Pat Riley said it’s too early to assess what the Miami Heat has done this season – especially with Hassan Whiteside sidelined for the last thre games with a bone bruise in his left knee.
But the Heat’s president, who was being inducted into the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Sports Hall of Champions on Thursday night at Marlins Park, did preach patience with the team’s two latest lottery picks – Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo.
Winslow, 21, has struggled with his shot since entering the NBA in 2015 and Adebayo, 20, made his first career start in Wednesday night’s 117-100 loss to the Spurs opposite two former All-Stars in Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge. Riley believes despite the growing pains bigger days lay ahead for both first round picks.
“They’re both young,” Riley said. “That’s the difference I think between lottery picks and picking in the 20s. Usually when we would do that we would go for more of a veteran player [coming out of college]. They’re both 20, 21. I think you could see last night against veteran 35-year-old, 37-year-old players that are very smart and on a great team, championship team, championship coach that they’ve got a lot to learn.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“The one thing about the team that I will say is what we see every single day and what we see every single night is it’s going to come hard. They’re going to come hard. They’re going to play hard. They’re bringing it every night with effort. Once the efficiency catches up with the effort, maybe some of the pace slows down and they get into a real balance. But right now it’s too early to assess. But I’m happy with both Justise and Bam. Five years from now I hope they’re on the All-Star team.”
The Heat, which finished fifth in the league last season in defensive rating (104.1), has really struggled out of the gate on the defensive end, giving up 50 points per game in the paint (25th in the league) and ranking 23rd in defensive rating (107.7).
Riley, 72, suggested most of that has to do with Whiteside being sidelined and the faster pace of play league-wide. The Heat ranks 16th in pace (101.33).
“There’s a fine line that a coach has to make a decision when you want to play a pace game,” Riley said. “It was easy for me. It’s so easy when I coached because I could stop a team by putting two fingers in the air or a fist in the air and we’d take 24 seconds off the shot clock. We’d keep a score within reach. Sometimes when you’re breaking and running and going hard, shots are flying up, turnovers are happening, layups are being missed.
“What’s going on the other way has to be evaluated. I think once that ying-and-yang gets worked out then a coach can either go forward with [the pace] or he can pull back on it. [Coach Erik Spoelstra is] fully committed to it and I think we have the guys that are committed to playing it.”
Riley suggested the Heat can still play with a strong defensive disposition in this league – even when everyone seems to want to race up and down the court (the Heat included).
“You can have the defensive disposition, but there’s a difference in disposition when you dominate the shot clock because you're going to control that offense,” he said. “So when you control the shot clock on offense as many years as I did, then you can control your defense because of the shots you’re taking and guys responsibilities to get back.
“It’s a whole new world. It’s a different game. It really is. I’m excited. I watch it every single night. Eighty percent of the players in this league are exciting and talented and the coaches have decided to go that way [and play at a faster pace]. Last night you saw some old school grind because [the Spurs] have post up players. So I think it's always an interesting mix. Let’s just let this play out.”
Miami Herald Sports Writer Michelle Kaufman contributed to this report