnovers, albeit in a 10-point Pacers loss on the Heat’s turf.

“I just think that’s the alpha in the East right now,” Simmons continued. “They made the Finals last year. I don’t think they’re worse. I think they’re actually more interesting than they were last year in a lot of ways.”

Miami’s Odds of Making Another Finals Appearance

Coming off last season’s Finals appearance, which ended in a gentleman’s sweep at the hands of the overpowered Denver Nuggets, the Heat opened the 2023-24 campaign with +1600 odds to win the title, per Basketball Reference.

That put them behind the Los Angeles Lakers (+1500), Golden State Warriors (+1200), Phoenix Suns (+600) and Nuggets (+450) in the Western Conference, as well as the Milwaukee Bucks (+600) and Boston Celtics (+450) in the East.

Obviously, those have since shifted.

Bam Adebayo

GettyStar center Bam Adebayo prepares to suit up for the Miami Heat.

The Heat got off to a slow, injury-plagued start and currently sit at No. 8 in the Eastern Conference with a 13-10 record. By accruing a 0.9-point average margin of victory while playing a fairly easy schedule, they’re not looking like contenders in notable underlying metrics, either.

Basketball Reference’s simple rating system, which looks at margin of victory and strength of schedule, slots them in at No. 20 overall and No. 10 in the East. The site’s Playoff Probabilities Report projects them to finish ninth in the East with an average of 42.9 wins, giving them a 52.2% chance of making the playoffs and a minuscule 0.5% chance to win the conference and advance to the Finals.

On DraftKings Sportsbook, Miami’s title odds have shifted to +4000, and the team is now +1500 to win the East—fairly comparable to the season-opening title odds even with one fewer series victory necessary.

Tough to Count Erik Spoelstra and the Heat Out

For Miami, the biggest issue early on has been the unavailability of key players—particularly the two Simmons cited as “top-20 guys.”

Jaime Jaquez Jr. has been tremendous during his rookie season, carving out a bigger and bigger role. Orlando Robinson’s floor-spacing ability at the 5 has been key off the bench. Duncan Robinson is firing away with aplomb.

None of that can help make up for the absences of Butler (four games missed), Adebayo (seven) and Tyler Herro (15), especially since the latter two standouts are still out of the lineup without known return dates.

Butler, Adebayo and Herro have shared the court for just 116 minutes over six games, and they’ve posted a solid 2.3 net rating that’s superior to the team’s overall mark of 1.2, per Last year, the trio outscored the opposition by 6.4 points per 100 possessions while playing a team-high 1,058 minutes.

Having access to all the leading figures will make a difference for Miami. But this is also all typical for Spoelstra, who has become one of the NBA’s most effective coaches thanks to his willingness to experiment during the regular season, sacrificing the occasional win in the name of lineup variation that could have a bigger impact down the road.

Lest we forget, Miami entered last postseason as the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the first play-in game before beating the Chicago Bulls in a do-or-die contest just to make the true playoff field.

Simmons’ take feels extreme given the current record and struggles to provide a top-of-the-pack encore to the ’23 Finals. But a similar one at this stage last year, especially when the Heat were just 11-12 after 23 contests, would’ve proved clairvoyant.

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