Among the many things we’ve learned about the Miami Heat over the first month of this season is that coach Erik Spoelstra is still very much trying to figure out the right way to juggle both combinations and playing time for his players.
Two prime examples caught up in that process: Kelly Olynyk and first round pick Bam Adebayo.
Olynyk, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal this summer, began the season starting next to Hassan Whiteside. The two haven’t played together since as Olynyk has moved into a backup center role and seen his minutes dwindle from 23.7 a game to 15.8 since Whiteside returned from a five-game injury absence.
Adebayo, meanwhile, who did a respectable job filling in as a starter while Whiteside was out, averaging 7.7 points and eight rebounds in three starts, enters Friday’s game against the Wizards having not played since Whiteside was benched in the second half of a loss at Golden State on Nov. 6.
“Right now we’re trying to figure out what's best for our team, to get us a little bit more consistent,” Spoelstra said Friday morning after his team conducted shootaround at Georgetown University.
“It’s tough. I would love to get K.O. more minutes. I’m trying to figure out the rotation. It’s something I’m still working on. The league is getting a little bit smaller and quicker and faster. Sometimes at the outset is when you have the best chance to play a little bit bigger.
“But I like what I’m seeing right now with this starting group, so we’ll see. I’ll continue to be open and that’s not even including Bam, who’s played well and has earned some minutes, as well.”
Entering Friday’s game, Spoelstra has gone either with an eight- or nine-man rotation since the loss at Golden State. Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Olynyk and Wayne Ellington, who has seen his minutes dwindle some lately, is the group coming off the bench to backup starters Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Whiteside.
▪ Although he said prior to the season the team would send Adebayo down to the development league for seasoning if he wasn’t getting enough playing time, Spoelstra said Friday he’s “not at that point right now.”
“I mean, he’s my next guy,” Spoelstra said. “That’s the thing. I’m still surprised he hasn’t found a way in. But we're trying to find consistency right now in a nine-man rotation. That’s what we're going with. But that doesn’t mean I won’t go differently as we go forward.”
▪ Spoelsta also said Friday there is no need for the Heat to call up a player from Sioux Falls to replace forward Okaro White, who had surgery Thursday to repair a broken bone in his foot. “I’m having a tough time trying to play 10,” Spoelstra said.
As for Olynyk, he and Whiteside are both surprised they haven’t seen more time on the floor together beyond the 10 minutes they shared in the opening night loss in Orlando.
“I don’t think we gave it a very big sample size,” Olynyk said of he and Whiteside playing side by side. “I think it makes it tough to guard, really tough to guard. You got to matchup a certain way and it makes them match up a certain way. There’s two sides to every coin, so you can look at it either way. Depending on how you look at it, how it works or how it doesn’t work. You got to look at the net rating.”
Olynyk and Whiteside’s net rating together as a two-man lineup was minus-31.4, second-worst on the team only to Whiteside and Ellington (minus-38.1 in 46 minutes together). The Heat was outscored by eight points when Olynyk and Whiteside were on the floor together against the Magic.
Whiteside, though, said he’s “a little bit” surprised Spoelstra hasn’t gone back to it either. Whiteside said he and Olynyk don’t even play on the same team together in practice.
“I think it would be good – just as good as Justise out there,” Whiteside said of a pairing between him and Olynyk. “I believe in any of my teammates playing the four... they’re all good.”
▪ Here’s a list of Whiteside’s two-man combinations this season in terms of minutes played together and the team’s plus/minus during those minutes together: Dragic (223 minutes, +7), Richardson (191, +24), Waiters (171, +19), (Winslow 131, -3), Tyler Johnson (107, -30), James Johnson (87, -9), Okaro White (50, +1), Ellington (46, -37), Olynyk (10, -8).
▪ After his 21-rebound effort in Wednesday’s loss to the Wizards, the Heat are now 6-9 when Whiteside grabs at least 20 rebounds in a game. Spoelstra, though, made sure to credit Whiteside’s effort in the loss to Washington.
“I definitely want to note that that was a winning performance,” he said. “Yes, sometimes when he’s not doing the little things, even the big things that he’s able to do can’t overcome [a loss]. But he was doing a lot of everything the other night. So I think that’s something we have to continue to build on. He is getting so much better and mature and understanding how to impact winning on all different fronts.”