The Miami Heat are back in the NBA Finals after a remarkable run through the Eastern Conference in the NBA's Orlando Bubble. The Jimmy Butler-led Heat were lovable underdog's throughout the regular season and extended bubble games, but nobody saw this kind of a run coming. In the NBA, the land of the mega-stars and super-teams, #5 seeds aren't supposed to make it this far.
How did Miami do it? Elite scouting and player development.
We view NBA happenings from a Sacramento perspective, and from that lens, the Heat come up is encouraging. Yes, South Beach is a major free agent attraction. Yes, Erik Spoelstra is one of the best head coaches in the NBA. Yes, Pat Riley might be the most respected executive in any front office. Those are features of the Heat organization most can't compete with, but the roster of players Miami rode to the NBA Finals? That's just good old-fashioned scouting and player development.
Let's start with Edrice Femi 'Bam' Adebayo. Bam was the 14th overall pick in 2017 NBA Draft after spending just one promising-but-raw season at the University of Kentucky. Three years later and he's a 22-year old All-Star that's averaging 18.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 4.9 assists on .571 shooting from the field in a historic NBA Finals run.
Then there is Tyler Herro, the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, also from the University Kentucky, who has stepped his game up in a major way since entering the bubble. In the 2020 playoffs, Herro is averaging 16.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists on .463 shooting from the field, and his cold-blooded scoring in clutch moments has saved Miami on several occasions. Simply put, Herro has been one of the most impactful rookies in NBA playoff history
The Heat's scouting and development prowess doesn't stop at the NBA Draft.
Sharp-shooting forward Duncan Robinson was on the Heat radar for a long time. Robinson went undrafted in 2018, but Miami's scouting department clearly saw something there. They quickly signed him to join their summer league squad where he earned himself a two-way contract from Pat Riley for his impressive outside shooting.
Robinson has been with the Miami Heat organization ever since. He spent most of the 2018-19 season with their G-League team, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, before getting a call up late in the season where he continued to impress the Heat with his shooting. Fast-forward to the 2020 NBA Playoffs, and Robinson is giving his organization 11.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game, but most importantly, Duncan has been Miami's most dangerous floor spacer, shooting .400 on in 7.3 three point attempts per game.
So long as we're talking about Miami's scouting and development, Kendrick Nunn is worth a mention here despite the fact that he hasn't been in Spoelstra's regular playoff rotation. Nunn is a bit of a special case as the primary reason he went undrafted in 2018 was because of his dismissal from Illinois after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge.
I'm not going to applaud the Heat for taking advantage of Nunn's domestic violence case, but Kendrick's development in Miami is real. Under the guidance of the Heat organization, Nunn went from undrafted in 2018 to 2nd place in the 2020 Rookie of the Year race. He was an integral part of their regular season success.
If you look at the Miami Heat NBA Finals roster, it appears encouragingly replicable for a small market team like the Sacramento Kings in a way the Los Angeles Lakers free agent super team isn't.
You've got one legitimate-but-imperfect star in Jimmy Butler. A 14th overall pick. A 13th overall pick. A undrafted shooter. A very good veteran point guard in Goran Dragic, and attainable veterans entering the twilight of their careers in Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder.
What the Miami Heat have accomplished here is admirable, and it highlights the way Monte McNair's Sacramento Kings need to build their organization moving forward. That means sparing no expense with regards to scouting, and then when you have the right players selected, grant them the opportunity to work with an elite player development staff.
It sounds simple enough, I know, but this hasn't been the case throughout the Vlade Divac era in Sacramento, and the 2018 NBA Draft, along with countless other failed draft picks coupled with consistently poor player development is enough evidence to support that claim. Believe it or not, you can find good players at the end of the lottery. You can find promising undrafted players and develop them with a long-term approach.
Moderate NBA success isn't nearly as hard as the Kings would have you believe, but for most NBA teams, that success relies on good scouting and player development, and the Miami Heat just showed you how far dedication to those core NBA success factors can take you.