James Johnson on the Heat’s 129-102 win over the Wizards
The Miami Heat returns to the court for the start of training camp Tuesday. The focus of the fourth part of the series is power forward. James Johnson is expected to start at the position, with big men Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo as his primary backups. The only other power forward pretty much guaranteed to make the roster is 38-year-old Udonis Haslem, who will play more of a leadership role than an on-court one as a team captain and 15-year NBA veteran. Undrafted rookie power forward Yante Maten, signed to a two-way contract, can have his deal switched to a standard contract if he really impresses in the preseason. But as of now, Maten is expected to spend most of the year in the G League playing with the Heat’s developmental-league affiliate. And the other two power forwards on the 20-man roster are undrafted rookie Marcus Lee and three-year NBA veteran Jarnell Stokes, but there’s a better chance they end up with Miami’s G League affiliate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
It’s hard to find new faces on the Heat with 14 players returning from last year’s season-ending roster, but there are a few at power forward such as undrafted rookies Maten and Lee and the more experienced Stokes. While Lee and Stokes are on training camp invites, there’s a little more invested in Maten. The Heat signed Maten, the 2018 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year from Georgia, to a two-way contract that allows for players to spend up to 45 days with their NBA teams during the season and the rest of the time with that team’s developmental affiliate. Then there’s Lee, who averaged 11.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.3 assists in 32 games as a senior at California, and Stokes, who spent part of the 2015-16 season with the Heat and played last season in China.
What to watch for?
A healthy James Johnson. The 31-year-old played through pain last season and underwent surgery for a sports hernia following the Heat’s playoff exit. Although the injury was not disclosed, it is something that bothered him throughout the year. While Johnson won’t use it as an excuse, it’s one of the reasons he lacked his usual explosiveness at times and battled through some inconsistent play. In the first year of his four-year, $60 million free agent contract he signed with the Heat last offseason, Johnson averaged 10.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 73 regular-season games. The hope is that improved health will lead to improved numbers, consistent play and more productive results playing next to center Hassan Whiteside. The duo was outscored by 53 points in 662 minutes when on the court together last season.
At 21, Adebayo is one of the Heat’s top breakout candidates. Adebayo’s numbers didn’t stand out last season, as he averaged 6.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists as a rookie. But his energy, defensive versatility and obvious upside make him one of the most intriguing players on the Heat’s roster moving forward. While he’s expected to come off the bench again this season, his growth is important to the organization’s future. The plan is for Adebayo to be more aggressive offensively, and he took a step in that direction during summer league play when he was asked to lead fast breaks and create offense off the dribble. Now, Adebayo has to carry that aggressive mentality into his second NBA season.
Can Olynyk and/or Adebayo be effective playing alongside center Whiteside? While Olynyk and Adebayo will log minutes at center when Whiteside is on the bench, they will also be asked to play next to Whiteside to create enough playing time for all three as part of a crowded frontcourt rotation. Both players didn’t have much success playing with Whiteside last season, as the Olynyk-Whiteside combination was outscored by 12 points in 186 minutes and the Adebayo-Whiteside combination was outscored by 21 points in 52 minutes. But Adebayo and Olynyk were effective together, with the Heat outscoring opponents by 96 points in the 477 minutes they played together. Coach Erik Spoelstra will have to make a few of these two-man combinations work in order for Whiteside, Olynyk and Adebayo to each get the minutes they deserve.
Miami Heat 2018 training camp preview