The Miami Heat lost a ton of prestige and attention when LeBron James left in 2014. Despite the constant effort to bolster the team, what followed were years of teetering around NBA mediocrity.
Things weren’t any different heading into the 2019-20 season. Even with the acquisition of Jimmy Butler, it felt like the Heat were still the same squad that was barely good enough to make the playoffs.
In fact, while Butler was seen to be a perfect fit for the ‘Heat culture,’ his unapologetic, in-your-face approach, which caused turmoil in previous stops, generated concern.
As it turned out, fans and pundits alike were wrong. Butler became the beloved flag-bearer of a scrappy Heat team, and he helped push an All-Star campaign out of new starting big man Bam Adebayo.
All the other components clicked too, as Goran Dragic regained his solid play, second-year guard Duncan Robinson rose as a deadly sharpshooter, and youngsters Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn both became top candidates for Rookie of the Year.
The Heat also grew as a kryptonite for eventual back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks. They had a Finals run for the ages as well.
The next season will be different, of course, as new challenges to their new-found status will emerge. It’s different when you’re the hunted, as opposed to being the hunter, but then again, who knows? Maybe they’ll come out swinging harder.
Here are some bold predictions for the Heat this 2020-21 NBA season.
Precious Achiuwa will make the All-Rookie Team
Few teams can rival the Heat in terms of player development. Time and again, they’ve pulled diamonds from the rough in the second round of the draft or the undrafted rookie pool. Quick examples: Adebayo and Herro were picked in the late stages of the lottery, while Nunn and Robinson were both undrafted.
Selected 20th overall in last month’s draft, big forward Previous Achiuwa looks to be the next rookie to be in that list. He’s been primed to rise after previously being seen as a second fiddle.
While at the University of Memphis, he took the big man reins from James Wiseman, who sat out the 2019-20 NCAA season after just three games. Achiuwa made the most out of the opportunity and became the only freshman to average a double-double on the season (15.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG).
The Heat will likely give Achiuwa minutes right from the get-go, especially since teams only have a 71-day off-season. His acquisition is also believed to be rooted on Adebayo’s unfortunate injury in the 2020 finals. It’s evident that Bam needs help and/or a reliable reliever.
Tyler Herro will average 19+ PPG
The way Tyler Herro blew up in the 2020 playoffs was a result of two things: The Heat’s ability to maximize talent and Herro’s unwavering confidence. It’s one of the great surprises in the postseason, and another proof that when a rookie is drafted by the right team, we’ll never know how exciting the dynamic will be.
With all ofs hi momentum and another key guard, Goran Dragic, turning 35 in a few months, we may see Herro get more minutes and scoring opportunities. As we’ve already seen, he’s certainly capable of lighting up the scoreboard at any time, both through outside shooting and attacking inside. Keep in mind that he’s only approaching 21.
Herro averaged 16.0 PPG the recent playoffs and 19.2 PPG in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, which included a 37-point outburst in Game 4. That’s while being the third or fourth man in the pecking order. He may roam around second and third this coming season, and he’ll have an excellent chance to have a great scoring output in the 2020-21 season.
Bam Adebayo will win Defensive Player of the Year
After a pair of ‘okay’ seasons, possibly due to playing limited minutes, Adebayo finally raised his game in his third year. He was trusted with heavy starter minutes and immediately became more effective on both ends, especially on defense.
Bam’s 2020 campaign saw him put up a superb and consistent defensive effort. Though he ultimately failed to edge the firepower of eventual DPOY winner, Giannis Antetokounmpo, his commanding presence on defense is now pretty established, and players now take extra note when they come through the lane or get matched up with him one-on-one.
Check out this notable performance from early March, where Bam and the Heat made it clear that they’ve got the first-seeded Bucks’ number.
Giannis was held to 13 points on 6-for-18 shooting, his second-lowest output of the season.
The Heat will open their preseason schedule on Tuesday, December 15th. They’ll face the New Orleans Pelicans.