The Heat gave Dion Waiters a four-year, $52 million contract primarily because of his exemplary work over the final 25 games that he played last season — a stretch that featured by far the most efficient play of his career.
Unfortunately for Miami, Waiters’ next 25 games — since the start of this season and entering Friday’s game in Charlotte — have been among the least efficient stretches of his 5 ½-year career.
During those 25 games that earned him the new contract, he averaged 18.4 points and 4.8 assists and shot 49.3 percent from the field and 44.8 percent on three-pointers.
During his first 25 games to start this season (entering Friday), he averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and shot 39.4 percent from the field and 31.8 percent on threes.
“Last year I was so efficient,” Waiters said Friday after the team’s shootaround at Spectrum Center. “But last year, my first two months were the same exact way. It’s déjà vu. Sometimes you have to look in the mirror and understand what you’re doing wrong. I am not worried about my shot. I know that thing is going to start falling.”
Waiters’ 39.4 shooting percentage would be a career-low, second-worst among all qualifying shooting guards, ahead of only Chicago’s Justin Holiday.
What’s more, Waiters entered Friday having made at least half his shots in just two of his previous 17 games dating to Nov. 8. Included in that stretch were two 1 for 10s, one 0 for 10, a 2 for 10 and a 3 for 10.
Among the reasons for the poor accuracy:
▪ He’s not driving to the basket as much as last season, and he said that’s largely because he’s facing more defensive resistance in the paint. “Teams play you different” now, he said. “I’m getting more attention. You’ve got to adjust.”
Waiters is converting decently at the rim (61.4 percent shooting, compared with 50.7 last season), but he’s not penetrating as much. Last season, he attempted 4.9 shots per game at the rim. This season, it’s 3.3.
▪ He’s shooting too often from distance and admits some shots have been forced. “I’m not taking good shots sometimes,” said Waiters, who’s launching six three-pointers per game, compared with 4.7 last season.
He’s shooting only 20 for 57 from 16 feet to the three-point line and 48 for 151 on threes. He’s struggling from three to nine feet also (14 for 46).
▪ He hasn’t had consistently good footwork or mechanics on his jumper — a factor that Waiters cited as a key to his improved shooting in the second half of last season. As a result, he’s shooting 32.5 percent on jump shots compared with 38.3 percent last season.
“I’m laying back, not following through on my shot,” he said. “I know exactly what I’m doing wrong. When I shoot the ball, make sure I’m on balance and follow through. That’s my biggest thing right now. I watch my shot and I’m doing a lot of fading.”
Though he has pain in his elbow, he didn’t cite that as a reason for his struggles.
Turnovers also have been an issue; he’s averaging a career-high 2.4 per game, above his 1.9 career average.
Erik Spoelstra said Hassan Whiteside is making progress, but there’s still no firm timetable for his return from a knee injury, with Whiteside missing his eighth consecutive game Friday.
Whiteside did some on-court work Thursday for the first time since being sidelined for a second time this season with a bone bruise on his left knee. Spoelstra said Whiteside is “not ready for [a full] practice” and is not sure when he will be.
“He’s experiencing much less pain,” Spoelstra said. “We will slowly progress him on the court. It will be based on next day pain or swelling.”
▪ An MRI on Justise Winslow’s strained left knee showed no damage, but like Whiteside, he also did not travel to Charlotte.
The Vertical reported he could be back within a week, but Spoelstra said: “I wouldn’t even say that right now.” He’s doing bicycle and pool work.
▪ Spoelstra definitively said that Rodney McGruder is “coming back” this season. McGruder had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left tibia in October, casting doubts about whether he would play this season.
Asked about his progress, Spoelstra cracked: “I will not answer because he will read it and take it as major progress and then start banging on my door and say I’m ready to play. He’s out of the boot and doing more work, all non-impact at this point.”
▪ Four Heat players became trade-eligible on Friday: Waiters, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Jordan Mickey. Every Heat players can now be dealt this season except Josh Richardson (because of NBA rules involving extensions) and Udonis Haslem (who has the right to veto any trade).
▪ The Heat recalled guard Derrick Walton Jr. from Sioux Falls, where he was averaging 14.5 points and 7.5 assists and shooting 41.2 percent in eight games.