There were a lot of impressive elements to this Heat season, but here’s one of the remarkable revelations that crystallized over the past six months:
The Heat ended up getting incredible value with their draft assets.
Over the past three years, the Heat had two first-round picks late in the lottery and one second-round pick.
And yet, of all the players eligible for the 2017, 2018 and 2019 NBA Drafts, the Heat has emerged with one player (Bam Adebayo) who’s worthy of top five selection, another (Tyler Herro) who’s warrants a top 10 selection and two undrafted players (Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn) who could make a strong case to be lottery picks if teams knew then what everyone knows now.
As a fun exercise, we examined - with input from an NBA scout - where these four players would have been selected in those three drafts if teams knew what the four players - and everybody else drafted those years - would become today:
If that draft were held now, the veteran scout said he believes Adebayo would go fourth or fifth instead of 14th, behind only Jayson Tatum (selected third), Donovan Mitchell (13th) and De’Aaron Fox (the fifth pick that year who’s averaging 20.4 points per game for Sacramento) and possibly Lonzo Ball.
The scout made a case for putting Ball ahead of Adebayo, but I would put Bam ahead of both Ball and Fox. So I have Bam third behind only Tatum and Mitchell, in whatever order for those two, though Bam/Fox is a toss-up to me.
The scout said in a re-draft, Adebayo assuredly would go ahead of at least nine players who went ahead of him - Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson, Jonathan Isaac, Lauri Markkanen, Frank Nitilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., Zach Collins, Malik Monk and Luke Kennard.
He said no player drafted after Adebayo would move ahead of him, with Jarrett Allen (22), Kyle Kuzma (27), OG Anunoby (23) and Dillon Brooks (45) among the best picks after Adebayo was selected.
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So the Heat ultimately got top-five-pick value in a late lottery selection.
“Adebayo is already among the top 30 players in the league because he’s an All-Star,” the scout said. “That puts him in a rarefied group. He’s already a very good starter and many of the guys drafted ahead of him are not. What he’s doing now is worthy of going in the top five or six in the lottery.
“The big questions with him coming out were offense and rebounding. His rebounding numbers were OK at Kentucky, but our team wasn’t sure he would be a good enough rebounder. And his offense has emerged. People thought he would be a workmanlike defensive-oriented fifth starter type as opposed to a prime guy. People totally underestimated his growth.”
The Heat didn’t even have a pick that year but ultimately emerged with two undrafted players -- Nunn and Robinson - who now could make a case to be selected anywhere from 10th to the mid-teens if that draft were held today. The Heat, of course, signed Robinson to a two-way deal immediately after that draft and Nunn was added in mid-April, after a season with Golden State’s G-League team.
After going down a list of every player drafted in 2018, the scout said he would select Robinson in the 11 to 15 range, and Nunn around 16th or 17th.
Among lottery picks in 2018, the scout rates Robinson ahead of Kevin Knox (ninth), Mikal Bridges (10th), Miles Bridges (12th) and Jerome Robinson (13th).
But in a re-draft, the scout would rate Robinson behind Knicks second-round center Mitchell Robinson (selected 36th) and behind at least nine first-rounders: DeAndre Ayton (first), Marvin Bagley (second), Luka Doncic (third), Jaren Jackson (fourth), Trae Young (fifth), Mo Bamba (sixth), Wendell Carter Jr. (seventh), Colin Sexton (eighth) and Shae Gilgeous-Alexander (11th).
That would place Robinson 11th. The scout, for whom we have great respect, also leaned toward taking four other players ahead of Robinson, in a re-draft today, based on a higher ceiling - Michael Porter Jr. (14th), Kevin Huerter (19th), Anfernee Simons (24th) and Landry Shamet (26th) - but I don’t agree except possibly in Porter’s case. My sense is Robinson will end up a better NBA player than Huerter, Simons and Shamet based on production.
You could also make a strong case to pick Robinson over Bamba, who has a higher ceiling but averages just 5.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks for Orlando. Carter (11.3 points, 9.4 points for the Bulls) isn’t a no-brainer, either. But there are still some who prefer highly-skilled bigs over great shooters.
So those very partial to Robinson could place him as high as seventh behind Ayton, Bagley, Doncic, Jackson, Young, Gilgeous-Alexander and Sexton (20.8 points per game for Cleveland this season).
The scout said he would take Nunn 16th, behind all those aforementioned players and one other second-rounder (Charlotte’s Devonte’ Graham, who was picked 34th that year).
Why did the scout select Robinson over Nunn?
“Robinson has a definable skill which will translate to any team, with his three-point shooting,” the scout said. “I’m more confident in that skill than Nunn becoming a productive scorer on another team.”
But the fact that both players have gone from undrafted to being worthy of being picked, at worst, in the teens is a testament to Heat scouting.
“Robinson wasn’t on anybody’s first-round radar, though we liked him,” the scout said, adding Nunn wasn’t discussed much with his team because Nunn was dismissed from Illinois after a misdemeanor battery charge before landing at Oakland University. He has been a model citizen and teammate since, at Oakland, in the G-League and with the Heat.
Where Herro would end up in a re-draft is less clear - and involves more projection - because there’s only a partial-season sample size for these players.
The scout said he would put Herro ninth instead of 13th (where he was selected) and has Herro jumping four players picked ahead of him: D’Andre Hunter (went fourth), Jarrett Culver (went sixth), Cam Reddick (10th) and Cam Johnson (11th).
The scout believes Hunter and Culver were overdrafted in part because of exposure from the NCAA Tournament; their Virginia and Texas Tech teams met in the 2019 championship game.
“Hunter and Culver were on very good teams and both got overdrafted,” the scout said. “Reddish came on at the end of the year for Duke but people questioned his consistency” and now his shooting is a question, too, as an Atlanta Hawks rookie.
Reddish is averaging 10.5 points and shooting 33.2 percent on threes; Herro is averaging 12.9 points and shooting 39.1 percent on threes.
Herro, long term, “is an NBA starter,” the scout said. “In fact, he will be an above average starter. That’s a great growth curve. Between him and Bam and Robinson and Nunn, that’s quite a young nucleus.”
Still, the scout said he would have difficulty taking Herro ahead of these eight of the 12 players who were drafted ahead of him: obviously Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, plus RJ Barrett, Darius Garland, Coby White, Jaxson Hayes, Rui Hachimura and PJ Washington, though the scout had to think long and hard about everyone outside of Williamson, Morant and Barrett.
So a case could be made for Herro in the fifth or sixth slot but no later than ninth, with more clarity to come over the next few seasons.
Bottom line: With two picks in the mid teens, Miami somehow emerged with four players worthy of selection in the first 16 picks of the first round of the past three drafts.
“Really impressive what they’ve done,” the scout said.
Here’s my piece this week on possibilities for the Heat’ first-round pick, whenever the NBA Draft ultimately ends up being held.