Rodney McGruder has turned himself into more than just a hustle player.
The Heat’s undrafted success story is averaging 16.5 points on 55 percent shooting from the field and 57.1 percent shooting from behind the three-point line, to go with 6.8 rebounds and four assists over the first four games.
Those numbers represent the growth in McGruder’s game. But they don’t represent the relentlessness, energy and hustle that got him to this point.
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It’s the ground McGruder covers while he’s on the court that shows who he truly is as a basketball player. The 27-year-old wing player entered Thursday leading the NBA in distance covered at 2.86 miles per game, including his league-leading 1.61 miles per game on offense, according to the NBA’s tracking statistics.
When presented these numbers, McGruder’s coach and teammates were not surprised.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, with the Heat (2-2) now turning its attention to Saturday’s home game against the Portland Trail Blazers. “He annihilated our conditioning test. I’ve never seen anything like it. He crushed it last year and he beat his own record. He’s his only competition now.
“We’ve had a lot of guys come into training camp in fantastic shape. His was historic. He puts in the time that he’s able to make countless more plays than the average NBA player simply because he’s in better shape and he’s willing to make those extra efforts. That to me is a talent.”
Heat point guard Goran Dragic agrees.
“Rodney, he never stops moving,” Dragic said. “He’s 100 percent in the best shape on this team. The other night he played 42 minutes. You don’t ever see him tired. He’s always doing his job. He’s always everywhere. It doesn’t surprise me. Maybe some people from outside, they don’t know because they don’t see him every day.”
McGruder, who won the Heat’s vigorous preseason conditioning test this year for the second consecutive season, is averaging a team-high 34.6 minutes of playing time in the Heat’s first four games.
That workload hasn’t affected McGruder’s play on either end of the court. Along with his ultra-efficient offensive numbers, he’s been one of the league’s top defenders to start the year.
Among the 113 NBA players defending at least 10 shots per game this season, McGruder is limiting players he’s guarding to a league-low 31.6 percent shooting from the field.
“It’s a testament to Miami Heat conditioning,” McGruder said. “The kind of shape they want us in.”
But Dragic made it clear McGruder isn’t just standing out because he’s in better shape than most players. There’s more to his game than that now.
“He’s a great basketball player,” Dragic said. “He’s got a high IQ. I don’t think because he’s in the best shape, that’s why he’s making all these plays. No, he’s a smart basketball player. He’s always in the right spot. Even if he would not be in this condition that he’s in, he would be a tremendous player because he knows what he’s doing. Every possession, he’s there and we trust him and we know he’s going to be there.”
Still, McGruder’s conditioning is an aspect of his game that can’t be overlooked.
“It’s very important because your conditioning, your body, the way you take care of your body can all excel you to the next level,” McGruder said. “It goes hand in hand with just working on your game.”
McGruder does get tired on the court, though. He is human, after all.
“I do sometimes,” he said with a smile. “But mind over matter. That’s what I try to do.”