When perimeter players leave the Miami Heat, they tend to take a step down.
For example, one of the best success stories for the Heat was Josh Richardson. The Heat drafted the Tennessee wing in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft, and by his second season he was a starter and by his fourth season was averaging 16.6 points per game and providing All-Defense level stopping on the wing. Add in his playmaking (4.1 assists per game) and he seemed like the perfect complementary player for any contending team.
The Heat had an opportunity to add Jimmy Butler and took it, sending Richardson to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Butler. Some analysts thought that the 76ers got the better end of that deal adding Richardson instead of Butler. The Heat have gone on to reach the NBA FInals twice with Butler, while the Sixers have spent the last four years lamenting the deal.
That is partly because of Butler’s strong play in Miami, but more so because Richardson took a major step down away from the Heat. His scoring, rebounding, assists and steals all dropped, and more concerningly, his 3-point shooting dropped despite taking an easier diet of shots. He was a good, not elite, defender, and that all combined for a shockingly bad overall impact: his final season in Miami he had a +0.3 Box Plus-Minus and generated 1.5 points over replacement, while in Philadelphia he had a -1.8 BPM and generated just 0.1 points over replacement.
Things didn’t get better for Richardson, either, as he had to reinvent himself as a 3-and-D role player instead of a fringe star as he bounced around the league, playing for five teams in four seasons. He just signed with the Heat this summer for the minimum, effectively replacing Strus.
The pattern continues with other players as well. Kendrick Nunn was plucked out of the G League by the Heat and turned into a starting guard. During his last season in Miami he averaged 14.6 points per game, 5.8 combined rebounds and assists, and shot 48.5 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from 3-point range.
Nunn left in free agency for the Los Angeles Lakers, and after missing a season due to injury came back and saw his numbers drop across the board; he had a smaller role, but also couldn’t earn a larger one. He averaged 6.7 points per game and shot only 40.6 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from 3-point range with the Lakers last season, prompting a trade to the Washington Wizards to clear the roster spot; at the time of writing Nunn hasn’t signed with a team in free agency. Interestingly enough, the Heat replaced Nunn with Gabe Vincent, then just saw him leave to sign with the Lakers; the wheel turns ever on and on.
Keep going down the list and you continue to see examples of Heat perimeter players developing in Miami and then losing the magic when they leave the team. Rodney McGruder was a key role player during his final season with the Heat, then lost his impact on the LA Clippers the next season. Tyler Johnson’s efficiency dropped the minute he left Miami and his career never recovered. Derrick Jones Jr. hasn’t been able to survive offensively in multiple stops since leaving the Heat, and he went from a positive player in his last Miami season to a massive negative in Portland the following year.
Where does that leave us in the present?