Despite Setbacks And Uncertainty, The Miami Heat Winning Culture Has Proven To Be A Source Of Resiliency That They Can Rely On To Create Success

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NBA: Miami Heat at Sacramento Kings

Culture is one of those words that NBA organizations use as a way of defining the aura of the team’s being so to speak. And the reality is that the most successful NBA organizations deliberately cultivate winning cultures. They consciously choose to live by core values that create success and promote a competitive advantage.  But culture becomes more clearly defined when a team has down years. Does losing and lack of talent impact the overall culture? It truly is a ‘how are you perceived when you aren’t at your best’ moment when those things happen to a team.

The Miami Heat have a clear culture in place that is as much about winning, as it is about character development and community building. Players have to be their best selves when they come to Miami and that starts with a commitment to defense and understanding of the hierarchy in place. While Pat Riley is the architect and face of Miami’s culture, coach Erik Spolestra is the executioner and enforcer.

Spoelstra isn’t a fist-shaking, finger-waving headstrong coach. He also isn’t the push over coddling type who doesn’t have the respect of elite players—when they are on the roster. Spolestra provides a middle ground of both styles that comes with players having to earn their minutes on the defensive end. Heat sideline reporter Jason Jackson said recently on Sirius XM NBA that Spoelstra will allow his players the rope to shoot a contested three after they’ve earned that latitude through commitment defensively. Which definately seems like a fair trade-off.

This season was supposed to be the beginning of the dark ages as the team lost three Hall of Fame to be players over the last few seasons. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and “Heat lifer” Dwyane Wade all left the organization under peculiar circumstances. The departure of Wade reportedly left many players outside of the organization questioning Miami’s commitment to stars based on how Riley allegedly handled the incident. That in turn, led to questions about the team’s immediate future and if the culture itself was now in question.

Early returns this season suggested that the winning culture was going to be a thing of the past but that the internal structure would remain. Spoelstra would use terms like “opportunity” and “challenges” to describe the situation Miami was now faced with as the result of a roster void of elite talent. Sure, Hassan Whiteside was inked to a max deal over the summer and Goran Dragic is one of the more aggressive guards in the league, but the rest of the team’s rotation was in question. Justise Winslow hoped to build on a mostly positive rookie campaign and because of his defensive capabilities, he was given the opportunity to play a full allotment of minutes, but his inability to spread the floor with his shooting made minutes next to Whiteside and Dragic questionable.

Dion Waiters signed a one-year “prove it” deal but wasn’t guaranteed a starting position. Then there was the issue of Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson also competing for minutes in the backcourt.  Derrick Williams, Josh McRoberts, James Johnson and Luke Babbitt all had to jockey for minutes in the frontcourt. Having all this like-skilled talent became more of a curse than a blessing. And caused inconsistency in rotations, chemistry, and ultimately wins.

The team started out just 10-24 through December 31st and seemed to be headed to the lottery with a high draft pick. Rebuild and trades were words that pundits started to jab with as the Heat’s winning culture appeared to be in peril. Those jabs became haymakers when Winslow was pronounced out for the remainder of the season with a torn labrum. The injury to Winslow seem to have a trickledown effect as Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Babbitt, Dragic, Waiters and Whiteside all missed chunks of time because of injuries. Consequently, the rotations became shorter and forced Miami to play more cohesively. The results have been nothing short of magical as players returned from their respective injuries. The Heat have turned their season around with each player buying into a new and improved role from earlier in the season.

Since January 1st the Heat boast a record of 21-10 which is better than Houston and Cleveland—both who Miami has beaten twice in that span. The new year seems to have brought out a new team with the following statistics.

A look at some of the Heat’s key players’ numbers throughout the season tell part of the story.

PlayerGames October 26-December 31Games January 1-March 9
Goran Dragic18.8 pts, 6.7 ast, 45% fg%21.5 pts, 5.6 ast, 51.3% fg%
Hassan Whiteside17.3 pts, 14.3 reb, 54% fg%15.5 pts, 13.8 rebs, 56.6% fg%
Dion Waiters14.2 pts, 3.9 ast, 38.4% fg%17 pts, 4.6 ast, 44.1% fg%
James Johnson11 pts, 4.9 reb, 2.5 as13.1 pts, 4.9 reb, 4.5 ast

Other notable stats since January 1st:

  • Miami has been the third best team in three-point percentage at 39.1% which has been better than Golden State and Cleveland.
  • They are the 11th best team in field goal percentage and eighth best team in blocks against.
  • The Heat’s bench is scoring 41 points per game (fourth best) and have the second best bench scoring differential compared to their opponents.
  • They are the fifth best team in plus/minus at plus 4.6 which puts them ahead of Boston and again Cleveland during that span…sense a pattern?
  • Miami is 10-3 in clutch situations since the turn of the new year with the second highest winning percentage. They shoot the highest field goal percentage during that span at 49.2% and the highest three-point percentage at 51.7%

Miami’s commitment to defense has always been prevalent but it’s been the improvement of their offense that has turned their season around. Dragic, Waiters, and James Johnson have all picked up their games which has forced Whiteside to take a step back of sorts. It appears that running the offense through Whiteside on straight post-ups wasn’t the way this team was destined to be successful. With Waiters and Johnson acting more as facilitators, it has allowed Dragic to play off the ball. Dragic now has more spot up opportunities resulting in a higher field goal percentage.

Miami shares the ball with multiple players involved, coupled with a defense that is top five on the season. Their culture is still firmly intact and they are threatening to make the playoffs despite a start that questioned it all. They still have a long way to go, but it appears that they are who they have always been. A  competent and successful NBA organization that has one of the best cultures in the NBA.

 

 

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