Miami Heat

Jimmy Butler's early-season play has Heat looking like legitimate contenders

It didn't take long for the Miami Heat to look like a team capable of competing for an NBA title this season.

10 games into the 2021-22 NBA season, they have looked like the Eastern Conference team most fit to win the NBA title this season

To little surprise, Miami landed atop our power rankings three weeks into the season - and with good reason. As noted by NBA.com's Scott Rafferty, Kyle Lowry has wasted no time making his mark on this team, even when it doesn't show in the counting stats.

ONE PLAY: Lowry is transforming the Heat

It may sound counterintuitive, but the beautiful chaos that comes with having Lowry as a floor general has added structure to the Heat, which has been nothing short of beneficial for everyone on the roster. Three players, in particular, stand at the forefront of the championship puzzle that the Heat are piecing together.

The MVP

10 games into his 10th NBA season, Jimmy Butler has been the Heat's most valuable player and a real candidate to take the league's award home at season's end.

After averaging a career-best 7.1 assists last season, Butler has been afforded the opportunity to step back to being the team's secondary playmaker thanks to Lowry's arrival. The result? Butler is out to the hottest start of his career, averaging 25.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and, as the secondary playmaker, 5.5 assists per contest.

Oh, he's also shooting 53.0 percent from the field and 84.1 percent from the line (on 8.8 attempts per night).

For perspective, Butler averaged 23.9 points per game in his best season as a scorer (2016-17) and in his most efficient year (2020-21), he shot 49.7 percent from the field.

Now, take into account Butler's defensive pedigree as a five-time All-Defensive Team selection combined with Miami's early-season success and a compelling MVP case is being made right in front of our eyes.

The Anchor

When the three finalists for the 2020-21 Defensive Player of the Year award were announced last May, Miami's Bam Adebayo was not among the names listed.

At the time, he kept his response simple.

Adebayo's real response, of course, has come on the floor this season, where he's served as the anchor of the Heat's terrifying defence. The traditional counting stats might not jump off of the page right away, but Adebayo passes the eye test and more, which shows up once you take a deeper look at his impact.

There's a reason why Adebayo is among the favourites to take home Defensive Player of the Year in 2021-22, and he's already received an early-season DPOY endorsement from Lowry. Simply put, the Heat's defence relies on Bam being Bam and he's been that up to this point in the season.

And for fear of simply referring to Adebayo as just a defender, here's a reminder that he's averaging 18.3 points on 50.0 percent shooting up to this point in the season.

The X-Factor

What's a contender without an X-Factor? That's exactly what Tyler Herro is for the Heat.

POWER RANKINGS: Each team's biggest X-Factor

After experiencing a down year in 2020-21, Herro is making his early case for Sixth Man of the Year with averages of 20.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists while shooting a blistering 40.0 percent from deep early on.

If he keeps this up, it could be a one-man race for the award.

Ups and downs are to be expected from a 21-year-old player in their third season, but Herro isn't exactly your average 21-year-old.

We're just a little over a year removed from Herro having his breakout party on a national stage in the 2020 NBA Playoffs during Miami's magical Finals run in the NBA's "bubble." Injuries and time within the health and safety protocols took their toll on Herro in Year 2, but he's already doing his part to make those lows a distant memory.

Herro is often the beneficiary of opposing defences' attempts to minimize either Adebayo, Butler and Lowry, each of whom play key roles in the development of the offence. As evidenced by Herro's scoring and assists numbers, he's making the most of the opportunities that come his way. Given the talent present on this roster, the opportunities are going to keep coming.

And let's not forget, two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo is still slated to return later on in the year.

Yeah, the Heat are building something special.

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