The Morning After: First Taste of Preseason McGruder
Insight // 2 weeks ago
By: Nekias Duncan
Following a loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, the Miami Heat traveled to Charlotte for their second preseason showdown. There was a little more intrigue than usual, as both the Sun Sentinel and The Miami Herald reported that a Timberwolves scout would be in attendance, despite Minnesota not being scheduled to face either team until December.
Sadly, the Heat couldn’t come out on top in this game, either. A five-point halftime lead became a six-point deficit, thanks to a third-quarter blitz by the Hornets (this seems familiar). Miami basically emptied their bench in the fourth quarter again, and Charlotte’s reserves held serve en route to a 122-113 victory.
Per usual, the score doesn’t really matter too much. What we’re looking for in these games are encouraging (or problematic) trends that could possibly carry over.
One thing that become apparent through two games: Rodney McGruder has been given the freedom to stretch himself.
Through two games, McGruder has logged a combined 29 shots (20 from the field, nine from the free-throw line), trailing only Hassan Whiteside (30). He’s logged more pick-and-roll possessions (13) for the Heat than anyone not named Goran Dragic (18) or Tyler Johnson (17). You can chalk up some of that to preseason madness, but this isn’t all that surprising.
Remember, McGruder got similar usage last preseason and was … pretty darn good at it.
I forgot Synergy had preseason stats available.
Rodney McGruder ranked in the 85th percentile in overall offense.
Generated 1.769 PPP on spot-ups.
Again, Miami was really looking at him as the starting 3 before his leg surgery.
J-Rich got the job and didn't look back.
— Resident Beeper (@NekiasNBA) September 18, 2018
Aside from Whiteside, a strong argument could be made that McGruder was Miami’s best player against the Hornets. He finished the game with a solid 12 points, three assists, three rebounds, one block, and one steal stat line, and finished with a team-best plus-9 (the Heat outscored the Hornets by nine with McGruder on the floor).
He kicked things off with his usual spot-up work. There’s nothing too fancy in the clip below. Charlotte collapses the paint, and the kick-out from Whiteside eventually leads to a corner triple:
A little later, McGruder finds himself chasing Jeremy Lamb over a pair of staggered screens. Lamb catches the ball on the move and forces Whiteside to step up. As Lamb makes the on-target pocket pass, McGruder darts inside before coming up with a chasedown block:
McGruder’s best play, however, came in the second quarter. Just peep this sequence:
That is some pick-and-roll craft we didn’t see in Sioux Falls when he first put his name on the map.
McGruder jab steps, then gives Whiteside time to set the screen. He goes wide to run Nicolas Batum into said-screen before slicing into the paint. He’s patient on the drive, then uses an extra dribble to force Cody Zeller to step up. The second Zeller commits to the drive, McGruder lobs up a doozy to Whiteside for the and-one.
McGruder has been dubbed as a 3-and-D wing, and those guys obviously have value. But in today’s switch-heavy era, guys that can only shoot threes can be neutered in playoff settings. You have to be able to create in a pinch, and that’s why we should probably pay more attention to the on-ball reps McGruder is getting so far.
It’s very reminiscent to Josh Richardson’s 2016-17 campaign in that regard. Richardson played hurt most of the year, but Miami still force-fed him pick-and-roll touches at times. He was absolutely awful at it, but we saw the fruits of that labor last season. Richardson is competent now, and that raises his ceiling.
It’s not responsible to expect a Richardson-like leap from McGruder for rather obvious reasons, but any on-ball development can help improve the flow of the offense.
• Hassan Whiteside was impressive once again. He shook off an ugly start (two quick turnovers) and finished with 14 points, 15 rebounds, a pair of blocks, and a steal in 26 minutes. It’s hard to overstate just how impressive he’s looked from a physical standpoint.
• Kelly Olynyk made shots! After Sunday’s clunker (four points on 1-of-10 shooting), Olynyk shot 5-of-10, including a 3-of-4 clip from downtown. He even canned a couple above-the-break threes!
• Derrick Jones, Jr. can fly. We found out the downside of that the hard way. I’m not posting the clip, but goodness that was hard to watch. Luckily, he escaped with a bruised shoulder after X-rays came back negative. Hopefully, he won’t miss too much time.
• Marcus Lee had some flashes in the second half. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds in a little over 12 minutes of play. The nose for the ball is evident: You don’t just luck into four offensive rebounds in that short of a stint. Maybe we’ll see more of him Friday.
• Justise Winslow was … not great last night when attacking the basket last night. This is the second-straight game we’ve seen this exact sequence play out:
He has to do a better job of creating finishing angles. Too often, he’ll either beat his man off the bounce and find himself too deep, or he’ll get his shoulder inside of his defender but fail to do anything else to create separation. The latter is what happened on the Miles Bridges block.
Considering Winslow isn’t a great leaper, he may need to adopt Goran Dragic’s “iron shoulder” or something similar to give himself some breathing room. He did a better job in the second half, but that’s something to watch for.