For two of the three guys who played for the Miami Heat last season, the start to the summer league season has been pretty good.
Bam Adebayo, asked to lead all of summer league in rebounding, led the California Classic with 11.3 rebounds per game. Derrick Jones Jr., tasked with improving his shooting touch and defending the other team’s best player every night, led all scorers at the California Classic in total points scored and held No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley Jr. to 1 point on Thursday.
It’s been a different kind of start for Derrick Walton Jr. The 6-1, 185-point guard who was on a two-way contract last season has been laying bricks left and right, shooting only 19 percent from the field (5 of 27) and 3 of 18 from three-point range.
The good news? There’s still at least five games in Las Vegas — beginning Saturday at 5 against the New Orleans Pelicans — to try and leave the Heat with a better impression.
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“What's important to us is that he's playing defense,” Heat summer league coach Eric Glass said. “I think you all have seen it the first three games. He's really taken a commitment. He wasn't doing that stuff consistently all year and he’s really taken it upon himself to take the challenge on that end. And he's battling his butt off. We’re really proud of him on that end.
“He's a good enough shooter. He gets open shots. We tell him if he passes up open shots that we're going to be pissed. So just keep shooting it. He’s a good enough shooter. Those things are going to fall. I'm not worried about that. Just get into your defense, the shot will come.”
Walton Jr., who received a qualifying offer from the Heat on a two-way contract, played in 16 games for the Heat last season, mostly in garbage time and shot 41.2 percent from three-point range (7 of 17). In the G League, where he made 27 starts for Sioux Falls, Walton Jr. averaged 16.1 points, 7.0 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.44 steals and shot 37.7 percent from three-point range (he made 57 total).
Beyond Goran Dragic, the Heat doesn’t really have any natural point guards on its 15-man roster. Walton Jr. grew up playing the point, but has areas where the Heat believes he can improve in that regard, too. Thus far in summer league play, Walton Jr. has 18 assists and only four turnovers.
“Getting into that sweet spot, that gap, making plays, he’s a bit undersized so it’s tough to get in there,” Glass said. “But he’s getting better every game. He’s getting better in film sessions, getting better in practice and that’s what we want to see. He’s not James Harden or Chris Paul yet. But we like to see the improvement. We’re going to be on him about making the reads. We’re on all these guys. It's just teaching them how to play, teaching them what to look for. He’ll keep getting better because he works at it.”
And that’s what Walton plans to do in Vegas over the next week.
“Shoot the ball like I’m accustomed to doing,” he said of what his objective is. “Being a lot more disruptive on defense, making a lot of plays, getting back into the play when I’m screened and just doing a lot of things that effect the game and overall just being a great teammate and continue to lead by example and voice.
“I think the more I put myself personally second, the better it will be for myself. It’s all about just giving for the team.”
SPOELSTRA SAYS GLASS 'NEXT ONE'
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Glass, who just completed his eighth season in the video room with the Heat and first as player development coach, was more prepared to step into the lead role as a coach this summer than he knew he was.
“Really, I always compare it to the [movie] Karate Kid. Wax on, wax off. You do that a million times behind the scenes and you have no idea watching all those films and those situations, doing those 82 times a year, plus playoffs … you already have a lot of reps,” said Spoelstra, who grew up in the Heat’s video room himself.
“He's more than ready for this opportunity. Part of really stepping forward and coaching is being able to make your decisions and that’s why I’ve just stepped back. We’ve met several times before. The training camp just to talk about overall points of emphasis and who we have on the team and what we’re looking for from a general perspective. Then from there all the minutiae and details, that’s all his decisions. And, I think he’s done a terrific job. It's fun to see.”
Glass, a Newport Beach, California native, moved up from student manager to travel coordinator to graduate assistant and video coordinator when he was at Cal State Fullerton and majored in Kinesiology. He began as an intern with the Heat in 2010.
“We have a long history of guys that have come through the video room,” Spoelstra said. “He’s the next one. From early on I knew that we wanted to develop him because of his work ethic, his aptitude, his eagerness to learn, which is so key in this profession, particularly if you have a background that’s not from this league. He’s grinded all the way up.”