Heat guard Dion Waiters said weeks ago that he never asked for any assurances about starting when he signed here, and that he would be fine with a starting or bench role.
But on Monday, he expressed excitement about the prospect of starting, at least to begin the season, and spoke of the vast potential of a backcourt pairing with Goran Dragic.
“It's going to be fun,” Waiters said, when asked about the satisfaction of being a starter again. “I worked extremely hard this summer. I feel as though everything clicked. I'm back to having fun, being myself, just the energy, the vibe, it's like a beautiful thing. I'm in the best shape of my life. I’m excited to get going.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra likes what he has seen from the Waiters/Dragic backcourt. Spoelstra inserted Waiters in the starting lineup after three games in preseason, and he ended up starting the final four games in which he appeared before sitting out the finale against Philadelphia for rest purposes.
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“Their skill sets have matched where both are able to be aggressive and both have been able to play off the ball and feel that they can still be involved,” Spoelstra said. “So that's encouraging. Dion has shown he can defend multiple positions, which is important. He can guard on the ball. He can guard a bigger player on the post.
“So those guys just need more time. I like seeing them play together during training camp and their chemistry is getting better. Maybe Dion is learning some Slovenian too.”
Waiters started 24, 23 and 15 games each of the past three seasons, between Cleveland and Oklahoma City. He likely will now have the distinction of being the Heat’s opening night shooting guard in the first season after All Star Dwyane Wade’s departure to Chicago.
Whether Waiters remains a starter, after Josh Richardson returns from a knee injury, likely will depend on how both Waiters and the team are playing.
Dragic likes the possibilities of this starting backcourt.
“It's great, awesome,” Dragic said. “I feel like we complement each other and it's really easy to play with him because he's such a great player. He can penetrate, he can get others involved.”
Both are skilled ball-handlers, though Dragic said that won’t create issues.
“Most of the time, I'm going to bring the ball in, then I'm going to set guys in the right spot and run the action,” said Dragic, who averaged 13.5 points with 39 assists and 14 turnovers in preseason. “Most of the times, the action is going to finish with him handling the ball and making decisions.”
Waiters, who averaged 12.6 points with 23 assists and 15 turnovers in preseason, said: “It's easy for me when he's attacking. I just have to find open areas. If you swing it to me, I'm another guy that can attack and get downhill and make a play. You have to pick your poison.”
Dragic said Waiters’ ability to penetrate, which has been on display throughout preseason, “helps everybody [because] if you get it in the middle of the paint, the defense breaks and you have so many options. You can throw the lob, you can throw outside to the open guy for the shot or you can finish.”
THIS AND THAT
Spoelstra said there is still no timetable for the return of Richardson (knee) and Josh McRoberts (foot).
“They both took steps forward the last two days, doing more for longer periods of time,” Spoelstra said. “It's not full contact. It's partial contact.”
McRoberts said it “will take some time” to get his legs back but a return to game action is “hopefully sooner than later.”
When he does return, McRoberts – a power forward by trade - said he will play center primarily, a role he had some success in during the playoffs.
“He'll have to defend [centers],” Spoelstra said. “The way he plays, he won't necessarily be playing like a [center].”
• Guard Wayne Ellington didn’t practice because of a quadriceps contusion and his availability for Wednesday’s opener in Orlando is in doubt.
• Spoelstra said he’s still in the process of deciding who will start at power forward. Derrick Williams and Luke Babbitt are the top options, and Dragic said both have spent time with the starters in practice this week. But Spoelstra seems disinclined to alternate starters based on matchups.
“They each bring something different,” Spoelstra said, also mentioning James Johnson, who had a strong preseason. “To be able to say we have the answers right now, that's not realistic.”
• Hassan Whiteside contacted the producers of the Animal Planet series, Tanked, who install elaborate and sometimes over-the-top fish tanks in the homes of celebrities and others, and asked if he could have one. They agreed to install a 1500 gallon tank in his home.
“He's a fun guy,” Spoelstra said. “The last few practices during pre-practice, he sprinted up into the gym and ran the full court just to let everybody know he's here. I think that's fun.”
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