It’s only the preseason, but the new-look Heat is off to an impressive start.
The Heat opened its five-game preseason with a 107-89 win over the Spurs on Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Miami is right back at it Wednesday, traveling to take on the Hornets to complete the back-to-back set.
The Heat took control of the game in the third quarter, outscoring the Spurs 28-18 in the period.
Here are five takeaways from Miami’s win over San Antonio to open the preseason ...
1. Jimmy Butler was quiet to start his preseason debut with the Heat, but the four-time All-Star forward picked it up in the second half.
After scoring two points on 1-of-4 shooting in the first half, he totaled eight points on 3-of-4 shooting in the third quarter. Butler, who is the Heat’s new leading man, finished with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, three rebounds and five assists in 24 minutes.
While the night started slow for Butler, he seemed to pick his spots when to be aggressive. Instead of forcing the issue, he found open teammates for better shots.
There will be plenty of nights this season when Butler is the Heat’s leading scorer, but it’s not going to be because he’s taking a ton of shots. That’s not Butler’s game and it never has been. He has averaged more than 16 shots per game in a single season just once in his NBA career.
“That’s definitely who he is,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Butler. “I think he always tries to play the game the right way. Obviously, he’ll be more aggressive when needed. But he has never been about how many shots he can get, how many points he can score. It’s about whether his team is winning or not. That’s why I say he’s a throwback basketball player, he’s a winning basketball player. He does it on both ends of the court. It’s not just that final line on the box score sheet.”
2. Tyler Herro is a bucket.
The Heat rookie guard has referred to himself as a “bucket” in the past for his ability to put up points. And he certainly was a bucket in his NBA preseason debut, with game-high 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, three rebounds and three assists.
“Just come out with an open mind, learn as much as I can,” Herro said of his approach for the preseason opener. “It’s my first NBA game, preseason game, so just be ready to go whenever my name is called.”
Herro, 19, played off the Heat’s bench and provided a spark with his aggressiveness and shot-making ability. He made each of his first five shots, which included two threes, and even blocked Spurs guard Bryn Forbes’ shot off the backboard in the second quarter.
“T is a player, man,” Butler said. “He’s going to be big for us, big for this city. They’re going to fall in love with him as they should because he grinds.”
Herro’s ability to make shots off the dribble is impressive, and it could earn him significant minutes and a consistent spot in the Heat’s rotation this season. But it’s the other areas of his game that have caught some by surprise, like his passing and ability to create offense as the ball-handler in pick-and-rolls.
“Tyler is good. He can play. He’s sneaky, too,” Butler said. “Like he’s bouncy, he’s shifty. But I told him, right now it’s really easy because he’s going to catch everybody by surprise. He’s not on the scouting report. But he’s going to get on the scouting report really, really soon. That’s when he’s going to really start to shine because they know what to expect, but he’s still a player and he’s going to get to where he wants to get to.”
3. Spoelstra made it clear nobody should make too much of the Heat’s starting lineup and rotation in the preseason opener. But for those interested, here’s how the rotation looked Tuesday.
The Heat started Justise Winslow, Butler, Duncan Robinson, Meyers Leonard and Bam Adebayo against the Spurs. This is a pretty huge lineup, with Winslow the shortest player in the group at 6-6.
The most notable omissions from the starting lineup were guards Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters. But the idea of playing Dragic and Waiters, which call themselves 7-Eleven, together off the bench is interesting. Dragic and Waiters had a lot of success in 2016-17 when both were healthy. The duo was a plus-42 in 808 minutes together that season. Maybe there’s something to playing them together as the leaders of Miami’s bench unit.
Dragic was the first player used off the Heat’s bench Tuesday. Forward Derrick Jones Jr., Herro and Waiters entered the game just minutes later as the next reserves used.
Dragic looked sharp Tuesday, posting a stat line of eight points on 3-of-4 shooting, three rebounds and four assists in 20 minutes.
“I’m encouraged by where he is. We’re going to move appropriately with him,” Spoelstra said of Dragic. “Get him more game ready, game speed, game rhythm, all of these things right now. He’s just getting his legs under him. You can just see his skill level, how he can create easy opportunities by getting into the paint, making the right play. I think he and Tyler will have a pretty good connection. Whatever I do with the lineup, those two guys together with their skill level and shooting ability is going to work pretty well.”
But as Spoelstra noted before Tuesday’s contest, it’s probably best not to make too much of the rotation used in the preseason opener. Aside from the obvious disclaimer of this being just preseason game No. 1, it’s important to note that center Kelly Olynyk (right knee bone bruise) is still unavailable. Also, forward James Johnson is still away from the Heat as he works to get to his predetermined weight goal from the team.
“I’ll look at two or three different lineups,” Spoelstra said of his preseason approach to the rotation. “I don’t even have a goal that it will be set by Game 1, nor should it be with [Olynyk] out right now. I don’t know if we can get something in concrete by then. But I certainly want to look at a couple different things.”
4. If the preseason opener is any indication, the 22-year-old Adebayo is definitely going to play a bigger role in the Heat’s offense this season.
Not only is Adebayo in line to be the Heat’s starting center, but it seems like his offensive role has grown entering his third NBA season, as expected. The hard screens and points around the rim were still there, but so were mid-range jumpers. Adebayo even pushed the ball in transition.
Adebayo finished the preseason opener with 14 points, eight rebounds and one assist.
Adebayo spoke about doing more on offense during training camp, and it was on display Tuesday. He missed both of the mid-range jumpers he took, but the fact that he even took those shots is notable. Adebayo was 16 of 45 on mid-range shots last season, attempting less than one per game on average.
On defense, Adebayo was solid as usual. He switched on to multiple positions with no problem and also recorded two blocks.
5. With the Heat giving seven players more than 20 minutes of court time Tuesday, expect the others on the roster to get big minutes against the Hornets in Charlotte on the second night of a preseason back-to-back.
Most of the players expected to be in the Heat’s regular-season rotation logged extended minutes against the Spurs, which means Wednesday’s game against the Hornets could be about the players still competing for rotation spots and NBA jobs.
Forward Chris Silva, who is among those competing for a two-way contract from the Heat, impressed in his 14 minutes Tuesday. Undrafted out of South Carolina, Silva finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
“He made us watch him. That’s for sure,” Spoelstra said of Silva. “He’s had those moments in training camp, too. The offensive rebounding, the pursuits. He had a great block tonight. But he probably had five blocks better than that in training camp, where he shocked everybody in the gym. His efforts, his second jumps, his pursuits, all of these things, that’s a talent. That’s a skill to have a motor like that.”
The list of available Heat players who logged fewer than 10 minutes of action Tuesday: Kendrick Nunn, KZ Okpala, Daryl Macon, Mychal Mulder, Kyle Alexander, Udonis Haslem, Jeremiah Martin and Davon Reed.