The Miami Heat returns to the court for the start of training camp Tuesday. This week’s position-by-position breakdowns help preview the beginning of camp. The focus of the third part of the series is small forward. Josh Richardson is expected to begin the season as the starter at this position for the second consecutive year, with Justise Winslow, Rodney McGruder and Derrick Jones Jr. as his backups. Duncan Robinson, who is signed to a two-way contract, can have his two-way deal switched to a standard contract if he really impresses in the preseason. But it’s more likely that Robinson ends up as part of the organization’s G League affiliate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to start the year.
Duncan Robinson, who went undrafted out of Michigan this year. In July, the Heat used one of its two two-way contract spots to sign the 6-8 forward in the middle of his impressive stint with the organization’s summer league team. Known for his shooting ability, Robinson shot 55.3 percent (21 of 38) from three-point range in seven summer league games. That’s the skill that intrigues the Heat, with Robinson able to space the floor as a stretch forward. With Luke Babbitt gone, Miami has a need for that type of player. But to find a role in the NBA, he will have to prove he can do more than just shoot. As a two-way contract player, Robinson is expected to spend most of the season in the G League with the Heat’s developmental-league affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, to work on building a more well-rounded game. Even if he remains on a two-way contract for the entire season, Robinson should at least get a taste of some real-game experience with the Heat because two-way agreements allow for players to spend up to 45 days in the NBA during the regular season. Plus, he will likely start the regular season with the Heat because that 45-day clock does not begin until the Oct. 22 start of G League training camps, which is three games into Miami’s season. And if Robinson impresses enough during the preseason, there is one open spot on the Heat’s 15-man roster.
What to watch for?
Growth from Richardson. The 25-year-old made a big jump last season, averaging career highs in points (12.9 points), rebounds (3.5), assists (2.9), steals (1.5) and blocks (0.9) in 81 regular-season games in his first year as a full-time starter. Richardson also proved to be one of the league’s top perimeter defenders, as he limited those he guarded to 41.6 percent shooting in the regular season and 37.0 percent shooting in the playoffs. The next step for him is to become a consistent playmaker and contributor on offense. Richardson has relied on catch-and-shoot opportunities (43 percent of his shots came on catch-and-shoot attempts last season) during the first three years of his NBA career, but the hope is that a higher percentage of his offense will come from opportunities he creates off the dribble this season. One could make a strong argument that Richardson is already the Heat’s best two-way player, and he still has room to improve.
If the growth Derrick Jones Jr. showed in July during the summer league is any indication of what’s to come, he could be the entire team’s top breakout candidate. The Heat signed the 6-7 wing player to a guaranteed contract this summer worth about $1.5 million for this upcoming season. That’s a big deal for him, considering the 21-year-old Jones played on a two-way contract with the Heat last season and spent most of the year in the G League. He averaged 3.7 points and 2.4 rebounds in 14 regular-season games (eight starts) with Miami, and averaged 19.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 13 games with the Sioux Falls Skyforce last season. But Jones should log more NBA minutes in his second season with the Heat. He is close to a lock to make Miami’s 15-man roster now that he’s on a guaranteed contract, and he could see consistent playing time early on with Dion Waiters’ availability in question to start the season as he continues to recover from ankle surgery. The key for Jones will be whether he can consistently knock down outside shots. There’s no question that Jones has elite athleticism as the top dunker on the team, but consistent shooting will unlock other areas of his game.
Is there room for McGruder, Richardson, Jones and Winslow in the Heat’s rotation? Probably not. If the Heat uses a 10-man rotation, Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Kelly Olynyk and — when healthy — Dion Waiters are expected to be in it. That leaves two open spots in the rotation for players to log big minutes, and one of them belongs to Richardson. The other will be between Bam Adebayo and probably Winslow. But injuries could open up playing time for others from this small forward group.
Miami Heat 2018 training camp preview