A few Heat items, with players convening at AmericanAirlines Arena three weeks today to begin their first season without Dwyane Wade:
• The Heat is very encouraged by the progress Justise Winslow has made while working with a shooting specialist this summer. One Heat staffer said his stroke, release and rhythm are looking a lot better.
“You will see a major difference; he can be a special player,” that person said.
Winslow declined to identify the shooting coach but said he is “pretty pleased” with the results and that he’s working on his jumper during the early mornings and late at night.
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The coach has made mechanical changes to his stroke, Winslow said: “Just smoothing things out. I am pretty confident. I like the way it’s going.”
Offensive growth is essential for Winslow to thrive as a starting small forward. Last season, he shot 27.6 percent on threes (32 for 116), 34.4 percent from 3 to 10 feet, 28.6 percent from 10 to 16 feet and 37.2 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line.
Winslow said it was “great to hear” Pat Riley say he’s ready to start at small forward: “Even before he said that, I kind of had that in my mind…. I’m expecting a huge leap in my performance.”
In a recent podcast, Winslow told fellow former Duke player Jon Scheyer: “Unfortunately for me, [Dwyane] Wade was a guy I Iooked up to. He's gone. Joe [Johnson] is gone. Lu [Deng] is gone. It's my turn. Embrace the opportunity. Try to make this a year to make the front office feel confident in building around me for the future. I'm looking forward to the green light. My role is going to be so much bigger. I have to learn how to step up vocally.”
Winslow said “it's pretty clear the mindset the Heat is going with, trying to build the young nucleus we have and trying to bring in some good complementary players. Hopefully, [Chris Bosh] can come back. Our goal [is] try to make the game as ugly as possible, play good defense and go from there. We've got a lot of players. If we can put it all together, we should be able to make the playoffs.”
Winslow told both me and Scheyer that he learned a lot from Gregg Popovich while training with the U.S. Olympic team this summer.
“You see him on TV and you are kind of intimidated and don't know what to expect,” Winslow said. “To see how normal he is, how approachable he is, just being able to pick his brain about things, I've learned a lot in a short period of time. He loves the way I can process new things on the go.”
His full-time coach, Erik Spoelstra, offered this recent testimonial in a Heat video: “He's going to find a way to make an impact on the game. And he's going to do it in winning fashion. It might be defensively; it might be offensively. It might be leadership. All of that is far ahead of his age. He brings that intangible quality that's very unique for any player in this league, much less somebody who's 20 years old, with only one-year experience."
On some of the Heat’s other developing wing players:
• With Josh Richardson, Heat staffers have spent a lot of time with him this summer on making plays for others and refining his dribble moves and finishes. Like Winslow, he’s a willing pupil.
“He would be a top 20 pick [instead of 40th] if they redrafted,” an Eastern Conference scout said. “He’s actually versatile enough to play 1, 2 and 3. His driving game could be pretty good.”
• With Tyler Johnson, the playmaking must improve; his 1.7 to 1 assist to turnover ratio last season was below average.
“All the drills that we're doing this year kind of skewed toward being a point guard," Johnson said. “It’s the same goal that [Erik Spoelstra] had from last year, is to get a lot of reps at the point guard,… controlling the game, where if we have a couple of bad sets in a row, being able to calm the team down, get guys in their spots and then knowing when to push the tempo, knowing when we need to just go to draw up a play. I think the game awareness is probably the biggest thing that I need to develop as time goes on."
• The internal feedback on point guard Briante Weber, who now faces an uphill climb to make the roster after Beno Udrih’s signing: He’s an elite on-the-ball defender (he averaged an absurd 3.9 steals in Summer League). He has quick hands and a unique ability to anticipate.
The release point on his shot isn’t high, and there must be improvement there (he shot 39 percent in Summer League, 3 for 19 on threes), but the Heat doesn’t believe his shot is broken. The Heat also wants him to develop his skills on pick and rolls and making teammates better.
The Heat would need to trade or cut a veteran due guaranteed money in order to keep Weber.
• Difficult to see Rodney McGruder, Stefan Jankovich or Okaro White making the roster barring trades of veterans. The Heat hopes to stash all three in D-League. Miami loves Jankovic’s soft touch and range but he needs to gain at least 10 pounds.
• As for Chris Bosh, the team hasn't had any additional comment since Micky Arison's see you in training camp tweet last Wednesday. Discussions remain focused on the Heat's comfort level with Bosh taking new thinners that would be out of his system within eight hours or so, and ways for him to play while taking those type of thinners, according to an NBA-employed source.
The Heat is working on potential solutions and has said it would like to try to get him back on the court. Bosh very much wants to play and intends to (according to his wife). He still needs to be cleared by the Heat, and there will be some level of uncertainty until that happens. But the Heat is working on a solution, which has led to some optimism.