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Highlights: Suns vs. Heat

When the Heat made a trade with the Grizzlies ahead of the deadline in February, the addition of veteran forward Andre Iguodala garnered most of the headlines in Miami, and understandably so. At the peak of his powers, Iguodala is one of the best two-way players in the entire NBA — a lock-down perimeter defender with extreme athleticism and the ability to get buckets in transition and in the half court. He has also shot a respectable 33 percent from long distance over the course of his career. He was a huge part of the reason that the Golden State Warriors won titles in 2015, 2017 and 2018, and was named Finals MVP in ’15 due to the overall impact that he had on the series. 

Due to the hype around the addition of Iguodala, the Heat landing another very versatile forward in the deal in Jae Crowder somewhat flew under the radar. His addition, however, could prove to be an equally important move for Miami. 

Upon first joining the Heat, Crowder had a limited opportunity to carve out a role for himself before the season was suspended in mid-March and started only once for Miami. Yet since the onset of the restart in Orlando, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has inserted Crowder into the starting lineup in place of Meyers Leonard, who started 49 games for the Heat during the season, and the early results have been promising. The Heat pulled off impressive seeding game wins over the Nuggets and Celtics, and though they did drop consecutive games to the Bucks and the Suns, they were without key contributors in Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic for both contests, and nearly pulled off a big upset against Milwaukee before Giannis Antetokounmpo rallied the top-seeded Bucks back from a considerable deficit to prevail. Fortunately for Miami, both Butler and Dragic are expected to be back for postseason play. 

As a starter, Crowder has provided Miami with reliable floor spacing. He has connected on 19 of his 29 attempts (65 percent) from long range in the bubble, and has been shooting without hesitation: 

Crowder’s ability to stretch the floor from the power forward spot is invaluable in the league today, and it has helped open things up for his teammates. Thanks to his ability to guard multiple positions, Crowder has also increased the defensive versatility of the starting unit, as Ira Winderman recently noted in the Sun-Sentinel

The Miami Heat had to cut through their defensive concerns, sharpen their defense, so they turned to a Swiss Army knife. With the shift of Jae Crowder into the starting lineup, the Heat not only offset the loss of Meyers Leonard’s 3-point shooting with Crowder’s proficiency from beyond the arc, but also made it easier to defensively switch just about any pick-and-roll. 

With Leonard previously opening at center, the Heat were limited in their defensive variety. With Crowder in the first five, it presents the possibility to mix and match across the entire frontcourt of Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler and Crowder, and, to a degree, also with Robinson and Kendrick Nunn… Now there is the “switchability” of not only Adebayo, Crowder and Butler in the first unit, but also Iguodala and Derrick Jones Jr. in the second unit.

Against some of the East’s more elite teams like the Bucks and Raptors, Miami’s ability to seamlessly switch could be a big boon, as it makes it tougher for opposing offenses to take advantage of mismatches. 

“I feel like me, Jimmy and Jae Crowder switching, it becomes a hassle for the offensive team,” Adebayo said. “We’ve just got to keep emphasizing that, and get stops.”  

“Jae’s so versatile. He’s really like a Swiss Army knife for us, and he’s been that ever since we got him,” Heat guard Duncan Robinson said of his teammate. “His versatility on offense and on defense, the ability to switch multiple positions and muck things up defensively and also dribble, pass and shoot on offense, he’s an incredibly unselfish player.”

Spoelstra has had to tweak the rotation since inserting Crowder into the first five, and Miami’s depth has really stood out as a result. When his roster is fully healthy, Spoelstra could comfortably go 10 or 11 deep. There’s the starting five of Crowder, Adebayo, Butler, Robinson and Kendrick Nunn, and the reserve corps consisting of Dragic, Tyler Herro, Iguodala, Derrick Jones Jr., Kelly Olynyk and Leonard. None of those guys are just clock-eaters either, as they all bring something valuable to the floor. Rotations tend to shrink in the postseason, but options are never a bad thing. 

There are still questions surrounding the Heat this season, including how their young players will handle postseason play. The playoffs tend to be more physical, more intense and more intellectual than regular-season ball, as teams face off against each other multiple times in a row and thus have advanced opportunities to develop in-depth schemes and game plans, and also to develop some bad blood. As such, it often takes young players a bit of time to get accustomed to the playoffs, and many of the best players in league history — guys like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James — went through their fair share of postseason struggles before they were able to turn that experience into a weapon. The Heat rely on four players in their rotation — Robinson, Nunn, Herro and Jones — who have zero playoff experience. 

Additionally, their regular-season leader in minutes per game, Adebayo, only has five career postseason appearances to his name. As a veteran with over 50 games of playoff experience (51), Crowder could help here, too. Along with Butler and Iguodala, Crowder should be able to help steady the ship when the waters inevitably get choppy over the course of a postseason series. So, while Crowder may have been a bit of an afterthought in the deal that landed Iguodala in Miami, he’s proving to be very valuable for the Heat in Orlando. 


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