Position Battles: Miami HEAT Training Camp Preview – Guards

Insight

It took a little longer than expected, but the Miami Heat finally have their 20. With training camp on the horizon, I’ll be taking a quick look (stop laughing) at Miami’s three position groups – guards, forwards, and bigs – as a bit of a primer. Nothing is really set in stone in terms of the rotation, obviously, but that doesn’t mean we can’t guess.

First, let’s start with the guards.


Goran Dragic Height: 6-3 | Weight: 190 | Age: 32 | Point Guard

Season in Review:

Dragic is coming off of a down-but-still-good campaign. He led the Heat in scoring (17.3 points) and assists (4.8), and did so rather efficiently (45/37/80 shooting split). Only five other players – Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving and Nikola Jokic  reached all five of those baselines.

As usual, Dragic’s primary method of generating buckets consisted of bullying opposing guards with slick elbows and fancy footwork. Dragic ranked in the 62nd percentile as a pick-and-roll scorer and in the 63rd percentile out in transition. Though his numbers dropped from last year (more on that shortly), Dragic proved that he was still one of the most dangerous guards in the league when he goes downhill.

Dragic also provided off-ball value, ranking in the 84th percentile on catch-and-shoot attempts. He was nearly as effective on guarded catch-and-shoots (1.157 points per possession) as he was on unguarded attempts (1.275 points per possession). His ability to space the floor for secondary attackers was important last year, and it will be even more important this year considering how touches may be spread out.

Causes for Concern:

Dragic has never been a lockdown defender, but he’s almost always been fine for the Heat. In Miami’s drop defense, the guard’s primary job in pick-and-roll is to fight over the top and stay attached. The opposing ball-handler will either be funneled into the big, or he’ll have to take a tough pull-up with a defender riding him. Within that lens, Dragic has been, well, fine.

He was not at all fine last year.

Dragic lost just a smidgen of foot speed, and that turned out to be the difference between him being serviceable and him being a liability. Opposing point guards had their way with him early in the year, forcing Erik Spoelstra to start hiding him defensively. We saw him do it in spurts in 2016-17, but last year was the first time it was done consistently.

That small loss of explosiveness carried over to the offensive end, as well. Dragic ranked 15th among guards (14th if you don’t count Ben Simmons) in field-goal percentage in the restricted area (59 percent), but it was the first time he dipped under 60 percent since the 2010-11 season.

Beyond the numbers, Dragic looked flat-out helpless at times when opponents threw long defenders at him. Nobody has ever confused Dragic with a slithery bucket-getter like Kyrie Irving, but Dragic could still generate looks at a decent rate. He had to work harder than ever to get his own bucket last year, and that showed up in the postseason.

Projected Role: Secondary Initiator, Primary Finisher

Dragic is still going to be the engine of the offense. Miami ranked as a meh offense last year, but an aggressive Dragic still takes them to another level. It’s fair to wonder, though, how much his usage should drop this year.

We know that it will drop. Wade and Waiters will be back in the fold, who are both solid drive-and-kick weapons that should take pressure off of Dragic. Josh Richardson should continue to get more on-ball reps, as should Justise Winslow whenever he’s out there.

Dragic should still be Miami’s top scoring threat, but it may be a little much to ask him to be the guy that initially bends the defense all the time. He needs running starts at this point. That shouldn’t be a hard adjustment in terms of coaching or personnel.

Some Iverson action (player runs across two staggered screens at the top of the key) for Wade or Waiters could be enough to shift the defense. A quick kick-out to Dragic after a drive could then flow into some easy drive opportunities.


Wayne Ellington Height: 6-5 | Weight: 200 | Age: 30 | Shooting Guard

Season in Review

Wayne Ellington had one job last year: Shoot the skin off of the ball. He did just that, firing up 579 threes and knocking down 227 of ’em, a new Heat record.

14 players averaged at least seven three-point attempts per game. Ellington ranked fifth in percentage (39.2) behind Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, Paul George, and Kyle Lowry. Ellington was also one of two players (Gerald Green) to shoot that many threes while averaging under 30 minutes per night.

He shot them in transition. He knocked down spot-up attempts. He cashed some off of dribble-handoffs. He ran off screens. He relocated on drives and after misses. It didn’t matter if it was contested or not, he was launching those suckers.

What I’m saying is, he was no coward.

Ellington, taking heed to Erik Spoelstra’s word: “Shoot it every time you touch it,” worked wonders for Miami’s offense. They were over four points better per 100 possessions with Ellington on the court, despite the fact that he may have dribbled 13 times the entire year. His constant zig-zagging bent defenses in a similar fashion as a downhill attacker. The attention he drew opened up opportunities for others.

Causes for Concern

To oversimplify it: Ellington is a one-trick pony. He’s out there to shoot threes. He does so in a variety of ways, but it still boils down to him getting busy from deep.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but the fact that he doesn’t offer much of anything when his shot isn’t falling isn’t ideal. In the Philly series, his shot did fall (40 percent on 6.0 attempts), but he still was a net negative because of how awful he was defensively.

Much like Dragic, effort hasn’t been an issue for Ellington on that end. He typically executes what’s asked of him. But he just can’t hang against even above-average offensive threats, and he struggles to chase players around the same kind of screens that he frustrates opponents with. Ellington will be a year older, so there’s no telling what he’ll look like on defense this season.

Projected Role: Three-Point Specialist

The role won’t change, but his leash may shorten. Miami has a lottttt of guards to play this year. Ellington’s skill set is the most unique of the bunch, but he’s also the worst defender of the bunch. It’ll be interesting to see just how much time he gets to work himself out of shooting slumps this season.


Tyler Johnson Height: 6-4 | Weight: 190 | Age: 26 | Shooting Guard

Season in Review

We’ve officially reached the point where Tyler Johnson’s contract has overshadowed the man himself.

Johnson shook off a cold shooting start to finish a solid campaign. Averaging 11.7 points with a 44/37/82 shooting split, improved playmaking, and serviceable defense is fine. It isn’t nearly $20 million per year fine, but he’s a slightly above-average guard, not a below-average one like a certain co-founder of Miami Heat Beat may lead you to believe.

Seriously, Johnson’s growth as a passer doesn’t get enough attention. He’s always had some pick-and-roll probing in his bag, but he started squeezing in pocket passes and soft lobs with more regularity. Johnson ranked in the 75th percentile as a passer in the pick-and-roll, generating 1.134 points per possession.

He’s always been a good shooter and finisher. If there’s another leap to be made as a ball-handler, Johnson could solidify himself as the best two-guard on the roster (assuming Josh Richardson doesn’t slide up a position, as he probably should).

Causes for Concern

Johnson is small.

On any other team that isn’t the Heat, that would be okay. In an ideal world, he would be someone’s Patrick Beverley: an off-ball 1 paired with a wing-ish initiator (think James Harden or Ben Simmons) that guards opposing point guards.

For the Heat, he has to play the 2, and even sometimes the 3 in smaller lineups. Johnson is physical, his motor never sputters and his dental plan is through the roof at this point. But all the effort and athleticism in the world can’t make up for alligator arms. He just can’t defend wings. And when he struggles to chase guards around screens like he did in the 76ers series, he becomes almost unplayable. This is a miss, but goodness:

While Johnson has improved his ball skills, I’d still be hesitant to give him back-up point guard reps, especially over Wade or Winslow. Much like Ellington, Johnson’s playing time may boil down to how well he shoots. If he’s off, he may see a quicker hook than he did last year.

Projected Role: Spacer, Secondary Initiator

It’s fair to assume Johnson will be working more off ball. That fits his game more, but we may see a dip in his usage, which also isn’t the worst thing. Where it becomes problematic is when you view him through the lens of a trade asset. If Miami has any plans (or hopes) to trade him, they probably need to showcase him a little bit.


Rodney McGruder Height: 6-4 | Weight: 200 | Age: 27 | Shooting Guard

Season in Review

Most have forgotten just how different last season’s team, namely the starting lineup, was supposed to look.

Heading into the regular season, the starting small forward job was Rodney McGruder’s – like, it wasn’t all that close. By all accounts, he killed it during camp, then further solidified his status with a strong preseason. His jumper was near-automatic, especially from the corners. We saw hints of improved playmaking. And above all, he was still a pest defensively, size be darned.

Then, he got hurt.

McGruder only appeared in 11 games last season and was mostly a footnote in the postseason. He did shoot roughly 43 percent from three in his 11-game regular season stint, but that came on minimal volume. It’s just hard to gauge where and what he is right now.

Causes for Concern

Even before the injury, he had similar defensive woes to Tyler Johnson. He’s good on-ball, particularly against like-sized opponents. But due to the roster imbalance, McGruder has been pigeonholed into the 3 spot. There’s only so much a 6-foot-4 guy with a meh wingspan can do against 6-foot-8 wings. Get him on a team where he can guard 1s and 2s, and he’ll look more like a Great Value Courtney Lee.

Projected Role: “Break Glass in Case of Emergency”

There’s always the possibility of him having another fantastic camp and forcing himself into the rotation. As it stands now, it’s hard to envision him being a serious part of this team.


Malik Newman Height: 6-3 | Weight: 190 | Age: 21 | Shooting Guard

Season in Review

Newman semi-lit it up for Kansas last year, averaging 14.2 points with a 46/42/84 shooting split. He followed that up with strong play in the Big 12 tournament (24 points and 4.3 rebounds), as well as the NCAA Tournament (21 points and 44.1 percent from three). Despite his play, he went undrafted this summer.

Causes for Concern

He’s not a playmaker, and despite his athletic tools, he’s not much of a defender either. He’s fine when he tries, but that qualifier should make you pause. The lack of length (6-foot-5 wingspan) means he projects as a one, maybe two-position defender. That’s no bueno for this Heat roster.

Projected Role: Sioux Falls Skyforce

There’s just … no.

He isn’t far removed from being one of the eight-or-so best prospects in the country, but microwave scorers are a dime a dozen. If he can show any improvement as a playmaker or defender, there’s a competent spark plug in there somewhere.


Dwyane Wade Height: 6-4 | Weight: 220 | Age: 36 | Shooting Guard

Season in Review

(Completely ignores the Cleveland stint)

Wade rejoined the Heat late last season and immediately became their most reliable creator. He wasn’t that efficient as a scorer (41/22/75 shooting split), but he particularly carved teams up in the pick-and-roll. Factoring in passing, Wade ranked in the 82nd percentile running the pick-and-roll in a Heat uniform.

He turned up the Heat in the playoffs, effectively winning Miami their only playoff game of the series with a throwback performance.

What was most surprising about his stretch was the way he defended, particularly in the playoffs. Miami mostly stationed him on non-shooters so he could play free-safety. He did, however, have stretches where he looked like the old Wade: swatting shots, playing the passing lanes and picking a couple of pockets.

Causes for Concern

He’s another year older, doesn’t shoot well from the perimeter and he tries on defense when he wants to. At this stage of his career, Wade needs certain lineups around him to make him effective.

Projected Role: Secondary Initiator, Closer

In the first three quarters, he’ll either be playing off of Dragic or heading the second unit. If he’s healthy, the ball will be in his hands at the end of the game. That’s a given.


Dion Waiters Height: 6-4 | Weight: 215 | Age: 26 | Shooting Guard

Season in Review

Waiters’ 16-17 season came to a screeching halt thanks to an ankle injury that was scheduled to sideline him 6-8 weeks.

AND IT DID.

(Unfortunately, of course.)

For God-knows-why, Waiters decided not to have offseason surgery and effectively played a month or so of basketball like a 38-year-old former high school star.

He converted shots at the rim at a higher rate (from 49.4 percent to 58.7), but he attempted less shots there (5.3 attempts to 4.0). His jumper tanked. He couldn’t move laterally on defense. The end result was this stat line: 14.3 points with a 40/30/74 shooting split, 3.8 assists to 2.8 turnovers and a team-worst minus-2.8 plus-minus.

Causes for Concern

Well, there’s no telling what Waiters looks like. Take that however way you want to take it.

There’s also the issue of overlap with Wade. It’s hard to imagine that pairing working on-court for a few reasons. But there’s another rub: Wade needs (and deserves) touches and minutes because he’s on the way out, while Waiters needs touches to either validate his contract or make him attractive enough to be traded.

Projected Role: Secondary Initiator

Whether Waiters starts or comes off the bench will depend on his recovery. Still, when he’s upright, Waiters can puncture a defense and make reads. He can knock down shots whenever the offense breaks down. Those skills are valuable to this Heat team.


Briante Weber Height: 6-2 | Weight: 170 | Age: 25 | Point Guard

Season in Review

Weber appeared in 18 games last season (13 with Houston, five in Memphis), averaging a modest 2.8 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists and a steal. His per-36 numbers, however…

Alright, I’m totally kidding.

Weber’s best game came against the Brooklyn Nets, where he exploded (lol) for a career-high 15 points, four boards and three steals.

Causes for Concern

There still isn’t much evidence that he can score with any sort of regularity. There isn’t anything wrong with being a pass-first point guard, but you have to pose some sort of threat as a shooter or finisher. Weber doesn’t do either.

Projected Role: Sioux Falls Skyforce (God bless him, man)

Until the offensive woes are sorted out, it’s hard to see Weber sticking in the NBA. He’s still a fan favorite because of his defensive chops and overall nastiness he displays on the court.

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