Some players just want to pass the preseason conditioning test. Rodney McGruder wants to win it.
So it’s no surprise that McGruder, who is known for his hustle, won the Miami Heat’s vigorous preseason conditioning test for the second consecutive season. It’s a distinction he takes pride in.
But this year’s title was extra special for the undrafted wing player out of Kansas State because it’s proof that he’s all the way back from last season’s surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left tibia. McGruder underwent the surgery in the preseason and was forced to miss the first 60 games of the season.
“I feel good, I do feel good,” McGruder said. “I’ve been working with our training staff and working with our coaches and stuff like that, to put me in a position to feel good, just taking care of my body and things like that.”
That work is paying off, with McGruder’s play serving as one of the positives for the Heat during an 0-2 start to the preseason. He’s averaging 13.5 points, two rebounds and two assists in that short stretch.
Tuesday’s performance in Miami’s loss to the Charlotte Hornets was especially impressive, with McGruder executing as the ball-handler in pick-and-rolls, throwing alley-oops to Hassan Whiteside, making threes and blocking shots on his way to a stat line of 12 points, three rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block in 24 minutes.
Still, regular-season playing time is not guaranteed for McGruder. As part of a Heat roster full of capable wing players, he’s using the preseason to make his case for a consistent role.
“I trust Rodney,” said coach Erik Spoelstra, who has started McGruder for the injured Dion Waiters at shooting guard in the Heat’s first two preseason games. “I trust his ability to make winning plays, to have a real attention to detail on both ends of the court. He tends to make the other four guys better. That’s a great compliment for a player. He does so many of the little things that you can’t necessary teach.”
Like the determination McGruder showed when he made it back to the court just five months after preseason leg surgery. He ended up playing in 18 of the 22 regular-season games he was available for after returning from the injury, starting two and logging 16.6 minutes of court time per contest.
But McGruder never felt healthy last season.
“I didn’t feel 100 percent,” he said. “But that was the goal, just to get back and push my body and fight through that discomfort.”
The issue bothering McGruder was a titanium rod that extends from his knee to his ankle as a result of the surgery. He felt it every time he would run.
“Just my body getting used to having a rod in my leg. That’s what it was,” McGruder said. “It was kind of tough at first. … It was just painful. They say it takes like 12 to 16 months to really absorb what you have implemented in your body.”
McGruder has moved past that. He’s ready to make up for lost time and build on a productive 2016-17 rookie season, when he played in a team-high 78 games — including 65 starts — and averaged 6.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists after making the Heat’s regular-season roster on the final cut down day.
“He’s back,” point guard Goran Dragic said.” He’s a huge competitor. He always brings it. It doesn’t matter if it’s back-to-back or if he’s not 100 percent. He’s going to be there and he’s going to make the team better. That’s why everybody loves him.”
Derrick Jones Jr. update
An MRI on Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr.’s shoulder returned negative Wednesday, which is good news for him and the team. The diagnosis is still a bruised right shoulder and there is no timetable for his return.
The expectation is that Jones will miss Friday’s preseason game against the Washington Wizards. Jones suffered the injury after taking a hard fall on a tip-in attempt with 6:01 remaining in the second quarter of Tuesday’s preseason game against the Charlotte Hornets, and immediate X-rays returned negative.