By the time Dwyane Wade departed for the Chicago Bulls, the Heat was left to fill out its roster with bargain-basement players with specific skills but also blemishes or limitations.
Of the five veteran post-Wade additions (excluding raw-on-experience center Willie Reed), keep in mind that Derrick Williams was drafted second overall, Dion Waiters fourth, James Johnson and Luke Babbitt 16th and Wayne Ellington 28th.
So the challenge for this coaching staff and these players is extracting more than what that quintet of first-rounders has displayed as pros and to determine if any can make such an impact to warrant an extended stay.
“They want to get guys to their full potential [here]; they have a history of doing that,” Williams said.
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The upshot, Udonis Haslem said, is the Heat now has “a lot of guys that share similar DNA as myself, more so than any other team. This is the first time you’ve got a group of guys who all feel as individuals they have something to prove. Guys who have a lot of talent but for whatever reason just haven’t found a home.
“We have guys on one-year deals. It encourages guys to prove to people they made a mistake. Everyone has a chip on their shoulder.”
Each of the five has a different mission:
• For Williams, coach Erik Spoelstra wants him to go back to the attacking player who averaged 8.2 free throw attempts in college at Arizona, not the one who averaged 3.1 as a pro and too often stood in the corner and took threes. He’s just a 29.9 percent career three-point shooter.
“That’s why I got drafted so high, being that versatile player everywhere on the court,” Williams said Monday. “That’s my game – slashing, getting to the line, getting to the rim. You can’t really tell what Spoelstra has up his sleeve. He really puts people in different positions to succeed.”
• For Ellington and Babbitt, the challenge is doing what they do best (stand-still shooting) but also proving they can offer more.
“In a pickup game, I decided to guard [Babbitt] and I was surprised the way he put the ball on the floor and attacked the basket once you closed out on his shot,” Haslem said.
Ellington said he, too, has worked with the Heat staff this summer on “getting one, two dribbles and knocking down midrange shots. [That’s] going to be huge for me.”
Defense is a concern with both. Babbitt shot an impressive 40.4 percent on threes last season but players he guarded shot 48.1 percent overall from the field (140th of 173 forwards), compared with 44.3 overall.
And players guarded by Ellington shot 47.1 percent (123rd among 147 shooting guards), compared with 43.3 overall.
“I’m working to become an individual defender; I’ve gotten better,’ Babbitt said.
Both have a chance to get minutes because the Heat wants shooters around center Hassan Whiteside.
“We’re looking to play up tempo this year, get some shooters around Goran [Dragic] and Hassan [Whiteside] and open up the paint a little bit,” Babbitt said. “I think that was important for the team in the offseason to get some guys that can space the floor a little bit.”
• Johnson’s toughness and defense are unquestioned, but he shot 25 percent from 10 feet to the three-point line last season.
He said he “loves” new Heat shooting coach Rob Fodor and expects improvement in both his mid-range game and free throws (57.4 percent from the line last season).
• With Waiters, the Heat wants consistency with shot selection and defense.
They’re thrilled he lost 12 pounds.
“As soon as I saw [Spoelstra], he got right on me about my weight,” Waiters said. “He’s honest. He told me a particular weight he thinks I will be my best at. I’m climbing to get there. He’s a guy who’s very up front. I need that. I like a guy that’s going to tell you the truth and not tell you one thing and do something different when you’re here.”
Said Spoelstra: “We felt he was playing his best basketball [for Oklahoma City] and really looked like a winning player during the playoffs for that team.”
Spoelstra has challenged him to be a two-way player and Waiters said: “I got a chance to show in the playoffs I can guard [every position]. I did it all. I feel I showed everything.”
With all five likely to be free agents next summer (Ellington has a team option, Waiters a player option), is there a risk of them prioritizing individual performance over team play?
“I don’t see that being an issue,” Babbitt said. “We’ve got a lot of unselfish guys, a lot of young hard working guys that know if we have success as a team, everyone will benefit from that.”
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