Second of a three-part series on the Miami Heat’s areas of need entering the NBA Draft.
Here are the marching orders for the Heat’s next rookie guard: be open in the corner, and then knock down shots from there.
Do those two things, and play a little defense along the way, and living in Miami should be a pleasant experience. Fail to master the art of the corner three-pointer, however, and there is always a fate worse than the bench: a trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and a place on the Heat’s D-League team, the Skyforce.
To shore up a troublesome hole on the roster, the Heat likely will draft a backup shooting guard with one of its two picks in Thursday’s NBA Draft. If he’s smart, then that player already knows making at least 40 percent of his shots from the corners will be expected.
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One of the biggest trends in the NBA over the past few years has been an uptick in corner three-point attempts, and shooting from that area on the court was a major problem for the Heat’s last first-round pick, guard Norris Cole. Although Cole had trouble from the corners, the Heat thrived overall from there during the LeBron James Years thanks to players such as Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller and Ray Allen. Last season, coach Erik Spoelstra and his offense were handicapped without a consistent threat from the corners.
How desperate was Spoelstra last preseason to find a young shooter? Consider that to begin the 2014-15 season, the Heat gave one of its coveted roster spots to an obscure, undrafted rookie out of Duke, Andre Dawkins. Dawkins couldn’t play much defense, but he was the Heat’s best three-point shooter during the preseason. That single skill earned him a spot in the NBA.
Dawkins was released early in the season, and so was veteran guard Shannon Brown. The Heat then traded away Cole in a deal that brought point guard Goran Dragic to Miami. So, as currently constructed, the Heat is again lacking in three-point shooters. With Dragic projected as the Heat’s starting point guard and Dwyane Wade, assuming he returns to the Heat next season, mostly a midrange threat, the Heat has been scouting perimeter players who can not only come off the bench immediately, but also develop into two-way NBA players.
As Heat president Pat Riley pointed out in April, the archetypal player for the team’s needs would be someone similar to Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson, a player who can defend the perimeter well and also spread the floor offensively with a consistent outside shot. Thompson was the 11th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, and the Heat owns the 10th pick in this draft.
It would overly optimistic to hope for a player of Thompson’s caliber at the 10th spot, but there are some talented shooting guards among this year’s draft class — and a few might even still be around by the time the Heat is on the clock. High among most prospect rankings is Kentucky freshman shooting guard Devin Booker, who at 6-6 would provide length defensively on the perimeter. Draft projections place Booker after shooting guards D’Angelo Russell of Ohio State and Mario Hezonja of Croatia.
Other shooting guards of interest include junior R.J. Hunter of Georgia State and senior Norman Powell of UCLA.
If the Heat goes a different direction with its first pick, Riley, Spoelstra and the Heat’s scouting department could always use its second-round selection (40th overall) on a perimeter shooter. Freshman Rashad Vaughn of UNLV and junior Michael Qualls of Arkansas are two shooting guards who might still be available 40 picks into the draft.
Complicating the Heat’s specific needs in the backcourt is the team’s uncertainty with Wade. Negotiations between Wade and the Heat could affect the team’s draft-day priorities. For example, if the Heat is forced to trade Mario Chalmers to free up salary for Wade’s new contract, then the team’s need at backup shooting guard becomes even more pronounced.
The Heat would prefer Wade to opt in to the final year on his current contract, which is set to pay him $16.1 million. That scenario would give the Heat the most roster flexibility heading into the draft and free agency.
Shooting guards of interest
NBA Draft: 7 p.m. Thursday, ESPN; Heat selections: First round (10th); Second round (40th).