The success of Rodney McGruder and Derrick Jones Jr. shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The Heat has an impressive track record with undrafted players such as McGruder and Jones. The list of Miami’s undrafted success stories includes Udonis Haslem, Tyler Johnson, Bruce Bowen, and Mike James.
What makes the Heat’s player-development program so effective under coach Erik Spoelstra and team president Pat Riley?
“Just how consistent the coaches are,” McGruder said, with the Heat now turning its attention to Saturday’s home opener against the Hornets. “Just bringing us in and encouraging us and watching film with us. Just the little things that go into putting us into spots that we know we’re going to get shots at in the game so we’re in rhythm when those opportunities come in the game.”
In other words, the Heat makes the most of its time by focusing on the teaching points that apply to each individual player.
McGruder, 27, and Jones, 21, are the latest undrafted players to make the most of Miami’s curriculum. With Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Dion Waiters, and Justise Winslow out with injuries to start the year, McGruder and Jones were inserted into the starting lineup in the Heat’s first two games.
“You just got to be ready,” McGruder said. “Coach always emphasizes next man up. So you just have to be ready when your name is called, go out there and try to contribute to help the team.”
Wednesday’s opener didn’t go as planned, as the pair of wing players combined for 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting. But McGruder and Jones helped push the Heat to a win over the Wizards on Thursday, combining for 37 points on 12-of-22 shooting to go with 13 rebounds, six assists, and only two turnovers.
McGruder and Jones each set a career-high in points Thursday. McGruder recorded 20 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Jones finished with 17 points to negate a 3-of-18 shooting night from Goran Dragic and a quiet nine-point performance from Hassan Whiteside.
“We have a history of those kind of guys,” Spoelstra said when asked about McGruder and Jones. “Just look at our coaching staff, with Anthony Carter and Chris Quinn. We hope we create an environment where guys, if they commit, can become the players they’ve always dreamed of becoming.
“It’s not the easiest commitment to make, but it always starts with Pat’s core values — hardest-working, best-conditioned, and most professional. You start with those things and do those things at an exceptional level every single day, and it’s a great place to start in this league. Those two have committed to the program and we’ve seen dramatic improvement and they will continue to get better because of their work ethic and consistency to that work.”
Spoelstra added that McGruder is “becoming a very complete basketball player” with his expanded offensive game. He also posted a career-high in assists against the Wizards.
Jones bounced back Thursday after fouling out following only 17 minutes of action in the Heat’s season-opening loss.
Both McGruder and Jones are still on minimum-level contracts, but they only have to look at a pair of teammates for proof the organization’s player-development program pays off.
Johnson was rewarded with a four-year, $50 million contract in the summer of 2016 and Haslem has earned about $60 million during his career.
“I feel like we’re all just some dogs,” Jones said. “We all want to work, we all want to be great. We’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure our team is successful.
“We all have similar or darn near the same backgrounds. Most of us in this locker room are undrafted players and we’re just trying to make our way.”