Miami Heat

Five Heat observations: Rodney McGruder’s offensive growth has been hard to miss

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: ‘’I feel very comfortable with the group’’

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talks to the media after their 140-128 win over the New Orleans Pelicans in a preseason NBA basketball game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, October 10, 2018.
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Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talks to the media after their 140-128 win over the New Orleans Pelicans in a preseason NBA basketball game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, October 10, 2018.

With just one game left on the Miami Heat’s six-game preseason schedule, here are five observations from the first five …

(Note: We’ll make this a weekly feature throughout the season to provide a snapshot of what’s happening on the court.)

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The Heat is playing at the sixth-fastest pace in the NBA this preseason, averaging 108.3 possessions per 48 minutes. It’s worth noting Miami averaged 108.3 possessions last preseason, too, before things slowed down to 96.2 possessions in the regular season. So yes, this up-tempo preseason play doesn’t always carry over. But the Heat is hoping to play at a faster pace this year, with young athletes like Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo and Derrick Jones Jr. on the roster. The last time the Heat finished the regular season in the top half of the league when it comes to pace was 2005-06. Miami isn’t exactly known for its up-tempo style.

Want to know what the preseason is for? To put players in positions to show off their offseason work and put that work to the test. Mission accomplished for Rodney McGruder, who has had the ball in his hands more than usual this preseason with a usage rate of 20.1 percent. By comparison, he posted a usage rate of 12.2 percent when he played 78 games in 2016-17. The evolution of McGruder’s offensive game has been evident, as he’s been effective as a ball handler in creating offense for himself and others. McGruder is averaging 15.3 points on 47.6 percent shooting, 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists in four preseason games. He’s making a strong case to start at shooting guard while Dion Waiters is out rehabbing from ankle surgery.

The Heat is a better team when Richardson is on the court. Richardson has been available for just two preseason games, but Miami has posted a positive net rating of 23 when he’s playing. What is net rating? It’s the difference between a team’s offensive and defensive ratings (OR-DR). Offensive rating is the amount of points a team scores per 100 possessions and defensive rating is the amount of points a team allows per 100 possessions, which helps to eliminate the pace factor. In short, a positive net rating is good and a negative one is bad. The only Heat player who has a better net rating then Richardson in the preseason is Derrick Jones Jr. Miami has registered a positive net rating of 27.3 when Jones is on the court.

With all of the discussion regarding Hassan Whiteside’s three-point shooting, he’s done most of his work in the paint this preseason. That’s what the Heat wants. Of Whiteside’s 31 shot attempts this preseason, 27 have come from in the paint. He’s 1 of 2 on threes. Yes, the 7-footer wants to keep defenses off balance with his outside shooting this season. But coach Erik Spoelstra has made it clear it can’t come at the expense of his paint touches. It hasn’t yet.

For the most part, it’s been a preseason to forget for Tyler Johnson. He’s really struggled, averaging 6.8 points on 25.7 percent shooting (9 of 35) from the field in four preseason games. He’s just 6 of 27 (22.2 percent) on jumpers and 3 of 8 (37.5 percent) on layups. But here’s the one encouraging aspect of Johnson’s preseason: He’s recorded 12 assists over the past two games. Albeit a very small sample size, that’s a good sign for a Heat team that’s looking for a backup point guard and for a player who averaged just 2.3 assists last season. Becoming a better playmaker was an offseason goal for Johnson.

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