Luke Babbitt went through a stretch in the third quarter of Tuesday night’s win over the Sacramento Kings when he missed five three-point shots in a row — and nobody was more delighted the 6-9, left-handed stretch forward kept firing away than Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
“I loved it,” Spoelstra said Thursday as the Heat wrapped up its final practice before hitting the road for a pair of games beginning Friday in Toronto.
“I’m still waiting for him to get his 10 threes off in a game. That was a major disappointment the other night. Actually, I was very encouraged when he missed three straight and he took his fourth. That’s the test of a real shooter.”
Few on the Heat’s roster have the kind of “ultra green light” to fire from beyond the arc that Babbitt has. Spoelstra has been adamant since the preseason began that he wants the career 40-percent three-point shooter not to hesitate when he’s open.
After all, if the Heat’s going to stretch the floor to free up center Hassan Whiteside and provide lanes for Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow to navigate through, then Babbitt, Wayne Ellington and the rest of Miami’s shooters have to do their part to remain credible threats.
Babbitt, who finished 3 for 9 from beyond the arc on Tuesday night after making his final three-point shot, has done his part. He’s made nine of his team-leading 24 three-point attempts (37.5 percent), helping the Heat —one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league last season — establish a new identity.
Miami is averaging 24.8 three-point attempts per game (two more than the previous franchise high) and shooting 38.4 percent from beyond the arc. The Heat has done better than that only one other time — in the 2012-13 season when it shot 39.6 percent and went 66-16 in the best season in franchise history.
Yes, it’s early, but the Heat’s 9.5 three-point makes per contest — tied for ninth in the league as of Thursday night — was actually more than the Golden State Warriors’ 8.5. It’s a rather drastic image change for a team that averaged 18 threes (third-fewest in the league) and shot 33.6 percent (27th) from beyond the arc last season.
“Yeah, I’m sure they’ll figure it out,” guard Tyler Johnson joked of the Warriors trailing the Heat in three-pointers made after one week of the regular season. “[But] I think as we get more in tune with one another that number [Miami’s three-point shooting percentage] can even go up.”
Although Ellington, a career 37.6 percent three-point shooter, remains out with a bruised right quad, second-year guard Josh Richardson, who shot 53.3 percent from three-point range after the All-Star break last season, could soon find himself back in the Heat’s rotation.
Richardson (sprained MCL) and center Josh McRoberts (foot) participated in full-contact 5-on-5 and 4-on-4 sessions for the first time in two months Thursday.
“It’s a good sign being able to go through contact,” Richardson said. “I felt fine. I was able to be aggressive and do what I normally do.”
Said Dragic: “It’s great to see J-Rich out there. I feel like he’s going to help us a lot. His ability to defend, to make plays, to make shots, he’s a well-rounded player. That just gives us more guys to rotate. The back-to-backs are coming, so we’re going to need a lot of players.”
Dragic, who shot a career-low 31.2 percent from three-point range last season, is one of four Heat players shooting better than 40 percent from three thus far.
He’s 11 of 21 (52.4 percent) from beyond the arc and credits the improvement to working with Heat shooting coach Rob Fodor, who showed him on video how he was bringing the ball up by the left side of his hip last season, instead of straight up.
“My confidence is high. I feel great,” said Dragic, who is looking and playing a lot more like the Third-Team All-NBA guard he was in 2014, when he shot 40.8 percent from three. “Physically, mentally I’m at the right place. I’m happy. [Making threes] makes my game so much easier.”
History shows when Miami makes threes, good things happen. When the Heat has shot better than 36 percent from three-point range — and it’s happened eight times — the franchise has made the playoffs all but once in those seasons.