The reality of LADW (life after Dwyane Wade) has begun to set in for the Heat, with Miami standing 13th in the 15-team Eastern Conference at 2-7 entering Tuesday’s home game against Atlanta.
But here’s one positive from a discouraging start: the evolution of guard Tyler Johnson, who so far has very much validated the Heat’s decision to match the Brooklyn Nets’ back-loaded offer of $50 million over four years.
Not only did Johnson enter Tuesday ranked seventh in the league among bench scorers at 13.0 points per game, but he’s tied for 18th in three-point shooting percentage among all players (43.5 percent) and ninth among shooting guards in overall shooting percentage at 47.2.
He’s averaging 15.5 points per 36 minutes, up from 13.1 last season. He’s also averaging a surprisingly high 4.8 rebounds per game after filling the box score with 11 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists in Monday’s 94-90 loss at San Antonio.
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Coach Erik Spoelstra knew Johnson would not become even the least bit complacent after signing the big contract.
“That was never a thought,” Spoelstra said. “He was in [the arena working] virtually the next day.”
Spoelstra acknowledges it’s rare for a player this early in his career (third season) to prefer to come off the bench.
But “it's more rare to be open to doing whatever is best for the team,” Spoelstra said.
After a recent practice had ended, Spoelstra pointed to Johnson, who was still on the floor, working with Josh Richardson.
“Exhibit A right now: Tyler played 30 minutes last night and he's doing conditioning to try to help J-Rich,” Spoelstra said. “That's the essence of a great teammate.”
After signing his contract, Johnson bought a $5 million home in Pinecrest and installed a mini-movie theater but generally has been very cautious with his money.
He said he has been hearing from “people who reach out to you that you haven't heard from in a long time.” Some want financial assistance.
“I had an idea that was going to happen,” he said. “I have a good support system of people who were with me before all this happened and I am very aware of it so people who didn't rock with me before and now all of a sudden want to hit me up and see what I'm doing, I'm very cautious with it.
“I try not to isolate myself where I don't even respond. [But] when people ask me, ‘Hey, do you think you can take care of this and take care of that?’ I am very, very cautious."
Johnson said people ask for money for “stuff like promoting their mix tapes or real estate [deals], people saying, ‘We can buy those properties.’ I definitely steer away from that. It’s [not worth the risk], not at this point.”
Spurs players made note of the Heat’s physicality after Monday’s game. “They get away with a lot of contact, because otherwise the referees would have to stop the game pretty often,” Spurs center Pau Gasol told The San Antonio Express News.
Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said the Heat is “probably not the most talented offensively. But they are physical and rough offensively. They make you feel their bodies.”
• After breaking out of a slump to score 27 points Monday, guard Dion Waiters conceded: “I can’t keep letting guys down…. I’ve been kind of just playing within the system. But I got to be who I am - that’s aggressive and just make plays for my teammates.”
• Per Elias, the Heat is now 3-26 on the road against the Spurs, equaling the second-worst road winning percentage (.103) that any current NBA franchise has against another. The Nets are 4-39 (.093) on the road against the Spurs and the Kings are 3-26 (.103) when they play at Miami.
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