The Miami Heat returns to the court for the start of training camp Sept. 25. The preview begins with position-by-position breakdowns. The focus of the first position is point guard. Goran Dragic is the unquestioned starter, with Tyler Johnson and Justise Winslow expected to provide valuable support and Briante Weber hoping to earn a spot on the 15-man roster.
Does the 6-foot-7 Justise Winslow count? Winslow, 22, is entering his fourth NBA season — all with the Heat — but his primary role has yet to be point guard for an entire season. That’s where the question “Who’s new?” comes into play. This could be the season Winslow takes on a full-time point forward role, which qualifies him as the answer. After putting together the best stretch of his three-year NBA career in last season’s playoffs while playing as a point guard, Winslow said: “I really enjoyed playing point guard. I think that’s something as the offseason goes on, I’ll sit down and talk to [coach Erik Spoelstra] more about.” Winslow averaged 9.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists in the Heat’s five-game first-round series. Another reason point guard could be a good fit for Winslow is he would initiate the offense instead of being put in spot-up shooting situations working off the ball. Shooting has never been a strength for Winslow, as he has made 31.9 percent of his jump shots during the first three seasons of his NBA career. But Briante Weber is the only new face at point guard this season, with Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson and Winslow all returning players. Even Weber is not really new, though, as he has appeared in one regular-season game with the Heat and has had three separate stints with the Heat’s developmental-league affiliate, the Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Skyforce. With 14 roster spots pretty much taken, Weber will be working this preseason to earn the final slot on the Heat’s 15-man regular-season roster after accepting a training camp invite in August.
What to watch for
Tyler Johnson. He doesn’t seem like an exciting player to keep an eye on, considering he’s a bench player who has spent the first four seasons of his NBA career with the Heat. But take a look at Johnson’s salary. After making $5.9 million last season, Johnson’s cap number spikes to $19.2 million this year as part of the four-year, $50 million deal he signed in the summer of 2016. That makes Johnson the second highest-paid player on the Heat’s roster behind only Hassan Whiteside. While Johnson insists he doesn’t feel any added pressure from his new salary, it will be worth watching how the 26-year-old performs. Efficiency is one area Johnson can improve in, as he shot 43.5 percent from the field and averaged 2.3 assists to 1.1 turnovers last season playing primarily as the backup to Dragic.
Let’s go with Winslow again. Everybody knows what Dragic, 32, can do, and Tyler Johnson has seemed to find his niche as a sixth man, but there’s still plenty of room for Winslow to grow. Winslow’s first three NBA seasons have included plenty of ups and downs, but consistency is something he hasn’t achieved. Part of that is because he hasn’t found a consistent role. He has played small forward, power forward and even a few minutes at center during his career. But the Heat might have found something last season when it used Winslow as more of a point forward initiating offense. And Winslow enjoyed that role, too. He filled up the stat sheet with 49 points, 33 rebounds, 13 assists, four steals and four blocks in five playoff games.
“I like point guard because it’s challenging for me,” Winslow said days after Miami was eliminated from the playoffs. “I look forward to learning. It will keep me engaged in the game having to think that way. As far as the offseason, continue to work on my ball-handling for those point-guard responsibilities.”
Does the Heat have enough true point guards on the roster? Dragic was really the only true point guard on the team last season, with Tyler Johnson more of a combo guard and Winslow seen as a forward who can play the role of point guard. This is one of the reasons Miami finished in the bottom half of the league last season with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.58. Weber is a true point guard who could help the Heat in this area, but he probably won’t play big minutes even if he does make the 15-man roster.