Barry Jackson

NBA scouts assess Heat at All-Star break

adiaz@miamiherald.com

With the Heat at the All-Star break, we asked two veteran scouts for other Eastern Conference teams to assess the Heat roster.

Their feedback:

• For all of the significant growth that Dion Waiters has made - he has been very good over his last 13 games - a scout cautioned against any grand conclusions.

“I need to see more,” one scout said. “He's a streaky player, and there’s a track record of him being up and down. He is certainly capable of this, but can he sustain it? I would be surprised based on his first four years. Look at the shooting percentages over the years [41.2 career]. That suggests this won’t continue at this efficiency. Why all of a sudden has he become consistently productive scorer/shooter?

“Everyone was talking up TJ McConnell because he was the starting point guard on [a 76ers] team that won 10 of 17. You can get fooled sometimes. Someone could pay Waiters $14 million a year but that would be a mistake. He will get $10 to $12 million probably. If [Portand’s] Meyers Leonard gets $10 million and [Portland’s] Maurice Harkless gets $10 million [as they did last summer], Waiters is going to get paid at least that. But I’d be shocked if gets more than $14 million.”

• Both scouts are now convinced James Johnson is simply better than everybody previously thought.

"He has surprised me, especially offensively," one scout said. "I’ve got to give the Heat credit. These guys just emerge in their system, whether it’s Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, both, the culture, the assistant coaches, the last chance [dynamic]. Johnson can guard; he's versatile. The decision-making is questionable at times. The shooting is better this year. He was considered something of [an unpredictable personality] but has really matured."

Said the other scout: "I had never seen this ability from him before. He's in a much more important role. His ball handling is way better than average for a [power forward]. He’s almost like a point forward.  They give him a lot to do. They move [Goran] Dragic to the wing and let him handle the ball. I would think he's moved himself up to $8 million or more a year this summer."

(I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson gets $10 million or more.)

• On Dragic, one scout said: "Why would you trade him? He's better without [Dwyane] Wade. He's less deferential."

The other scout said he’s not sure Dragic is better without Wade but likes that the Heat uses him off the ball at times "as a scorer. You could make the argument he’s a top 10 point guard."

• There were mixed views on Hassan Whiteside, with appreciation for the rebounding numbers and defensive presence but one scout exasperated by the lulls in effort.

"He's so half [butt] sometimes," that scout said. "He doesn't play every possession. In that way, he's not Al Horford, who's much more possession to possession. But he still gets you 19 and 16." But "there’s more good than bad," the other scout said. "And he’s finishing around the basket."

• On Tyler Johnson, one scout said: "He has been very good. People groan about the contract [four years, $50 million], but relative to performance of other guys with similar contracts, he's fine and even a bargain. He looks like an NBA scorer long-term. Can make threes, can get to the basket, has a scorer's mentality, competes and he's athletic. He's undersized, so there are limits there."

• On a few other guys: One scout said he underestimated Willie Reed and Rodney McGruder after watching each in D-League or Summer League:  "Reed can score around the basket and block shots. McGruder is a hard-nosed kid and plays so hard. He profiles as a rotation guy on some teams, an occasional spot guy on very good teams… I’ve always liked Wayne Ellington. He can make threes, is going to try to guard, quality person, isn't going to call to demand the ball. There’s a reason he’s stuck around for eight years."

• With the Bulls, Pistons, Hornets and Heat essentially competing for two playoff spots, one scout: "I would put Miami over Detroit and Charlotte. And I don't think that much difference between the Chicago and Miami rosters. [Dwyane] Wade is not the same player he used to be."

That scout said not only does Erik Spoelstra have the coaching advantage over Chicago’s Fred Hoiberg, but "Spoelstra has a more cohesive unit. He's not dealing with issues Hoiberg is dealing with…. Miami is as good a halfcourt defensive team as anybody in the league."

Said the other scout: "It's shocking, winning 13 in a row with [this roster]. You can say the league sucks and the Eastern Conference sucks and it does. They have two players and everybody else. But they have guys who compete, the coach is great. Erik has somehow figured it all out. They play hard and they have guys who have incentive to play hard who are looking for bigger paydays." 

For my UM post this morning, on another potential transfer target, please click here.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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