Barry Jackson

Heat can’t shoot straight, and it’s a problem

Miami Heat Dion Waiters pushes his way to the basket as the Heat play the Atlanta Hawks at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on Tues., Nov. 15, 2016.
Miami Heat Dion Waiters pushes his way to the basket as the Heat play the Atlanta Hawks at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on Tues., Nov. 15, 2016. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Let’s not try to overcomplicate things about why the Heat entered Thursday’s game on pace for a 16-win season: Not having a single power forward on the roster who should be a starter on a good team is one of a few obvious factors.

But here’s the far bigger reason: In a league where a large chunk of scoring comes from small forward and shooting guard, the Heat starts two players who own among nthe worst shooting percentages among all NBA qualifiers at those positions this season.

Dion Waiters entered Thursday’s game shooting 34.8 percent from the field. That was worst among qualifying shooting guards on Wednesday, and now second-worst because Dallas’ Wesley Matthews now has enough shots to qualify.

And Justise Winslow, who missed his second game with a wrist injury Thursday, is last among qualifying small forwards at 33.1 percent from the field. The next-to-last player on that ESPN.com list, Kent Bazemore, is well ahead of Winslow at 40.6.

That errant shooting from premium scoring positions is simply too much to overcome, even with the Heat second in field-goal percentage defense.

In Winslow’s case, Heat officials aren’t overly concerned, because they believe his wrist injury has contributed to his offensive issues. They remain confident his technique, which was adjusted by new shooting coach Rob Fodor, is sound and that he eventually will be a much better shooter than he has demonstrated.

Regardless, that won’t preclude the Heat from pursuing high-end small forwards in free agency, with Utah’s Gordon Hayward an expected target next summer and Sacramento’s Rudy Gay also of interest to Miami if it cannot land Hayward. Under that scenario, Winslow could move to power forward.

Waiters’ struggles have been more exasperating, because even though he has never been a great shooter, he’s well below his 40.9 career average.

The reason is clear: Though Waiters can penetrate most anytime he wants, he cannot get the shots to drop. He entered Thursday shooting a shockingly low 35.8 percent at the rim (19 for 53). He never was a great finisher, shooting between 51 and 54 percent at the rim each of the past four seasons. But he has never been this bad.

He has the NBA’s fourth-lowest shooting percentage on shots within five feet (21-60, 35 percent).

So the Heat, at shooting guard, has gone from having one of the best finishers at the rim in Dwyane Wade to having one of the worst. Wade shot between 65 and 71 percent at the rim each of the past four seasons and is at 57.1 this season.

And Waiters doesn’t draw as many fouls as Wade when he penetrates. He sounds fed up. “They need to address it,” Waiters said. “My guy can’t stop me going to the basket. I have his hand in my chest every time, elbow on my head. It's frustrating for a guy that continues to drive the way I do.”

But Waiters also knows he must do a better job finishing in the basket area and has been working diligently with Heat assistant Dan Craig.

“I work on my finishes all day, before practice, after practice, pre-game,” he said. “My thing is, when I am getting to the basket, sometimes I don't use the backboard. I try to use the rim and that's not always the ideal thing to do because it always rolls off the back because I'm sometimes going too fast. I'm powerful. I've got to just learn how to use that glass more. Trust the glass.

“But even when I use the glass, it sometimes just rolls off the front of the rim. It's very frustrating. I've got to be better focusing. Make sure my eyes are on the rim…. There is no excuse.”

Erik Spoelstra points out that Waiters “has never attacked as much as he has right now. We don't want him settling for contested two-point jump shots. He's getting into the paint as well as anyone in the league right now. He's top five in the league in drives. He's getting five, six, seven layup attempts per game.”

It’s early, but with Waiters likely to opt out of a contact worth $3.1 million next season, his stay in Miami seems highly unlikely to extend beyond this season.

His role as a starter also could be short-lived. Spoelstra could, at some point, opt to start Josh Richardson at shooting guard or even Wayne Ellington when he returns from injury.

Richardson could emerge as Miami’s starting shooting guard next season, unless the Heat lands a player via trade or from a 2017 free agent class that’s weak at shooting guard, a group including J.J. Redick, Tony Allen, Tyreke Evans and Kyle Korver.

• The Heat isn’t pleased with the lack of foul calls, and the NBA knows it. Spoelstra pointed out that “we’re first in layups attempts, first in drives” but just 27th in free throw attempts. “I don't know if the league anticipated we would be this aggressive getting to the rim and being this persistent of attacking and driving. If we continue to aggressive, we'll be rewarded for that.”

• Spoelstra said Justise Winslow won’t play Thursday against Milwaukee because of a wrist injury.

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