#CrystalBasketball: Ranking the Miami Heat for 2017-18

How does every NBA player stack up heading into 2017-18, based solely on the level at which we expect them to play during the upcoming season?

That’s the question 16 NBA Math staff members and contributors sought to answer, ranking each and every player in the sport’s premier league on a 1-to-12 scale and then seeing who emerged with the highest averages. The distant past was irrelevant. Long-term potential doesn’t matter. Only what could come to pass in 2017-18 is factored in, assuming health for those currently healthy and full recoveries from those presently injured. For example, Brandon Knight will still be included in this analysis; we just assumed he’d already completed his rehab for the torn ACL and now has that as a prior portion of his overall injury history.

All players were graded on the following scale by each evaluator, and ties between players with identical averages were broken by sorting the 16 scores from best to worst and propping up the men who had the highest mark at any point in the top-down progression:

  1. Shouldn’t Get Minutes
  2. End-of-Bench Pieces
  3. Depth Pieces
  4. High-End Backups
  5. Low-End Starters
  6. Solid Starters
  7. High-End Starters, Non-All-Stars
  8. All-Star Candidates
  9. All-NBA Candidates, Non-MVP Candidates
  10. Lesser MVP Candidates
  11. MVP Frontrunners
  12. Best Player in the League (only one player could earn this grade on each ballot)

Journey with us team by team as we unveil the entirety of these rankings, culminating in a look at every player set to suit up for the 2017-18 campaign.

Today’s featured squad? The Miami Heat, who are trying to build upon last season’s second-half surge and climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

17. Larry Drew II: 1.00

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 27
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 8.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks (for Sioux Falls Skyforce)
  • Unanimous Grade: 1

The son of longtime NBA head coach Larry Drew, this 27-year-old point guard does actually have the tiniest modicum of experience at the sport’s highest level. He logged a dozen games with the Philadelphia 76ers back in 2014-15, but turnover issues and low shooting percentages prevented him from finding any long-term success.

Both of those problems have been remedied (partially) in the G League.

This past season, Drew logged only 3.3 turnovers per 36 minutes while shooting 47.7 percent from the field, 40.0 percent from downtown and 71.4 percent at the free-throw line. Granted, he accumulated these numbers over the course of just 10 appearances for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, so the burden of proof in training camp still firmly rests upon his shoulders.

16. Matt Williams: 1.27

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 24
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 15.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.7 steals, 110.99 TPA (for UCF Knights)
  • Highest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Consider Matt Williams a sharpshooter supreme.

Though this 2-guard was by no means a strong defender during his time at UCF, he thrived on the offensive end by knocking down one jumper after another. Finishing inside the arc was problematic, and he rarely generated trips to the free-throw stripe—just 2.3 per 40 minutes. But he took 9.1 triples per game for the Knights and hit at a 38.4 percent clip, leaving him behind only Weber State’s Jeremy Senglin on the leaderboard for total treys in 2016-17.

If he’s going to play in the big leagues, that stroke can’t disappear.

14(tie). A.J. Hammons: 1.56

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 2.2 points, 1.6 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.6 blocks, minus-17.53 TPA (for Dallas Mavericks)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Even though A.J. Hammons is already 25 years old, he still has plenty of untapped potential on both ends of the floor. His combination of athleticism and finesse should allow him to become an inside-outside scorer at the next level, so long as he continues honing his shooting stroke and expanding his range. It just isn’t there yet, and he hasn’t been given many opportunities in the NBA.

Defensively, the 7-footer is a solid shot-blocking presence who makes the most of his springiness, but he’s not disciplined and can get a bit sluggish when he feels uninvolved. That energy has to change if he’s to carve out more minutes with the Heat than he did for the Dallas Mavericks during his rookie season.

14(tie). Udonis Haslem: 1.56

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 37
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 1.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-9.79 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Udonis Haslem is a dinosaur, now rewarded for his loyalty to the franchise and operating on a poor man’s Kobe Bryant contract—maybe a rich man’s James Jones contract?—to serve as a veteran mentor and sporadic contributor for the Heat. He likely won’t play many minutes (only 8.1 during the 2016-17) season and isn’t capable of providing much in the scoring column, but that doesn’t mean he’s devoid of value.

The 37-year-old is still a decent defender while on the floor, and his work crashing the glass eases responsibilities for his teammates. Still, his main aid to Miami is his willingness to serve as a de facto coach, both on the court and the pine.

13. Jordan Mickey: 1.73

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 1.5 points, 1.4 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, minus-13.65 TPA (for Boston Celtics)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (Adam Fromal)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Jordan Mickey still has time to put it all together, and the idea of his upside remains quite intriguing. He’s a tremendous shot-blocker whose limited size lulls foes into a false sense of security before he unleashes his long arms, and he doesn’t sacrifice positioning on the defensive glass to chase after rejections. Throw in the possibility of a three-point stroke, and you can see why he’s getting another chance after failing to establish himself as a bona fide contributor for the Boston Celtics.

But this version of Mickey is still a hypothetical.

The 23-year-old power forward hasn’t made a triple at the NBA level in 41 games, and his shot-blocking rates plummeted as a sophomore. Fortunately, his finishing ability trended in the opposition direction while he retained his rebounding prowess, which is already enough to get him another opportunity with a different organization.

12. Okaro White: 2.06

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 2.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.3 blocks, minus-20.55 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Okaro White flashed three-point range and played high-quality defense during his rookie season with the Heat. His box-score contributions weren’t particularly notable (aside from his scorching work at the stripe), but he helped Miami’s net rating jump by 9.7 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor in his limited sample.

Now, imagine if he becomes a playmaking forward. That’s what he’s working on this summer, as he told Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

It’s something I’ve been working on all summer, leading up to summer league. Playmaking, I’ve been trying to kind of mold myself the way James Johnson does. He gets in and runs the offense, and being able to get other guys great shots…I don’t want to compare myself to anybody, but the way James Johnson gets us into offense and is able to handle the ball at the forward position, that’s what I’ve been working on and been working on a lot. That’s really where I want to improve.

11. Bam Adebayo: 2.94

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 20
  • Position: PF/C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.5 blocks, 202.32 TPA (for Kentucky Wildcats)
  • Highest Grade: 6 (Nick Birdsong)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

Bam Adebayo might have trouble providing much on offense during his rookie season, unless the Heat find him a way to get plenty of alley-oop attempts right around the basket. His hands aren’t particularly soft, his touch in the painted area is inconsistent when he’s looking to create his own offense and his shot doesn’t have much range. Yet.

But he’s also going to make an immediate defensive impact, pairing up with or replacing Hassan Whiteside to protect the interior and reject plenty of ill-advised attempts. This Kentucky product is a physical specimen capable of jumping out of the gym, and that athletic ability should help him overcome some diminished positional awareness—natural for any first-year big without too much collegiate experience.

Of course, if he can generate free-throw attempts like he did in both Orlando and Las Vegas Summer League, he’ll justify the more optimistic voters and function as an immediate two-way asset.

10. Wayne Ellington: 3.56

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 29
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 10.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-5.95 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (Louie Vicchiollo)

This 29-year-old shooting guard might not be a particularly glamorous player, but he filled his role admirably during the 2016-17 campaign.

Wayne Ellington rarely contributed when he wasn’t spotting up on the perimeter. And yet, he was an integral part of the revamped drive-and-kick offense that helped the Heat climb back into the playoff race and submit a stellar second half to their season. Throughout the year as a whole, he took 6.4 attempts per game from beyond the arc while connecting 37.8 percent of the time.

But from Jan. 17 (when the team began its ascent with a victory over the Houston Rockets) through the end of the season? He took the same number of attempts and raised his efficiency level to a scorching 40.7 percent.

9. Rodney McGruder: 3.56

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 26
  • Position: PG/SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 6.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, minus-11.69 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (Nick Birdsong)

If Rodney McGruder’s shot starts working, he’ll more than justify the three voters who viewed him as a low-end starter. During his delayed rookie season—after going undrafted out of Kansas State in 2013, the combo guard suited up for Atomeromu SE, the Maine Red Claws and the Sioux Falls Skyforce before debuting with the Heat—he shot just 41.3 percent from the field, 33.2 percent from downtown and 62.0 percent at the stripe.

And yet, he remained a valuable presence.

McGruder was a pestilent player who played perpetually tenacious defense, thriving both off the ball and when tasked with one-on-one responsibilities against top-notch backcourt players. Many defensive metrics might not show this, but head coach Erik Spoelstra even trusted him to go up a few positions and slow down elite forwards such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

If he can keep filling that role, as he did during the second-half surge, any offensive production would be gravy.

8. Josh Richardson: 4.06

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 24
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 10.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks, 3.2 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

Please refrain from judging Josh Richardson based on his 2016-17 efforts.

One year after slashing 45.2/46.1/66.7 as a breakout rookie from Tennessee, the 2-guard dropped his percentages to 39.4/33.0/77.9. His per-minute numbers stayed about the same, but his efficiency bottomed out and forced him to rely even more heavily on his above-average defensive chops to earn minutes.

And yet, the Heat chose to give him a four-year extension worth $42 million all the same. Why? Because they’re fully aware he was hindered by knee and foot injuries throughout his sophomore campaign, failing to gain the rhythm necessary to replicate the shooting success from his inaugural go-round.

7. Justise Winslow: 4.19

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 21
  • Position: SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 10.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, minus-33.47 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (Brian Sampson)

With only 18 games under his belt before his shoulder betrayed him and knocked him out for the year, Justise Winslow didn’t get a chance to show off any offensive improvements as a sophomore. The torn labrum wasn’t directly responsible for him slashing 35.6/20.0/61.7 during the season’s opening salvo, but it prevented him from proving that was just a small-sample-size fluke.

Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t.

Winslow has displayed some touch on floaters and short jumpers around the painted area, but his scoring game still lags well behind it should be. His impact instead stems from his knack for playing lockdown defense, creating for others as a secondary playmaker and crashing the glass. That has value, sure, but the Heat will still be disappointed if this 21-year-old small forward can’t transition out of the “complete liability” phrase on the point-producing end.

6. Tyler Johnson: 4.38

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: PG/SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 13.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks, 60.48 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 6 (Tom Rende)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (Brian Sampson)

Perception about Tyler Johnson is about to change—and rapidly.

Up to this point in his career, he’s been a pleasant surprise. Coming out of nowhere (undrafted out of Fresno State, to be exact), the southpaw has blossomed into a two-way player capable of spacing the court with a consistent perimeter jumper while keeping defenders off guard with his penchant for athletic bursts to the hoop. According to TPA, he’s now been at least average on both ends for two consecutive years—something only 32 other players can claim since the beginning of 2015-16.

But the pressure is now ratcheted up a few notches. This is his last year operating on a cheap salary ($5.9 million) before Miami’s expenditures skyrocket to $19.2 million in 2018-19. If he doesn’t keep displaying constant growth, he could lose that fan-favorite status, because only being viewed as even a low-level starter by just half our panelists won’t cut it with that kind of cap figure.

5. Kelly Olynyk: 4.75

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 26
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 9.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 18.61 TPA (for Boston Celtics)
  • Highest Grade: 6 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)

No one will ever forget Kelly Olynyk’s Game 7 against the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, one in which he exploded for 26 points, four rebounds and four assists on 10-of-14 shooting:

But we also shouldn’t let one game define this big man.

Olynyk has consistently shown that he’s a capable floor-spacing option with the passing chops necessary to find cutters or dish out of the blocks. This much is basically common knowledge. What’s often gone overlooked, however, is the extent to which he’s improved as a defender.

Suffocating against pick-and-rolls and adept at sticking with shooters in off-ball situations, he’s only functioned as a weak preventer when singled out and tasked with stopping a smaller player in a one-on-one battle. According to our Play-Type Profiles, only 15 players added more value against roll men last season.

4. Dion Waiters: 5.25

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 15.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks, minus-24.7 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 7 (Nick Birdsong)
  • Lowest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)

The 2016-17 season was a redemption campaign for Dion Waiters, and a midseason change sparked tremendous growth from him—growth he then parlayed into a four-year pact with the Heat worth $52 million.

When Waiters was healthy during the team’s slide to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, he didn’t do anything differently than in his previous stops. He shot too frequently, fell in love with creating his own looks off the bounce and averaged 12.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists while slashing 36.7/30.8/67.3.

But after Spoelstra’s shift to the drive-and-kick schemes that sparked Miami’s rocket-powered ascent up the Eastern standings, everything clicked for this 2-guard. From Jan. 17 through the end of the season, he posted 18.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game while shooting 46.7 percent from the field and 44.5 percent from downtown. Even crunch-time scenarios didn’t bother him:

If this is the for-real version of Waiters, thereby justifying the seven voters who saw him either as a solid or high-end starter, the Heat might as well be playoff locks in the weakened East.

3. James Johnson: 5.50

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 30
  • Position: SF/PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks, 111.66 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 7 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (Brian Sampson)

These drive-and-kick schemes we keep referencing helped so many different members of the Miami roster, but none more so than James Johnson. After bouncing between teams and inexplicably getting glued to the bench by Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, this versatile combo forward experienced a massive breakout when Spoelstra just…trusted him.

Johnson is a tremendous defender with the foot speed and physicality necessary to switch on almost every screen. But he’s also a multi-faceted player on offense, capable of creating mismatches with the ball in his hands. Spoelstra gave him a chance to serve as a primary playmaker and drive into the teeth of the defense, and the 30-year-old rewarded him rather nicely.

From Jan. 17 through the end of the season (notice a theme here?), Johnson averaged 13.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks while shooting 46.8 percent from the field. Now, he gets to enter 2017-18 with that type of confidence and enjoy year-to-year continuity for the first time in, well, forever.

2. Goran Dragic: 6.94

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 31
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 20.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks, 131.68 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 8 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 6 (multiple voters)

Have concerns about Goran Dragic’s age? Anxious that he’s in for a massive decline after hitting that opposite-of-magical 31st birthday that sees so many point guards’ production fall off a proverbial cliff?

Cease your worrying.

Not only is Dragic coming off the second-best season of his career (his 2013-14 efforts with the Phoenix Suns remain unimpeachable), but he asserted himself as a dominant force throughout this summer’s EuroBasket festivities. Representing Slovenia, earning MVP honors and leading his country to a coveted gold medal, the attacking point guard averaged 22.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting 48.2 percent from the field, 38.5 percent on his triples and 84.4 percent on his attempts from the stripe.

He’s ready to go.

1. Hassan Whiteside: 7.06

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 28
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 17.0 points, 14.1 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.1 blocks, minus-24.92 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 8 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 5 (Tim Stubbs)

Hassan Whiteside is an immensely talented player who’s become a game-changing force on the defensive end now that he’s learned he doesn’t have to chase after every single block opportunity. Maintaining proper positioning and deterring opponents from entering his domain is simply more important than tallying up rejections. He’s also one of the best rebounders in basketball, as well as a source of efficient scoring around the hoop, thriving as a roll man and a player who can overpower opponents on the blocks.

Why then, did he emerge from arguably the best season of his career, one in which Miami’s net rating rose by 2.5 points per 100 possessions while he was on the floor, with a negative finish in TPA?

The lesser issue is the limited shooting range his still possesses. To his credit, he stopped falling in love with the mid-range jumper as the season progressed, instead sticking to his strengths and accepting a role that didn’t entail serving as the unquestioned focal point of the offensive tactics. But until he becomes a competent passer, his value will always be curtailed.

Averaging 0.8 assists per 36 minutes was a career high for this center, but those few-and-far-between dimes still came with 2.2 turnovers during the same typical span. Until that changes, defenses can compress around him, daring him to attempt a kick-out pass or put the ball not just beneath his broad shoulders, but on the floor itself, where it can be stolen away to end a possession with no points.

If he could change this one element of his game (and he showed flashes of ability to hit cutters late in the season), he might stand a chance at becoming an All-Star lock and All-NBA candidate within sniffing distance of the center crown. But for now, though all but two of our voters viewed him as at least a high-end starter, not a single one was willing to peg him as a contender for one of those All-NBA bids.


Who’s rated too high? Who are we selling short? Join the conversation using #CrystalBasketball on Twitter.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from NBA Math or NBA.com.

Many thanks to our entire panel of voters: Andrew BaileyArjun BaradwajNick BirdsongMichael BrockTony EastDan FavaleAdam FromalRyan JarvisJordan McGillisTom RendeBrian SampsonAdam SpinellaEric SpyropolousTim StubbsFrank UrbinaLouis Vicchiollo