The Miami Heat are on the precipice of playing in their second NBA Finals in four years, and were a Jimmy Butler made three-pointer away from the Finals last season. How they got there is quite the interesting story, and it is one that the Phoenix Suns can learn from.
There are multiple factors as to why the Heat have had success. It begins with the abilities, strategies, ability to motivate, and overall basketball IQ of their head coach, Erik Spoelstra. When he first became a head coach during the LeBron/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh era, many thought that he was just a placeholder. A “yes” man. Someone who LeBron could control to assist in imposing James’ will.
Spoelstra has proven to be anything but in his time in Miami during the post LeBron era. He has taken teams with far less talent to the NBA Finals. And with a win tonight, he could do it again.
But Spo is the exception, not the rule. The success the Heat are having is like that of the St. Louis Cardinals in baseball. It’s organizational. It starts with the oft-used phrase “Heat Culture” and has become something to reckon with.
When you look at their roster construction, they have undrafted players littered throughout, and despite injuries to Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo this postseason, they are winning on the backs of their undrafted role players.
Caleb Martin undrafted— Ben Stinar (@BenStinar) May 12, 2023
Max Strus - undrafted
Gabe Vincent - undrafted
Duncan Robinson- undrafted
Bam Adebayo- 14th pick
Tyler Herro- 13th pick
Erik Spoelstra hired from within Miami Heat organization
Being bad in the NBA is a choice … talent is everywhere with the right eye pic.twitter.com/GNKAWTnLT8
What Phoenix should clue into is the developmental approach that Miami has taken.
James Jones, as a general manager, has punted on development. He’s wanted no part of the NBA Draft and has displayed no desire to invest in young players. It can be defendable. A team that is in “win now” mode does not have the time or minutes to allocate to young players in need of those vital moments to grow.
Jones was the Director of Player Personnel when Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges were drafted. He pulled off the Cameron Johnson pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, opting to trade down, garner more assets, and pick one of the oldest players in the draft in need of the least development.
Both Bridges and Johnson turned out to be integral cogs in the transaction that brought Kevin Durant to Phoenix. The Suns did their part in developing them, but they were lottery picks. Jones whiffed on the Jalen Smith pick, traded the 2021 first round pick (who ended up becoming Cam Thomas) to the Nets for Landry Shamet (gag), had no round picks in 2022 or this year.
Jones doesn’t like young players. He doesn’t like development. It’s not opinion. It’s fact.
New owner Mat Ishbia has an opportunity to change that narrative. He said it earlier this year. “I’m big on player development... having a G League team seems to make a lot of sense... we are going to have one, because that’s the right thing to do to develop talent, to be able to build it. We gotta make it so it’s close to Phoenix, so therefore, they send the players up and down.”
One way is to part with Jones, but the other is to empower development.
I revisit the undrafted players that have littered the headlines with their postseason production.
All of their undrafted players spent time in the G League:
- Caleb Martin – 2019-20 Greensboro Swarm.
- Max Strus – 2019-20 Windy City Bulls
- Duncan Robinson – 2018-19 Sioux Falls Skyforce
- Gabe Vincent – 2018-19 Sioux Falls Skyforce, 2019-20 Stockton Kings
Only one team in the NBA are without a G League affiliate. Your Phoenix Suns.
It does nothing but benefit a team to have a G League affiliate. It creates a pipeline of potential players who are allowed the opportunity to grow and flourish. Ayton could use a 10 game stint down there. While we can’t – and shouldn’t – expect the same result that Miami has achieved, the G League provides options. And that’s what you need to be successful in this world. Options.
Miami is the exception.
What the Heat are doing is the fact that it is hard to replicate. How many number eight seeds have made the NBA Finals? The answer: The New York Knicks in 1999 during the NBA lockout season, when everything was in disarray. You cannot expect a team full of undrafted players to develop and provide the level of success that the Heat are experiencing with regularity.
But what you can do is utilize a G League affiliate to control assets, to develop players, and potentially utilize those players on the NBA level or in transactions.
Take note, Ishbia.