It’s obvious the Heat’s player development program has worked on Rodney McGruder.
McGruder, 27, is averaging career highs in points (12.8), rebounds (5.2) and assists (3.5) entering Friday’s road game against the Pacers. The wing player is also shooting 46.1 percent from the field and a career-best 43.5 percent on threes.
McGruder is getting his offensive numbers a little differently this season, too. He’s averaging 8.3 drives to the basket per game this year, which is a big jump from the 2.9 drives he averaged as a rookie in 2016-17.
Used primarily as a spot-up shooter in his first NBA season, McGruder is now consistently getting into the paint and has become one of the Heat’s best alley-oop passers.
How good is McGruder at setting up alley-oops? The Heat had completed 24 alley-oop dunks this season entering Friday, and 12 of them have been off McGruder assists.
“It’s player development,” he said after assisting on three Bam Adebayo alley-oop dunks in Wednesday’s win over the Nets. “Just looking at the reads and watching film on the passes that we have, just reading the defenders and the spacing. If the roll man is there and if the big is up on me, the lob is open.”
For the season, McGruder has set up eight of Hassan Whiteside’s 14 alley-oop dunks and four of Adebayo’s nine alley-oop dunks.
This trend has resulted in defenses playing McGruder differently since the start of the season. With the threat of the lob, opposing big men aren’t leaving the Heat’s centers as much to help on McGruder’s drives.
“Sometimes the big falls back because I throw that lob,” he said. “He’s trying to protect and get back to his man because he knows that lob threat is there.”
It’s just another element McGruder has added to his game.
“Rodney will get better at everything in this game because he’s so dedicated to the process of improvement,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Watching film, drilling it, working on it, struggling through it, putting in more time with it. This is a byproduct of two things: all that work behind the scenes, and the ball is in his hands a little bit more than it was ever before, because we trust him and he’s making good plays off the dribble.”
Rough travel day
The Heat was stuck on its team plane for seven hours Thursday at Newark Liberty International Airport because of a snowstorm before leaving for Indianapolis.
After opting to spend Wednesday night in New York following a victory over the Nets, the Heat was scheduled to depart Thursday afternoon. But weather changed those plans, as the team didn’t arrive to Indianapolis until 10:30 p.m.
“It was long. The guys were able to catch up on some rest,” Spoelstra said after the Heat’s morning shootaround Friday. “”Thankfully we had five-star food on the plane, a lot of good company. And we didn’t get in too late. The most important thing is we were safe.”
Coming from Miami, the Heat is grateful it only has to deal with snowy weather when its on the road.
“We say it all the time when we’re criss-crossing the country during the winter, virtually everywhere we go it’s 30 degrees and snowing,” Spoelstra said. “And we have an unbelievable opportunity to fly back to one of the vacation destinations in the world. We should always feel grateful.”
Derrick Jones Jr. is back
After missing Wednesday’s win over the Nets because of a stomach illness, Derrick Jones Jr. was available for the Heat on Friday against the Pacers.
Jones entered the contest averaging 5.6 points and 2.8 rebounds in 10 games this season.