Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Dion Waiters’ having ankle surgery
The Miami Heat returns to the court for the start of training camp Sept. 25. This week’s position-by-position breakdowns help preview the beginning of camp. The focus of the second position is shooting guard. Dion Waiters is expected to return from ankle surgery at some point this season, with Dwyane Wade and Wayne Ellington seen as Waiters’ primary backups. Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder and Derrick Jones Jr. also could play at shooting guard, but they are more realistic options at other positions. Malik Newman, who accepted a training camp invite to be part of Miami’s 20-man preseason roster, is more likely to end up as part of the organization’s G League affiliate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, than on the Heat to start the regular season.
With 14 players returning from last year’s season-ending roster, there aren’t many new faces. With that in mind, Dion Waiters is the answer here. Yes, Waiters is entering his third season with the Heat, but the hope is a new (and healthy) version of Waiters will be on display this year after lingering pain turned into season-ending ankle surgery in January. The Heat announced Tuesday that Waiters will not be ready to practice when the team begins training camp next week and is also “unlikely” to be ready for the start of the regular season on Oct. 17 as he continues to recover from ankle surgery. But the original six-to-10-month recovery timetable calls for Waiters to make his return shortly after the start of the season. He’s working to get back to the player he was during Miami’s 30-11 run to close the 2016-17 season, when he averaged 18.4 points on 46.7 percent shooting to go with 3.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 25 games.
What to watch for?
The rotation. There’s only 48 minutes at shooting guard in a game, and coach Erik Spoelstra will have to figure out how to divide that time among Waiters, Dwyane Wade and Wayne Ellington. When Wade was traded to the Heat in February, Waiters was already out of the picture after season-ending ankle surgery. Waiters is expected to start once he makes his return, with Wade and Ellington as his primary backups. Ideally, these three would each average more than 20 minutes per game. But the math doesn’t add up. This is where Spoelstra’s positionless style comes into play. With Waiters and Wade having the ability to initiate offense in a point guard role, they likely will be on the court together as the Heat’s backcourt during certain stretches to create more playing time for both. And in small lineups, Ellington can be used as a small forward who can help space the floor with his three-point shooting ability. Plus, it’s always nice to have depth, especially with a player who is coming off ankle surgery and a 36-year-old Wade.
It’s easy to forget that Waiters is just 26 years old and was the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft. The Heat believes there’s upside here, and Waiters is hoping to show it as he enters the second season of the four-year, $52 million contract he signed in the summer of 2017. If Waiters can remain healthy, he has as much potential as anybody on the roster not named Bam Adebayo. The question is can he remain healthy for a full season? He’s not off to a good start, with his status for the opener already in doubt. Waiters has played a total of 76 regular-season games during his first two seasons with the Heat due to various injuries.
How much can Wade help the Heat in his final NBA season? He helped the team plenty last season, finishing the five-game playoff run as the only Heat player with a positive plus-minus while leading the team to its only playoff victory in Game 2 in Philadelphia with 28 points in 26 minutes. As crazy as it sounds, Wade is still one of the only players on the Heat’s roster who can consistently create offense in isolation situations. There’s value in that. Wade will play plenty off Miami’s bench, although there could be a maintenance program created to keep him fresh for the stretch run and possibly the postseason. There will be nights he scores two points and nights he finishes with 22 points. In the end, though, Wade’s presence should make the Heat a better team.