Miami Heat
Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Four months ago, the Miami Heat were representing the Eastern Conference in the 2020 NBA Finals. They made pretty easy work of the Eastern Conference playoffs, only going to a six-game series once.

Heading into the 2020-21 NBA Season, most people expected the Heat to build on their momentum and be among the top teams in the East. So far, Miami is 8-14 and second-to-last in their conference. Among those losses are dropped games against the Pelicans, Magic, Pistons, Hornets, and Wizards. I’m not sure anyone thought these are teams that would be able to convincingly compete with Miami Heat. The Pistons and Wizards are the only teams below the Heat in the Eastern Conference, and Miami is .500 against them.

So why have the Heat been so disappointing this season? Well, there’s a couple obvious reasons.

Jimmy Butler’s Absence

Jimmy Butler has been dealing with a nagging ankle injury for much of the season. As a result, he has missed 12 of Miami’s 22 games. He finally made his return last weekend, posting a 30-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound game against the Sacramento Kings. It should be pretty obvious to anyone that the Heat are better when Jimmy Butler plays. He’s their best player and a central leader for their team.

True, you can make the case that the Heat are only .500 in games where Butler has played, but at least that’s better than the .364 winning percentage they’ve posted over the course of all their games. Miami needs Jimmy Butler in order to play their best basketball, and they haven’t had him in over half their games.

A Big Step Back in Offensive Efficiency

Last season, the Miami Heat finished seventh in the NBA in Offensive Efficiency. This season, they currently sit at 24th. One factor at play here is certainly Jimmy Butler’s absence, but it seems like most of the team has taken a step back offensively.

PER stands for Player Efficiency Rating. This is a statistic that attempts to boil a player’s value down into one number. By nature of the stat, the league average for PER is always 15.00. Of their top ten minute-getters, only two Heat players have a PER above 15. Last season, there were four Heat players with that minutes qualification who had an above-average PER.

If the Heat have any desire to stay competitive in the Eastern Conference this season, they need Jimmy Butler to stay healthy and they need to figure out whatever offensive issues they are having. Obviously, the potential is there. They returned pretty much the entire Eastern Conference Championship roster. Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson, and rookie Precious Achiuwa have all looked really good. But something isn’t clicking, and Erik Spoelstra’s Miami Heat are running out of time to figure out how to fix it.

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