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Heat-Thunder Final Thoughts: Starting Kelly Olynyk Might Just Be The Solution

Rhona Wise, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

Six games, six lineups.

Adjusting to a Jae Crowder-less cast hasn’t been easy for the Miami Heat, who sits at 3-3 to start the 2020-21 season. They’ve tried using its new additions in Maurice Harkless and Avery Bradley, went lengthy with Meyers Leonard and even leaned towards the veteran Andre Iguodala. Still, they couldn’t get things rolling as planned.

That changed Monday, as the Heat opened its two-game homestand with a 118-90 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. That said, here are five takes from Miami’s win.

1. Kelly Olynyk shines as a starter.

Coach Erik Spoelstra sailed into yet again another direction with his starting lineup vs. OKC, adding Kelly Olynyk alongside the already secured four: Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro.

And in a matter of 27:30 minutes, the experienced forward likely earned another shot at being on the floor during tip-off. Olynyk played smooth, rushing no 3PT shots and understanding that patience inside the paint results in easy finishes. He finished with a season-high 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting, including five makes from beyond the arc. He added eight rebounds, as well.

His presence helped ignite a needed 20-0 spurt for Miami in the third quarter, pulling away from Oklahoma City for good.

Based on the first six games, Olynyk has by-far played best at that open starting spot. In comparison to those who started in his place in recent games, Harkless seemed somewhat timid, and that confidence to keep him in late simply hasn’t been instilled, yet. Having Leonard start against big-body teams like the New Orleans Pelicans is ideal, but against teams like the Milwaukee Bucks – who have more of a stretch-big center (Brook Lopez) and aggressive playmaker (Giannis Antetokounmpo) – it’s a recipe for disaster. As for the veterans in Bradley and Iguodala, their roles are presented accurately off the bench or in crunch-time scenarios, not to play hefty minutes on a nightly basis.

Spoelstra has made it clear that lineups are still a work in progress, although they’re beginning to settle in. He added that things can and will change solely because of matchups, as they did vs. New Orleans and Milwaukee.

At least for now, Olynyk has proved to be the clear-cut candidate for that spot, thanks to his ability to space the floor offensively, get boards on either end of the court and overall chemistry with the unit.

“There’s a great deal of continuity,” Spoelstra said on having Olynyk and Adebayo on the floor together. “They really have great chemistry, but that group has been together, whether or not they started together it’s irrelevant. That group feels very comfortable together, just like when we had [Andre] in there the other day. We didn’t play well, but that’s a group that’s very comfortable.”

2. Jimmy Butler back in rhythm, while Tyler Herro does it all.

Coming back after a nagging ankle injury, Jimmy Butler’s performance vs. Dallas – two points (0-of-6 shooting), three rebounds – was as poor as it could get. The five-time NBA All-Star didn’t let that phase him, however, finishing with 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting, six assists and three rebounds against OKC. According to Spoelstra, there was no need to forcefully get him involved. Rather, he was bound to get himself off the dry spell. In his words, “Jimmy’s a good basketball player… he’s gonna figure out this stuff on his own. The level of concern in our building was extremely low.”

Butler was aggressive at the basket in transition, a trait that makes him hard to stop without being forced to the free-throw line. When defenders limited his space to score, he found ways to facilitate, with three of his six assists coming inside the paint.

As for Tyler Herro, his development as the starting point guard since the season-opener vs. the Orlando Magic to now is evident. His confidence continues to skyrocket, and it’s helping him become an all-around player that’ll continue to benefit the Heat down the line.

Herro garnered just seven points on 3-of-9 shooting Monday but added so much more, including nine rebounds, eight assists and a steal. The second-year pro was deemed no liability to have on the court and blemished well with a healthier Butler and newly implemented Olynyk in the lineup.

Better yet, he’s growing into the mindset of a true leader.

“Coach has been on me really since the start of the season to just continue to make the right plays,” Herro said. “Every night isn’t about scoring, and I think that’s why we played so well tonight. I think we were back to being ourselves as far as sharing the ball goes, making the right plays, the simple plays. I think today we looked really good on offense as far as that goes.”

3. 3-PT shooting isn’t a worry, and it should stay that way.

The Heat made history vs. the Mavericks, but it wasn’t in a good way.

Spoelstra’s group started 0-of-14 from 3-PT range, the worst start in the clubs’ existence. They didn’t make one until the third quarter before finishing 7-of-33. Miami made sure to get that settled at home, this time converting on 16 of 34 (47.1%) attempts from deep. Having a good touch from beyond the arc has helped Spoelstra’s team so far this season, making an average of 15.7 threes in wins and 8.3 in losses.

According to FOX Sports Sun, the Heat only had five games last season in which they made seven or fewer three-pointers. So far this season, they already have two. The numbers don’t lie: Miami’s three wins have included at least 15 made shots from deep. There isn’t a hidden formula to Spoelstra’s success offensively. If his team can execute on any given night, they’re in shape to take on anyone in line.

4. Bam Adebayo’s mid-range shot taking him to a different dimension.

There’s always a positive in being able to expand your arsenal, and Bam Adebayo is taking that into consideration.

Adebayo completed Monday’s game nearly perfect from the field, scoring 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting. To add to that, he grabbed eight rebounds and had four assists. As he’s done in previous games, Adebayo was open to expanding his range, knocking down a 12-foot jumper in the second quarter and a 13-footer in the third.

Mixed in with a shooter like Olynyk, Adebayo’s game could truly have an opportunity to expand on a facilitative and scoring standpoint. “Kelly’s one of those guys, he’s always in the right spot, he always does what he’s supposed to do,” he said. “When he’s in the right spot, it makes it easier for me. Getting them triggers, getting them hand-offs for behind the screen threes. Him spacing the floor, always able to be mobile. One thing I like about Kelly, he’s always talking, and we need that. We feed off each other.”

5. Vice is back in the 305, as Miami continues to improve its record vs. Western Conference opponents.

The ‘ViceVersa’ design was on full display at American Airlines Arena Monday, with the court getting a signature design as players debuted the jerseys. And as they did last with last season’s’ ViceWave’ threads – 14-4 record wearing them – a signature style win was delivered.

That, however, wasn’t in the back of Miami’s mind coming into the contest. They were looking to bounce-back following a 93-83 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, a team they swept the season-series against in 2019-20. In fact, they were two of the Heat’s 14 wins vs. Western Conference teams and none of their 16 losses.

Not being able to stay on track with a perfect record versus the West – defeated the Pelicans on Christmas Day – shouldn’t sit well with the Heat, who will likely need to be at .500 in that category to secure a 1-3 seed in the Eastern Conference come the postseason.

Monday served as an opportunity for Miami to redeem that loss, and they did so in fashion. Now, they’re perfect in the new jerseys and hope to keep it that way heading into an Eastern Conference Championship rematch vs. the Boston Celtics.

Michael Yero covers all of South Florida’s major pro teams, along with high school sports for 305 Sports. He also covers sports for Immaculata-La Salle High School’s student newspaper, the Royal Courier.

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