When you have a roster overhaul like the Miami Heat has had over the past couple months natural questions arise:
Will personalities clash?
Will newcomers put ego and potentially future contract dollars aside to be team players?
With a roster that includes five players on one-year contracts (Derrick Williams, Udonis Haslem, James Johnson, Beno Udrih and Luke Babbitt) and another five with either team or player options for the following season (Josh McRoberts, Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, Willie Reed, Josh Richardson) it’s a valid concern to think some players might begin looking out for their own best interests.
But so far this preseason that hasn’t been the case. In Thursday’s loss at Charlotte, Miami had assists on 23 of its 31 field goals.
Sharing the ball and playing friendly has been a theme all preseason with the Heat averaging 23.6 assists per game (13th) and assists on 59.8 percent of their baskets (14th). Last year in the regular season, Miami averaged 20.8 assists per game (23rd) and assists on 54.3 percent of its baskets (26th).
By comparison, the 73-win Golden State Warriors averaged 28.9 assists per game and collected assists on 68 percent of their baskets last season. Both stats led the league.
“Really young, really talented,” Hassan Whiteside said Monday when asked to share his early impressions of the new group the Heat has assembled. “Anybody can score. So, you really don't know from day-to-day who is going to be the scorers, the facilitator, the player of the game. So, it’s very diverse and very unique. It’s a lot of playmakers. It’s a lot of defenders. If the guys trust the process like they’ve been doing it’s going to be an exciting season.”
Goran Dragic said it’s surprised him “that everybody is accepting their roles.”
“It's like everybody is eager to learn and accept what is best for the team,” said Dragic, who leads the Heat with 32 assists this preseason. “I think we look great as long as we continue to work like that. Maybe what else has surprised me is that we have so much depth. Probably nobody in the league knows how much depth we've got. We have guys that can play multiple positions and we can rotate those guys. I think that’s really something special to have.
“We're a young, energetic team who has guys that can play multiple positions. I feel like we’re close. We showed at the moment that we can play really well. We just need to work on communication and consistency. That's going to be our main -- I would not say problem, but main concern. Just try to be consistent.”
On the defensive side of the ball, nobody is loafing, Dragic said.
Last week’s win at San Antonio was a confidence builder in a lot of ways. Though the Spurs were minus All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, Dragic said it was a very encouraging sign that the Heat were leading by 20 points and holding San Antonio to 39 percent shooting after three quarters when Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker were all still playing significant roles.
“We did our part on defense especially,” Dragic said. “They were shooting 39 percent or 40 percent from the field. That's not easy against the Spurs. I feel like we were more explosive, faster than them. We played really higher pace and everybody played their game and we were maybe one step ahead of them on every play. It has to be like this every game this season [for us].”
And that’s going to be the sticking point moving forward. Can the Heat consistently share the ball like they have this preseason? Will guys continue to play unselfish? Will guys continue to play all out on defense?
Coach Erik Spoelstra knows attitudes can change quickly once the regular season begins, once Miami struggles a little and once minutes start to curtail for certain players and rotations form.
“It's early,” Spoelstra said before Tuesday's win over the Magic when told Dragic was surprised by how unselfish his new teammates were being and how many of them were accepting roles.
“You try to build a structure, a culture, an infrastructure of teamwork and sacrificing, playing selflessly for a bigger cause. But our guys have embraced it. They understand that we emphasize that quite a bit. It's still preseason, so the roles have not been clearly, officially defined yet. But we’re heading in that direction.”