A down moment during stoppage in play on Wednesday night in Charlotte offered a revealing moment in the developing chemistry of the Miami Heat.
Just before the end of a timeout, with the Hornets preparing to inbound the ball and Miami setting its defense, Heat rookie point guard Shabazz Napier called over teammates Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade for a brief huddle and wrapped an arm around each star.
It looked like something a coach would do with unsure players, and certainly not something most rookies would consider doing with established perennial All-Stars.
Napier then gave a quick reminder to his veteran teammates about defensive assignments. It was an odd scene, considering it was just Napier’s fifth game as a professional, but the rookie’s teammates and coaches are already handing the former University of Connecticut standout plenty of responsibilities.
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So far, he is thriving as the Heat’s backup point guard.
Napier has not only become a regular rotation player before the season’s first full fortnight, but he’s also playing every minute during the fourth quarter of games. Norris Cole is starting games at point guard, but Napier is already finishing them. He has played the full 12 minutes of the final periods in three of the Heat’s past four games.
“Things just are settled when he’s in there,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Guys get to their spots, he’s a very poised young player and he does a good job of getting the ball to the right places.”
Napier’s presence in the fourth quarter is similar to a role Cole sometimes played when he was a backup, so it would be incorrect to interpret Napier’s minutes as stealing time from Cole. After all, Spoelstra has repeated several times that the Heat is going to need all three point guards playing well for the Heat to succeed.
“Any opportunity I receive I will do my best,” Napier said. “I have two great guards to learn from in Cole and [Mario] Chalmers.”
From his leadership instincts to the way he organizes an offense, Napier is a classic point guard, and he approaches the game with a pass-first mentality. That’s a characteristic Spoelstra craves right now with the team still fighting through early season growing pains. Meanwhile, the Heat’s other guards have been inconsistent offensively.
Chalmers played 32 minutes against the Hornets and scored just six points. Cole was 1 of 6 shooting for two points in Charlotte after going scoreless against the Rockets on Tuesday night.
Cole didn’t commit any turnovers Wednesday, which kept the team’s giveaway total low (eight overall), but he also had only one assist. It was a difficult back-to-back for Cole, but Spoelstra says he’s not worried.
“He just needs to play his role and he’ll be back at it,” Spoelstra said. “That’s the one thing about Norris. You know he’s pure, and you know his work ethic is outstanding, so he’ll be back to work on Friday.”
Heat forward Josh McRoberts didn’t get too sentimental about his first trip back to Charlotte. Of course, he wasn’t given much time on the court to leave any kind an impression with his old team. He played spot minutes and scored two points.
“I’ve played everywhere, but coming back to see my old teammates and coaches was good,” McRoberts said. “It’s always going to be different coming back, but I’m happy where I’m at.”
Bosh said there was “better ball movement” Wednesday, but added that “coming off four games in five days is a time we need to step closer to the goal on our shot decisions; our three-point shots were a little short. We failed to attack the basket.”
▪ Wade has played in all five games this season and scored a season-high 25 points against the Hornets. He missed significant time last season resting his knees, but Spoelstra noted after the game that “if he’s available and pain-free then he’ll play.”