First Week Finals: Way too early picks for the NBA’s next Eastern Conference champ

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
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Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
(Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

4. Miami Heat

If there is any team in the NBA that doesn’t seem to mind being in the middle of the playoff pack as they bide their time for when it matters most, it’s the Miami Heat. They develop and experiment and Jimmy Butler lets everyone get involved before he takes control at the end. The famed culture wasn’t built in a day and it won’t be destroyed or devalued on a game-to-game basis either. If they seem to be off to a slow start, it’s because they are. They may not be too worried as Tyler Herro looks to build on his impressive play in the NBA bubble and move into the starting line-up full-time as a primary ball-handler.

Butler has also been dealing with an ankle injury and short rest in the wake of his Finals heroics that saw the Miami Heat win a couple of games with his best efforts. Three of Miami’s better shooters in Herro, Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn are a combined 19-of-74 or 25.7 percent so far this season from 3-point range. It’s a definite work in progress, but we know the Miami Heat rely on their system of development and execution to get them through the season, and shots will likely fall for good shooters eventually. They did lose Derrick Jones and Jae Crowder in free agency which is a hit defensively no matter how you look at it. Jae Crowder was a significant piece in his short stint with the organization in its run to the Finals and he is representing his tough brand of 3-and-D well in Phoenix so far.

Bam Adebayo may be the most important piece for all he does on both ends, so his health and availability are paramount to the Miami Heat’s future success. His increased proficiency and confidence, especially in expanding his range and continuing his playmaking from the center of Miami’s half-court offense, allows the spacing and cutting that make it work so well. Rookie Precious Achiuwa has made nice contributions that portend the next Bam or Udonis Haslem with time and personal growth as an NBA player. He also brings more athleticism and rebounding to a Heat team that lacks it overall.

The Miami Heat figure to be a tough match-up that no one wants to see come playoff time. How well their 3-point shooting and defense come around could tell how high their ceiling is this season. The shooting figures to eventually be there, but even though free-agent signee Avery Bradley is a good defender, he is primarily a perimeter one and Mo Harkless, Miami’s other FA signing, has been injured and barely played. Crowder and Jones could both switch onto post players and offered the Heat more defensive versatility. The Miami Heat also seem particularly vulnerable to injury. If Butler or Adebayo missed extended time, the Heat could be in real trouble of falling behind in the NBA’s Eastern Conference that is getting tougher by the day.