Looking for Miami Heat positives amid the wreckage of a deflating loss against Charlotte in Friday’s home opener?
Here’s one: Willie Reed, 26, has transformed himself from Development League journeyman to what appears to be a capable backup NBA center, a process that began with the Nets last season and has accelerated in Miami.
“My wife told me the other day that coach [Erik] Spoelstra said I was one of the most improved players in training camp,” said Reed, who went undrafted out of St. Louis in 2011 and has been waived four times by NBA teams, including twice by Sacramento. “I’m glad to see my hard work is paying off. I want to… hopefully be the most improved player of the season.”
Reed’s evolution stands as a testament not only to his diligence to reshape his body and polish his game, but also to the Heat’s development program.
Reed, 6-10, spent two weeks with the Heat before and during 2015 NBA Summer League before the Nets swooped in with a guaranteed offer that the Heat was in no position to match.
But those two weeks convinced him that the Heat coaching staff could take his game to new heights. And that factored into his decision to return to Miami this summer on a two-year deal, with a Heat option for next season.
“When I was here for Summer League, those two weeks, I got better in that short period of time,” he said. “After that, I told [Heat assistant Juwan Howard], I really appreciate everything you've done for me and once free agency came around this summer, the logical thing to do was to come here.
“Once you see what they did with Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson, how they develop their young guys, I want to be that next guy that takes his game to the next level. And I feel like the Miami Heat can do that for me.”
Reed is averaging 8.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and shooting 77.8 percent in 19 minutes per game and the way he reshaped his body with the Heat training staff has a lot to do with that.
He toiled in the Heat’s weight room five days a week this past summer, boosting his weight from 227 to 243 (he stands at 235 now, which he says is ideal), “and that’s been key in being able to battle down low. I think strength is the biggest part for me. My hook shot started falling more because I was able to take contact. I was
confident being able to get rebounds in traffic because I worked on my lower-body strength. Improved lower body strength helped my post defense, boxing out. That's key. I'm in the best shape of my life. I feel as strong as I've ever felt.”
Howard has helped develop his offensive game, and Reed said they work on “post moves, hook shots, footwork, a lot of pick and roll stuff, how to get to the rim faster, creating space for my teammates, which is so important.”
After missing the first five weeks with a thumb injury, Reed appeared in 39 games for the Nets last season, averaged 4.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 10.9 minutes per game but his playing time declined not long after coach Lionel Hollins was fired. He said several teams inquired about him this past summer but the Heat was the most aggressive.
“When we signed him, he said he would be here Aug. 1 and he was true to his word virtually every single day other a planned eight-day vacation which I think he felt guilty about,” Spoelstra said. “Training camp, I didn't necessarily view him as being ready. I thought we were going to have to spend a few weeks developing him, but he progressed pretty quickly. He has a great motor. He brings a great energy.”
SATURDAY HEAT NUGGETS
The Heat enters one of its toughest games of the season (home to the perennially excellent Spurs at 6 p.m. Sunday) trying to correct what went wrong in Friday’s second-half collapse, which included Charlotte runs of 27-9 and 13-3.
Goran Dragic said one problem was “guys not [being] in the right spot. Spacing was not good. If you are not in the right spot, you can’t play actions. That is the main concern… All five [Hornets] are inside the paint. [The Spurs] defend probably the same way.”
• The Heat made 14 but took 34 three-pointers in Friday’s loss, more than it attempted in any game last season, but Spoelstra said he had no issue with taking that many considering Charlotte packed the paint. He said most any Heat player is encouraged to take a jumper, if left open, if it’s “in rhythm.”
• Hassan Whiteside’s left elbow required four stitches after he was tackled to the ground by Charlotte’s Cody Zeller on Friday. Whiteside’s elbow was wrapped and swollen on Saturday, but he said he will play Sunday.
• Whiteside, who is 4 for 11 on free throws so far (36.4 percent), said he now will resume taking a jump step or two before shooting free throws, and shooting them like jump shots, as he did after the All-Star break last season.
• Winslow has been playing some pseudo point guard and said Saturday: “I’ve get to get guys organized and be more vocal at that position.” Winslow has nine assists and six turnovers in two games.
Spoelstra said “as many different places on the court is where I want Justise.”
• Guards Josh Richardson (knee) and Wayne Ellington (quad contusion) remain out.
• The Spurs have won five in a row in the regular season series, including all four in the post LeBron James era, and last year’s games weren’t close, with San Antonio winning by 18 and 24. The Spurs opened the post-Tim Duncan era with an impressive 29-point win at Golden State and an eight-point win at Sacramento. For Heat fans looking for any hope, keep in mind that Miami played very well in a preseason win at San Antonio, for whatever that’s worth.
And the Spurs were scheduled to play host to New Orleans on Saturday night and have a short turnaround for Sunday’s 6 p.m. game in Miami. The Spurs said Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will sit out for rest reasons against the Pelicans, meaning they should be available Sunday vs. Miami.